There are few artist and producer combinations as intrinsically and influentially linked as David Bowie and Tony Visconti. The duo shared some of the Starman’s most successful albums and songs, creating a legacy that will outlive us all. The creative duo not only shared a professional relationship but a friendship full of music, too. While his work with Bowie is the most significant source of pride for Visconti and ultimately what he will be most-commonly remembered for, his impact on the world of music extends well beyond The Thin White Duke.
Nobody played a more prominent role through the entirety of David Bowie’s career than Tony Visconti, an influential figure who was on production duty for decades. Having worked on production and arrangement of Bowie’s 1968 single ‘In the Heat of the Morning’ / ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’, Visconti enjoyed the Bowie ride all the way through to his final release of Blackstar in 2016.
It was Bowie’s sophomore record, Space Oddity, which would see him and Visconti link up for the first time on a full-length album and, more importantly, set a precedent for a long and fruitful relationship. However, speaking to the Irish Times last year, Visconti revealed Bowie was a little rough around the edges when he took on the project: “He was all over the place, creatively, when I first met him, but the period immediately afterwards was much better,” he said. “At best, the songs were charming, albeit a bit naïve.”
In 2018, Visconti sat down with TIDAL and spoke at length about the records that he has played a hand-in which mean the most to him. It is no surprise that Bowie features heavily in his list, but there’s much more to the magic to Visconti than just his association with The Starman.
The first track that Visconti mentions is Bowie’s 1980 timeless effort, ‘Ashes To Ashes’. Its inclusion on the list doesn’t warrant an explanation, but the super-producer did so anyway: “‘Ashes To Ashes’ is the culmination of both my career and David’s entire career up to then. Everything came together. When we started an album, as a joke, we’d always say, ‘Let’s make this one our Sgt. Pepper.’ And we made that joke at the beginning of this album — Scary Monsters — and it came through because we pulled out all the stops,” Visconti proudly stated.
Another selection from his work with Bowie is the track ‘Blackout’ from Heroes: “For to me, it has the most swagger of any Bowie track,” Visconti claimed. “We were working with Iggy Pop at the time, and Iggy had a big influence on David in the sense that he was a true punk artist. He did what the hell he wanted. He’d just take his clothes off, randomly. I mean, that guy has swagger!”
Visconti also worked with Sparks and his time with the Mael brothers is a fond memory that he still latches on to affectionately. He worked with the group on 1975’s Indiscreet as well as 1997’s Propaganda, the indecorously titled ‘Tits’ was a stand-out moment from that first time they worked together for Visconti. “‘Tits’ is just the most outrageous title, so I had to include it,” Visconti explained. ‘Under the Table with Her’ is a bit risqué as well, but ‘Tits’ is outrageous. It’s such a fantastic song. And it’s about tits, about the fascination with tits from the point of view of a young infant, all the way up to an older gentleman. It’s the history of tits, which I think they wrote just for pure fun. This is the way Sparks swaggers, with this subject matter, executed like this. But, really, it’s just for outrageousness, and it gets 10 points from me.”
Morrissey’s 2006 track, ‘Ganglord’, is another one that Visconti adores, noting: “Sadly, ‘Dear God, Please Help Me’ and ‘You Have Killed Me’ from Ringleader of the Tormentors, the album I made with Morrissey, aren’t widely available. But ‘Ganglord’ is available on an album called Swords, a B-sides album. I’m so proud of it, and Morrissey still plays it in his shows. It comes from the sessions for Ringleader of the Tormentors, which came about because they’d sacked their first producer. I was a substitute producer, but that doesn’t matter to me.”
It would be sacrilege if Visconti didn’t give a mention to his work with T. Rex and especially the track ‘Cosmic Dancer’, which the producer waxed lyrical about: “‘Cosmic Dancer’ is one of the most beautiful songs Marc Bolan ever wrote. It’s a classic, and almost as good as Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust.’ Marc wrote some magic into those lyrics. And the melody is such an emotional experience to hear. We were a real solid team on this. He trusted me implicitly to write good string parts for music, which were always based around his guitar licks. He loved that. I would put a little Beethoven in there, and he’d go crazy.”
Check out the full list below.
Tony Visconti’s favourite tracks:
- ‘Ashes to Ashes’ – David Bowie
- ‘Blackout’ – David Bowie
- ‘Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud’ – David Bowie
- ‘Boys Keep Swinging [2017 Remix]’ – David Bowie
- ‘Pearl of a Girl’ – Kristeen Young
- ‘These are the Things I’m Not the Most’ – Kristeen Young
- ‘Deep’ – The Moody Blues
- ‘Ganglord’ – Morrissey
- ‘Yet Another Midnight’ – Richard Barone
- ‘Under the Table with Her’ – Sparks
- ‘Tits’ – Sparks
- ‘The Lady is Lingering’ – Sparks
- ‘No Spitting on the Bus’ – Steve Gibbons Band
- ‘Cosmic Dancer’ – T. Rex
- ‘Monolith’ – T. Rex
- ‘The Motivator’ -T. Rex
- ‘Bad Reputation’ – Thin Lizzy
- ‘Dancing in The Moonlight’ – Thin Lizzy
- ‘Emerald’ – Thin Lizzy
- ‘Rosalie/Cowgirl’s Song’ – Thin Lizzy