Almost 50 years since his first hit “Space Oddity”, David Bowie remains a fascinating musician with a deep catalogue and plenty of amazing tales to unearth. To celebrate 72 years since his birth this week, we’ve collated 72 obscure, baffling and downright fascinating facts about the man and his music.
We've broken this up into three parts of 24 facts each for easier consumption!
Brace yourself: in part one, we’ve got trivia about Bewitched, Boost Juice and Bourbon Street pornos…
1. The same 1898 Bechstein piano was used on the recordings of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”. The first two were UK number ones, with “Life On Mars?” making it to three in the chart.
2. Australian entrepreneur and Boost Juice founder Janine Allis worked on Bowie’s yacht Deneb Star in the ‘80s, cleaning up after Bowie and his guests - including acting royalty Michael Caine and Robin Williams - while cruising the Mediterranean.
3. While hidden tracks had previously appeared on albums such as Nirvana’s Nevermind and Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP, it is suggested the 1995 release RarestOneBowie was the first time a track was hidden at the start of a CD rather than at the end. To hear the concealed 1973 RCA ad for the Pin-Ups album, listeners had to press rewind while listening to track one.
4. David Bowie had been keen on recording R&B trio TLC for his 1999 album hours… track “Thursday’s Child”, but it never came to fruition. A few years later, Bowie was said to be in talks to appear on TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes’ second solo album, but she died in a 2002 car crash before it could be recorded.
5. The Stylophone Bowie used on his breakthrough 1969 hit “Space Oddity” was a joke present from his colleague/rival Marc Bolan.
6. David and his wife Angie were late to their own wedding at the Bromley Registry Office after an overnight threesome with a female friend in North London.
7. Three hit-making acts which used Bowie songs as the basis for their band names: Simple Minds (from a line in “The Jean Genie”), The Church (from a line in “Moonage Daydream”) and The Kooks (from the song “Kooks” on Hunky Dory).
8. David Bowie and his producer Tony Visconti were members of a UFO Spotting Club around the time of “Space Oddity”’s release in 1969. Seven years later Bowie played an alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth.
9. In his later years, Bowie became friends with Irish actor Cillian Murphy after enjoying his TV series Peaky Blinders. Murphy gifted Bowie one of his flat caps from the show.
10. As well as performing on Bowie’s hits “Space Oddity”, “Changes” and “Life On Mars?”, Yes keyboardist and session player extraordinaire Rick Wakeman plays uncredited harpsichord on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ “It Ain’t Easy”.
11. Strangers when we meet? In 1991 Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman dropped by a David Bowie rehearsal session for a Tin Machine tour while in Dublin filming Far And Away.
12. David Bowie declined a CBE in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.
13. Copies of Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans are visible in background of a scene in The Man Who Fell To Earth filmed in a Tower Records.
14. The tattoo of an anchor on Bowie’s face in the “John I’m Only Dancing” promotional video was inspired by the TV show Bewitched, since Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) would sometimes appear with symbols drawn on her face.
15. The music video for David Bowie’s single “Fashion” featured May Pang, one-time girlfriend of John Lennon during his infamous ‘70s ‘Lost Weekend’. She was going out with Bowie producer Tony Visconti when the 1980 clip was recorded.
16. In 1968 Bowie would perform “The Laughing Gnome” live while wearing a glove puppet.
17. During the after-party celebrating the opening night of his 1974 Diamond Dogs tour, Bowie engaged in a menage a trois with Bette Midler and Mick Jagger in a cupboard in New York’s Plaza Hotel. The noisy tryst (which witnesses stated included “moaning” and “giggles”) went for at least half an hour.
18. Bowie sang in a number of languages during his recording career, including a Mandarin version of 1997’s “Seven Years In Tibet”, an Indonesian recording of Tin Machine’s 1991 song “Amlapura”, a Japanese rendition of 1987 B-side “Girls” and, most famously, “Heroes” in German, French and Spanish.
19. “Dancing In The Street”, Bowie’s collaboration with Mick Jagger as part of the Band Aid charity project, was chosen after the pair’s original plan to record Bob Marley’s “One Love” didn’t work out.
20. Bowie’s official website has stated the opening line to “Young Americans” is ‘They pulled in just behind the fridge’ rather than the commonly assumed ‘They pulled in just behind the bridge’. The line is in honour of comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s live show “Behind The Fridge”.
21. Before his music career took off, Bowie confided in his life-long best friend George Underwood that his mother had been a prostitute.
22. When David Bowie first played T-Rex friend Marc Bolan his recording of “Space Oddity”, Marc remarked, “It’s gonna be a hit, Davie’.
23. David Bowie’s short-lived tenure in ‘60s act The Riot Squad kicked off with a slot supporting Cream at a youth centre in Basildon in March 1967. It was the first time the 20-year-old Bowie had worn make-up on stage.
