Ashes to Ashes was the first time I recall connecting Bowie with anything. I was seven years old when it arrived and already knew and liked Space Oddity despite having no idea who actually sang it. Back then I never took much notice of who was behind the songs that escaped from the little radio in our kitchen. I suspect I liked the overly dramatic space story more than the song itself.
So when I saw the video for Ashes to Ashes on Top of the Pops it clicked for me straight away, the sci-fi visuals were perfect for a kid who was mad about anything vaguely space related (thanks Star Wars). Another huge visual thing for me was the fact that at one point you caught a glimpse of Bowie’s wonky nashers, which were at least as bad as mine.
Looking back at the video now it’s great to see that in typical Bowie fashion it’s both subtle and bang-on-the-nose. So while we get him in a padded room wearing his Starman boots we also literally see him walking along with an old lady during the closing ‘My mama said, to get things done’ section.
But obviously the video is just the video, it’s the music that’s really stayed with me over the years. This is one of Tony Visconti’s greatest moments, his production sounds so fragile, so full of space. From the simple pling-plong piano riff that runs throughout, through to the guitars that sound like they’re being played by someone who has never seen one before, the whole thing feels like it could fall apart at any moment. Then there’s that bass line which has a life of its own, coming and going as it pleases.
The glue that holds everything together of course are Bowie’s vocals. Tinged with regret, half spoken, half sung. They’re the vocals of someone that has led a life and then some. The spoken backing vocal section is my favourite moment from one of my favourite Bowie songs.
I never bought the single at the time, all of that came later, but it meant that when Let’s Dance owned 1983 I knew who the blonde chappie singing it was.