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There is a wonderful new video documentary out which is essential viewing for both fans of David Bowie and his classic era guitarist / sideman, Mick Ronson. Called Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, this film traces Ronno’s life as both an unsung rock ‘n’ roll guitar hero as well as the masterful, influential arranger and legendary producer behind a sound that arguably changed the face of music for a generation.
Along the way the film shows how Ronson was largely responsible for crafting the early flavors that made David Bowie — and his music — famous quickly, followed by hit-making contributions to Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople too.
Now available as a two disc DVD and Blu-ray Disc set the quality on Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is overall very high, blending vintage archival material from the early 1970s and 1980s with good resolution fresh interviews featurijng luminaries from the scene at the time (including Ziggy-era music industry business associates, band-mates, sisters and even lovers). Perhaps most significantly are often poignant voiceover commentaries from David Bowie himself. Film producer Jon Brewer makes nice use of the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack, tastefully employing the rear channels not only for live footage but also to complement on screen front channel dialogue. All this combines to create an engaging viewing and listening experience. There is a standard Stereo soundtrack on the disc as well.
Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is chock-full of wonderful moments that enlighten: from Lou Reed sitting at the mixing desk in a recording studio calling up Ronson’s string arrangements done for the legendary Transformer album in 1972, to frank and sometimes wistful interviews with Mott the Hoople front man Ian Hunter. Master keyboardist Rick Wakeman (who played on Bowie’s classic “Life On Mars” among others) and longtime Bowie associate and producer Tony Visconti provide gracious insights into Ronson’s relationship with Bowie. The film explains how the classically trained Ronson became an arranger, quickly creating outstanding orchestral scores for Bowie right out of the gate when working on the 1971 album Hunky Dory (and particularly the song “Life on Mars”).
Rare concert and behind the scenes footage of Bowie and Ronson during the Ziggy Stardust is pretty amazing to witness. Along the way you learn how Ronson came to be in the band, why he became so essential to Bowie’s stage persona and sound, and ultimately why the band was broken up at the peak of its success after only 18 months.You’ll also learn about how the Mott The Hoople connection to Bowie happened leading to their international smash breakthrough “All The Young Dudes” — an epic which Def Leppard guitarist (and Mott / Ronson super fan) Joe Elliot calls (paraphrased) ‘an anthem for a generation…’
Ronson’s musical life did not end after Bowie, Lou and Mott and in fact you get to see and learn how his solo albums came about as well as his subsequent solo tour. The documentary also showcases fascinating productions and side gigs over the course of his life which frankly I was unaware of. Perhaps most startlingly was a 1974 production of Bowie’s classic song “The Man Who Sold the World” done by none other than Lulu which became a #3 hit in England at the time!
I don’t want to spoil the joy of watching this documentary, so I’ll wrap here and just encourage you — if you are any sort of fan of Bowie’s Ziggy era as well as that period of Lou Reed’s and Mott The Hoople’s music — to check it out.
Until that time, here are links to five key songs bearing Ronson’s imprint on various levels which you might enjoy looking at and listening to in order to better understand his impact on the music world: