LONDON: It took years of hard work for David Jones to become David Bowie. The aspiring artist was a teen popster, a hippy-ish folkie and a purveyor of novelty records (“The Laughing Gnome,” best forgotten), before emerging from his chrysalis to become one of the most unpredictable and influential figures in music.
Here are 10 defining moments from the career of rock’s greatest chameleon:
1. “Space Oddity” — Bowie first displayed his knack for seizing the zeitgeist with this out-of-this-world track released in 1969, the year of the first moon landing. Beautiful and melancholy, it told the story of astronaut Major Tom, adrift in space, lamenting “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” Real-life astronauts embraced the song, with Cmdr. Chris Hadfield memorably performing it aboard the International Space Station in 2013.
4. “Young Americans” — After Bowie killed off Ziggy in 1973, he moved through guises including the edgy Aladdin Sane before going to the United States and immersing himself in the sound of Philadelphia soul. Produced by frequent collaborator Tony Visconti and featuring a roster of funk and soul talent that included guitarist Carlos Alomar and a young Luther Vandross, his 1975 album “Young Americans” was a complete change of pace, and featured the exuberant title track and the acid-tipped dancefloor-filler “Fame,” co-written by John Lennon.
5. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” — Bowie was perfectly cast as an alien adrift in the New Mexico desert in Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 film, which opened up a parallel career path as an actor. He went on to play parts including a World War II prisoner of war in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” a vampire in “The Hunger,” Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Andy Warhol in “Basquiat.” On Broadway, critics praised him as disfigured Victorian John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” in 1980.
6. “Heroes” — Exhausted by work and too much cocaine, Bowie holed up in West Berlin in 1976, and — working with synth pioneer Brian Eno — produced three of the most remarkable albums of his career. “Low,” ”Heroes” and “Lodger” fused electronic experimentation and Cold War anxiety into a sound that inspired a new crop of musicians. The 1977 single “Heroes,” a defiant shout of love in the face of potential armageddon, became an anthem for a generation.
7. “Ashes to Ashes” — “Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie”: The first single from Bowie’s 1980 album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is a bittersweet sequel to “Space Oddity” that Bowie called his epitaph for the 1970s. It also saw him looking to the future and embracing the new art form of music videos, with an eerie clip in which Bowie appeared as a spectral Pierrot alongside figures from London’s emerging New Romantic scene.
8. “Let’s Dance” — Bowie embraced the mainstream — or the mainstream finally caught up with him — in 1983 for one of his biggest albums, considered by many to be the last flourish of his golden period. “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,” Bowie sang, and the fans obeyed, flocking to shows on a monster North American tour.
9. After a decade of public silence, Bowie took fans and music critics by surprise in 2013 with a new album, “The Next Day.” It saw the musician looking back on songs such as “Where Are We Now,” which referenced his 1970s Berlin days. Fans hoped — in vain — that the new songs meant Bowie might return to live performance.
10. “Blackstar” — Another surprise album was released Jan. 8, Bowie’s 69th birthday — a jazz-inflected journey that saw Bowie continuing to explore new sonic worlds. In the video for the title track, a blindfolded Bowie offered enigmatic incantations on life and death. Two days later, Bowie died aged 69, following a battle with cancer. Music writer Graeme Thomson captured the shock felt by many: “We were so thrilled to have him back, we failed to notice he was saying goodbye,” he tweeted.