Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
David Bowie’s appearance on Top of the Pops in 1972 electrified a nation. “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you,” he sang, pointing directly into the camera with the slyest of smiles, and within 24 hours young Britons were answering that call, draping their arms over their friends’ shoulders and buying The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in droves. (Many of them would be part of the New Romantic movement a decade later and would cite that show as the moment their world shifted.)
It didn’t hurt that Bowie had sung “Starman,” a track with more hooks than Moulty’s closet. It was added to Ziggy at the last minute, in the belief that it was just the hit single the album needed – a belief that turned out to be very well founded indeed. Both the singer and the song have enraptured listeners ever since.
“Starman” is a go-to favorite in Bowie-cover land, garnering dozens of versions over the years; this is just a sample – may it let all the children boogie.
Culture Club – Starman (David Bowie cover)
When Boy George was asked who was the most influential person in his life, he unhesitatingly responded, “David Bowie. I’ve loved him since I was ten.” BG was eleven when DB was on TOTP, a moment which must have served to confirm that love instantly. In the same interview he’s asked what his unfulfilled ambition is and says, “To sing with David Bowie, but I can’t see it happening.” Well, he’ll just have to content himself with this cover of “Starman,” where he sounds just as lovingly alien as the bemulleted one himself.
John C. Reilly – Starman (David Bowie cover)
Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou featured multiple Bowie covers performed in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, including “Starman.” Another movie from the aughts, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, featured a “Starman” cover as well, which sounded like a refugee from the Donnie & Marie variety show. John C. Reilly sings with an affectionate tongue in cheek (no prizes for guessing whose).
Camera Obsqura – Starman (David Bowie cover)
This isn’t Camera Obscura, the twee-poppers from Scotland; this is Camera Obsqura, the rockers from Russia. On their 2009 album In the Camera with the Skunk, they treat “Starman” with respect and warmth, proving that Bowie was blowing minds the world over.
Golden Smog – Starman (David Bowie cover)
From 2007’s perfectly titled Blood on the Slacks EP, Golden Smog rock out “Starman” as only they can – which is to say, you can hear these are a bunch of guys who like to hang out and make music together, maybe even in that order. Some reviews call the EP’s covers padding (it also features a version of Dinosaur Jr’s “Tarpit”), but they sound awfully strong to these ears.
Milky Edwards – Starman (David Bowie cover)
One of 2013’s most fascinating cover-song stories came about when this cover by Milky Edwards and the Chamberlings was discovered on YouTube a good year and a half after it was posted. It was one of three needle-drop videos taken from their full album cover of Ziggy Stardust. The thing is, all evidence to the contrary, neither this album nor the band ever existed. Why did someone go to such great lengths to create a faux Motown favorite, then bury it for others to dig up? More to the point, when do we get to hear the rest of this no-doubt-stone-classic album? If you can hear only one cover this week, make it this one. (If you can hear two, the “Moonage Daydream” cover is pretty amazing too.)
If you’ve never seen Bowie’s career-defining moment at the top of the pops, or if you want to see it one more time, here’s your chance.