David Bowie: 70 Years, 70 Amazing Facts

David Bowie: 70 Years, 70 Amazing Facts


This coming Sunday, January 8, would have marked the late icon David Bowie’s 70th birthday. As we prepare for the one year anniversary of the death of one of music’s most influential, fearless and defiantly creative personalities, we’ve put together 70 obscure facts about Bowie. With a 7” release announced to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bowie’s Berlin masterwork Low, we can be sure we haven’t heard the last from the enigmatic man who fell to Earth. In the meantime, see how many of these tidbits you already knew…

1.     The Hunky Dory track "Oh! You Pretty Things" began life as a song titled "I’d Like A Big Girl With A Couple Of Melons".

2.     David Bowie’s 2016 release Blackstar was the first solo studio album not featuring the artist on the cover.

3.     Just six months before he died in August 1977, Elvis Presley expressed a wish to work with David Bowie. A fan of Bowie’s 1975 single "Golden Years", Presley envisioned Bowie producing his next record. The claim was made last year by country star Dwight Yoakam, who had discussed Presley fandom with Bowie in 1997.

4.     In the early ‘90s, David Bowie had his left calf tattooed with a dolphin, a Japanese prayer and his wife Iman’s name written in Kanji characters.

5.     Owen Frampton taught Bowie art at Bromley Tech in the early ‘60s. Bowie would later play with Owen’s famous guitarist son Peter Frampton on the Glass Spider tour of 1987.

6.     While playing John Merrick in the 1980 stage show The Elephant Man, David Bowie travelled to Chicago’s Blackstone Theatre in a garbage truck. It has been suggested Mark Chapman attended The Elephant Man during its New York run in the weeks prior to his assassination of John Lennon.

7.     In 1970 David Bowie bought a pair of suede boots from a Kensington Market stall. He would later write a hit song with the stallholder – Freddie Mercury (and his band Queen) recorded "Under Pressure" with Bowie in Montreux in 1981.

8.     Freddie Mercury was also in the audience for the first unveiling of Ziggy Stardust at Buckinghamshire venue Friars Aylesbury in January 1972. A number of London fans took the 60 kilometre trip out of town to see the show.

9.     Bowie initially asked comedian and actor Dudley Moore to play piano on 1971’s Hunky Dory album.

10.  Before making his Hollywood breakthrough with the films Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott directed David Bowie in a Lyons Maid Luv ice cream ad in 1969.

11.  David Bowie’s loathed late ‘80s act Tin Machine recorded a cover of John Lennon’s "Working Class Man" in tribute to Sean Lennon. The teenager had dropped by the studio with David’s son Duncan Jones, who would later find fame as the director of Hollywood films Moon, Source Code and Warcraft.

12.  Bowie used the late Andy Warhol’s real wig when starring as his former associate in the 1996 film Basquiat.

13.  After their duet on the charity cover "Dancing In The Street", Mick Jagger and David Bowie considered working on a film together. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels began as a project to showcase the duo, but was later a 1988 hit for Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

14.  Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan pulled out of being part of Bowie’s band on the 1983 Serious Moonlight tour after reportedly becoming furious Bowie mimed to Vaughan’s guitar solo in the "Let’s Dance" music video.

15.  While recording “Heroes”, producer Brian Eno would start his morning with a cup of chopped garlic in boiling water. Bowie would often kick off his day with a raw egg.

16.  Bowie learnt to tap dance for his role in the 1986 Julien Temple film Absolute Beginners.

17.  Bowie purchased a unit in the Kincoppal apartment complex, Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay in Sydney in 1983, around the time he also filmed the videos "Let’s Dance" and "China Girl" in New South Wales. He sold the apartment in 1992.

18.  Obsessed with the Chinese numerological system in the early 1980s, Bowie used I Ching to decide if mixes for 1984 album Tonight were complete.

19.  David Bowie’s Pepsi allegiance in the 1980s saw him rehash his 1983 hit "Modern Love" as a duet with Tina Turner. Pepsi, Mr Bowie suggested, “puts the choice in my hand”.

20.  Bowie was apparently skilled in automotive mechanics, spending time between gigs in the ‘60s fixing old cars. He wrote the song "Rupert The Riley" as an ode to his 1930s-era Riley Gamecock.

21.  After witnessing his first Velvet Underground show at the Electric Circus in New York in 1971, Bowie went backstage and fawned over Lou Reed for more than 10 minutes. It was only after Bowie returned to England a friend pointed out that Lou had already left The Velvet Underground – the excitable Bowie had in fact been lavishing praise on Reed’s replacement, Doug Yule.

