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SPOTLIGHT: Sweeping Culture Daily

David Bowie’s 5 Strangest Music Videos

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By Craig Hubert | Last week, iconic rock superstar David Bowie announced his first new album in nearly a decade, “The Next Day.” And since it was the singer’s birthday, the news came with an extra surprise: a music video for the record’s first single, “Where Are We Now?” Directed by Tony Oursler, the clip is just another in a long line of strange promos Bowie has made over the years. An early adopter of the format, Bowie was making videos for his songs all the way back in the late 1960s, and was a prominent fixture in the early days of MTV. He obviously has an affinity for the medium and has used the clips to convey interesting ideas that he cannot get across through his music, which, if you’ve seen a handful, doesn’t mean they always make sense. Truthfully, that’s frequently been the case. So in honor on the man we believe to be one of the true musical geniuses in the last 50 years, here’s a run down of his best, and most bizarre, music videos.

    1969: “Space Oddity,” directed by Malcolm J. Thomson

Bowie’s proto-music video clip for “Space Oddity,” directed by friend and photographer Mick Rock, features the singer during his early geeky phase, and his mop-top makes him look like an extra on “The Monkees.” The budget appears to have been $20 and some serious drugs, based on the spaceship made out of tin foil and the psychedelic camera tricks.

1977: “Heroes,” directed by Stanley Dorfman

At this point, Bowie had already transitioned into movies with a starring role in the excellent “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and the simple video for “Heroes” reveals his now comfortable presence in front of the camera. The video opens with Bowie emerging from rays of light like the Star Child in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He stoically sings the song dressed in a leather jumpsuit, while seductively staring into space.

1980: “Ashes to Ashes,” directed by David Bowie and David Mallett

The song, a number one hit in the UK when it was released, is a revist to the Major Tom character from Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The video, though, is something else completely, and almost impossible to decipher. Based on multiple viewings, it appears that Bowie is the Tin Man, where he walks with a small group, some dressed as nuns, through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At one point, Bowie is seen in a padded room, possibly hinting that the video is crazy and makes zero sense.

1985: “Dancing in the Street,” directed by David Mallett

We’ve long held that this is the funniest music video of all time. This could air, unedited, as a “Saturday Night Live” “Digital Short” and become a huge hit. Bowie and his duet partner, Mick Jagger, just want to dance, and that’s just what they do: Bowie does many variations of ”Jazz Hands” while Jagger struts around doing an early version of “The Egyptian,” all while wearing trench coats and loose-fitting pastel button downs.

1997: “Dead Man Walking,” directed by Floria Sigismondi

Bowie has gone through a lot of phases: hippie, alien, pin-stripe suit-wearer, but nothing beats his absurd rave phase, as evidenced in the video for “Dead Man Walking.” Set in a studio apartment that looks like the red room from David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” it features a jittery old man who strips down and uses the bathroom. Seriously. Bowie is also present, of course, sitting in the corner of the room rocking a ton of eyeliner and a conspicuous soul patch. Later, people hang on wires from the ceiling and Bowie appears to practice his karate moves on some dancers who appear out of nowhere.

Image: David Bowie/Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

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  1. The “Space Oddity” music video above was actually shot by Malcolm J Thomson and was part of a longer, half-hour promotional film called “Love You Till Tuesday,” financed by Bowie’s then-manager Kenneth Pitt. It featured an early version of the song and did not see commercial release or broadcast of any kind until 1984.

    An entirely different music video, using the final release track, was shot in December 1972 by Mick Rock during the sessions for “Aladdin Sane,” and was used to promote the January 1973 U.S. reissue of the single on RCA.

  2. Furthermore, the clip shown above is from 1969, not 1972.

  3. spotlight says:

    Hi Phillip, Yes, you’re correct. We originally were going to include the “Space Oddity” video Mick Rock shot in 1972, but changed it at the last second and never changed the credit. It’s fixed now, thanks for spotting it!

  4. frans says:

    David Bowie’s new single “Where Are We Now” is cryptic. Is he literally showing us that the bottle is empty?

    This is my interpretation:

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