Monthly Archives: January 2016

My Ten Favorite Bowie Songs

 

Whittling down Bowie’s vast catalogue to 10 of my favorites, is quite a task. There are so many that I absolutely adore, and I’m sure that once I post this, I’ll be mad that I left a certain track off. With that being said, here are ten of my absolute favorites: in no particular order. (I haven’t included anything off of Blackstar since I’ve yet to fully digest it, but what I’ve heard is brilliant.)

“The Supermen” (The Man Who Sold the World)

I first heard this song on Bowie at the Beeb. That version is more stripped down than the guitar-heavy original found on The Man Who Sold the World. You can’t really go wrong with a Bowie song that has lyrics inspired by the works of Nietzsche. The final notes that Bowie hits on the Beeb version is one of my favorite Bowie moments.

“Station to Station” (Station to Station)

The entire Station to Station album might be the best album ever made while its creator was coked out of his mind. The opening feedback section perfectly captures the feeling of waiting for a train to come in.  Musically the song is jarring and maddening, while also oddly comforting.

“Rebel Rebel” (Diamond Dogs)

No list of Bowie songs is complete without “Rebel Rebel”.  Hearing the gender-bending lyrics as an 11 year old kid for the first time was a total mind altering experience. No doubt the song opened up the possibilities of what masculinity could mean. And who doesn’t love shouting out “rebel rebel” at the top of their lungs?  The video is classic, and not even Blackbeard rocked an eye patch as good as Bowie did here.

“Always Crashing the Same Car” (Low)

Bowie had numerous songs that sounded like they came from another world, but that description seems to fit Low the most. I love the way the drums sound on “Always Crashing the Same Car”, because the drum rolls sound like a car rolling over and perfectly match the scratching guitar that weaves in and out of the song.

“Watch that Man” (Aladdin Sane)

This is an interesting one, because I know there’s some heated debate about the mix since Bowie’s vocals are a little buried. But it’s probably the closest that Bowie ever came to sounding like The Stones, and he does them more than justice here while also still sounding like himself. It’ also a perfect introduction to the great Aladdin Sane.

“I’m Afraid of Americans” (Earthling)

I distinctly remember this song being on rotation quite a bit on MTV when I was a teenager. Even when industrial rock was getting a lot of play with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, “I’m Afraid of Americans” still seemed to be wholly original and wild. It was probably my first realization that Bowie was still vital and not just some old rocker whose best music was behind him.

“Heroes” (Heroes)

“Heroes” is probably my favorite all-time favorite Bowie song, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this one.  Not sure what else needs to be said that hasn’t been said elsewhere, other than the fact that Bowie’s vocals are absolutely stunning and soaring.

“Moonage Daydream” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)

Probably the most far out track on an album full out far out tracks. On “Moonage Daydream”, Bowie fully breathes life into the character of Ziggy who will be our “rocking rollin’ bitch” for eternity. The double-tracked vocals during the final chorus only add to the drama before Mick Ronson slides out with a guitar solo for the ages that truly sounds like a ship flying off into outers space.

 

“Ziggy Stardust” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)

Few lyrics in rock and roll perfectly describe a fictional character as well as Bowie does on the title track of his magnum opus. The song is perfectly sleazy, and raucous.  I remember hearing the song on the radio as a kid, and wondering how they got past the censors with what seemed like a litany of offenses: ass, well-hung, balls,  as well as references to getting both high and drunk. Ziggy seems immortal even though the song outlines his demise, until Bowie’s final declaration that he played guitar, ending the whole thing on a tragic note.

“Fame” (Young Americans)

A song so funky that the Godfather of Soul would later rip it off for himself in the form of “Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)”.  One of the things that I love about the song is that you can distinctly hear John Lennon in the background. To be a fly on the wall when those two wrote the song together.

RIP David Bowie

I have this theory that liking David Bowie is a sort of gateway for stranger music and musicians. Without liking Bowie first, I’m pretty sure I would have never gotten into the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, TV on the Radio, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, etc. The list goes on. Somehow, Bowie’s penchant for being weird made it easier to digest more difficult artists.

My first real introduction to Bowie came through my sister, who gave me a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, as a birthday present my freshman year of college. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the album I needed at that period in my life. I had a tough time adjusting to college life and making friends. Bowie’s bizarre tale of an alien outsider trying to make sense of the world really connected with me in a way that few albums have. Like many people, Ziggy Stardust taught me it’s ok to be a bit strange and different. “Don’t fake it, baby”, from “Moonage Daydream” became a sort of mantra for me that year and it’s still something I strive for.

It’s certainly something that Bowie lived by. You never got the sense that Bowie was faking it. He could be as outlandish as he wanted to be, and the more he did, the more people loved him for it. You wouldn’t want David Bowie to be grounded musically. Even at his worst, it was certainly never boring.

Oddly enough, it can be easy to forget just how many of his songs have become part of popular culture. Those classic songs sound normal now because we’ve become so familiar with them. But for mainstream radio hits, they’re really far out in the best possible way. What other musician could have a hit with a song about a guitar playing alien with screwed eyes and screwed down hair who makes love with his ego?

Think about some of his biggest songs for a second. “Space Oddity” introduced us to Major Tom and is quite possibly the greatest song ever written about outer space.  The metallic funk of “Fame” still sounds fresh and vital nearly forty years later.  The main riff of “Rebel Rebel” is one of all the time great riffs.  I sometimes get tired of “Young Americans” when it starts but I’m completely won over each time by the end, When Bowie sings the immortal, “ain’t no one damn song that can make me break down and cry” line it gets me every time.  Even his more mainstream hits in ’80s were fantastic: “Let’s Dance”, “Blue Jean”, China Girl”, etc.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. Even his last two albums were game-changers: few artists have put out classic albums in their late 60’s.

I think that one of the main reasons people are so upset and saddened by Bowie’s death is his eternal coolness. Elvis became a shadow of himself near the end. The Stones have come in and out of style. The Who nearly destroyed their legacy several times with countless “reunion tours”.  But Bowie?  He set himself apart up until the end. Sad as it is, he went out in style, leaving the world with a wonderful new album for his legions of fans to enjoy and decipher.

Unlike other artists, you never had to worry about defending your love of Bowie, because no one is going to declare that Bowie is over-rated. Mention his name and people get it, even if they’re not hard-core fans. Bowie was so cool in fact, that he made a campy kid’s movie seem awesome. For many kids of my generation, Labyrinth was their first introduction to Bowie and many people are huge fans of him because of it.

Blast some Bowie today, because the world suddenly got a little more boring.