22.  Hunky Dory track "Kooks" was written while Bowie was absorbing Neil Young’s After The Goldrush album.

23.  For his 1985 Live Aid appearance, Bowie wore a suit he’d originally donned on the Diamond Dogs tour 12 years earlier.

24.  David Bowie might have totally owned the campy role of Jareth The Goblin King in Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth, but there were multiple other rock stars on the film’s shortlist. Henson named Michael Jackson, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Sting, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, David Lee Roth and Ted Nugent as alternative options for the Jareth role.

25.  The “floating in a tin can” portion of Bowie’s first hit "Space Oddity" was based on Simon & Garfunkel’s "Old Friends", a song which Bowie loved.

26.  Blackstar was David’s only number one album in the US.

27.  Some of Bowie’s surprising musical guest appearances: singing with P Diddy on the Training Day soundtrack tune "American Dream", covering the Tom Waits song "Falling Down" with Scarlett Johansson on her 2008 album Anywhere I Lay My Head and playing saxophone on Steeleye Span’s "To Know Him Is To Love Him" in 1974.

28.  Bowie wrote the song "Safe" for 1998’s The Rugrats Movie, but it was cut from the film. It later appeared as a Heathen B-side.

29.  "Let’s Dance" producer Nile Rodgers was with Billy Idol in New York’s Continental nightclub when he first met Bowie. Idol violently threw up as the pair approached Bowie for a chat.

30.  In a sign of his early self-belief (and surely a touch of arrogance), Bowie and his band The Manish Boys played "You Really Got Me" while supporting The Kinks in 1964.

31.  It was ‘60s session musician Jimmy Page (later rather well known for his part in rock megabeasts Led Zeppelin) who wrote the riff for Bowie’s 1970 song "The Supermen". The pair allegedly fell out in the 1970s – possibly over their shared interest in black magic.

32.  As a friend of Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott, David Bowie would often attend early Small Faces rehearsals and offer backing vocals.

33.  Bowie’s band The Manish Boys had a recording session with the famed, erratic producer Joe Meek in 1964, however the results - featuring Bowie’s vocal and saxophone additions - have never been commercially released.

34.  More than five years before he produced Lou Reed’s Transformer album, Bowie was raving about Velvet Underground & Nico before their debut album was even released. His manager Ken Pitt had met Lou Reed and Andy Warhol in New York in 1966, bringing back an acetate of the album for his charge.

35.  During his own first meeting with Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1971, Bowie put his Lindsay Kemp training to good use and mimed the removal of his own intestines.

36.  After Iggy Pop was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1975, David visited him with his girlfriend Ola Hudson, whose son Saul later found fame as Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Possibly not aiding Pop’s recovery, Bowie brought him some cocaine.

37.  Mary Hopkin, Low producer Tony Visconti’s wife, performed backing vocals on the track "Sound and Vision". Hopkin had formerly been signed to The Beatles’ Apple label and had a number one hit in 1968 with "Those Were The Days".

38.  Keen on helping his friend Iggy Pop out by producing his 1977 debut solo album The Idiot, Bowie decamped to French studio Chateau D’Herouville with The Stooges frontman. Bowie arranged to pay for the recording of the album, but his cheque bounced.

39.  After a meal with their respective partners in 1973, Mick Jagger and David Bowie collaborated on a new song. It would later be recorded by The Astronettes as "Having A Good Time".

40.  1995 album Outside’s over-arching theme of murder as conceptual art began as a short story Bowie wrote for the 100th issue of Q magazine.

41.  After hearing a pre-release playback of the iconic album Low, producer Tony Visconti says one record executive told Bowie “If you make Young Americans II we’ll buy you a mansion in Philadelphia!”.

42.  David Bowie planned to produce Akron art rockers Devo’s debut in 1978, but ended up being too busy. He instead arranged for producer Brian Eno to work on Q. Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and assisted in the group’s signing to Warner.

43.  In one of the oddest getaways imaginable, Bowie and Iggy Pop holidayed together in Kenya in 1978. Pop’s 1983 holiday in Haiti didn’t go so well, with Bowie checking in on his punk veteran friend after he apparently returned from the Caribbean isle under a “voodoo curse”.

44.  On 4 July 1973, Bowie held a wake for the Ziggy Stardust character at Café Royal on Regent Street. Invited guests included Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Peter Cook, Barbra Streisand and Spike Milligan.

45.  Working titles for David Bowie albums have included Metrobolist (The Man Who Sold The World), We Are The Dead (Diamond Dogs), Planned Accidents (Lodger), The Dreamers (…hours), The Gouster (Young Americans), Despite Straight Lines (Lodger), One Damned Song (Young Americans), Leon (Outside), The Return Of The Thin White Duke (Station To Station), Vampires And Human Flesh (Let’s Dance) and New Music Night And Day (Low). The Gouster was finally released in its original form as part of the 2016 set Who Can I Be Now?  

