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David Bowie: A Video Visionary

Updated on July 14, 2021
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George worked in music retail for more than 30 years and has written for a variety of music zines and newspapers over the years.

When David Robert Jones (more commonly known as David Bowie) passed way on January 10, 2016, he left behind one of the richest and most vibrant legacies in rock and roll. From the time of his first hit single, "Space Oddity" in 1969, through the release of his final album, ★ (Blackstar) in 2016, Bowie gave the world a catalog of music that will be remembered for generations if not for all time. But his work went well beyond the simple recording of pop tunes. David Bowie was also an actor, producer and, let's face it, performance artist. His films included Absolute Beginners, Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell To Earth. He produced albums for Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and, most notably, Iggy Pop. He stepped into the world of performance art with his assumption of a variety of personas throughout his career.

When MTV came along to aid and abet in video's killing of the radio star, there were some artists who quickly adapted to and even thrived in this new age of visually driven entertainment. There is no question that MTV changed the commercial music landscape (whether for better or worse being open to debate), but certainly some artists fared better than others in this new musical landscape. David Bowie was one who fared better than most and even seemed to flourish in this adventurous new media.

One of the earliest videos on MTV was "Ashes to Ashes" from Bowie's classic Scary Monsters album. This video not only paid tribute to the past by re-introducing Bowie's Major Tom character from Space Oddity, but also saluted the future by giving exposure to what was at the time an underground movement known as New Romanticism -- a fashion style originally connected to the world of synth-pop music but which came to be more widely associated with the style of bands like The Police, Duran Duran and The Romantics.

The "Ashes to Ashes" video showed that Bowie was ready for this new era in rock and roll, already a step or two ahead of many of his fellow music stars. Many bands would eventually look to Bowie's earliest videos for inspiration for their own music videos. This type of thing was nothing new to David Bowie who had long been recognized as an influential artist with legions of musicians openly acknowledging that they were fans as well as giving credit to Bowie for his mark on their music, style and fashion. It was no surprise to those familiar with him that he would become a leader in this newest form of artistic expression. In fact, it seemed virtually inevitable that he would do so.

Bowie had always been a very visual performer with elaborate stage shows full of costumes and theatrics and albums filled with conceptual storylines and intricate lyrics designed to create a specific picture in the mind of the listener. He was known for assuming various personas such as Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and the aforementioned Major Tom, weaving these characters into not only his studio efforts and live performances, but also into interviews, television appearances, business meetings and other parts of his everyday life.

Certainly, David Bowie was a superstar and even a legend before the video revolution changed the marketing environment for popular music, but with these new tools at his disposal, Bowie quickly became a megastar. From Scary Monsters through Let's Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down, Bowie scored hit after hit in the 1980s with videos for songs like "China Girl," "Modern Love" and "Blue Jean." Where as many other well established artists seemed unsure how to best utilize this new medium, Bowie was right at home and seemed to use the video medium to naturally expand his artistic vision.

His exploitation of the new medium of music videos led to one of his most commercially successful periods. While some critics as well as many fans may have found the music a bit mainstream and a little too safe for an artist who had so often rode the cutting edge of musical creativity, there was no denying his mastery of this innovatie method of creative expression. Just as he had pioneered new frontiers in the formative days of rock music, so did he spearhead the move into music video as an artistic form.

Artists Influenced by Bowie

  • Bauhaus
  • Be-Bop Deluxe
  • Cherie Curie (The Runaways)
  • Duran Duran
  • Joy Division
  • Lady Gaga
  • Morrissey
  • Gary Numan
  • The Police
  • Psychedelic Furs
  • Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails)
  • ...and many more!

Those Who Played with Bowie

  • Carlos Alomar
  • Peter Frampton
  • Robert Fripp
  • Iggy Pop
  • Queen
  • Mick Ronson
  • Pete Townshend
  • Tina Turner
  • Tom Verlaine
  • ...and many more!

David Bowie Video Poll

My favorite 1980's Bowie video is...

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© 2010 George Stephens


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