Given how iconic so much of David Bowie’s output is, those that have borrowed from his repertoire for the most part have generally fallen well short of the source material.
Many have relied on the by-numbers approach of just taking the riffs and hooks wholesale from the original. Abominations like “Ice Ice Baby” (sampling “Under Pressure”) and “Just For One Day”, David Guetta’s appropriation of “”Heroes”” are lowest common denominator garbage that just rely on the familiarity of the source material to shift units.
There have been a few credible hip hop records that creatively sampled Bowie in the way that the Bomb Squad took apart and reconstructed 70s funk material.
In his pre Run The Jewels career, El P used the drum beat from Ziggy Stardust’s “Soul Love” as the rhythmic basis for “Innocent Leader” in 2003.
The late J Dilla used the beat to similar effect on 2007’s “Guilty”. These were relatively easy pickings. The drum is isolated in the introduction of the Bowie recording and is really there for the taking. Woody Woodmansey’s drumming is ever rock solid and is ideal for those wishing to use it for the basic DNA of their own tracks.
The other and more noticeable track is from Tangerine Dream’s first solo LP “Romance ’76”. The electronic bleep is the fundamental to the driving rhythm of the J Dilla track.
Dilla is a tragic figure, having died at the age of 32 from Lupus, the disease that affects one’s immune system. Dilla kept working through the incredible fatigue and I would personally recommend the incredible “Donuts”. It features 32 tracks, each around a minute long and it is pure brilliance.
This post was prompted by a particular track that I heard on the first Kompakt Total compilation released in 1999. Jürgen Paape is a co-owner of the label along with Wolfgang Voigt, the man behind the Gas project which I wrote about here. He is elusive, has never been interviewed and his output is sparse. “How Great Thou Art” is a electronic track recorded by a German artist and inspired by a song recorded 20 years earlier in Berlin. Given how little is known about Paape and his views and influences, the title of the song speaks volumes. Entering with a shiny gliding synth sound reminiscent of “A New Career In A New Town”, the hook comes about two minutes in.
First we get the opening piano chord from the introduction of “Beauty And The Beast” followed by the little synthesiser squiggle. I’m guessing Bowie played the piano part and Eno applied some knob twiddling for the synth hook.
The song has always been one of my favourite Bowie tunes. The slow build up draws you into the drama of the first side of “Heroes”. It has a great one take Fripp guitar solo and rocks along in a typically paranoid manner until the unexpected middle eight “I wanted no distractions, like every good boy should” gives the contrast that the title of the song hints at.
The live clip above comes from a TV show in Bremen in 1978 and features Bowie’s touring band for what eventually delivered the “Stage” LP. Adrian Belew pulls off the guitar solo with great aplomb.
Of course, the irony of Bowie being sampled is that he was a musical magpie himself, drawing upon what he heard to head out in new, sometimes unchartered, territories.
The Paape song I feel genuinely does the original justice and the deference of the title is touching, especially when the common German lineage is considered.
Two years on from his death then and he still is prompting discussion, admiration and interest. Long may it continue.