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Week 44 | Peter and the Wolf (AKA David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf) (1978)

This is a musical album featuring the voice of David Bowie.  Unfortunately it does not feature David Bowie singing.  Actually, it isn’t too unfortunate because Bowie does exactly what he’s supposed to do on the album.   It turns out Bowie’s voice is not only good for singing, but also for narration.  The album is a classical music album, geared toward a younger audience.  It’s second half (originally the “B” side) is Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” and doesn’t involve Bowie at all.  But on the first side, Bowie uses the Peter and the Wolf story to explain different instruments used in classical music, precisely as intended.  

I have known about this album for years but only recently listened to it, as a download.  In that format, the shift from “Peter” to “Young Person’s” occurs without explanation.  I was left wondering (briefly) what happened to Bowie.  Fortunately I also like classical music, and there’s nothing wrong with the arrangements or musicality of either side (that’s what I expect from classical music— rarely do I listen to a classical recording and think, “that oboe player really messed up”).  

Why did Bowie do it?  Recorded in the midst of his “Berlin period,”  this is one of the lightest projects he was involved with, during one of the most intense spans of his career.  Apparently, he said he made it as a present for his son, now known as Duncan Jones, who was a child at the time.  Whether intentional or not, it also represents an early foray for Bowie into more mainstream culture.  Although it was released in May of 1978, the album was recorded in December 1977, a few months after Bowie recorded “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby, which was probably the first appearance of a family friendly version of Bowie.  It presaged “Labyrinth”  (1985) by several years, but the composed, friendly-sounding Bowie on “Peter and the Wolf” may have been a toe in the water.  In any case, during the time between this album and “Labyrinth,” Bowie’s persona slowly evolved into one more accessible to a wider audience.  

“Peter and the Wolf” rarely shows up on lists of Bowie albums because, obviously, it doesn’t feature his own music.  That said, his contribution really defines the album and is its greatest selling point.  So it counts.   

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