Nokia - Music Recommenders: December 2006

David Bowie:
Sounds Of My Universe
(Part Two)

By David Bowie

Last month we published the first part of David Bowie's list of the 25 records that have most influenced his music listening over the years. In the second part he recalls a diverse array of faves including founding Pink Floyd member and solo iconoclast, Syd Barrett, and original New York underground rock outfit, The Fugs. Ten tracks from David Bowie's 'Sounds Of My Universe' selection are available for download now on Music Recommenders.

Gundula Janowitz - Four Last Songs (Strauss) - 1973 DG
Like that certain book, this is one album that I give to friends and acquaintances continually. Although Eleanor Steber and Lisa Della Casa do fine interpretations of this monumental set, Janowitz's performance of the Strauss's Four Last Songs has been described, rightly, as transcendental. It aches with love for a life that is quietly fading. I know of no other piece of music, nor any performance, which moves me quite like this.

Glen Branca - The Ascension - 1981 99
Bought in Zurich, Switzerland. This was an impulse buy. The cover got me. Robert Longo produced what is essentially the best cover art of the eighties (and beyond, some would say). Mysterious in the religious sense, renaissance angst dressed in Mugler. And on the inside. Well, what at first sounds like dissonance is soon assimilated as a play on the possibilities of overtones from massed guitars. Not minimalism exactly, unlike La Monte Young and his work within the harmonic system, Glenn uses the entire harmonic system (overtones) produced by the vibration of a guitar string. Amplified and reproduced by many guitars simultaneously, you have an effect akin to the drone of tibetan buddhist monks but much, much, much louder. Two key players in Branca's band were future composer David Rosenbloom ( the terrific 'Souls of Chaos' 1990) and Lee Ranaldo, founding figure with Thurston Moore of the great Sonic Youth. Over the years, Branca got even louder and more complex than this, but here on the title track, his manifesto is already complete.

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs - 1970 Harvest
Bought in London. Syd will always be The Pink Floyd for some of us older fans. He made this album, according to legend, while fragile and precariously out of control. Malcom Jones, his producer at the time, denies this vehemently. I will go with Jones, as he was there. Highlight track for me is 'Dark Globe', gloriously disturbing and poignant all at once.

George Crumb - Black Angels - CRI 1972
Bought in New York mid seventies. Probably one of the only concert pieces to be inspired by the Vietnam War. But it is also a study in spiritual annihilation. I heard this piece for the first time in the darkest of times of my own seventies and it scared the bejabbers out of me. At the time Crumb was one of the new voices in composition and Black Angel one of his most chaotic works. It's still hard for me to hear this piece without a sense of foreboding. Truly, at times, it sounds like the devils own work.

Toots and the Maytals - Funky Kingston - 1973 Dragon
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a reggae nut, you will have this of course. Toots Hibbert claimed me with his powerful 'Pressure Drop' contribution to the 'The Harder They Come' soundtrack in the late sixties. Then followed this fantastic and truly funky album in 1973. I was living on a street off the quite gentrified Cheney Walk in London and for the first time I started getting complaints from neighbors about the volume that I played my records at, this beauty being the main culprit. Hibbert, by the way, claims to be 'The Inventor of Reggae'. Nice one, Toots.

Harry Partch - Delusion Of Fury - 1971 Columbia
Bought in London at HMV, Oxford Street, London. I have only the haziest memory of when I first heard of this guy. I believe that it was Tony Visconti, my oft-times producer, who clued me in. A madman of sorts and certainly a one time hobo, Partch set about inventing and making dozens of the most extraordinary instruments (When was the last time you saw someone playing the Bloboy, the Eucal Blossom or the Spoils of War. How do you tune a Spoils of War, I wonder?) then, between the 1930s and the 1970s, wrote wondrous and evocative compositions for them, his subjects ranging from mythology to days riding the trains during the depression. 'Delusion' represents the best overview of what Parch got up to. By turns creepy as hell then positively rocking. Having chosen a musical path that departed from the mainstream composers, he laid the ground for people like Terry Riley and La Monte Young.

