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David Bowie’s Most Memorable Rock Collaborations

Jason Merritt / Liam Nicholls / Kevin Winter / Sergio Dionisio / Karl Walter, Getty Images
Jason Merritt / Liam Nicholls / Kevin Winter / Sergio Dionisio / Karl Walter, Getty Images

Even within the smaller category of David Bowie‘s most memorable rock collaborations, he was ever changing. A master craftsman, master interpreter and master entertainer, Bowie could transform the smallest of guest turns into a full blown adventure – and he did so time and time again. Along the way, there were many key players in Bowie’s orbit, as he was always on the hunt for inspiration and talent. Whether taking on new young guns or helping out old friends, Bowie was never shy about collaborating with other rockers. The following list of David Bowie’s Most Memorable Rock Collaborations examines some of the most significant names found along the way.

Lou Reed



Bowie long credited Lou Reed as a huge inspiration and the music of the Velvet Underground as having a massive impact on opening up the possibilities of what songs would be and what they could mean. Bowie took the Velvets’ ball inspiration and ran with it, eventually returning the favor by helping Lou Reed create his landmark Transformer album. Bowie, along with guitarist Mick Ronson, co-produced the project, which spawned “Walk On The Wild Side,” the biggest hit of Reed’s career.


Iggy Pop



Like Reed, Iggy Pop was someone Bowie looked up to as an artist and performer. Bowie held out a hand to help Iggy and the Stooges, who at the time were in shambles. Pop, who shared a management deal with Bowie at Mainman, took on the role of producer for the legendary Raw Power. While the album failed to boost Pop’s career in the short term, it would go on to be a key inspiration for the entire punk scene. Bowie would later work on Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life, co-writing songs and producing. He even hit the road with Iggy, playing keyboards on a 1977 tour.


John Lennon



In late 1974, David Bowie threw a party to celebrate his split from manager Tony Defries. John Lennon was at that party and Bowie told him he had just recorded a version of the Beatles‘ song “Across The Universe” for his next album. He invited Lennon to the studio to hear it, and Lennon ended up adding acoustic guitar and backing vocals to the track. Later in the session, Lennon, Bowie and guitarist Carlos Alomar began a jam that would ultimately emerge as “Fame.”


Mick Ronson



Mick Ronson first hooked up with Bowie in 1970, working as guitarist in a new band Bowie was putting together. The Hype never really got off the ground, but it laid the foundation for what was to follow. Ronson, drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist/producer Tony Visconti recorded The Man Who Sold The World, Bowie’s third LP, and within two years transformed – with the addition of Trevor Bolder and the exit of Visconti on bass – into the Spiders From Mars. Along the way, Ronson became Bowie’s most significant collaborator; his contributions cannot be overstated.


Tony Visconti



A very key figure in the world of Bowie, musician and producer Tony Visconti helped shape the Bowie sound going back to 1970 and the Hype. Visconti would remain part of Bowie’s world to the very end, ultimately producing 14 of his albums – including Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, on which Tony also played bass.


Brian Eno



As a member of Roxy Music, Brian Eno was perhaps the most intriguing “non-musician” ever in a rock band. Eno was, like Bowie, constantly looking to the future and seeking out new sounds and ideas. When their paths crossed, the results were unsurprisingly stunning. Their best-known work together is often referred to the “Berlin Trilogy,” a three-album late-’70s run that cast Bowie in a new light. Low, Heroes and Lodger would go on to influence countless artists over the years.


Mott The Hoople



Mott The Hoople had already made four terrific albums by 1972, but none of them managed to hit pay dirt. They were about to throw in the towel when long-time fan Bowie offered up a song. He actually first gave them a shot at “Suffragette City.” After they turned that down, he then passed along “All The Young Dudes.” Bowie also produced the next album from Ian Hunter and company, giving them a Top 5 hit in the U.K. and an entry into the U.S. Top 40.


Pete Townshend



While the Who were kings of the Mods, Bowie himself was an aspiring ace face. Early Bowie singles such as “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” and “You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving Me” show a significant Who influence. Townshend wound up adding guitar to “Because You’re Young,” one of the highlights of Bowie’s 1980 album Scary Monsters.





