Main content

5 Times David Bowie Made Us Smile In This 1983 Interview

Archivist Dave Hyde has combed through the BBC’s radio archives for rare and undiscovered interviews with the biggest names in music of the last four decades.

Highlighting discussions as recent as Adele in 2007 and as far back as Iggy Pop in 1976, RAW offers a pithy glimpse into the minds of stars rising through the ranks to become cultural mainstays.

David Bowie’s interview with Kid Jensen in 1983 marked his first album in three years with the electrifying funk single of the same name, “Let’s Dance.”

At 36 years old, you’d expect Bowie to sound fresh and ready to take on the world, and he does, but it’s seasoned with a profound precociousness - and a sense of humour to boot.

So put on your red shoes! Here are five moments when this rare Bowie interview made us smile.

1. Bowie's not a fan of those quick n dirty comps, either

David Bowie not only ushered in a new sonic era in 1983, but switched record labels whilst he was at it. A mutual disillusionment grew between Bowie and his then-current label, RCA.

He claimed “There was no interest in any of my albums,” which encouraged him to move to EMI for a deal reportedly worth a whopping $17.5 million.

During his time off, Decca and RCA reissued albums and released compilations in lieu of new material.

When asked for his opinion of them, Bowie remarked, “The compilations sound like they were done over half an hour in a board meeting.”

It did more than provide a few chuckles, though. This was Bowie regaining control of his expressive output and curating his discography on his own terms.

2. When he struggled to say something nice about Bauhaus - and failed

Kid Jensen asked the Brixton-born singer if he still considered London to be his home, and he said he thought of himself more as a resident of the world.

I don’t think it was that successful. I’m not quite sure they did a cover version
Bowie on Bauhaus

As much as he tried to convince himself of that, he still couldn’t avoid flaunting some signature frankness, topped off with self-deprecation.

When asked to comment on Bauhaus’s cover of “Ziggy Stardust”, Bowie searches for the right words, eventually saying “I don’t think it was that successful. I’m not quite sure they did a cover version, but then again, I’m hardly one to talk because my cover versions are usually quite dreadful.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though, since he did quite like his version of The Who’s “Can’t Explain” on Pin Ups.

3. When he refuses the most common interview softball in the book

David Bowie’s duets and co-writing projects were just as unpredictable as his music and myriad personas, including collabs with Queen, John Lennon, Bing Crosby – and Scarlett Johansson.

Absolutely no one
Bowie on who he wanted to work with

Given his track record, one can only assume he loved working with others and had a list of musicians he was desperate to collaborate with, right?

Wrong.

Bowie confessed to Kid Jensen that he’s “never really wanted to record with other people,” and that there is “absolutely no one” on his list of dream collaborations – before belatedly hitting upon famously insular Kraftwerk as a potential creative partner.

This leaves us wondering whether Bowie was a soft touch, or just generous.

4. When he said he'd been typecast as a limping alien

Since being a musical wunderkind wasn’t enough, David Bowie was also an accomplished thespian by the time he did this interview.

Having previously starred in avant-garde theatre productions, movies and short films such as Lindsay Kemp’s play Pierrot in Turquoise - and alongside Marlene Dietrich herself in Just a Gigolo - Bowie portrayed John Merrick 157 times in the Broadway production of The Elephant Man from 1980 to 1981.

Bowie joked that he was inundated with requests to play a “green Martian who plays rock and roll music” but since his critically acclaimed performance in The Elephant Man, the requests had evolved to a “green Martian who limps.”

Of course Bowie went on to play plenty of non-alien non-limpers - but it took him awhile to get there.

5. When he actually explained what "serious moonlight" means - sort of

“Let’s Dance” was a viscerally joyful departure from what David Bowie’s previous work, which he described as “not quite so icy” and reflective of his “own personality at the time, unfortunately” to Kid Jensen.

He wanted to carry that over in his Serious Moonlight tour too, parsing what “serious moonlight” meant to him and others, and how it could manifest in the form of a stage show.

“A serious moonlight for me, it’s the romanticism—it’s the inherent quality of two people being together.”

And with those rose-tinted glasses of romance, “I wanted to retain what I feel is the positive force on the new album, which is trying to see the world through the eyes of a couple, and I want to retain that feeling for the stage on a more humanist level than anything I’ve done onstage before.”

Aww. We don't really know what it means, but - aww.