David Bowie Once Wrote a Song for Elvis as a Huge Fan

There are few people as iconic as Elvis and David Bowie. Both artists are credited with revolutionizing music and influencing it in ways that are still hugely prevalent today, but the story behind one of Bowie’s biggest hits links the two performers even further. It turns out Bowie’s song, “Golden Years,” was originally one he wrote for Elvis.

David Bowie performing on stage
David Bowie | Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

David Bowie as a 1970s icon

Bowie spent the 1970s as a venerable hit-maker, shooting to fame with the release of his 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Like Elvis claimed the mid-1950s through the 1960s, Bowie was the sound of the 1970s and 1980s. He created what is now known as the “glam rock era” with elaborate costumes, dramatic live performances, and alter-egos like Ziggy Stardust and, later, the Thin White Duke.

“Fueled by a heroic intake of drugs, [Bowie] worked like a machine and churned out masterpiece after masterpiece, pausing only to tour, produce amazing albums for other people, and to ingest yet more drugs,” says RollingStone.

“This didn’t do much for his physical or mental health (at one point, he thought his TV was talking to him), but it did produce some of the greatest albums in rock history.”

David Bowie wrote his hit ‘Golden Years’ for Elvis

Of Bowie’s hits, “Golden Years” was among his biggest, released on his tenth album, Station to Station, in 1976. The song was not originally intended for himself, however. As noted by Far Out Magazine:

“Since both the singers were signed up with RCA Records, its manager asked Bowie to write a song for Presley. Bowie, the Presley fan he was, was more than happy to keep the request.” 

The song features lyrics that seem to encourage someone the singer loves to reinvest in their life and could perhaps have been Bowie’s feelings about Elvis: “I’ll stick with you, baby, for a thousand years / Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years…”

The song goes on to reference “[driving] back down where you once belonged / In the back of a dream car twenty foot long…” which may have been Bowie’s nod to Elvis’ southern hometown, Memphis, and the hundreds of Cadillacs Elvis famously purchased for family and friends (1959 Cadillacs were 18.75 feet long). 

Elvis turned Bowie down, however, and Bowie later put out the song himself. Bowie was a huge Elvis fan and later admitted he was very disappointed by the snub. In a 2002 interview (via Far Out Magazine), Bowie admitted, “I would have loved to have worked with him. God, I would have adored it.” He also tells of a short note Elvis wrote to him shortly thereafter that Bowie kept for the rest of his life.

Baz Luhrmann’s new Elvis movie

Though Elvis’ cultural impact had lessened by the time of his death in 1977, his legacy has remained. Most recently, a new biopic about his life, Elvis, was released on June 24th with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Austin Butler in the lead role. Directed by Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, the film dives deeply into Elvis’ life and work in Luhrmann’s trippy trademark style.

Though a Bowie biopic was attempted in 2020, licensing issues prevented the film from featuring any of the legendary artist’s music. Hopefully, a future film will be able to capture Bowie in all his musical glory.

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