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Music

The John Lennon song David Bowie called "rivetingly depressing"

There’s something inspiring about witnessing one of the most mercurial, effervescent and utterly beguiling musicians of all time effuse about their favourite artists. Not a prospect we are often afforded in today’s social climate, during the 1970s and ’80s, the clamour for hot takes from your favourite pop stars means there was a plethora of content from the decades. It includes a moment in history when David Bowie took to the airwaves of BBC Radio to deliver a stunning showcase of his favourite songs of all time.

On March 20 1979, BBC Radio 1 invited the musical chameleon Bowie on air to live out all of his DJ fantasies and spin the decks at Britain’s biggest station. The cultural touchpoint was only a few weeks after releasing the final piece of the singer’s hallowed ‘Berlin trilogy’, Lodger and he gleefully took the opportunity to play some of his favourite records for a few hours and now we can hear them too via the playlist below.

Within the impressive run of singles the Starman decided to play, were huge names like Frank Zappa, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, blondie and a whole heap more. The tracks Bowie selected don’t just speak to our inner Bowie fandoms but also his own sensibilities as a performer and music lover. The singer was a devotee of pop music and was often noted as being an avid fan of the most adventurous bands and artists; using his platform, Bowie was always ready to promote them. One of a few ways Bowie did that was with this iconic radio moment, David Bowie’s 1979 Star Special.

Bowie was never shy about throwing admiration on his inspirations and influences, and here, given a chance to speak about his longtime friend John Lennon, he picked a typically leftfield song for consideration. Lennon left an indelible impression on Bowie after the two met in 1974. “Uninvited, John would wax on endlessly about any topic under the sun and was over-endowed with opinions. I immediately felt empathy with that,” Bowie told Berklee College of Music in 1999. “Whenever the two of us got together, it started to resemble Beavis and Butthead on ‘Crossfire.'”

The two would hit it off so profoundly that in the years following Lennon’s death in 1980, Bowie would regard the ‘Imagine’ mastermind as “probably (his) greatest mentor”. The duo would not only swap war stories, borrow each other’s fame if tey could and share countless hedonistic nights, but they would also work together on the quite brilliant ‘Fame’ for which Lennon provided the backing vocals and the song’s pertinent ethos.

Bowie was a huge Beatles fan too, allowing this fandom to perhaps sway his selection when picking out a Lennon song to play. Picking out ‘Remember’ from Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP in 1970, Bowie reflected: “I think this is a really despondent track, he left his band and he was doing his first solo album and I found it rivetingly depressing. So I really enjoyed playing it to myself. Very good piano, I think it’s Billy Preston, actually. Growing Up and being angry that’s what this one was all about.”

like all Beatles fans, Bowie could feel every word Lennon and the band sung, having experienced so much with the group, to hear them perform solo material must have been an odd experience. When you couple that with actually knowing the men behind the music, this song must’ve taken on a new level of meaning.

Bowie, like Lennon, always highly valued artists expressing themselves in their songs and would have enjoyed this no-holds-barred reflection of an artist he had admired since he was a child.