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Sound and Vision: Five Decades of David Bowie Videos

Clips from his swinging London days in 1967 through his unannounced retirement in the 2000s

david bowie 1978

Peter Still/Redferns

David Bowie turned 65 in January 2012, but he didn't chronicle the event with any sort of public celebration. In fact, Bowie hasn't performed in public in six years and his last album hit shelves nine years ago. It's a shame that he's fallen off the grid, but the man certainly recorded enough amazing music between 1967 and 2003 to justify an early retirement. What more can he possibly accomplish? Click through to see a video history of Bowie's incredible career. 

By Andy Greene

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‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’ (1967)

It took David Bowie a very long time to become famous. He knocked around London in various bands through much of the 1960s, and in 1967 released his self-titled debut and a bunch of singles. None of them connected with a wide audience. Here's his 1967 single "Let Me Sleep Beside You," which some saw as an attempt to ape the success of the Rolling Stone's similarly titled "Let's Spend The Night Together." It's a good pop song, but there's barely a hint in there of the brilliance that was coming in the near future. 

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‘Space Oddity’ (1969)

This is the song that forever changed David Bowie's life. Recorded in 1969, his label rush-released it to capitalize on the Apollo 11 moon landing. The BBC played the song during their coverage of the historic event, and Bowie finally had a hit on his hands. He would revisit the Major Tom character on this 1980 hit "Ashes to Ashes."

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‘Life On Mars’ (1971)

David Bowie was looking like a possible one-hit wonder by the time Hunky Dory came out in late 1971. His previous album The Man Who Sold the World didn't score a hit, and "Space Oddity" was now over two years old. But Bowie really stepped up his songwriting game with this album, writing such classics as "Changes," "Queen Bitch" and "Life On Mars." It took the release of his next album for a mass audience to discover the brilliance of Hunky Dory, but ever since then it's been regarded as one his finest works. Here's the video for "Life on Mars," featuring Rick Wakeman on keyboards shortly before he joined Yes.  

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‘Starman’ (1972)

In the summer of 1972 David Bowie released his masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, forever changing rock & roll. It's a (sort of) concept record about a rock star named Ziggy Stardust, but it's really just a collection of incredible songs – aided in no small part by guitarist Mick Ronson. For the tour, Bowie dressed up as Ziggy Stardust and staged some of the most spectacular shows in rock history. No matter how many amazing albums and massive hit singles Bowie had after this, this is him as his most iconic and influential. 

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‘Jean Genie’ (1972)

David Bowie's career was red hot when he released "Jean Genie" as a single in late 1972. The lyrics were inspired by Bowie's new friends in Andy Warhol's eclectic scene, as well as Iggy Pop. The song was a huge hit in England, and he put it on his 1973 disc Aladdin Sane.

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‘Rebel Rebel’ (1974)

David Bowie's 1974 LP Diamond Dogs marked the end of his glam period, and the final death of Ziggy Stardust. The gender-bending "Rebel Rebel" was a massive hit, and it contains perhaps the most famous guitar riff from Bowie's long career. 

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‘Young Americans’ (1975)

Bowie's career took a dramatic turn with Young Americans in 1975. Glam was out and Philly Soul was in. Some fans were horrified at the change, but most of them saw the brilliance in the new material. The title track features a young Luther Vandross on background vocals. 

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‘Stay’ (1976)

David Bowie was so into cocaine around the time that he made 1976's Station to Station that he claims to have almost no memory of even making the album. Cocaine often leads to awful records (See Be Here Now by Oasis or Elton John's mid-1980s work), but somehow it made David Bowie produce arguably the greatest music of his career. Hardcore Bowie fans worship at the altar of Station to Station even though it didn't generate a single real hit. Here's a clip of Bowie singing "Stay" on The Dinah Shore Show

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‘Heroes’ (1977)

In 1977 Bowie got himself off coke, and went to Berlin with Brian Eno to begin work on Heroes. The title track is about two lovers on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, though it's gone on to become an all-purpose song about bravery. 

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‘Ashes to Ashes’ (1980)

Eleven long years after "Space Oddity" David Bowie returned to the Major Tom character on his hit "Ashes to Ashes," in which the astronaut is now a helpless junkie. The track was the second biggest hit (next to "Fashion") off his LP Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). To many fans, the LP is his last undisputed masterpiece. 

