David Bowie Sings Impressions of Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits & More In Studio Outtakes (1985)

We knew David Bowie could pret­ty much do it all—glam rock, jazz, funk, Philly soul, cabaret, pop, drum and bass, folk, avant-garde, you name it. In front of the cam­era, he could stretch him­self into the beau­ti­ful but wound­ed alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, the scary-sexy-cool Gob­lin King of Labyrinth, the mys­ti­cal genius Tes­la in The Pres­tige. Noth­ing he attempt­ed seemed beyond his grasp, includ­ing, as you can hear above, off-the-cuff, most­ly spot-on impres­sions of friends and fel­low singers like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bruce Spring­steen.

The audio clip you hear comes from out­takes pro­duc­er Mark Saun­ders hap­pened to cap­ture on tape dur­ing the 1985 ses­sions for the Absolute Begin­ners film sound­track (“a bet­ter sound­track than it was a movie!” Saun­ders remarks).

While record­ing a lead vocal, Saun­ders writes, Bowie “broke into the imper­son­ations and I real­ized that these might get erased at some point, so I quick­ly put a cas­sette in and hit ‘record.’” You can read his full rec­ol­lec­tions at The Talk­house in a short essay he wrote to accom­pa­ny the audio—introduced by Zach Stag­gers of indie band the So So Glos, who writes:

Bowie goes through a hand­ful of sung impres­sions, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to, Bruce Spring­steen, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Loud Reed and Antho­ny New­ly, who was such a big influ­ence on the icon­ic singer that the imper­son­ation almost sounds like Bowie mim­ic­k­ing him­self. Between takes you can hear Bowie hav­ing fun and going back and forth with the engi­neers. Jokes.

Bowie also does what sounds like Bob Dylan (or Tom Pet­ty, or Marc Bolan as some have spec­u­lat­ed?) in the sec­ond take and a pass­able Neil Young in the last. His Spring­steen, Reed, and Pop are excel­lent (Bowie called the Iggy impres­sion “dif­fi­cult, he’s some­where between all of them.”)  He clos­es the impromp­tu per­for­mance with “That’s it, night night.”

Bowie did indeed have jokes, though any­one who fol­lowed him over the decades knows of his comedic tal­ents, whether play­ing straight man to Ricky Ger­vais’ obnox­ious super­fan or dis­play­ing impec­ca­ble tim­ing in his dead­pan deliv­ery of “Bowie Secrets” from Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 2002.

Despite the kiss-off he gives Ger­vais in their com­e­dy bit, those who knew and worked with Bowie all tes­ti­fy that he nev­er took him­self too seri­ous­ly or, as Saun­ders remem­bers, threw his weight around by “using a big rock star ‘Hey, I’m David Bowie and I want it done my way.” He may have seemed to many like an alien or a god, but he was appar­ent­ly in per­son a pret­ty hum­ble, and very fun­ny, guy.

via Rolling Stone

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie Per­forms a Live Acoustic Ver­sion of “Heroes,” with a Bot­tle Cap Strapped to His Shoe, Keep­ing the Beat

David Bowie Gives Grad­u­a­tion Speech At Berklee Col­lege of Music: “Music Has Been My Door­way of Per­cep­tion” (1999)

David Bowie (RIP) Sings “Changes” in His Last Live Per­for­mance, 2006

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

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