Cast your mind back to 1979, a time before Internet radio, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks beginning with the letter T. And now imagine that you’d never heard the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Blondie, Roxy Music, hell, even Bruce Springsteen—all of whom were just beginning to break through to mainstream consciousness. Now imagine your introduction to these artists comes from none other than Ziggy Stardust himself—or the Thin White Duke—David Bowie, immersed in his Berlin period and recording a trilogy of albums that together arguably represent the best work of his career. That would be something, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps some of you don’t have to imagine. If you had tuned into BBC Radio One on May, 20 of that year, you would have heard David Bowie DJ his own two hour show, “Star Special,” playing his favorite records and jovially chatting up his audience. “There are some famous names here,” says an announcer introducing Bowie’s show, “some you’ve never heard of before.” Bowie laughs at his own jokes, and obviously takes great pleasure in sharing so many then-obscure artists. “You can hear that deep need to show,” writes Dangerous Minds, “to bring listeners something new, in every word Bowie utters.” He doesn’t mind bringing them his own new stuff either, playing “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Yassassin” from that year’s Lodger.
The Doors, “Love Street”
Iggy Pop, “TV Eye”
John Lennon, “Remember”
? & The Mysterians, “96 Tears”
Edward Elgar, “The Nursery Suite” (extract)
Danny Kaye, “Inchworm”
Philip Glass, “Trial Prison”
The Velvet Underground, “Sweet Jane”
Mars, “Helen Fordsdale”
Little Richard, “He’s My Star”
King Crimson, “21st Century Schizoid Man”
Talking Heads, “Warning Sign”
Jeff Beck, “Beck’s Bolero”
Ronnie Spector, “Try Some, Buy Some”
Marc Bolan, “20th Century Boy”
The Mekons, “Where Were You?”
Steve Forbert, “Big City Cat”
The Rolling Stones, “We Love You”
Roxy Music, “2HB”
Bruce Springsteen, “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”
Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips”
Blondie, “Rip Her To Shreds”
Bob Seger, “Beautiful Loser”
David Bowie, “Boys Keep Swinging”
David Bowie, “Yassassin”
Talking Heads, “Book I Read”
Roxy Music, “For Your Pleasure”
King Curtis, “Something On Your Mind”
The Staple Singers, “Lies”
See a complete playlist of Bowie’s “Star Special” above, and hear the entire show at the top of the post. It’s a great listen even with the benefit of hindsight, but if you can put yourself in the place of someone who’d never heard Lou Reed mumble and moan his way through "Sweet Jane"—or for that matter never heard the still-obscure experimental punk band Mars—it’s even better. For other excellent examples of British rock stars as radio tastemakers, hear the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon introduce an audience to Can, King Tubby, Nico, Captain Beefheart, and more in this 1977 Capital Radio interview. (Lydon says he loves “Rebel Rebel,” but thinks Bowie is “a real bad drag queen.”) And don’t miss Joe Strummer’s eclectic 8-episode BBC Radio Show “London Calling” from 1998/2001.
Below you can hear the tracks on a Spotify playlist.