Opinions may vary, and rightly so, given the breadth, volume and depth of David Bowie’s work and creativity, but I have always personally considered the song Aladdin Sane to be his masterpiece. I’m partial, perhaps, being a piano player, and having purchased the original album during its first release in my teens. It was the first Bowie album I owned. But the song, the mood, and the incredible piano solo, easily ranks Aladdin Sane among the renowned pieces of the time.
Watching him dash away
Swinging an old bouquet
The extremely talented pianist, Mike Garson, cut loose in the studio at Bowie’s direction, making the song an immediate classic. In his interview at Artist Interviews, Garson said of the piece, of Bowie, and how the solo came about:
Well, I did tell Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the famous ‘Aladdin Sane’ track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: “play a solo on this.” I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, and then he said: “No, that’s not what I want.” And then I played a latin solo. Again, Bowie said: “No no, that’s not what I want.” He then continued: “You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that!”
And I said: “Are you sure? ‘Cause you might not be working anymore!” (laughter). So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. And to this day, I still receive emails about it. Every day. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing.
The entire interview is worth reading, and I encourage anyone interested to read it. Said Bowie of Garson in The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (also highlighted at the beginning of the Artist Interview):
It is pointless to talk about his ability as a pianist. He is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists, who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.
In the category of tremendous understatements, I can say this: David Bowie was talented. He touched generation after generation of music fans in an ever changing way, always leaping ahead, forging new ground, with his spirit on the pulse of what needed to be heard next. Rest in Peace, David Bowie. You made a difference in a big way.