Listen to David Bowie’s playlist from a 1979 stint as DJ on the BBC!
“Hello. This is David Bowie. It’s a bit gray out today. And I’ve got some Perrier water and I’ve got a bunch of records.” Thus starts Bowie’s two-hour guest DJ appearance on the BBC Radio 1 show “Star Special” on March 20, 1979.
The show’s host introduces Bowie saying, “We won’t pretend this program cracks any codes, opens any secret doors, but it does throw new light on his appreciation of other performers.” There are surprises during the show like the obscure ? and the Mysterians and a song by Danny Kaye from the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen. There are also typical tracks you’d expect: The Mekons, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, etc.
About half way through, Bowie notes he’s running out of things to play, then comes back with The Rolling Stones. He not thrilled with the classic American rock of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, but plays a tune from Greetings from Asbury Park, pretty much noting he was more into his earlier stuff. After playing Seger, Bowie points out it’s basically ok, but he played it mainly because Seger uses the word “lodger,” the title of his new album, which had been released just two days earlier.
The theme of sad songs doesn’t escape Bowie, who blames it either on the weather or his Japanese sandals that hurt between his toes. Most of the songs were from albums at the radio station, but Bowie brought along three of his own: The Mekons, Philip Glass, and the No New York album with the Mars song.
Below is a list of songs on the turntable that typical London day, along with Bowie’s commentary. You can hear his thought process as his describes each piece, or reacts after. He’s not a polished DJ, but even in his calm, low-key voice, you can recognize his excitement over music that gets him going.
Listen to David Bowie’s original playlist on Spotify:
The Doors: “Love Street”
I think if I was walking outside at the moment, I’d like to be walking on this street at the moment, it’s “Love Street” by The Doors.
Iggy Pop: “TV Eye”
This is just something I remember with affection because it’s when I was with him [Iggy Pop] on tour playing piano for him. This one’s called “TV Eye.”
John Lennon: “Remember”
Also on piano is a gentleman, 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. I really enjoyed playing it to myself. It’s called “Remember” by John Lennon.
? & The Mysterians: “96 Tears”
Growing up and being angry. That’s what this one is all about. “96 Tears” by ? & The Mysterians, which nobody has in their record collection. (After the song he notes, “That’s an extraordinary piece of music.”)
Edward Elgar: “The Nursery Suite”
This is a punk… I was incredibly impressed by this one when I first hear it. it was a real use of music in describing situation musically, and it’s also nice and short. It’s classical music. It’s very good. It’s by Elgar.
Danny Kaye: “Inchworm”
This one’s interesting because I thought it was an extraordinary thing to use numbers as backing vocals. I really liked that idea and here’s the first one I heard. It’s “Inchworm” by Danny Kaye.
Philip Glass: “Trial Prison”
And now if you want to get very modern, there’s a chappy called Philip Glass…. This is from an opera that he wrote that was about 15 1/2 years long…. And this particular piece is called “Trial Prison.” And there’s a lovely little narration in it by one of the singers. It will be on the left-hand side of your speakers if you’ve got stereo, on the right-hand side if you have them plugged in the wrong way around.
The Velvet Underground: “Sweet Jane”
First single I heard when I first went to America on the first day that I got there was in New York and I was taken over to a writer’s apartment that was on 8th Avenue somewhere. And he played me a new album that had just come out. And he was very excited about this track and so was I and I expect you will as well when you’ve heard it. It was “Sweet Jane” by the Velvet Underground.
Mars: “Helen Fordsdale”
Brian Eno put together a compilation album of four new bands from America, one of them called Mars. I’m not particularly fond of much of the album, but this one piece of music bowled me over. It’s called “Helen Fordsdale”…. It reminds me, I think it’s Min, from The Goon Show. (laughs) It’s the most eccentric voice I’ve heard in years.
Little Richard, “He’s My Star”
This is quite absurd as well. Guess who this is. It’s called “He’s A Star.” I couldn’t believe this when I first heard it…. He had a strange thing where he threw away all his rings and became a preacher for a bit. And this was an outcome of that. When he started doing some gospel music, church music. How he changed his voice like that. He must have given up something else, I think.
King Crimson: “21st Century Schizoid Man”
If you fancy yourself as a schizophrenic, I think this becomes your theme song. I used to love this one. “21st Century Schizoid Man” by a young Robert Fripp, very exciting band, King Crimson.
Talking Heads: “Warning Sign”
Here’s a band that I admire very much, some very very charming people, David Byrne in particular. Talking about Talking Heads, of course. Here’s a track from, I think it was their last album…. I found this very impressive. It took me back, actually, to the days of the early Yardbirds, I don’t know why. It’s called “Warning Sign.”
