10 Bands That Owe Their Existence To David Bowie

As the dust settles on the terrible news of the death of David Bowie, Radio X looks at the huge influence this one artist has had on generations of musicians.

Back in 1972, a whole generation saw David Bowie perform Starman on Top Of The Pops and knew immediately their lives were changed forever. They went away with their instructions – here was someone who was not afraid to be odd, different and “out there”. A kook, if you like.

Some of the faithful considered art and literature and how they could incorporate new concepts into their work. Others came to terms with their sexuality and resolved to live their lives as they wanted, just like David. And a great many formed bands and began making music. Here are just a tiny, tiny handful of artists who owe a huge debt to David Bowie.

1. Sex Pistols


The first wave of British punks took Bowie’s glamorous take on outsider status and made it their own. Even his art school take on classic rock’n’roll filtered through into the Pistols’ music. Sid Vicious was the ultimate Bowie fan, creating his own cartoon-like persona with spiked, Ziggy-like hair and extravagant posturing.

Most Bowie-like moment: Pretty Vacant (1977)

2. Siouxsie And The Banshees


In the wake of the Pistols’ breakthrough, young Susan Ballion reinvented herself as Siouxsie Sioux, creating a new Bowie-like personality with outrageous hair and striking make-up. The cold, minimalist sound of the first Banshees album, The Scream, was a reaction to the raucous sound of punk and embraced Bowie’s Berlin period. As Sioux’s confidence as a performer grew, she turned into a striking apparition with a shock of black hair and theatrical make-up that dwarfed Ziggy Stardust’s elaborate garb.

Most Bowie-like moment: Mirage (1978)

3. Joy Division


Manchester was a huge Bowie-worshipping city. The nightclub Pip’s was the place to go if you wanted your regular fix in its “Bowie Room”. A young Manchester-based punk band named called themselves Warsaw after the first track on side two of Low (Warsawza) and played their first show at Pip’s under their new name, Joy Division. They modelled their music on the bleak soundscapes of that album and let’s not forget, also, that singer Ian Curtis was listening to Iggy Pop’s Bowie-produced album The Idiot the night he died…

Most Bowie-like moment: The Eternal (1980)

4. Gary Numan And Tubeway Army


Gary Webb of Hammersmith was another artist who reinvented himself in the Bowie mould. His breakthrough hit, Are “Friends” Electric? has the Bowie-esque quote marks (see “Heroes”) and his stage persona was firmly based on The Thin White Duke, neon lights and all.

Most Bowie-like moment: Down In The Park (1979)

5. The Cure


Young Robert Smith was a Bowie fan in the early 1970s, but it was the release of ’77’s Low that changed his life. He called it the greatest album he’d ever heard and based the Cure’s patented early 80s gloom sound on the ambient side of Bowie’s masterpiece. His dream came true in 1997 when he was invited to perform at Bowie’s 50th birthday show in New York. There he met Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels, who now plays with The Cure.

Most Bowie-like moment: A Forest (1980)

 6. The Smiths


Morrissey was a huge admirer of Bowie as a youth, being a fan of all things glamorous and androgynous. He later had the superstar’s wingman Mick Ronson as producer of his 1992 album Your Arsenal. Bowie returned the compliment by covering Moz’s I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday, although the relationship was somewhat soured over a disagreement over the use of a Bowie photo on a Morrissey sleeve. Johnny Marr later named Bowie as his ultimate icon, telling the NME: “He really understood what a great artform commercial pop could be.”

Most Bowie-like moment: Panic (1986)

7. Pulp


Jarvis Cocker was the 90s King Of The Misfits, and told the Evening Standard: “Bowie made a real impact on our culture: he brought a lot of those quite subversive and alternative ideas right into people’s living rooms.” Cocker’s gangly, yet graceful stage persona is pure Thin White Duke.

Most Bowie-like moment: Mis-Shapes (1995)

8. Suede


Androgyny. “I’m a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.” Passionate lyrics. Europe Is Our Playground. Nice shirts. Trash. Like Numan, David Sylvian of Japan and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus before him, Brett Anderson is a true child of Bowie.

