(Credit: Far Out/Parlophone)
As one of music’s most prominent figures, David Bowie is synonymous with unparalleled greatness and achievement. Tracks such as ‘Starman’, ‘Life On Mars?’, ‘Let’s Dance’, and ‘Heroes’ cement Bowie’s status as one of the most significant and influential musicians in the industry. Nonetheless, what surprises many is that despite his numerous classics, only two managed to reach the number one spot.
Few music journeys exhibit the same jagged, erratic, and brilliant trajectory as Bowie’s. Judging by his 1967 debut, it was impossible to foresee the genre-bending music he would unveil in the ensuing decades. However, one aspect remained clear: Bowie’s artistic path would diverge drastically from that of The Beatles. In fact, his penchant for unpredictability swiftly became a signature trait.
However, Bowie’s diverse styles didn’t consistently resonate with American audiences. His 1972 single ‘Starman’ peaked at number 65 on the Billboard charts. The subsequent release in 1973, ‘Space Oddity’, achieved greater success, becoming one of his major hits by reaching number 15. It wasn’t until 1975, following the release of Young Americans, that Bowie secured his inaugural number one single in America.
“I have nothing to do with the music industry,” Bowie famously said in the 2000s. Although he considered himself to exist as a separate entity to commercialism, he did enjoy some levels of mainstream success. “Adapting to the idea of being mainstream I found very difficult indeed. I was beaten by the whole three-ring circus about it,” he said.
Adding: “I tried to reach a wider and wider audience without actual feelings of artistic passion.”
In the US, Bowie only ever had two number one charting singles, and it wouldn’t be until his last record, Blackstar, that he finally scored a number one album in the country that became his home. The two songs that reached the top spot in America were ‘Fame’, from the album Young Americans, and ‘Let’s Dance’, the titular track from the singer’s 15th studio album. However, this was a different story across the pond in the UK.
In the UK, Bowie accrued five number one singles, including ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’, along with his collaborations with Queen and Mick Jagger on ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Dancing In The Street’, respectively. Bowie consistently thrived in the UK, where audiences strongly associated with his quintessential ‘British’ essence.
The British glam-rock era, co-forged by Bowie alongside artists like T Rex, Roxy Music, The Sweet, and Slade, intertwined heavily with androgyny and suggestive themes. While Bowie wasn’t the initial pioneer of glam rock, his variant was notably distinctive, merging elements of Japanese Kabuki theatre, science fiction, and cabaret.