David Bowie impersonated a number of his peers, including Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Anthony Newley, on a newly unearthed 1985 outtake recorded around the time of his single “Absolute Beginners.” For each version of the track, which has yet to be identified, he sings an alternate set of lyrics to the song in unique ways. Recording engineer Mark Saunders captured the moment, and it eventually made its way to Zach Staggers – drummer for Brooklyn indie-rock crew the So So Glos – via his father. Staggers reached out to Saunders and revisited the audio after news of Bowie’s death broke.
Other than some studio banter, Bowie doesn’t introduce any of the impressions, but there’s plenty to listen for in a YouTube that the Talkhouse premiered. There’s a fittingly strained Springsteen, Tom Waits’ growl, a suitably flat and spot-on Lou Reed recitation (“It’s real hard, Lou,” Bowie says) and a marble-mouthed approximation of Iggy Pop. “Difficult, he’s somewhere between all of them,” Bowie remarked after the last one. “That’s it, night night,” he says when it’s all over.
In a lengthy essay detailing the entire session, including an impromptu appearance by Mick Jagger for their “Dancing in the Street” cover, Saunders recalled his amazement at Bowie’s impressions. “The impersonations on this YouTube posting were recorded … when Bowie came in to do the lead vocal,” he wrote. “At the end of the session, he broke into the impersonations and I realized that these might get erased at some point, so I quickly put a cassette in and hit ‘record.’ I wish we could hear the other side of the dialogue between Bowie and [producers] Clive [Langer] and Alan [Winstanley], but unfortunately that wasn’t being recorded.”
Since his death last week, a number of Bowie’s peers have paid tribute to him, including one he impersonated here: Bruce Springsteen, who played “Rebel Rebel” at a recent stop on his current tour. “We’re gonna take a moment and note the passing of our good friend David Bowie,” he said. “Not enough people know it but he recorded our music way, way, way back in the very beginning, 1973. He rang me up and I visited him down in Philly while he was making the Young Americans record. He covered some of my music, ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,’ ‘Growin’ Up,’ and he was a big supporter of ours. I took the Greyhound bus down to Philadelphia, that’s how early on it was. Anyway, we’re thinking of him.”