I was devastated to hear the news of David Bowie‘s passing. Like most fans, I jumped to my phone to see if it was some sort of click-bait prank, or even a strange new publicity stunt to promote his new album Blackstar. Sadly it was true. One of my all time favorite artists had passed on. Of course within minutes, people were compiling the memories of the first time they heard his music, or what they thought of the new record, and of course, their favorite songs. I tried to put together my own list of personal favorites but after starting and re-starting, I realized it was near impossible! Literally every ten minutes, I changed my mind! With so many songs that shaped the way I listened to music, it’s hard to pin-point which are my absolute favorites. For the sake of getting this over with and getting back to my own private marathon of Bowie albums, I’m going to stop thinking too hard and just list the first ten that come to mind. My Top Ten David Bowie Songs.
Disclaimer: I want to point out that this is my personal favorite list, and doesn’t mean it’s some sort of definitive best list. I seriously love just about everything Bowie has recorded in some way. Also, I think it’s fair not to include anything from his latest record because the emotional shock of it being his last record (and less than a few days since it’s release, at the time of writing this) could alter the way I feel about it.
10. Watch That Man:
With so much emphasis on the bizarre, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a good rock star Bowie actually was. Inspired by the American rock n roll life-style and The Rolling Stones, this track signified a change in Bowie’s style at the time. It may have been new territory from his previous work but he manages to pull it off like a seasoned pro and arguably gives The Stones a run for their money.
9. The Hearts Filthy Lesson:
After somewhat of drought of hits in the states, Bowie came back on the scene with a new sinister, industrial sound with The Hearts Filthy Lesson, comeplete with a unsettling Nine Inch Nails-esque music video that plays upon themes of ritual and the degeneration of what the mainstream calls art. I remember the first time I heard it, I was at my overly religious Aunt’s house watching MTV. The video came on and she freaked out, insisting that it was blasphemous and evil. Being 12 years old, I think the fact she freaked out, actually made me enjoy it all the more.
8. Somebody Up There Likes Me:
For his Young Americans LP, Bowie enlisted a gang of soul musicians (including a young Luther Vandross) to take on a more urban approach to his music. The glam rock antics and outer space trippiness had been replaced with R&B grooves. Growing up I wasn’t a big fan of this era at first. It wasn’t until I reached my twenties and became obsessed with soul music, that I finally gave this album a proper listen. This track is my favorite track on the album. There’s just something about the vocal delivery that sounds so effortless and makes me wish he did more in this genre.
7. Space Oddity:
I don’t think anyone could have a list of Bowie songs without Space Oddity! It’s sort of everything he is about rolled into one simple song. It’s a classic song that works well as a gateway for people who have never given Bowie a chance. Part delicate folk song, part psychedelica, and even a bit of jazz influence with it’s guitar solo. It has a certain alien quality about it but at the same time warm and inviting. Classic Bowie.
6. Blue Jean:
Most Bowie purists tend to discredit his 80s era of music. Even Bowie himself has gone on record in saying that he wasn’t exactly proud of the choices he made in that decade. While it may not have been as innovative and groundbreaking as the output the decade before, there is no denying Bowie was capable of crafting the perfect, straight up pop song. This song is the prime example of that.
I can’t put my finger on it or really put it into words but there is something about this song that just makes me emotional. It’s simple chord progression and arrangement is performed in such a nonchalant way while Bowie is pouring his heart out on vocals. It’s almost like a meta example of how someone can feel so passionate about something that others may feel is an everyday thing. That’s kind of Bowie’s wheel house actually.
4. Little Wonder:
In the late 90s, electronica music worked it’s way into the mainstream. Acts like The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim were breaking into American radiowaves as well as the charts. After out Nine Inch Nailing Nine Inch Nails in the industrial genre, electronica seemed like an obvious direction for Bowie to take. Little Wonder embodies the frantic beats of the genre, but with a self-aware wink with Bowie’s exaggerated Cockney accent that only he could pull off. Despite being released in 1997, this song sounds just as fresh and relevant in 2016.
3. Life On Mars:
Legend has it that Bowie wrote this song as a parody to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, but it’s also been said that it’s a love song written after a brief love affair. Regardless of the how and why the song was written, one thing is for certain: it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. Images of escapism through media, melancholy lyrics of trying not to accept cold hard reality, and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Beautiful song.
2. Ziggy Stardust:
There is nothing that says Bowie like the guitar riff in this song. Those 5 short seconds are David Bowie. The story of Ziggy Stardust is very vague and almost non-existent without taking liberties of storytelling within the songs presented in the album. With the over the top nature of the alter ego, you already know you are listening to something that has a story that you probably wouldn’t understand but he sells it in a way where it doesn’t really matter.
1. Moonage Daydream:
Lyrically it tells the story of how the Ziggy Stardust character was created, by combining ego, secular religion, drugs, and art. But when you think about it, he is describing the persona of himself in pop culture. Like with Ziggy Stardust, you know there is a surreal story to be told here but it takes a backseat to the artistry that is being used to sell it. If you don’t like this song, you don’t like Bowie. Not only is my favorite Bowie track but one of my all time favorite songs. It’s the kind of song that only he could pull off, proving once and for all that there was never an artist as brave, daring, innovative and perplexing as Davis Bowie and sadly, there will never be. Even though this song was recorded over a decade before I was born, it makes me miss his artistry already.
Rest In Peace Starman. You will be missed.
David Robert Jones: January 8 1947 – January 10 2016