For my ninth pick I’m doing a two-fer–– one great British singer/songwriter and one American. Yeah, I know it’s a cheat, but screw it. My game, my rules.
An artist is lucky if he can impact his art once. David Bowie did it again and again and again. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it again after his death. He was that good.
Davy Jones formed his first band at age 15, became dissatisfied with the commitment and drive of his bandmates, and proceeded to ping around a variety of blues-influenced bands. He never felt at home.
In the mid-60’s he changed his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees (his first choice for a name was Mickey Dolenz, which unfortunately was also taken). David selected Bowie as his last name after Jim Bowie and his knife. Remember him? Remember the Alamo? If I had a Bowie knife at your throat, you’d sure as hell remember!
In 1967, Bowie released his first album (cleverly titled David Bowie). It made little noise and slid into the abyss. He met a dancer, studied dance, joined the circus, studied dramatic arts, avant-garde theatre, mime, and commedia dell’arte. He sopped it all up like thirsty bread in a puddle of gravy. His theatric flair would come into play throughout his career. Early in ’69, he went on a short tour with Marc Bolon’s Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bowie was third on the bill doing a mime act.
Yes, a mime act. Live with it.
Bowie released his song Space Oddity five days before the launch of Apollo 11 (July 11, 1969). Being stuck inside a tin can was a hit, David Bowie was on his way. Over the next three years, he recorded and released albums that gained him an avid following and introduced an androgynous look in concerts and interviews.
DB devoured culture and fed his imagination. He created ‘the ultimate pop star’ the character of Ziggy Stardust–– a combination of Iggy Pop and the music of Lou Reed (Bowie would later work with both artists). The album Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released in 1972. Bowie was Ziggy, an androgynous bisexual rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. The glam rock legend was born and over his career, Bowie would assume other personas–– Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, and other musical identities through different genres.
Ever the chameleon, Bowie was an artist always in search of being original, right down to his swan song album Blackstar. For a nice sampler of early to mid-Bowie, David Live is a great one to feast upon.
Now, let’s make America great again. In 1960, at age 10, Tom Petty met Elvis thanks to an uncle working on a movie with the hip-shaking hipster. Three years later, little Tommy saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and was hooked. The rock star life was for him, it seemed like a pretty good gig (it’d look cool on the
Petty began learning and playing. One of his teachers was Don Felder who would later join the Eagles. Tom began forming bands and gigging like a madman. He dropped out of school and worked odd jobs like laboring on the grounds crew at The University of Florida and digging graves (not on campus–– this was a different job).
Tom had the passion bad, the rock bug burning hot in his heart. After his band Mudcrutch broke up, he formed The Heartbreakers and they beat it to L.A. pursuing their dream of trying to get signed. They did, and in ’77 they released their self-titled album with the song Breakdown, which became a big hit in the U.K. and made some waves stateside.
1979’s Damn the Torpedoes is the third album of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and it became huge. Triple platinum. On his next album Hard Promises, his new label MCA wanted to raise the disc’s price from $8.98 to $9.98. Petty was pissed, he didn’t want to appear like he was price gouging fans. He waged a bitter battle with the label and held the price.
Petty would go on to record many great albums, along with side projects like Traveling Wilburys (he got to play with a Beatle, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison–– talk about your rock dreams), writing an excellent soundtrack for the film She’s The One, and re-booting his old gang of Mudcrutch. He even had a cool radio show called Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure on Serius XM.
When you consider the number of great, classic rock songs Petty made, he is one for the ages. For a deeper dive in TP and the making of his album Wildflowers, listen to the Broken Record podcast with Malcolm Gladwell and Rick Rubin. Listen to all the episodes, they are excellent.