Madness reveal how David Bowie admitted 'Ashes to Ashes' ripped off 'My Girl'

24 November 2023, 10:08

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By Mayer Nissim

Not for the first time, Woody wishes he was asked to drum on Bowie's song.

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David Bowie is one of the most influential artists of all time, inspiring not just his contemporaries over his half-century in pop, but also everyone who's come since.

But he was also something of a magpie himself, famously borrowing from everyone from Anthony Newley and John Lennon to Nine Inch Nails and Goldie.

One lesser-known influence on a key David Bowie song were 2 Tone icons Madness, whose 'My Girl' inspired Bowie's classic 'Ashes To Ashes'.

During a Q&A at Pryzm in Kingston with journalist Stevie Chick, drummer 'Woody' Woodgate was quoted by as saying: "David Bowie told us that he tried to rip off our song 'My Girl' but he couldn’t find the right drummer to do it.

"He should have just asked me. If you listen to both songs, they sound the same."

Madness in 1980, not long after 'My Girl' was released
Madness in 1980, not long after 'My Girl' was released. Picture: Getty Images

It's not the first time the band have spoken about their influence on Bowie's 1980 classic.

"['My Girl's producers] Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley produced 'Absolute Beginners' for David Bowie, and Clive told me a story that Bowie had told him about 'Ashes to Ashes', which came out only a few months after 'My Girl'," Woody said in 2019 Madness memoir Before We Was We.

"Bowie had said that he'd been looking for a drummer to do the 'My Girl' beats on 'Ashes to Ashes' and he couldn’t find one that had the same feeling as me.

Madness - My Girl (Official Video)

"He'd said, 'There's something about the feel that's really great, and none of the American drummers could do it'.

"Clive went to me, 'Woody, you do realise that if you put 'Ashes to Ashes' up against 'My Girl', it's exactly the same?'.

"Anyway, it kind of inflated my ego and pissed me off at the same time. I thought, 'David Bowie could have f**king asked me!'.

In the same book, the band's keyboard player Mike Barson quipped: "Well, I don't want to tell you about what I stole off Bowie!

David Bowie - Ashes To Ashes

"I mean, I think everybody steals a bit. But, in a month of Sundays, you wouldn't recognise that 'My Girl' influence on 'Ashes to Ashes'. So, job well done, I'd say."

Speaking this week in London, each member of Madness picked their favourite Bowie song, with Barson picking 'Life on Mars?', Suggs picking 'The Bewlay Brothers', Mark Bedford picking 'Moonage Daydream' and Chris Foreman picking 'Rebel Rebel'.

Noticeably, all five members of the group picked a track Bowie released somewhere between 1971 and 1974.