46.  Bowie suggested in an Australian radio interview he only learnt to swim in 1978.

47.  Feeling nostalgic after attending Marc Bolan’s funeral in September 1977, Bowie returned to his former residence at Haddon Hall, Beckenham for a look. His former landlord presented him with a bill for unpaid rent.

48.  David Bowie’s first collaboration with Marc Bolan was painting the walls of their shared manager Les Conn’s office. "The Prettiest Star" was the only studio track the pair worked on together, with Bolan playing guitar on the 1970 single.

49.  Film roles Bowie turned down include Captain Hook in Hook (the role eventually going to Dustin Hoffman), The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (picked up with unhinged delight by Jack Nicholson) and Bond villain Max Zorin in A View To A Kill (instead played by Christopher Walken).

50.  George Underwood, whose playground scuffle with Bowie led to his permanently dilated pupil and lifelong issue with poor depth perception, also performed with Bowie in The King Bees. An Underwood illustration was used in the artwork of Bowie’s Space Oddity album.

51.  Bowie didn’t tour Low, instead playing Baldwin electric piano on Iggy Pop’s tour in support of his Bowie-produced 1977 album The Idiot.

52.  In a 1997 story in The Big Issue commissioned by guest editor Damien Hirst, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker conducted a whole interview with David Bowie on the topic of smoking.

53.  In a throwback to the extravagance of the masquerade ball scene in Labyrinth, Bowie made his final appearance in a television commercial in a 2013 Louis Vuitton campaign featuring The Next Day track "I’d Rather Be High".

54.  Bowie was asked to play a Doctor Who bad guy named Sharaz Jek in 1983, but Serious Moonlight tour dates prevented him taking up the opportunity.

55.  The cover for Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars was also supposed to feature the Spiders – Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder - however none of them wanted to go out in the cold.

56.  In 1983 Bowie said, “I get offered so many bad movies… And [my parts] are all raging queens or transvestites or martians”.

57.  A blue plaque now marks the location where the Ziggy cover photograph was taken outside 23 Heddon Street. The prominent K West sign in the background of the hand-tinted photograph advertised a furriers. Solicitors representing the business wrote to RCA in disgust at being linked to the rock star.

58.  When Bowie visited the Heddon Street site of the Ziggy photo shoot in 1993, a woman walking by said, “They took your phone box away – isn’t it terrible?”.

59.  After the Glass Spider Tour concluded in New Zealand in 1987, Bowie suggested the massive arachnid stage prop was burnt in an Auckland paddock. After Bowie’s death last January, a former roadie owned up to having some of the set in his warehouse.

60.  When Bowie recorded his celebrated performance of "Starman" on Top Of The Pops, Scottish singer Lulu was one of the other performers on the show. The pair later re-recorded Bowie’s track "The Man Who Sold The World" together (and enjoyed a fleeting affair).

61.  It cost 75p for a ticket to the Rainbow to see the first London Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars show in August 1972.

62.  In the late ’90s, New Zealand director Peter Jackson had been keen on Bowie taking the role of Gandalf in his epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy. The musician passed on the opportunity, suggesting he was “far too busy”, although it’s since been suggested he played at the millennium wrap party for the shoot.

63.  The cover photo used for “Heroes” was actually taken during a Japanese photo session for Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album.

64.  Dylan Jones’ biography When Ziggy Played Guitar suggests, during the frisson of the final Ziggy show at Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, “men openly masturbated and girls fell to their knees and fellated complete strangers as Bowie sprinted through his set”.

65.  In 1978 Bowie phoned Spiders bassist Trevor Bolder about re-forming the group, but guitarist Mick Ronson wouldn’t do it.

66.  In 1995 Bowie released his own range of Laura Ashley wallpaper.

67.  David Bowie often kept his “most treasured possession”, a pic of Little Richard, on the soundboard at his recording sessions. He bought the beloved photograph for a shilling when he was a nine-year-old.

68.  2003’s Reality track "Never Get Old" was used for a Vittel Water TV ad featuring Bowie living with his previous incarnations.

69.  Mary Poppins song "Chim Chim Cheree" was part of Bowie’s ‘60s band The Lower Third’s live repertoire.

70.  “The idea of watching birds walking down a catwalk never appealed to me”, Bowie exclaimed in 2003. He did, however, appear in the 2001 film Zoolander scene where male models Hansel and Zoolander stage a showdown on the catwalk.

The new David Bowie collection Legacy - featuring a new mix of "Life On Mars?" and rare radio edits – is out now. Want more Bowie facts? Paul Trynka’s excellent Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography is highly recommended as a wealth of Bowie information.

- SM

Related Posts