Sony Xperia gives Bowie’s white-powder blues a new lease of advertising life
A ‘demix’ of David Bowie’s classic cocaine withdrawal anthem Sound & Vision will highlight the backing vocals of one Mary Hopkin
David Bowie circa 1976
A diet made up exclusively of peppers, milk and cocaine is a tad nutritionally deficient. In David Bowie’s case – and he existed on this diet for a few months in Los Angeles in the 1970s – it had the bonus of making him look sick and emaciated and provoked paranoid delusions at every turn.
Desperately strung-out when he arrived in Berlin in 1976, Bowie eschewed rehab and instead went cold turkey on a cocaine addiction that was threatening to kill him. Hanging around Schoneberg with a bunch of personable trannies and Iggy Pop, he was using copious amounts of alcohol to take the edge off his cocaine DTs but his diet had improved to the point where every morning he would crack a raw egg into his mouth.
To kick his drug habit, he retreated for an unspecified amount of time to what he described as “a little cold room with omnipotent blue on the walls and blinds on the windows”. Hardly surprising then that the first song he wrote during his withdrawal opened with the lyrics: “Blue, blue, electric blue, that’s the colour of my room . . . Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say.”
In his own private Berlin bedroom rehab, he was “waiting for the gift of sound and vision”. Regarded as one of his best songs, Sound and Vision presaged his artistic Second Coming. Out went the “plastic soul” of Young Americans and in came music influenced in equal parts by Krautrock and Expressionist Art.
Not many people know that Sound and Vision was originally meant to feature only the vocals of folk singer Mary Hopkin. She had done the backing vocals so well that Bowie wanted to leave the song as an instrumental with just Hopkin on it. At the last minute, though, he went in and sang about his blue bedroom with the blinds drawn and the song stayed that way.
This week, Bowie announced that he is re-releasing Sound and Vision in a few weeks time, but the song you will be getting is radically different to the one already out there.
It’s not so much a remix as a demix. Sonjay Prabhakar has stripped away all the instrumentation and left just Roy Young’s piano line, Hopkin’s backing vocals and Bowie’s lead vocal. If you go to Vimeo, you can hear a one-minute preview of the reimagined song that will stop you in your tracks.
But here’s where it all gets a bit funny: Prabhakar’s genius remix was commissioned by an ad agency working for a Sony Xperia new product launch. The immediate link between a shiny new mobile phone and a song about the horrors of cocaine withdrawal isn’t immediately apparent.
Weirdly, this is Sound and Vision’s second brush with the advertising world this year. There was a lot of approving chatter about Beck’s recent cover version of the song which featured a 157-piece orchestra – it was even endorsed by Bowie himself – and to be fair it’s a great reworking of the song.
But Beck’s Sound and Vision was brought to us by the Lincoln Motor Company who are using it to try and shift cars. Again the link between cocaine addiction and a shiny new car isn’t that readily apparent but, hey, that’s the crazy rock’ n’ roll world of advertising for you.