Jeff Beck: “Beck’s Bolero”
Yardbirds, of course, leads in very beautifully to Jeff Beck. This was a piece of music he wrote. And I think he must have done it in about 4 1/2 minutes. It really sounds as though it’s thrown together, but like all classics, it still shoots out of the speakers. It’s called “Beck’s Bolero.”
Ronnie Spector: “Try Some, Buy Some”
Here’s a song that made me fall in love with the singer. Absolutely incredible. My heart went straight out to her. And it was produced by Phil Spector. I may be wrong, but I think it’s the last single that he ever made because he was so depressed that it didn’t do anything, that nobody bought it, which is quite ironic really because the title is “Try Some, Buy Some” by his ex-wife, Ronnie Spector.
T. Rex: “20th Century Boy”
Here’s a guy that probably did as much for the early 70s sound in England as Spector did to the 60s sound in America. Single-handedly changed an awful lot of what was happening sound-wise in England. It’s my old buddy, Marc Bolan. The song’s called “20th Century Boy,” which he’ll always be.
The Mekons: “Where Were You?”
Here’s some guys that followed in the tradition of what young Marc was laying down. They’re called The Mekons. I hope they gig a lot cuz deserve to with this track. It’s called “Where Were You?” Has a beautiful, sort of, Velvet Underground top guitar over it.
Steve Forbert: “Big City Cat”
There’s a new singer. I don’t know if he’s a new singer. He’s new to me anyway. His name is Steve Forbert. This is a track from his new album. I like it particularly because one of my old band is on it, Dave Sanborn is playing saxophone on it. It’s called “Big City Cat.”
The Rolling Stones: “We Love You”
This is another kind of love song. This is by The Stones. This one’s called “We Love You.” I’m sure they mean it.
Roxy Music: “2HB”
Another very disturbing band, this one also caught everybody’s imagination, especially if you liked Humphrey Bogart. It’s called “2HB,” very clever pun and it’s by Roxy Music…Do you get it? HB means Humphrey Bogart.
Bruce Springsteen: “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”
Here’s a great writer. I don’t like what he’s doing very much now. I loved this album when it came out. It was on Asbury Park. Bruce Springsteen. And after I heard this track, I never rode the subway again. It’s called “Saint in the City.”
Stevie Wonder: “Fingertips”
Here’s one that also scared me. It was so incredibly adventurous at the time when it was released. It’s by Stevie Wonder and it’s a startling piece called “Fingertips.”
Blondie: “Rip Her To Shreds”
Let’s bring back the good weather again. Let’s try very hard anyway. Now, what can we do that with? I think Let’s leave it to Blondie, a little uptempo thing called “Rip Her to Shreds”… Love little Debbie. It’s got a good hook.
Bob Seger: “Beautiful Loser”
This one’s called “Beautiful Loser” and it’s by Bob Seger…. Now I’m not sure about that one. I think it’s quite nice. I only played it because it’s got the word ‘lodger’ in it and that’s my new album title. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s just an ego problem.
David Bowie: “Boys Keep Swinging”
Here’s a track from my album. It’s called “Boys.”…Now that song really does have a problem. (laughs.) It really does have a problem.
David Bowie: “Yassassin”
While we’re still on the same subject, here’s one I started writing in Berlin and I ended up finishing this thing in New York. It’s got, sort of, a Turkish quality to it. I find it quite hypnotic. I think it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s called “Yassassin.” “Yassasin,” if it’s of any interest to you, means “long life” in Turkish. I had to call up the Turkish Embassy to find out what it meant. I read it on a wall. I read most things on the wall.
Talking Heads: “Book I Read”
Here’s the “Book I Read” by Talking Heads. They’re different to me. I mean, they actually go and read the books. They’ve never read any walls. I’ve read them on a wall, though.
Roxy Music: “For Your Pleasure”
Here’s a smashing Roxy Music track. It’s called “For Your Pleasure” and I love the “Tara” at the end. It’s a beautiful gesture…. I saw them in concert the other week in New York. It was very good. I’m quite pleased they reformed. They’ve got a good jumping bass player, one of the best little jumpers I’ve seen.
King Curtis: “Something On Your Mind”
This is a track by King Curtis who is a fine musician and I hope you enjoy it. It’s called “Something On Your Mind.”
The Staple Singers: “Tellin’ Lies”
And here are three girls who’ve got a very musical dad. And one of the girls is very very sexy and I keep playing her records over and over again when I’m on my own. It’s The Staple Singers and it’s called “Lies.”