Sunday, May 27, 2012

Song #203 of 9999 - Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

Song #203 of 9999

Title: Aladdin Sane
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1973
Album: Aladdin Sane

With David Bowie, there's no such thing as a baby step. Listening to Aladdin Sane, it's hard to believe only a year had passed since The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Guitar-based glam rock gives way to avant-garde jazz ("Aladdin Sane"), cabaret ("Time"), and Spanish flamenco ("Lady Grinning Soul"). There are plenty of rollicking glam rock numbers to keep "Ziggy" fans happy, including some hits ("Jean Genie," "Watch That Man," "Cracked Actor"), but for me, this album is about the experiments and, especially, the piano playing.

I didn't hear Aladdin Sane until the mid-1980s when I was first discovering David Bowie as a teenager. So my initial exposure wasn't even Ziggy Stardust, it was Let's Dance. So the shock of hearing Aladdin Sane, especially the title track, was pretty significant. I was already playing jazz and had a penchant for experimental music, but I had never heard a juxtaposition of pop and avant-garde jazz quite like this. Mike Garson's solos are spontaneous, creative, and thrilling. And while it's easy to offer all the credit to Garson, it is thanks to David Bowie's artistry and intuition as a producer that these solos exist. Here's Mike Garson from a 2008 interview:
"When I was recording the "Aladdin Sane" track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: 'play a solo on this.' I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: 'No, that’s not what I want.' And then I played a latin solo. Again, Bowie said: 'No no, that’s not what I want.' He then continued: 'You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!' And I said: 'Are you sure? ‘Cause you might not be working anymore!'. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take."
Listening to Aladdin Sane, it's easy to imagine the progression to Low, Heroes, Lodger and beyond. Bowie is an artist who is at his best when he is testing new waters. Maybe we'll catch up to him again tomorrow when we land in 1983!

1 comment:

  1. I really didn't like this track the first time I heard it, but it slowly grew on me. The crazy piano solo didn't really make much sense to me until I read somewhere that this song was (partially) inspired by Bowie's schizophrenic half brother Terry. The title is a pun on "A Lad Insane", and for me, the piano solo, in that context, makes perfect sense.

    I also love the way my kids squirm with discomfort whenever I play this song in the car!