Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am: David Bowie is under the influence in “The Plastic Soul Review”

By on March 19, 2019

David Bowie: The Plastic Soul Review re-examines the iconic mid-70s RCA recordings the Thin White Duke waxed during his so-called “blue-eyed soul” period (even though his eyes are two different colors), which lasted from 1974 to 1976 and included his albums David Live, Young Americans and Station to Station, as well as his starring role in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Watch this fascinating hour-long documentary on Night Flight Plus.

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Here’s what it says on the back of the UK’s Chrome Dreams-produced DVD:

“There were three distinct periods in the career of David Bowie during the 1970s. The first, of course, consisted of his Glam years, defined best by the startling Ziggy Stardust album. At the other end of the decade came the Berlin Trilogy — three dark, industrial, yet ambient and often joyous records. But sandwiched between these is what has come to be known — via the man’s own comments — as the Plastic Soul Era, an era just as creative, magnificent and popular as any other during Bowie’s life so far, yet one rarely considered as a stand-alone and separate entity within his complete body of work.”

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David Bowie: The Plastic Soul Review features obscure footage, rare interviews and seldom-seen photos, and live and studio performances of Bowie classics from the Plastic Soul era.

Also featured is commentary from a panel of esteemed experts: Mike Garson (Bowie’s long-serving pianist); Sly & the Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark (who played on Young Americans); Robert Elms (style guru, journalist, broadcaster and self-confessed soul boy); Leee John (Brit funk superstar, the man behind Imagination, the UK’s most successful soul band ever); Steve Strange (infamous New Romantic and promoter of the Blitz club’s famous “Bowie Nights”); Andrew Mueller (music editor for the UK’s Guardian newspaper); and respected music writers Chris Roberts (MOJO), Kris Needs (ZigZag, NME, MOJO), David Stubbs (Melody Maker, The Wire) and Paolo Hewitt (NME, Uncut).

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Bowie’s two-year R&B sojourn was anticipated by “1984,” a track from his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, which was influenced by then-popular Blaxploitation soundtrack album tracks, including the “wacka-wacka” of wah-wah guitar and percussive blend of bass and piano heard in Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft,” and much of the glistening string arrangements heard on Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack.

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Bowie had also immersed himself in ’70s soul classics before recording his David Live, an album — which he’d recorded in Philadelphia, and begun with the working title of “Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am” — featuring covers of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” and the Ohio Players’ “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” as well as soul-enhanced re-workings of tunes from his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1973’s Aladdin Sane, and ’74’s Diamond Dogs.

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Bowie also covered the Flare’s minor 1960 doo-wop hit “Footstompin'” — which he performed as part of a medley, along with “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” on The Dick Cavett Show” on December 4, 1974 — which later influenced his 1975 hit song “Fame,” co-written by John Lennon. The single was somewhat unbelievably — considering that he’d already been releasing music for more than a decade — Bowie’s first chart-topping #1 U.S. single.

Bowie also performed the title track on Cavett’s talk show:

Bowie’s Young Americans — produced by frequent collaborator Tony Visconti and featured an incredible roster of funk and soul talents, including Carlos Alomar a young backing vocalist named Luther Vandross — was his ninth studio album,  released in the United States on March 7, 1975.

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Read more below about David Bowie: The Plastic Soul Review.

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Night Flight contributor Chris Morris wrote the following in his obituary for Bowie, published in Variety on January 11, 2016:

“By 1975, Bowie realized that Ziggy had said all he had to say. Besides, what better course for an alien than to mutate? And so he bowed a more dance-oriented sound with the funk-inflected, Philadelphia-bred ‘Young Americans’ and the chillier, more reserved ‘Station to Station,’ in which he assumed the mantle of the Thin White Duke – Thomas Jerome Newton made flesh, before a stack of amplifiers.”

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Morris writes that Newton — the “brilliant, tormented alien hero” from the planet Anthea in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel The Man Who Fell to Earth — was Bowie’s greatest screen role.

Newton — hoping to save the last remaining three hundred Antheans from extinction after a series of nuclear wars and a severe drought — has crash-landed his spaceship in Kentucky (Roeg actually shot in New Mexico).

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Newton is hounded by a chemistry professor from Iowa, “Nathan Bryce” (Rip Torn), and the FBI, but he soon becomes bogged down in Earthly vices like drinking alcohol to excess and succumbing to the addictions of pure capitalism.

After the film’s production, Bowie holed up in L.A. with Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes, and later told that Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe how he survived on a diet of “red peppers, cocaine and milk.”

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For “David Bowie: Ground Control to Davy Jones” (February 12, 1976), Crowe wrote down every crazy thing Bowie said, including the fact he believed Jimmy Page was attempting to possess his soul, that witches were trying to steal his semen, and that he’d seen Satan in his swimming pool.

Morris, in his obit, describes Bowie’s ch-ch-ch-changes this way: “Now the embodiment of the rock star in both image and lifestyle, Bowie came as close to succumbing to drug abuse as Newton does to alcoholism in The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

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Watch David Bowie: The Plastic Soul Review and other Bowie docs on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.