Most Bowie-like moment: Trash (1996)

9. Placebo


Led by androgynous Brian Molko, the trio worked with Bowie on the song Without You I’m Nothing. The band’s Stefan Olsdal told Radio X: “He supported Placebo before our first album came out. We supported him live on the strength of our first demo. He was ready to champion a band he hardly knew at the time, so as a human being he will be missed as well.”

Most Bowie-like moment: Without You I’m Nothing (of course!) (1998)

10. Pixies


Back in 2013, Black Francis offered the band’s services as backing for Bowie should he ever tour again. It was not to be, but there was mutual admiration between the superstar and the legendary Boston rockers. Frank Black (for he was called that at the time) performed at Bowie’s 50th birthday show in 1997, while David returned the favour by recording Pixies’ tune Cactus for his Heathen album in 2002.

Most Bowie-like moment: Where Is My Mind? (1988)

© Radio X


“I have no idea where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you,” said David Bowie onstage at his 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in New York (Thursday, January 9). With such special guests as Frank Black, Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, Foo Fighters, Lou Reed, Robert Smith of The Cure and Sonic Youth joining him for different songs throughout the 24-song performance, the sold-out show (a benefit for Save The Children) will be seen as a pay-per-view special March 8 – just a few weeks after the February 11 release of Bowie’s new Earthling album on Virgin.

Writing in the New York Daily News, Jim Farber said the show “kept one eye firmly on the future. Instead of serving up dewey-eyed rehashes of sounds from eras dead and gone, Bowie – aided by an ornery mix of musical friends – shook classic numbers to their core. He also devoted roughly one-third of the show to recent and brand new material.”

Also toasting Bowie at the show and a post-concert dinner hosted by his wife Iman at the downtown space of Julian Schnabel – who directed Bowie as Andy Warhol in the film Basquiat – were a wide variety of names: Beck, Moby, Courtney Love, the former Prince, Charlie Sexton, and Fred Schneider; actors Matt Dillon, Matthew Modine, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Walken, and Michael Wincott; and fashion’s Donna Karan and Naomi Campbell.


At the show, Bowie opened up with Earthling’s forthcoming single “Little Wonder,” whose “arrangement had the feel and sound of many of his classics,” wrote the New York Post‘s Dan Aquilante. From there, Bowie was joined by former Pixies founder/vocalist Frank Black for “Scary Monsters” and “Fashion.” Foo Fighters came onstage for Outside’s “Hallo Spaceboy” (which featured three drummers including the Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl) and Earthling’s “Seven Years in Tibet.” Next: Robert Smith joined Earthling’s “The Last Thing You Should Do” and the Hunky Dory chestnut “Quicksand,” performed acoustically with both Bowie and Smith on vocals and guitars. Later, feedback heroes Sonic Youth charged into Earthling’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Bowie brought Lou Reed onstage, introducing him as “the King of New York,” launching into Hunky Dory’s “Queen Bitch,” the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” and “White Light White Heat” and Reed’s “Dirty Boulevard.” Billy Corgan came on for the Bowie classic “All The Young Dudes” and “Jean Genie,” playing guitar and singing. Bowie closed the show intimately, singing “Space Oddity” alone, as 14,500 fans cheered him on.

After the show, Billy Corgan told Lisa Robinson of the New York Post: “When I was 10 years old, growing up in the Midwest, I bought David’s Ziggy Stardust album. I really believed he was an alien. I always have been a fan, and still am a fan.”

Uninterested in resting on his previous achievements, David Bowie keeps moving forward. “More than most performers his age, Mr. Bowie has repeatedly staked his career on the new,” noted Jon Pareles in hisNew York Times review of the show. “In the new songs Mr. Bowie sang, he uses jungle as an overlay of double-time energy and implacable noise, revitalizing what might have been stately arena anthems. With Reeves Gabrels on guitars, who filled spaces with screeches and siren notes, and Mike Garson on keyboards, sprinkling shards of Romantic piano grandeur, the band revamped some old songs – notably “The Man Who Sold The World,” now a haggard dub-reggae confession – and subtly updated others.”


The Boston Globe‘s Jim Sullivan observed: “The startling triumph of this set was that Bowie’s new material is his strongest in years. He’s got hyper-fast “Jungle” rhythms snaking in and out of these resplendant melodies, making the music both edgy and immediately accessible.”

