Training David Bowie

By Elizabeth McNie

It’s taken weeks. Sometimes I question my commitment. Am I too involved? Is this a sign of deeper problems?

david bowie pandora trainingTraining my David Bowie station on Pandora is no easy task. Picking which songs to like or dislike takes time and commitment. Early on, Pandora slipped in too much Beatles and the David Bowie station was fast becoming a British Pop Invasion station. “She Loves Me”? Please, no. Can you imagine the Alladin Sane Bowie singing that, maybe on the Ed Sullivan Show? And, “Imagine,” by Lennon, had me in a quandary… I love the song but was it to optimistic? Too cliché for a David Bowie station?  Then there was Tom Petty… I liked the song, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, but not for a Bowie station. The rock vibe was to mainstream. I’ve pressed the thumbs up and down buttons so often I have tendonitis, yet the station has grown up nicely.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done and now I have a mostly well-behaved station that includes the likes of Lou Reed, The Sex Pistols, Queen, The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Velvet Underground, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, The Talking Heads, and yes, The Beatles (only the older years). I keep waiting for a Patti Smith or Joan Jett to pop up but as of yet, nada, to my surprise. The Pandora algorithm could use some feminine energy. Inexplicably, sometimes an hour or more passes without hearing any Bowie songs and yet I’ve pretty much ‘liked’ every one that gets played.

Training never ends. I have to be vigilant. Intruders lurk behind the next song. Just today Pandora tried slipping in a Rick Springfield song, “Jessie’s Girl,” and I almost got whiplash reaching so fast for the thumbs-down button. Just an hour later Pandora started playing “Sweet Home Alabama.” That’s when I asked, “What would David Bowie Do?”. Pretty sure Lynard Skynard wasn’t on his iPod. And then Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner” had me in a pickle. That song has serious emotional meaning for me. My Dad and I used to sing along to his 8 track and “Down on the Corner” was our favorite. I know every CCR song by heart. But the sound is all wrong for a David Bowie station so I reluctantly thumbs-downed it. Gone bluesy rock, but hopefully, not for good.

The best part of my training effort is that I get to learn about new albums that will have to become part of my collection. Albums like “Bowie at the Beeb: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 1968-1972.” In this fantastic album, Bowie covers many songs from his Ziggy Stardust album. The sound is more soulful, intimate and robust than his studio albums. Another gem I discovered is “David Bowie Live Santa Monica ‘72” which includes a great “Queen Bitch” rendition. I’ve rediscovered other artists I haven’t listened to in years, like Iggy Pop (in fact I was never into Iggy Pop so count this more as a new discovery). His “Anthology” will be a good place to start which includes an edgier “China Girl” than Bowie’s version and “Passenger” which has a timeless soul and takes me right back to my teens driving through the hills of Oakland and Berkeley. Other pleasant surprises include hearing Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” probably for the first time, and digging deeper into The Clash’s “London Calling” with songs like “Spanish Bombs” and “Rudie Can’t Fail.”

How would you train David Bowie? What songs would make the cut? What’s missing from my station? Training David Bowie has been a chore, but definitely worth the process to discover new albums that I need to get at Bart’s.


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