A year ago this month, David Bowie released his 25th studio album Blackstar, then a few days later he passed away, making him was one of the first and greatest of the celebrity icons taken from us in 2016. On 8th January he would have turned 70, and despite his untimely death, his incredible body of work will continue to have palpable impact upon artists and creatives across all genres for many years to come. Here is my personal pick of some of his most memorable songs, to be enjoyed by fans and newcomers alike!
Wham bam thank you ma’am! Released in 1972, Suffragette City has a very dirty feel to it; there’s a sense that you should be rocking out to it on a table in a dive-bar, whisky in hand as you hear that classic opening guitar riff. This song was originally offered to the band Mott the Hoople, but they turned it down for All the Young Dudes. Filthy, rocky, catchy and hella sexy, Bowie brings an unprecedented level of cool to a song about someone trying to get laid.
Absolute Beginners is possibly the most romantic Bowie song; a big, blousy 50s-inspired ballad that is both distinctly 80s and distinctly Bowie. It was recorded for a film of the same name that was markedly less acclaimed, but the tune was a big hit, making number 2 in the UK. It has a gorgeous saxophone solo, and some very sweet lyrics that acknowledge the difficulty of new love and make promises to tackle any challenges regardless.
One of Bowie’s most famous songs, Ziggy Stardust is also a bizarre yet genius narrative. Much like Life On Mars? and Ashes to Ashes from his own catalogue, and Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen, such a concept-based glam rock offering shouldn’t work for a mainstream audience, and yet it is utterly iconic. Featuring Bowie-persona Ziggy Stardust, the song is about a rock star that acts as an earthly conduit for alien messages…a ‘leper messiah’ with ‘god-given ass’. The bass line is instantly recognisable, and the lyrics unmistakable; it may be weird, but it’s undeniably wonderful.
If everyone would stop covering this song I’d be very grateful. No other artists can do justice to the unique and breath-taking vocal combo of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, so frankly I’d rather they left it alone and let us enjoy the original. Apparently, (and understandably) there was a lot of ego involved in the making of this collaboration, but the result is nothing short of sublime. Mercury’s soaring range is perfectly complimented by Bowie’s lower, unearthly vocals. The emotion in the original is unmatched by any cover I’ve heard. There are some really hauntingly beautiful lines that stick with you; ‘love’s such an old-fashioned word, and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night’… This song set the bar for all duets to come. Not an ‘ice ice baby’ to be heard.
This song is hard to listen to now; from his final album Blackstar, it was written and recorded when Bowie knew his days were numbered. But like he always did, Bowie made exquisite art from the dark corners of the world and other people’s fears, and Lazarus is a powerful exploration of death. Ethereal and other-worldly (space remained one of the Bowie’s prime artistic fascinations until the end) the whole of the Blackstar album is haunting, but for me Lazarus is the stand-out, placing Bowie’s vocals front and centre. Clearly designed as an epitaph, the song begins with the line ‘look up here, I’m in heaven’, and the music video features Bowie with bandaged eyes on a bed. Somehow it combines rich, melancholy music with strangely uplifting lyrics; despite the unsettling imagery, it’s reassuring to hear that this wasn’t a man who seemed afraid of death, but instead effortlessly melded it for his own artistic purposes.
Bowie’s career spans so many decades and styles, it’s hard to pick just five. Here are some of my other absolute favourites to extend your playlist.
The Jean Genie
Burn Oh! You Pretty Things
The Man Who Sold The World
Words: Heidi Teague