MY TOP DAVID BOWIE SONGS
In the wake of the iconic musician’s death aged 69, which has both shocked and saddened the world, I look at my favourite songs from the back-catalogue of a prolific, imaginative and unforgettable artist, who will be much missed. There has been much deliberation, as I have tried to get a representative span of both his long career and of my own musical tastes. True to Bowie’s eschewing of convention, I didn’t set an exact number of songs.
An interesting look into his more contemplative music-making phase, Sunday is a dark, reflective song. His voice is almost mournful on this relatively unknown track from Bowie’s 2002 album Heathen, which is bleak in tone but very good nonetheless.
12) The Man Who Sold The World
Perhaps one of the first Bowie songs (along with Space Oddity) which started him on the path of telling stories within his music. This has a great zip and rhythm from the calypso-esque soul groove in the verses, before seguing into a proper riff later on.
11) Speed of Life
Propulsive guitar and waves of spiralling synths ushered in a new age for Bowie’s music, showing how he was always willing to try something new. This song is perhaps the epitome of that – a pure instrumental that captures his drive to never slow down. What’s more, it comes straight off the back of six years of more conventional (by his standards) rock songs.
10) Oh! You Pretty Things
This one has some thought-provoking lyrics but is also a cracking tune that will get your foot tapping. Introduced by some classy piano playing as some of his best songs are, this builds up to an impassioned howl of a chorus, and is classic Bowie.
9) Because You’re Young
Heavy, menacing guitar sounds catapult you into this song and then don’t let you leave as Bowie croons on about youth against a background of synths. A subtle but powerful and perhaps little-known gem.
8) Moonage Daydream
This is space rock at its best, with a killer riff and a piano hook to ground it all, conjuring visions of blasting off into the great beyond and having a barrel-load of kooky adventures. First heard by me in Guardians of the Galaxy, this is an old-fashioned, classy rock song of the highest order.
7) Modern Love
One of the best songs of Bowie’s self-proclaimed ‘lowest creative period’ (apparently) in the early 80’s, this first became known to me after black-and-white film Frances Ha. Purely and simply, it’s a song full of joy – you just want to dance after listening to it, and that’s the highest praise I can give.
6) Ashes to Ashes
A continuation of ‘Major Tom’ and his story from Space Oddity, this song has a more sorrowful edge and is a thoughtful but still effective rock tune. ‘My mama said to get things done, you’d better not mess with Major Tom’ is the haunting line on which it fades out, and that sticks with you.
5) Rebel Rebel
A song built for stadiums and call-and-response, this is a crowd-pleasing hit with guitars that loop back and forth furiously. With lines like ‘Rebel rebel, you tore your dress/ Rebel rebel, your face is a mess’, it becomes a clear-cut rock anthem and one of Bowie’s most unforgettable tunes.
4) Suffragette City
In the same vein, Suffragette City takes you on a melodic journey and doesn’t rest until it has spat you out at the other end. Piano and guitar thrum relentlessly together alongside synth waves and impassioned vocals. There’s even a bit of fun as Bowie playfully yelps ‘Wham bam, thank you mam!’ towards the end of the song.
The sound of inspiration from the Berlin Wall to London 2012, perhaps the most symbolic and anthemic of Bowie’s songs is riding high on my list. Melancholic yet uplifting and triumphant at the same time, it leaves you feeling able to conquer the world, and determined to do so. It strikes a chord with many, perhaps creating a feeling of being able to triumph but also to reflect upon your past. A classic.
There’s another classic coming right up with one of Bowie’s very best songs. Starman is a catchy tale of adventure and the unknown which will stick in your head for a space-age. It’s a karaoke dream and a perfectly-crafted rock song with a hint of a story behind it, just as Bowie liked it. It’ll be listened to for a long time to come.
1) Life On Mars?
For me the quintessential Bowie song, Life on Mars strikes a balance between thoughtful and melodic, between restraint and shouting at the heavens. It is perhaps much more a piece of art, or a musical experience, than just a song. If I may be so bold (and Bowie was certainly no stranger to that), you have to sit down and really listen to the song in order to truly appreciate it, as you get the feeling that there’s more meaning there than you’ll ever really grasp. If that’s not the mark of a true artist, I’m not sure what is.
Whether you knew him as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke or David Bowie, he certainly made his mark. To all of the above, but most of all to David Jones – rest in peace.
What are your favourite Bowie songs? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment below.