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Bowie Cover of the Week: W3st performs “Starman” and the first ever “Top 10 Covers of the Week”

Before I get into my selection for cover of the week, I’m going to briefly recap the point of this weekly feature: Bowie’s music lives on as an inspiration to musicians ranging from “guys in their basement” to the biggest acts in show business. Every week I discover numerous new covers of Bowie songs. Some of these covers are straightforward and faithful to Bowie’s arrangements, and some go off in wildly different directions. The quality of the video elements have as a great a range as the quality of the music (while there are always many good covers to choose from, there are also quite a few terrible covers that I never mention). I’ve discovered. Bands from around the world through this exercise and am reminded on a weekly basis that while Bowie himself will never again make new music, his music has taken on a life of its own that, so far shows no sign of slowing down.

There were so many good covers to choose from this week, that I’m presenting this in a top-10 format. All of these covers are good, and all of them were posted within the last week. Don’t get caught up in their rank order, although I do think W3st’s “Starman” is the best of the best. And, if you were wondering, there were far more than 10 covers posted on YouTube over the past week- these are just the ten best. I don’t plan to make the top 10 a weekly feature, but it does seem that more and more good covers are getting created all the time (though many of them are covers of a handful of the same songs).

So all that said, this cover of “Starman” embodies many of the qualities I’m looking for. My lack of real musical knowledge puts me at a disadvantage because I’m not even sure what style of music I should be calling this cover, but it’s definitely distinct from Bowie’s original. I’m going to embarrass myself and say I get a Calypso feel here— I’m going to attempt to reach out to the artist, W3st, and see what I can learn. In any case, I like the fresh take on the 50-year old song.

On the song itself, I was thinking about “Starman” in the context of the long-form piece I’ve been serializing on Thursdays about Bowie and politics. Bowie was playing with the concept of the charismatic demagogue figure in the early 70s with songs like, “Saviour Machine” (1970); “Big Brother” (1974) and “Somebody Up there Likes Me” (1975). In each case, the greater threat is not originating from the demagogue but from the peoples’ willingness— even desire to turn their freedom and decision-making over to the demagogue. The situation is very different with the Starman, who recognizes that his attempt to help humanity would provoke the wrong reaction (he thinks he’d blow our minds). Nonetheless, the song’s narrator, like those pleading for Big Brother, yearns for the Starman. The undercurrent here is a desire to be led. The Starman wisely resists the call and stays remote. Bowie followed his own lesson when he retreated to Berlin in the later part of the decade, but for more on all that come back to my Thursday series. For now, listen to this excellent cover.

I am confident in my choice of W3st’s cover this week because it sounds great, it is an innovative cover and, perhaps surprisingly, “Starman” doesn’t show up as frequently as you might think as a cover. That said, the one flaw is that the video itself is just a static image. This is really an audio-only cover. There were other strong covers this week with more interesting video elements as well as other qualities that made my choice a little difficult this week. Some of the other ones I liked are below (click on the bolded song name to link to those videos):

2. “Space Oddity” by Shema. Oh, I really like this one. Shema brings a vulnerability and fragility to the song. It’s not a radical departure from Bowie’s original, but Shema gives it a haunting quality. The video has no special effects but it appears that she’s singing from a hospital bed, which judging from a glimpse at some of her other videos appears to be real. The totality is somewhat evocative of Bowie’s “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” videos, and all that implies. If you have a chance, listen to this one.

3. “Space Oddity Hook” by Jim LoPresti. LoPresiti really uses “Space Oddity” as a starting point and takes it into a different direction with this spacey instrumental. Good visuals, too.

4. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by James Tee Guitar. Another instrumental, James appears to be playing all of the instruments. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but there’s an almost funny aspect to this cover, which works for me.

5. “Fame” by Etherial Anesthesia. Another song that is surprising in that it doesn’t appear to be frequently covered. This is a good, audio-only version.

6. “Changes” by Jason-Laurie-Jason. A musically straightforward cover of “Changes,” this one has interesting visuals as well. The video appeared on the YouTube page of Mark Wade, who I think is the lead singer here, but I think the band might be specific to this song.

7. “Let’s Dance” by Martin Miller with Mateus Asato. A very good, straightforward cover of one of Bowie’s biggest hits. This video and performance have a professional feel to it. If you like the song, you’ll like this cover.

8. “‘Heroes’” by the HSC. Much as the above, this is a solid rendition of one of Bowie’s most covered songs by a band that come off like they know what they are doing. The video, too, looks like it was professionally produced.

9. “Space Oddity” by gli Scappati di CAsa. The name of this band translates into, “Those Who Ran Away from Home.” While I don’t think English is their first lanaguage, they do a great job with this song.

10. “Let’s Dance” by Jacob Chacko. I think Jacob borrowed the backing vocals and some of the instrumentals from Bowie’s original, but its him singing and playing lead guitar. He also put together of visually interesting video where he’s surrounded by images of people dancing.

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