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David Bowie released 27 albums in his glittering rockstar career, but how did he climb his way to the top?
Bowie was born David Robert Jones in 1947, between Stockwell and Brixton. His father introduced him to the rock'n'roll of Elvis Presley and Little Richard at the age of nine, and upon hearing 'Tutti Frutti' Bowie claimed that he heard God. In 1962, at the age of 15, Bowie got into a fist fight with friend George Underwood, which left him with a permanently dilated pupil in the left eye. Bowie left school at 16 and his first EP 'Liza Jane', by Davie Jones and the King Bees, was released at 17.
'Liza Jane' had little impact on the charts and Bowie joined many more anticlimactic bands in the elusive search for fame and success. People continually confused him with Davy Jones of The Monkees, and therefore he changed his stage name to David Bowie in the mid 60s, after the American frontiersman Jim Bowie and his knife. Disillusioned with his musical progress, he began studying mime under Lindsay Kemp's tuition at Sadler's Wells, where he formed a fascination with the creation of personae.
Bowie scraped a living doing ads and other piecemeal work until the release of 'Space Oddity' on the 11th July 1969. Released five days before the Apollo 11 space mission, the single went to No.5 on the UK charts and was Bowie's breakthrough. He began wearing a dress and flirting with androgyny to promote rockier 1970 album 'The Man Who Sold The World', which lead to a US pedestrian drawing a gun on him and telling Bowie to "kiss his ass". David Bowie had arrived.
During his US tour, Bowie conceived of a character that would be an amalgamation of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed's music. Upon his return to England he announced his intention for a persona "who looks like he's landed from Mars". 'Hunky Dory' was released in 1971, including the soaring epic ballad 'Life on Mars', building upon the themes of the stars and universe he'd created in his 'Space Oddity' days. Alas, despite its enduring legacy, it wasn't a commercial success upon release. Cue Ziggy Stardust.
Ziggy, of course, never fell but only rose. Bowie premiered his creation in the Toby Jug pub of Tolworth in 1972, in an elaborate stage show. Word spread like brushfire and crowds flocked to catch the new star as he toured the UK. Lead single from the supporting album 'Ziggy Stardust' was the anthemic 'Starman', for which he gave an unforgettable performance on Top of the Pops. Soon Bowie was at the top of the charts, where he belonged.
Bowie's peacock-esque outfits and glam rock sensibility were cult-inducing, and ultra-theatrical stage shows laced with scandal - such as when he simulated oral sex on his guitarist - sold out venues. But there was a toll. "[Ziggy] wouldn't leave me alone for years," said Bowie. "That was when it all started to go sour. My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity." This lead to the shock killing off of Ziggy live onstage in 1973.
In 1974 Bowie moved to the US, first to New York and then to LA. 'Diamond Dogs', a concept album setting 1984 to music, was the result of his recording sessions on the new continent and proved a hit both sides of the Atlantic. A lavish tour was arranged, but coincided with Bowie's increasing cocaine use and emaciation. He broke in Philadelphia to record the plastic soul of 'Young Americans', giving him his first US No.1, 'Fame'. When 'Space Oddity' was rereleased in the UK, it too went to No.1.
Following extensive legal wranglings and the firing and hiring of a succession of ineffective managers, Bowie emerged in 1976 with a new album 'Station to Station' and new persona, the Thin White Duke. 'Station to Station' produced hits Wild is the Wind and TVC15, and the Thin White Duke was an extension of Bowie's portrayal in film The Man Who Fell To Earth. But his cocaine addiction was ravaging his thoughts. He became obsessed with fascism, and was photographed giving an alleged Nazi salute.
Bowie needed to clean up for both his physical and mental health. He bought a chalet in Switzerland and gradually decreased his drug use, whilst drawing art, before moving to West Berlin. He would later say that during the Thin White Duke years he was 'deranged, out of his mind'. In Berlin, Bowie recorded two of his most critically acclaimed albums, 'Low' and 'Heroes'. 'Heroes' was inspired by a chance glimpse of two lovers leaning against the Berlin wall. The third in the triptych was 'Lodger.
Post-Berlin Bowie returned to his pop roots, ushering in the New Romantic era with worldwide No.1 'Ashes to Ashes' and album 'Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)'. This popularity would boost even further in 1983 with the release of 'Let's Dance', co-produced by Niles Rodger of Chic.
Following a brief experimentation releasing music under the rock group Tin Machine, Bowie went back to releasing solo work with all albums making into the UK Top 10. His twenty-fifth and final studio album 'Blackstar' was released on January 8th 2016 (Bowie's birthday) and two days before his death. Throughout his career, he sold an estimated 140m records worldwide. Here's to an absolute legend.