Charlie Mingus - Oh Yeah - 1961 Atlantic
Medhurst was the biggest departmental store in Bromley my British hometown in the early sixties. In terms of style, they were to be pulverized by their competitors down the road who stocked up early on the new 'G-Plan' Scandinavian style furniture. But they did have, unaccountably, a fantastic record department. Run by a wonderful 'married' couple, Jimmy and Charles, there wasn't an American release they didn't have or couldn't get. Quite as hip as any London supplier, I would have had a very dry musical run if it were not for this place. Jane Green, their counter assistant, took a liking to me and whenever I would pop in, which was most afternoons after school, she would let me play records in the 'sound booth' to my hearts content till they closed at 5.30 p.m. Jane would often join me and we would smooch big-time to the sounds of Ray Charles or Eddie Cochran. This was very exciting as I was around thirteen or fourteen and she would be a womanly seventeen at that time. My first older woman. Charles let me buy at a huge discount enabling me to build up a fab collection over the two or three years that I frequented this store. Happy days. Jimmy, the younger partner, recommended this Mingus album one-day around 1961. I lost my original Medhurst copy but have continued to re-buy it throughout the years as it was re-released time and time again. It has on it the rather giveaway track 'Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am'. It was also my introduction to Roland Kirk.

Stravinsky - Le Sacre Du Printemps - 1960 MFP (EMI)
For me, a classic example of the eye doing the buying. Excuse the pun. In the late '50s, Woolworth produced a cheap series of classical albums on their Music For Pleasure label. I spotted this one in the racks and was so taken with the photo of the mountain (Ayre's Rock in Australia as it turned out) that resistance was impossible. With help from the liner notes, which I found incredibly illuminating, I could almost construct my own imagined dance to this fantastic piece of music. The ostinato theme for the four tubas is as powerful a riff as any found in rock. Earlier in my then short life I had bought Holst's The Planets Suite, motivated by watching a tremendous Sci-Fi series on BBC television called 'The Quatermass Experiment' from behind the sofa when my parents had thought I had gone to bed. After each episode I would tip-toe back to my bedroom rigid with fear, so powerful did the action seem to me. The title music was 'Mars, bringer of war', so I already knew that classical music wasn't boring.

The Fugs - The Fugs - ESP 1966
The sleeve notes were written by Allen Ginsberg and contain these prescient lines:- 'Who's on the other side? People who think we are bad. Other side? No, let's not make it a war, we'll all be destroyed, we'll go on suffering 'till we die if we take the War Door'. I found on the internet a newsprint ad for the Fugs who, coupled with the Velvet Underground, played the 'April Fools Dance and Models Ball' at the Village Gate in 1966. The FBI had them on their books as 'The Fags'. This was surely one of the most lyrically explosive Underground bands ever. Not the greatest musicians in the world but how 'Punk' was all that? Tuli Kupferberg, Fugs co-writer and performer, in collaboration with Ed Saunders, has just finished the new Fugs album as I write. Tuli is 84 years old.

Florence Foster Jenkins - The Glory of the Human Voice - 1962 RCA
In the mid to late seventies, Norman Fisher, art and people collector, threw the most diverse soirees in the whole of New York. People from every sector of the so and not so avant-garde would flock to his tiny Downtown apartment just because Norman was a magnet. Charismatic, huge fun and brilliant at introducing all the right people to the wrong people. His musical taste was as frothy as he himself. Two of his recommendations have stayed with me over the years. One was Manhattan Towers, the first radio musical, by Gordon Jenkins (no relation to Florence) and 'The Glory of the Human Voice'. Madame Jenkins was rich, social and devoted to opera. She had and was blissfully unaware of, the worst set of pipes in the world of music. She would grace the New York set with this monstrous voice once or twice a year with private recitals at the Ritz-Carlton for the lucky few. So popular were these affairs that the tickets were scalped for outrageous prices. To meet the demand Madame eventually hired Carnegie Hall. This was the hot ticket of that year, 1942. Everyone and Noel Coward were there, falling into the aisles in barely suppressed hysterics. While performing the song Clavelitos, Madame, who would change costume as many as three times during the course of a recital, became so carried away punctuating the cadences of the song by tossing tiny red roses from a basket that the basket itself, in her enthusiasm, followed the roses into the laps of her delighted fans. Be afraid, be very afraid.