I guess I like David Bowie more than most people? Well, I can’t really speak to that. I can say with certainty I like his music more than Nancy, and most likely more than John or Colin, since they haven’t gone to the trouble of listening to all of his albums. Narrowing everything I’ve heard of his, both in my life and in the last month, down to just 10 songs was a daunting task. To make it a little easier, I disqualified any song that was already on Colin or John’s lists, but that only helped a little. Not that I disagree with their picks, there are just so many songs I like. I mean, there would have to be, to get me through 24 albums.
“Under Pressure” doesn’t count, right? It seems like more of a Queen song, if I had to pick a side.
Space Oddity, and Bowie in general, is more famous for fantastic metaphors and allegories. You might not expect an unassuming little tribute to an ex-girlfriend packed away on the back half of the album to stick out. And for me, it didn’t always. Somewhere along the way I learned “Letter for Hermione” was Ricky Gervais’ favorite Bowie song, and so I had to get serious about the song. I’m glad I did, as the stripped down nature of the song, when given a fair shake, reveals its true power. This is just the man himself, his voice and his songwriting taking the forefront, and holy shit, it’s pretty. And so melancholy.
I wrote a whole thing about “Look Back in Anger” because I was uncomfortable putting an instrumental track on my list of favorite Bowie songs. But, as is always the case, in the end, Low triumphs over Lodger. It’s so stupid, a short little ditty that somehow hits me in some weird malfunctioning part of my brain. That droning harmonica, those stunningly pleasant synthesizers… It just makes me happy. If I could explain it, I’d be Brian Eno instead of just a fan.
David Bowie has an amazing talent for creating memorable, haunting melodies. “Sunday,” the first track on Heathen, is exactly the way someone like me would want Bowie to sound in the post-Kid A world. A jittery, computery guitar paves the way for an evolving dark atmosphere that builds and collapses, when the drums finally kick in, it sends a chill down my spine. I’m continually amazed how much I like this, and really a good chunk of Heathen. He had been making music for so long when this came out!
Yep, I guess Space Oddity is the album that’s going to show up twice on this list. Who knew? This is just a silly, and yet beautiful song. “Space Oddity” very literally tells the story of Major Tom and the beginning of his adventure in space. Released mere days before the Apollo 11 moon landing, this captures the excitement, joy, and terror of the space age. As someone who is most certainly a believe in space exploration and science fiction, it’s something I just can’t resist. Hell of a song.
“Blackout,” the last song on the singing half of Heroes, kicks ass. They’ve done something insane to a guitar, making it sound almost like a harmonica, which, based on my feelings about “A New Career in a New Town,” is something I need to look into. I seem to be really fond. A tale of a power outage (or perhaps something more personal!) this is a song that can, provided you give it a chance, knock your socks off. Like, if you really loosened your socks, and turned the music way up, and rested your feet on your subwoofer.
Damnit Colin, I wrote a whole thing about “Teenage Wildlife” and then it was on your list already. Damn myself for not memorizing your list ahead of time. How about another classic off Scary Monsters, “Up the Hill Backwards”? It’s an interesting tune, especially because Bowie’s vocals are so relatively plain and restrained in the mix. But if you listen closely, you’ll notice the weird lyrics, the tempo changes, the tasty guitar solo. Well, maybe you already noticed that stuff. Maybe you’re better at this than me. I never claimed to be an expert!
There are some David Bowie songs that just wash over me. I hear them and I’m left so flabbergasted I can’t really explain what I’ve just heard. Melodies that just dig into my core. “Ashes to Ashes” is one of those songs, but “Win” is probably the best example of this sensation, at least for me. That… Sound, that arpeggio of horns, or synthesizer, or whatever… It penetrates me. I have some ideological problems with Young Americans, since it is one of the focal points of the “Bowie is a poser” crowd, but hot damn! This song is terrific.
You want some Mick Ronson? Here’s some fucking Mick Ronson. “Lady Stardust” is a beautiful anthem that starts with Ronson on piano and keeps that as its driving force. It doesn’t descend into some guitar bullshit, and I say that with profound affection to songs like “Fix You” that do. Ronson on the piano, that’s all we need. Well, that and Bowie, of course, belting out a tribute to glam rock, and in particular Marc Bolan. It’s not “Life on Mars?” but it’s close. I’ve always found this song particularly affecting and with the obvious choices from Ziggy already taken, why not give a little love to the lady? But seriously, every song on this album is a classic.
This song is nonsense, and yet it is so powerful. Like, literally, know one knows for sure what this is about, there are dozens of silly theories – everything from tragic parts of Bowie’s history to some gay agenda to his problem with chain smoking – that have been created to explain “The Bewlay Brothers.” The man himself has basically said, “what’s the big deal?” Which is awesome, kind of makes me think of this as Bowie’s “I Am the Walrus.” Hunky Dory is still probably my favorite Bowie album, and that it can end so strongly shows how crazy good that record remains.
Look, there are three songs that basically guarantee David Bowie will be celebrated forever: “Heroes,” “Changes,” and, perhaps to only a slightly lesser extent, “Ziggy Stardust.” The latter two of those songs, and the albums that birthed them, were behind Bowie when he wrote “Rebel Rebel” a somewhat out-of-place song off Diamond Dogs. It feels like a tribute to those early works, taking the experiences of songs like “Queen Bitch” and “Starman” and wrapping all of it into one joyous package. It is a testament to Bowie’s ability to move on and simultaneously remember where he came from. Sure, “Changes” and “Ziggy” might have come and gone, but he still had “Heroes” ahead of him. The man’s been cool for almost five decades!
For the record, songs on Colin and John’s lists that I considered: all of them. Songs that had a good shot at this list: “Heroes,” “Queen Bitch,” “Starman,” “Changes,” “Life on Mars?,” “Five Years,” “Teenage Wildlife.”