Cracked Actors: A Look Through The Bowie Cover Catalog

David Bowie had a habit of covering the songs of other artists, sometimes sublimely, sometimes woefully. In turn, covers of Bowie songs range from the “why?” (see Barbra Streisand’s “Life On Mars?”; well, don’t really) to the weird to the rare version that manages to surpass the Bowie original.

The earliest hail from a time when Bowie was as much a jobbing songwriter as he was a performer. Scraping together a living in part by doing lyrical translations for Israeli and Belgian composers, Bowie made demo after demo, which his manager sent to the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Jefferson Airplane, Chris Montez, and Tom Jones, with no success.

A few took chances with Bowie’s material in the Sixties. In 1965, Kenny Miller sang Bowie’s fledgling composition “Take My Tip”. There was Billy Fury’s go at “Silly Boy Blue”, with Fury gamely handling lines like “yak-butter statues/ that melt in the sun.” Better still is The Slender Plenty’s version of a song that Bowie never recorded (though a demo exists): “Silver Tree Top School For Boys,” in which masters and boys in a public school share joints on the cricket pitch.

Giving Bowie a push after a halt in momentum (he’d had a UK Top 10 hit with “Space Oddity” but his follow-up singles stiffed) was Peter Noone’s take on “Oh! You Pretty Things,” a UK #12 in 1971. Noone and his producer Mickie Most tweaked the lyric (the earth is a “beast” here, not a “bitch”) and smoothed the song’s rough edges. Bowie played what he called “composer’s piano” on the recording, needing multiple takes to get through it, as his hands would cramp up at the keyboard.

Bowie also offered one of his strongest compositions of the period, “All the Young Dudes,” to Mott the Hoople. It was a bequest to a band he liked, and it essentially marked the end of Bowie, Songwriter. Having become a cross-Atlantic rock star with Ziggy Stardust, he no longer had to market his compositions (with a few exceptions–he wrote for Ava Cherry, Mick Ronson and Tina Turner, among others).

So here’s a dig through the Bowie catalog, as heard through the voices of others. We start with a track originally from Bowie’s 1967 debut LP. - Chris O'Leary

White Fence - “She’s Got Medals": As the chassis of Bowie’s gender-fluid “She’s Got Medals” is the garage band staple “Hey Joe,” it’s fitting that White Fence (Tim Presley and friends) showcased the song’s Nuggets qualities in a 2013 Aquarium Drunkard Lagniappe Session.

Lucien Midnight - “Space Oddity": For grandeur, there’s the astronaut Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity” from space; for eeriness, there’s the Langley Schools Music Project, who sound like the children of Village of the Damned singing in harmony. Lucien Midnight (pseudonym of Montréal’s Frank Fuller) made Bowie’s trademark song a washed-out, bummed-out internal conversation: “la planî¨te terre est bleue, qu'est-ce que tu m’veux  ça me calisse?” (roughly “planet earth is blue, so why the fuck should I care?”). Major Tom also wears a fur hat here, not a helmet (well, he is in Montréal). From 2008’s Champion des Choses en Bois.

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