David Bowie Becomes a DJ on BBC Radio in 1979; Introduces Listeners to The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Blondie & More

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.

Track list­ing

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.

via John Coulthart/Metafil­ter/Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

David Bowie Releas­es Vin­tage Videos of His Great­est Hits from the 1970s and 1980s

“Joe Strummer’s Lon­don Call­ing”: All 8 Episodes of Strummer’s UK Radio Show Free Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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