Three great epiphanies in music: Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Radiohead

British pop singer David Bowie in concert at Earl's Court, London during his 1978 world tour.

It’s 6 January, the Epiphany if you didn’t know. So let’s look at three times acts in music had career-changing realisations that are worth celebrating.

For those of the Christian faith, today marks a particularly special event in the calendar: The Epiphany. Different denominations have differing views on what exactly the event marks but, suffice to say, it basically means Christmas is over – 12 days after it began, hence the song – and it’s time to take the decorations down.

As is often the case in etymology, the word Epiphany has come to morph into a new form in the English language, essentially meaning ‘a moment of realisation’. It’s in this sense of it – yes, call me tenuous – that I’m going to look at three examples of these great realisations in the annals of music history. So buckle up, we’re about to divert due to a series of grand thoughts.

Photo of Bob DYLAN; posed at press conference at The SavoyPhoto of Bob DYLAN; posed at press conference at The Savoy

Bob Dylan goes electric: During the early- to mid-1960s, Bob Dylan was a truth sayer, sage and poet through the medium of folk, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. That all changed in 1965, however, when the Minnesotan maverick realised he needed a new musical platform upon which to hang his incredible wordsmithery.

Enter, the jack to jack lead, amp and electric guitar. Dylan’s album Bringin' it All Back Home – for what it’s worth, one of his top three in my book – was the first of many new albums that would see the former folk hero backed by a full electric band.

The move caused much controversy and alienation among many of his staunchest folky fans but the importance of this move to popular music history can never be underestimated. It also pushed Dylan into a new musical route that would eventually see him open up in new and expressive ways on albums such as Blood on the Tracks and Desire in the ‘70s. And, to boot, it paved the way for a host of acts after him to look into experimentation with sound and to never fear delving into the unknown.

David Bowie goes to Berlin: In 1976, David Bowie was a coked-up mess of a man who, granted, had released one of his best efforts yet in Station to Station, but had also become mired in unsavoury controversies and whose life was spinning out of control.

David Bowie poses for a portrait in 1978.David Bowie poses for a portrait in 1978.

The Brixton-born legend came to a realisation that would change his already meandered career that year that would truly cement his legacy as a pioneering, ever-changing chameleon, though – it was time to stop the sniff and go to Berlin.

It was in this period and city that Bowie reached his peak – well, for me at least – with a trio of albums inspired by the unfortunately-titled Krautrock genre – Low, Heroes and Lodger. One dreads to think where his career might have gone had he not upped sticks.

Radiohead go electronic: In 1997, Radiohead released OK Computer – a prog rock masterpiece built around technological dystopia. The band’s next move, 2000’s Kid A, however, would be their true masterstroke.

The Oxford band decided to ditch the guitars, get the synths and drum machines out and create a piece of work that marks them out as a truly awe-inspiring collective. Tracks such as Everything in Its Right Place, Idioteque and the National Anthem all rank as great songs in the band’s canon in their own right but the realisation of a need for change, and the album that subsequently came from that, are what truly affirm Radiohead’s status as a modern great.

GOFFERT PARK  Photo of RADIOHEAD, Thom Yorke performing live onstageGOFFERT PARK Photo of RADIOHEAD, Thom Yorke performing live onstage

So, with these three examples, we can see that moments of clarity can often provide us with reasons to change. I’m not saying go all maverick and reorder your lives completely, dear readers. But maybe today is as good a day as any to see if things need a shakeup. Oh, and make sure you don’t lob your tree in the street – the poor thing died so you could enjoy Christmas.

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