David Bowie has made a career out of reinventing himself. In his early days, it felt like he was creating personas simply to discard them at the peak of their popularity: The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust and, most famously, Cobbler Bob. He didn’t simply create the characters – he lived them. The belief he had in these characters seeped into the psyche of the general public in a way no other popular artist has achieved since.
Whilst these great creations don the designs of shirts the world over (or maybe just in Camden and Topshop), and at least one has become ironically infamous, many of Bowie’s ventures and guest appearances have fallen by the wayside, perhaps a little too weird for the average Bowie fan to comprehend.
Here’s a countdown of the weirdest and most wonderful Bowie moments over the years.
1. David Bowie and Tina Turner star in a Pepsi advert together
Whilst Tina Turner’s popularity arguably hasn’t followed the same trajectory as David Bowie, in 1987 she was a big crowd-puller and on a par with Bowie. Pairing the two together after the ill-fated Michael Jackson commercials was a match made in heaven. Unfortunately David Bowie was accused of sexual assault during his Glass Spider Tour and although all charges were later dropped, so was the advert seen above as Pepsi panicked about being associated with a high-profile court case. It’s a huge shame because the ad, which riffs on the 1985 John Hughes film Weird Science, is a great piece of pop music history.
2. Boz in the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul
Yes, that’s right. In 1999, Eidos released a not-very-popular title called Omikron: The Nomad Soul on PC and, later, Dreamcast. David Bowie had a considerable amount of input into the storyline and design, plus he provided several songs for the soundtrack (most of which were reworked for his then-upcoming album Hours… or released as b-sides for the associated singles). In addition to performing in the in-game band The Dreamers, he features as Boz (see the above video), a mystical figure that appears digitally at various points in the game. It’s hardly Bowie’s finest moment but worth seeing to imagine what it felt like in 1999 when these graphics were cutting edge.
3. The original video for Space Oddity (1969)
I think if you’ve got this far down the article and you’re still reading you probably have already seen the famous video for “Space Oddity”. If you’re in any way interested in the history of Bowie, you’ll recognise the persona in this video as Aladdin Sane, which Bowie had assumed for his sixth studio album in 1973. However, on 2nd February 1969 David and his then-collaborator John Hutchinson recorded a video using an earlier version of the song, and that’s what you can see above. It’s quite different and entertaining in its own right, and a fairer reflection of what he was like at the time the song was recorded. By 1973, Bowie was a completely different person and his backing band had changed, so it’s nice that there is preserved a more accurate visual representation of the track.
4. Crystal Japan sake adverts
There’s not much to go on in this advert. Just a bit of Bowie at a piano playing some ambient music followed by him drinking some sake. And a pyramid thing with the top chopped off. So…
5. Jazzin’ for Blue Jean
Back in 1984, David Bowie was riding high off the back of one of the most successful albums of his career, Let’s Dance, which hit number one globally to positive critical reviews. Such was the popularity, a decision was made to rush-release a new album, Tonight, which featured three covers and a couple of collaborations. Sales-wise it was successful, but poorly-received critically. One curiosity from it is the promotional video produced for the song Blue Jean. Clocking in at over 20 minutes, Jazzin’ For Blue Jean allowed Bowie to explore his acting abilities under the guidance of British filmmaker Julien Temple. Unfortunately, the results were less than impressive.
In it, he plays Vic, a window cleaner desperate to impress an unnamed girl played by Louise Scott. To win her heart, he pretends to know popular musician Screaming Lord Byron (also Bowie) and takes her on a date to see him perform. It’s going through the motions for the most part the performance of the song as Byron near the end is vintage Bowie. Perhaps that’s why it was cut into a three-minute conventional video for use on MTV.
It’s a tough watch now but worth checking out if you are really keen.
6. A strange tone for Jareth the Goblin King singing “As The World Falls Down”
We all love the Labyrinth. It was a childhood favourite of mine and in many ways hasn’t really gone into the ironic standing I’m sure it assumes for most people. After all, it’s a great fantasy storyline, the soundtrack is actually fantastic and it has David Bowie in it. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what… if you take the track “As The World Falls Down” out of context and lay out the facts (as Bowie sings lovingly into the eyes of the girl he’s kidnapped, with those extremely tight trousers on, remember Jennifer Connolly was fourteen when this was filmed) it makes for interesting reading. Well, I’m being purposefully sensational here. There’s nothing terrible here. It’s a great song by a great artist in a great film. Stop fretting.
7. I Want My MTV
“Too much is never enough”, according to Billy Idol at the end of this video. David only appears briefly at the start of this video, but it’s still a wholly bizarre experience. Well worth 30 seconds of your life.
8. Bowie pokes fun at the Laughing Gnome
I remember the first time I heard The Laughing Gnome. It was particularly hard to track down for a quick listen: unavailable on YouTube or any of the streaming sites, the only way I could reveal the hilarity was to purchase it as part of the self-titled 1967 Deram album David Bowie – and even then only on the 2010 deluxe two-disc version where it nestled on the second disc (it strangely wasn’t actually included on the original album despite being one of the singles taken from it). It’s a shockingly awful novelty record that isn’t in keeping with anything else he produced before or since; even treating it as a children’s song you have to worry about how many of the puns would be understood by a child (for example, the “London School of Eco-gnome-ics” is mentioned). It is often misquoted as being Bowie’s first big hit, though it didn’t trouble the top of the charts until he’d achieved mega-stardom as Ziggy Stardust, reaching #6 in 1973 (six years after its original release).
So it’s highly pleasing to see the above video, taken from 1999’s Comic Relief push, where Bowie reveals a new song titled “Requiem for a Laughing Gnome”. It’s a song played exclusively on a recorder, “with choreography”, and a message pops up with a threat that it will continue for four hours unless the public donates more money. It’s always great to see interviews with Bowie from about 10-15 years ago – he’s actually a lot more sociable and friendly than most people imagine he will be.
9. Bowie talks about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men
In Bowie’s very first television appearance at the tender age of 17 – as Davey Jones – he talks about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men (presumably SPOCTLHM, pronounced spock-tull-hum”). It’s obviously a publicity stunt to get his face on TV, but a piece of rock history nonetheless.
10. Starring as Tesla in The Prestige
Whilst on hiatus between 2003’s Reality and 2013’s The Next Day, Bowie hardly made any appearances in public. However, in 2006 he found time to act in Christopher Nolan’s film The Prestige as Nikola Tesla. It was a pretty bizarre moment when I noticed this as I’d not seen the film at the time and had forgotten he was in it. He does a pretty good job too. Great film, great ending. Back when Christopher Nolan was good.