David Bowie had been invited to provide some backing vocals on a new Queen album. The results were reportedly shot down by both parties, but the entire session was far from a waste. Out of it came a genuine collaboration in the form of “Under Pressure.” The pairing up of Bowie and Freddie Mercury was a match for the ages, as the dynamic record hit all the right chords with radio and retail. Queen and Bowie earned a No. 1 hit in the U.K., and a Top 30 hit in the states.


Stevie Ray Vaughan



Bowie caught Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and was so taken with his playing that he invited the guitarist to join him in the studio. “He completely floored me,” Bowie once told Guitar World. “I probably hadn’t been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck with his band the Tridents.” Stevie Ray played a key role on 1983’s massively successful Let’s Dance.


Adrian Belew



Kentucky-born Adrian Belew played in Bowie’s band in 1978 and ’79, reconnecting with him in 1990 for a tour. He describes the experience as mind boggling. “I have to say being cast right on the same stage beside a superstar like David was really unbelievable,” Belew told Diffuser. “It was a stratosphere that I never imagined myself being in, socially and otherwise.” Belew later enjoyed a long tenure in King Crimson with Robert Fripp, an associate found elsewhere on this list of David Bowie’s Most Memorable Rock Collaborations.


Peter Frampton



The friendship between Peter Frampton and David Bowie actually dates back to their time at Bromley Technical School in the early ’60s. As Bowie rose to fame, Frampton was running in tandem, first in Humble Pie and then later as a wildly successful solo artist. A new decade saw Frampton’s career stall, however. “The ’80s were a difficult period for me,” he told M Magazine. That is, “until my dear friend David Bowie got me out on the road for the ‘Glass Spider’ tour and on his Never Let Me Down record and reintroduced me as a guitar player around the world. I can never thank him enough.”


Marc Bolan



Marc Bolan and David Bowie were on very similar paths from the start. Both were aspiring mods who turned to folk sounds before emerging as stars in the glam era. Who was there first? It’s up for debate, but Bolan and T. Rex certainly had a big influence on Bowie – and Bowie on Bolan. In 1970, Bolan added guitar to Bowie’s initial take on “The Prettiest Star,” later re-recorded for 1973’s Aladdin Sane. Marc is also often credited as the inspiration for “Lady Stardust” from Ziggy Stardust.


Robert Fripp



King Crimson visionary Robert Fripp played guitar like no one else and, as with Eno and Bowie, was always striking out on new musical paths. Called in to add a unique flavor to Heroes, Fripp’s haunting guitar lines particularly shine on the title cut. He returned in 1980 to work on the Scary Monsters album.


Marianne Faithfull



Once the sweetheart of ’60s U.K. pop, Faithfull was perhaps most recognized in rock circles early in the next decade as Mick Jagger‘s one-time girlfriend. But Bowie knew there was more to this incredible artist, and invited Faithfull to take part in a 1973 TV special. Other guests included singer Amanda Lear and the Troggs. But Bowie and Faithfull provided the most talked about moment when she appeared dressed in a nun’s habit to duet with Bowie on “I Got You Babe,” the 1965 Sonny and Cher hit.


Trent Reznor



Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor never made his love for David Bowie a secret and, with Bowie always on the lookout for new bands, it was no shocker that the two would eventually work together. The two first teamed up for a co-headlining tour in 1995, then again for 1997’s Earthling, which featured Reznor remixes for the single “I’m Afraid of Americans.” He also appeared in the video.


Klaus Nomi



A German born singer/performance artist, Klaus Nomi was a fixture in the New York art and music scene in the early ’70s. That’s how Bowie became aware of him. “Bowie always has his feelers out for what’s next, or what’s happening,” Nomi associate Tony Frere said in the documentary The Nomi Song. That led to Nomi’s appearance with Bowie on Saturday Night Live. His wild vocal range and unique persona was on full display during renditions of “TVC15″ and “The Man Who Sold the World.”


Mick Jagger



Mick Jagger and David Bowie had a lot in common. Both fans of American R&B, they played rock and roll from an early age, built incredible careers as recording artists, and appeared in one of the most heavily criticized videos of all time. In 1985, following Bowie’s huge resurgence with Let’s Dance, he and Jagger decided to record a cover of “Dancing in the Streets,” the 1964 Martha and the Vandellas’ hit. Their update actually just missed the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, but the unintentionally hilarious promo clip found Bowie and Jagger jumping, hopping and prancing in a decidedly non-rocking manner.


BONUS: David Bowie Year by Year



Next: Top David Bowie ’70s Album Tracks

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