David Bowie - Ashes To Ashes (1980)
- 80's score: 1.93
"Ashes to Ashes" is a song written and recorded by English singer-songwriter David Bowie. It was the lead single from the ...
"Ashes to Ashes" is a song written and recorded by English singer-songwriter David Bowie. It was the lead single from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and became Bowie's second UK No. 1 single. It is also known for its innovative video, directed by Bowie and David Mallet, which at the time was the most expensive music video ever made.
The lyrics revisit Bowie's Major Tom character from 1969's "Space Oddity" in a darker theme, which he referenced once again in 1995 with "Hallo Spaceboy" and in 2015 with "Blackstar". The song's innovative layered guitar synth textures were generated by Chuck Hammer. The song's melody was sampled in a remix of his 2013 single "Love Is Lost". The song's original title was "People Are Turning to Gold".
Interviewed in 1980, Bowie described the song as "very much a 1980s nursery rhyme. I think 1980s nursery rhymes will have a lot to do with the 1880s/1890s nursery rhymes which are all rather horrid and had little boys with their ears being cut off and stuff like that." Years later, Bowie said that with "Ashes to Ashes" he was "wrapping up the seventies really" for himself, which "seemed a good enough epitaph for it."
AllMusic critic Dave Thompson described the track and its accompanying music video as "a very deliberate acknowledgement of the then-burgeoning New Romantic scene." It was ranked as the 5th best single of 1980 by NME magazine.
The music video for "Ashes to Ashes", directed by Bowie and David Mallet, was one of the most iconic of the 1980s. With production costing £250,000, it was at the time the most expensive music video ever made and remains one of the most expensive of all time. It incorporated scenes both in solarised colour and in stark black-and-white and was filmed in multiple locations. The video featured Bowie in the gaudy Pierrot costume that became the dominant visual representation of his Scary Monsters phase. Also appearing were Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene, including Judith Frankland who also designed clothes for Strange's Visage videos and Darla Jane Gilroy, forerunners of (later participants in) the New Romantic movement that was heavily influenced by Bowie's music and image. The complexity and high production cost of "Ashes to Ashes" makes it one of the most significant in the evolution of the music video.
Bowie described the shot of himself and the Blitz Kids marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer as symbolising "oncoming violence". Although it appears that Steve Strange is taking a bow as he walks behind Bowie, he was actually trying to pull his gown away from the bulldozer in an effort to avoid it getting caught. Scenes of the singer in a space suit—which suggested a hospital life-support system—and others showing him locked in what appeared to be a padded room, made reference to both Major Tom and to Bowie's new, rueful interpretation of him. Contrary to popular belief, the elderly woman lecturing Bowie at the end of the clip was not his real mother.
Record Mirror readers voted "Ashes to Ashes" and Bowie's next single, "Fashion", the best music videos of 1980. The video was filmed at Pett Level, East Sussex, six miles east of Hastings.
MTV ranked the song's music video at number fifty eight on its "100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made" list in 1999.
The stage set from the music video is also used for the song Space Oddity as shown on the Kenny Everett Show in 1979.
Bowie would later use the same method of putting the video together, including storyboarding the visuals, for his 1987 video for "Day-In Day-Out". He said of that video, "I started working this way on the 'Ashes to Ashes' video with David Mallet. It was my first real big attempt and it won awards at the time for being a new way of doing videos."