Thursday, August 16, 2007

No. 107: Hunky Dory

Band: David Bowie
Album: Hunky Dory
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Um. Well. Robert Christgau (whom I respect a great deal) loves "Hunky Dory." People like Bowie, right?
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I find Bowie's music to be wholly overrated and "Hunky Dory" is two good songs and a lot of filler.
Best song: The album opener, "Changes," is pretty good. "Life on Mars?" is interesting, if not a great song.
Worst song: "Fill Your Heart" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nope. Bowie is wholly overrated.

I've written a bit before about how I feel about David Bowie, but let's first put this out there: Ziggy Stardust is Bowie's only important album. Everything else is just OK. A few good singles, but that's about it.

My friends and I had a small argument about the import of Bowie in regards to his not being an MBE while Elton John is. I'm a bigger Elton John fan than I am a David Bowie fan, but I'd say I don't think either is hugely important. Because I'm lazy, I'm going to quote two an e-mail I wrote about the Bowie v. Elton John debate.

All the problems with your "David Bowie for Knight" start with this premise.

Now, let's examine Bowie's import on popular music. Your statement "Bowie changed music forever" is sullied by a lack of definition of "music." First, any popular artist changed music in a "butterfly effect" sort of way. So, if we define "changing music" by "how many people heard their records," Elton John would have Bowie beat. He's sold many more records. But, by that rationale, you'd probably have to make Mick Fleetwood a knight and no one wants to do that.

If we define "changing music," as by how much influence an artist has had on future artists sonically (that's key), I'd again argue with your point. Bowie was on the back end of a lot of trends and his masterpiece, Ziggy Stardust, is hardly groundbreaking as far as "sound" goes. Everything done on Ziggy was done before (old time rock and roll in "Suffragette City," melodramatic balladry in "Rock and Roll Suicide," rockabilly in "Hang On To Yourself," etc.) as far as the music goes. The lyrical content is slightly different, but only in that no one had done a rock opera/concept album about aliens before. There had certainly been a concept album about a deaf, dumb, mute, blind pinball-playing child, though.

If we define "music" as not just the sound, but the image of rock and roll, I can see your point more. Bowie certainly was at the edge of the androgynist/glam rock, but even Bowie has said he borrowed a lot of that from his friend,T. Rex singer Marc Bolan.

(Also, I'd take umbrage at your analogy of "I'll take ziggy stardust over the fucking lion king any day of the week." To compare one artist's best work over another artist's crappy work is foolish. I'd take "Forever Changes" by Love over Floyd's "The Division Bell" any day, also, but that doesn't mean that Floyd isn't the superior band.)


Time Magazine named "Hunky Dory" as one of its top 100 albums of all time. Why, I couldn't tell you. Stylistically, Bowie is all over the map. Thematically, he's similarly sporadic; He goes from the simplicity of "Eight Line Poem" to the ridiculous and slightly proggy "Life on Mars?"

But, a great album? Hardly.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Did you ever see the BBC show "Life on Mars"? I cannot recommended it more highly. And it made me like that song a lot more.

Read all about it: