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Week 59 | The 1980 Floor Show (2017)

The 1980 Floor show was a 1973 television special featuring Bowie in his last performance as Ziggy Stardust.  I was aware that the show existed for years before I saw any of it, which I did for the first time in 2016 as part of my daily tribute to Bowie.  Then, I found clips of Bowie performing individual songs on You Tube, though I have still never seen the show in its entirety.  By 2017, Gossip Records released a (apparently unofficial) CD of the show, which makes it essentially a live album.  Of all my Bowie albums, this is the only one of which has flawed sound quality, though it isn’t so bad as to render the disc unlistenable.  It is also the only Bowie album to prominently feature guest musicians, in this case Marianne Faithful, The Troggs and a band I have otherwise never encountered called Carmen.  Its a strange group, made stranger by outlandish costumes as well as some odd song choices, culminating in Bowie and Marianne Faithful (dressed like a nun) singing, “I Got You Babe.”

Clocking in nine Bowie songs, this is definitely a Bowie album, despite seven songs by the other artists.  Bowie’s performance is solid.  He was apparently promoting “Pin UPs” at the time, so he included three songs from that album, “Sorrow;” “Everything’s Alright;” and “I Can’t Explain.”  This then is the most extensive collection of live performances of songs off “Pin UPs,” which Bowie would go on to largely ignore in future set lists (except for “Sorrow,” which he would bring back from time to time).  These songs also fit in with Marianne Faithful’s performances, also of covers (in her case, “As Tears Go By” and the more obscure “20th Century Blues”).  Add the Troggs (“Wild Thing;” “I Can’t Control Myself” and “Strange Movies”), and the album has the feel of the familiar.  Whoever put the set list together wanted to contrast the bizarre images and edgy sound with familiar songs.

But not all of the songs would have been familiar.  Bowie previewed what would become the album, “Diamond Dogs,” with “1984” and “Dodo” (which would actually be dropped from the “Diamond Dogs” album, but Bowie wouldn’t have known that yet).  And its safe to bet that few had ever heard the band, Carmen before or since.  This band’s songs seem like rock-ified versions of flamenco music.  Where did that come from?  (Actually, there is an explanation— Bowie’s producer also produced Carmen’s first album, “Fandangos in Space,” which though I have never heard it, has met with critical acclaim).  

Bowie also performed “Space Oddity;” “Time” and “The Jean Genie.”  So, in total, Bowie’s contributions to this effort are pretty satisfying.  I like that as a collection, this album includes two Bowie songs that don’t appear on studio albums, and I like that as a live album it includes some songs that I have only otherwise heard as studio recordings.  The guest performances mostly seem like distractions, except for the closing duet with Marianne Faithful, which is one of the weirdest things Bowie ever did and thus might be the album’s highlight.  This is not to say that the guest performances are bad; its just that they are somewhat disruptive within the momentum building after a few Bowie songs.

I suspect that “The 1980 Floor Show” will eventually be re-released with better sound quality and wider distribution.  I don’t expect this will be many peoples’ first or only Bowie record, but its a worthy ornament for a Bowie fan looking for more.  

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