24. Chteau d'Hérouville, the French villa on the outskirts of Paris where Bowie recorded portions of Low, had enjoyed a bawdy past: pornos including one titled Kinky Ladies Of Bourbon Street had been filmed there. “There were so many pornographic films made at the Chteau,” Robin Gibb, who recorded there with The Bee Gees, once stated. “The staircase where we wrote “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Stayin’ Alive”, all those songs, was the same staircase where there’ve been six classic lesbian porno scenes filmed.”
Brace yourself: part two contains trivia about Jurassic Park, James Brown and Jedis...
1. David Bowie wrote the riff for Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” on a ukulele.
2. Better known for the muscled 1991 video for the hit single “I’m Too Sexy”, Right Said Fred’s bassist Richard Fairbrass had previously appeared in the video for David Bowie’s 1984 single “Jazzin’ For Blue Jean”.
3. David Bowie made his big screen debut in The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1976, but the role was initially slated to be filled by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.
4. If it wasn’t for BBC radio DJ John Peel, Bowie’s career might have taken a very different path. The singer later suggested it was his friend Peel who finally convinced Bowie to drop mime as a planned career.
5. In 1979 David Bowie recorded a voiceover for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s take on Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf. He was the third choice – actors Peter Ustinov and Alec Guinness (at the time reprising his Stars Wars role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back) had turned down the opportunity.
6. Who would have guessed a vampire hunting Kate Beckinsale would bring Bowie together with some of the cream of ‘90s alternative rock? The 2003 Underworld soundtrack included a version of the Bowie song “Bring Me The Disco King” featuring Maynard James Keenan from Tool, former Nine Inch Nails’ guitarist Danny Lohner, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and Josh Freese, an impressive gun-for-hire drummer who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Chris Cornell and plenty more amazing artists. Keenan adds a neatly macabre twist to his vocal accompaniment, changing the lyrics to ‘bring me the head of the disco king’. Bowie’s official cut of the song was released on his Reality album in the same month as the soundtrack version - September 2003.
7. In February 1965, Bowie’s group The Manish Boys were supposed to support R&B superstar James Brown in Portland, Dorset but their van broke down and they missed the show.
8. David Bowie’s final appearance on a number one single in the UK was in 1997, performing on a cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as part of the Christmas In Need charity ensemble. Bowie had produced Reed’s original version on 1972’s Transformer album.
9. Despite a highly successful four months of touring the UK in support of the hit album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, when the Ziggy tour reached US in September 1972 Bowie’s backing band The Spiders were each being paid no more than 30 pounds per week.
10. David Bowie never officially changed his name from David Robert Jones.
11. The last time David Bowie saw his friend John Lennon before he was assassinated in 1980 was in a Hong Kong market. Bowie took a photograph of John wearing a Beatle jacket which was being sold by one of the market stalls. “The jacket doesn’t fit properly – it looks like John had outgrown it”, Bowie symbolically remarked of the photograph.
12. In 1974 while touring Diamond Dogs in North America, a crane which was meant to transport Bowie above the crowd malfunctioned, leaving the star to perform a number of songs in stasis while his crew worked to fix the issue. In Elle magazine in 1990, Bowie recalled the tour as "good fun and dangerous, with the equipment breaking down... I kept getting stuck out over the audience's heads, on the hydraulic cherry picker”.
13. The Rolling Stones hit “It’s Only Rock And Roll” was initially developed between Mick Jagger and David Bowie before guitarist Keith Richards got his hands on it. “Mick had gotten this idea and they started to rock on it,” Richards later stated of the 19754 track. “It was damn good. Shit, Mick what are you doing it with Bowie for? Come on, we’ve got to steal that motherfucker back…”
14. David Bowie’s 1999 album hours… was the first album by a major artist to be available for legal download via the internet.
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Coldplay and Queen are among the artists who David Bowie turned down for collaborations or production duties.
16. The crowd sounds in the opening moments of Diamond Dogs’ title track were actually pilfered from the Faces’ album Coast To Coast: Overture And Beginners (you can even hear Rod Stewart exclaim ‘hey!’ around the 10-second mark).
17. Practically a carbon copy of the original’s guitar licks, James Brown ripped off David Bowie’s “Fame” with his ’75 single “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)”. Bowie said to Carlos Alomar, the funky guitarist who co-wrote Fame, “If it charts, we’ll sue him”. It didn’t, they didn’t.
18. David Bowie was apparently furious his US label released The Man Who Sold The World in November 1970, since he’d actually planned on calling the album Metrobolist. It was subsequently released in the UK (with new artwork, but the same title) in April 1971.
19. Bowie’s early ‘70s home Haddon Hall was said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl. Both producer Tony Visconti and David Bowie often saw her in the backyard.
20. To capitalise on his popularity, in September 1975 David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” single was reissued. It became his first UK number one single – a mere six years after it was initially released.
