The classic song David Bowie wrote on the ukulele: “I was an idiot”

Meta Description: Discover the surprising influence of the ukulele on iconic rock tracks. Learn how legends like David Bowie and Iggy Pop utilized this humble instrument in their songwriting process.

The Influence of the Ukulele on Iconic Rock Tracks

Within the world of instruments, the humble ukulele is rarely afforded the same reputation as its larger, six-stringed cousin, the guitar. However, what is often viewed as a novelty instrument reserved for the likes of George Formby and YouTube vloggers circa 2012 has also produced a wealth of iconic pop and rock tracks over the years. From George Harrison to Billie Eilish, the ukulele has repeatedly proven itself to be a useful songwriting tool. Even David Bowie penned the odd track on the endearingly miniature instrument.

David Bowie and the Ukulele

Bowie is undoubtedly one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, with a unique ability to adapt himself to differing styles and genres with apparent ease. From his incredible glam rock period, which produced seminal works like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, to the drum and bass influences of Earthling, Bowie’s songwriting genius seemingly knew no bounds. In fact, Bowie was so overflowing with ideas and songs that he shared some of his best with other artists.

The Bromance of David Bowie and Iggy Pop

The friendship and songwriting partnership between David Bowie and Iggy Pop is among the greatest bromances in all of rock music. Together, the pair co-created some of the greatest moments in each other’s music careers. In fact, Bowie is often credited with getting Pop’s music career and life back on track following his particularly heavy drug binges during the mid-1970s after the disbandment of The Stooges. Bowie was an essential aspect of the production of Pop’s earliest studio solo records, The Idiot and Lust For Life, even writing some of their most enduring tracks.

The Ukulele’s Role in “Lust For Life”

Seemingly, it was Bowie who came up with the title track of 1977’s Lust for Life, with the added and unlikely influence of the humble ukulele. According to Pop, ”The best thing about ‘Lust for Life’ was it was written on a ukulele by David Bowie. Bowie was sitting around his digs on the floor because it was a no-chairs kind of place and picked up this little ukulele — it might have been his son’s. He came up with the title, and later I realised that was a reference to the Kirk Douglas film about Van Gogh.”

It is lucky that Bowie had a ukulele lying around, as ‘Lust For Life’ helped to establish Iggy Pop as a powerful musical force in his own right, away from the reputation of proto-punk progenitors The Stooges. However, it is difficult to imagine what the adrenaline-fueled post-punk classic would sound like rendered entirely on the four-stringed instrument.

A Lasting Legacy

Reflecting further upon this period of collaboration between the two artists, Pop told Entertainment Weekly, “In the two albums we made [Lust for Life and The Idiot], I think Bowie wanted to make the comment that I was an idiot à la Dostoyevsky and insane à la van Gogh. Like, ‘Here I am producing albums for this insane idiot — let’s see what happens.’”

These records are both absolute masterpieces of the era, but the title track from Lust For Life was particularly important for Pop’s solo career. Decades after its initial release, the song found a rebirth courtesy of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, which used the song as something of a theme tune. So it seems both Pop and Bowie owe more than a little to the undeniable power of the ukulele.

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