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‘Let’s Dance’ (1983)

Bowie's first album of the MTV era became the biggest hit of his career, fueled by the hits "Let's Dance," "Modern Love" and "China Girl." The disc was produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers, and featured Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar. The three hits were in constant rotation on MTV, and for the first time in his career Bowie was actually filling stadiums. Things were downhill for a long time after this. 

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‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987)

The huge success of Let's Dance was extremely short lived. Just one year later Bowie released the highly disappointing Tonight, and then tried again in 1987 with the almost equally disappointing Never Let Me Down. He supported the disc with the highly theatrical Glass Spider Tour, which critics tore to shreds. For the first time in a very long time, David Bowie was extremely uncool. 

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‘Tin Machine’ (1989)

The failure of Never Let Me Down caused Bowie to re-evaluate his career. He decided to form a band called Tin Machine with his 1970s collaborators Hunt and Tony Sales, and support it with a club tour. It was an effort to escape the expectations that came with being David Bowie. The effort polarized fans and critics, and Bowie ended the band after another effort in 1991. 

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‘Hallo Spaceboy’ (1995)

The 1990s were a tough time for David Bowie. His first solo effort of the new decade, 1993's Black Tie White Noise, was a reunion effort with Nile Rodgers that didn't come close to capturing the magic of Let's Dance. Two years later he decided to work with Brian Eno again. Clearly inspired by Nine Inch Nails, Outside has some very strong moments (most notable "Hallo Spaceboy"), but was ultimately too ambitious for its own good. 

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‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ (1997)

Electronica was huge in 1997, and many of the new groups hitting the charts were clearly inspired by David Bowie. Unfortunately, Bowie's own effort Earthling didn't make much of a commercial splash that year. The single "I'm Afraid Of Americans" did actually become Bowie's first song in years to become even a minor hit, especially after Trent Reznor released a remix of the track. It was the first step in Bowie's slow comeback. 

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‘Thursday’s Child’ (1999)

After spending much of the 1990s desperately trying to sound current, Bowie gave up and decided to just focus on writing a great collection of pop songs. It was an excellent plan. Hours was his best album of the decade, and many of the songs (especially "Thursday's Child") are absolutely brilliant. He also gave up his pledge to never perform his old hits while on tour to promote the disc. It was the beginning of Bowie's brief period as a dignified elder statesman of rock. 

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‘Slip Away’ (2002)

In the summer of 2002 David Bowie produced his first truly fantastic album since Scary Monsters – and it can't be a coincidence that it was also his first time working with producer Tony Visconti since that 1980 disc. Heathen is the sound of a rock & roll god comfortable with his past, and there's not a weak track on the disc. But there wasn't a huge audience for new David Bowie songs in 2002 and the album fell off the charts pretty quickly. 

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‘Bring Me The Disco King’ (2003)

A year after their reunion effort Heathen, Bowie and Visconti teamed up again for Reality. It's a more rocking effort that the previous disc, and in many ways the songs are even stronger. Sadly, even fewer people cared about new Bowie songs in 2003 than they did in 2002. Bowie did launch an epic world tour in support of the disc that featured songs from every single era of his career. It was maybe his finest outing since the Ziggy Stardust days. The tour ended a few weeks early when Bowie suffered a massive heart attack before a show. Little did we know that his illness marked a key turning point in Bowie's professional career. It's now seven years later, and he has yet to release another album or go on another tour.  Listening back to "Bring Me The Disco King" (the final song on "Reality") it's almost possible to hear Bowie saying goodbye. "Close me in the dark, let me disappear," Bowie sings. "Soon there'll be nothing left of me."

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‘Changes’ (2006)

After the heart attack, David Bowie popped back onstage in 2005 and 2006, playing with Arcade Fire and David Gilmour. His final public performance was in November 2006 at the Keep a Child Alive benefit with Alicia Keys. He closed out his mini-set with "Changes," which he sang with Keys. He's been spotted all over New York in the past few years, but this may go down as his final performance. 

In This Article: David Bowie

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