21. The familiar lightning bolt design used as a backdrop during the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour of the UK was painted by Chris Difford, who later went on to have success in UK band Squeeze.
22. Nine Inch Nails used the sample “Falls wanking to the floor” from the Aladdin Sane song “Time” on their 1995 track “Self Destruction, Part Two”. Later that year Nine Inch Nails would later tour with Bowie, while frontman Trent Reznor later remixed Bowie’s 1997 single “I’m Afraid Of Americans” and starred in the music video.
23. A photograph of revered 1920s dancer and performer Josephine Baker photograph inspired Bowie’s pose on the cover of Diamond Dogs.
24. The original US artwork for 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World features a cartoon of a cowboy with a rifle and a blank speech bubble. The bubble was censored from including the original line, ‘Roll up your sleeves and show us your arms’, due to its drug allusions.
Brace yourself: part three includes trivia about The Velvet Underground, vampires and vibrators…
1. David Bowie first met John Lennon at Elizabeth Taylor’s house in Beverly Hills in September 1974. At the time, Taylor was attempting to woo Bowie to star opposite her in the film The Blue Bird.
2. The famous eye patch Bowie models in Mick Rock’s music video for “Rebel Rebel” wasn’t a fashion choice – it was worn due to Bowie’s bout of conjunctivitis.
3. Diamond Dogs engineer Keith Hammond is said to have died after his vehicle hit the same tree which had claimed the life of T-Rex’s Marc Bolan in 1977.
4. David Bowie learned to roller skate for his “Day In-Day Out” video in 1987.
5. Bowie wears a bandage on his left hand on the artwork for 1979’s Lodger album because he’d scalded himself with a coffee.
6. While filming The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1975, Bowie wrote a draft of his autobiography The Return Of The Thin White Duke. The manuscript has never been released.
7. Long-time Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels played guitar with a vibrator during Tin Machine’s performance of “You Belong In Rock N’ Roll” on UK TV show Wogan in 1991.
8. The “Young Americans” line ‘Do you remember President Nixon?’ was recorded just three days after the disgraced politician’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
9. Renowned US author and illustrator Norman Rockwell was asked to design the sleeve for Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans, but suggested he needed six months preparation time.
10. David Bowie’s first live performance was on the Isle Of Wight in 1958, performing as part of his Bromley scout troop’s summer camp.
11. Having already worked with The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, in 1978 Bowie collaborated with former Velvets musician John Cale. None of the resulting music has ever been officially released.
12. While recording Blackstar, Bowie showed his band the ‘shred’ video version of his Mick Jagger duet “Dancing In The Street” on YouTube. The singer found it “hilarious”.
13. Bono was late to David Bowie’s 1992 wedding to former model Iman after he missed his flight to Lausanne, Switzerland.
14. The “Heroes”’ line “I will be king, you will be queen” was influenced by the nursery rhyme “Lavender Blue”. A number of Bowie songs include allusions to Old English rhymes, with his ‘60s track “Silly Boy Blue” being an obvious play on “Little Boy Blue”.
15. English actor Christopher Lee (Lord Of The Rings, Attack Of The Clones, The Man With The Golden Gun) discussed making an album with Bowie in the early ‘70s. While the project was never realised, the late actor ended up releasing his debut, a metal album titled Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross, in 2010 at the age of 88.
16. Supporting David Bowie in Paris on his Serious Moonlight Tour of 1983, Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners called out “David Bowie is full of shit… A bad Bryan Ferry”. “We ended up being physically evicted from the stage,” one band member recalled. Unsurprisingly, the band was kicked off the tour.
17. On an American visit in 1971, David Bowie met Iggy Pop and Lou Reed for the first time separately on the same day. Bowie would go on to collaborate with the pair on a number of occasions throughout his career.
18. At the height of his commercial success, Bowie was paid $1.5 million to perform at 1983’s US Festival, breaking industry records.
19. At a studio taping of the Jools Holland program in December 1995, Liam Gallagher is said to have called David Bowie a “washed up old fart” and threw a punch at the elder statesman. Such animosity never stopped his brother Noel from admitting to ripping off Bowie’s song “All The Young Dudes” on a number of Oasis tunes: “I've had two songs out of that now: “Don't Look Back in Anger” and “Stand by Me”,” Noel told Q in 1997. “And he's still not sued me yet."
20. The cast recording of Bowie’s stage musical Lazarus was recorded the day after Bowie’s death in January 2016.
21. Diamond Dogs is the only album on which David Bowie is credited on lead guitar.
22. One of his less auspicious film appearances, David Bowie once described his role in 1978’s panned Just A Gigolo as being “my 32 Elvis Presley movies contained in one”.
23. Bruce Springsteen’s The River and David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) were both recorded at The Power Station in New York at same time. E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan appeared on both albums.
24. Bowie learned how to play cello for his role in Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire film The Hunger. The musician began an affair with his co-star Susan Sarandon while filming the flop.