Summing up the evening was Dave Ford of the San Francisco Chronicle, calling the show “a volitile musical cocktail: shrieking sonic maelstroms, poignant ancient ballads, deep Jungle grooves, startling duets.”



Robert Smith and David Bowie became good friends. Smith once described Bowie’s Low as the best record ever made. He gushed: “I bought it on cassette and the same day I went to a garden centre with my mum. I’d ordered it from the local record shop, and Paul, who was in the band, and is my brother-in-law, had dropped it through the letterbox. It’s like one of those weird days. I walked home from school, there was the cassette and we had a cassette player in the car. I went with her to a garden centre, and I listened to ‘Low’ while she went and did whatever mums do in garden centres, and I was like utterly, my whole perception of sound was changed. Just how something could sound completely different, like ‘Breaking Glass’, everything on there in fact, ‘Sound And Vision’, everything on there, everything I heard was astonishing, really astonishing. When I put it on now the sound, dunk dunk, everything is just fucking genius! There are other albums that I love much more, like viscerally much more, like ‘Axis: Bold As Love’, or ‘Five Leaves Left’, albums that I can cry to, but ‘Low’ was the album that had a huge impact on me, just how I saw sound. No other album has done that to me.”. 

Robert Smith and Bowie interviewed each other


David Bowie and Robert Smith  XFM Radio  End of 1995  XFM recently found a conversation between Robert Smith and David Bowie. The result is an hour and a half of young jeezy albums discussion about life, art and music.

Smith: I have never felt the desire to live outside England. Mainly because of family, really…

Bowie: I am at exactly the opposite pole to you on all counts. I mean, I haven’t lived in England since 1974. That’s the last time I’ve lived here and I just haven’t had family that way. I have had my son but it has very much been the single parent situation and his life and now I have just started my family is really sort of beginning, including my son of course and Iman’s daughter – I am suddenly a family of 4 from nothing and it is really strange. So for me, in a way, it is a new beginning and I think, because of that, there is almost some kind of domestic need for me to come back to England and find roots again. I am enthraled by the atmosphere over here again. The last 2 or 3 years I found coming back to London really exciting very time I have come back.

Smith: That’s the difference. I lived in London for about six years because I don’t come from London, I come from down in Sussex and I moved up here because I just got fed up with sleeping on people’s floors basically. So I bought a flat and I liked it for the period I was here which was through the mid to end of the 80s but I hate coming back to London, I really do.

Bowie: But is that just a sense of boredom? Over familiarity?


Smith: I think there is a difference between London and England. Like, where I come from is almost too English – the Sussex coast – but it is good in the way that I travel round England. We stay in England. Obviously we go abroad as a group and we play and stuff, but everyone lives in England and everyone moves around England. We all live in different parts and we visit each other so you kind of get to see more of England that I think of as England rather than just London because London has become … Actually, travelling up here through London to get here today I had forgotten how awful it is. The suburbs of London are, like, incredible

Bowie: Tell me about it, because that’s where I grew up and the suburbs of London are…

Smith: And I was listening to ‘The Buddah of Suburbia’ – Good Grief! this is all too much for me!

Bowie: Its the greyness of it all, I mean it was a man-made Orwellian society ready cast in stone. I think all my generation just wanted to escape.

Smith: Its the look in people’s eyes. It is just so different. You just hit the suburbs of London and everyone looks terrified…

Bowie: Yeah

Smith: Its really weird. You drive up through Sussex and people are chatting at traffic lights and people actually stop when the orange light is flashing.

Bowie: But does that rural affability quickly turn to vehemence were you to do something that interferes with the actual neighbourhood?

Smith: I am not accepted at all but I don’t mind that. See, that is the plus side for me. In London it would be easier for me to go out and socialise whereas where I am I retain a sort of anonymity and a distance – not that anyone is really that bothered. I might get Italians on the beach with binoculars but the locals really haven’t taken me to their heart. I would be horrified if they had.

Bowie: Firstly, do you write for an audience ever in your mind or are you writing to satisfy your own need – because I will go somewhere else with that but I just want to clarify that first?

Smith: Crumbs.. I think that at a point which – I will think about it while I am talking – I probably seriously redefined who I was writing to which leads on to yes, I did at some point accept that I was writing with other people in mind. I don’t think early on… I don’t think one ever believes that one is ever going to be heard by enough people for it to really matter.