I originally set out to write a top 10, but when I got out my Bowie collection I realised that would be impossible and so had to bump it up to 15, which was still excruciatingly painful. I understand that this list is going to be extremely divisive, as Bowie was so prolific and so loved by his fans that everyone is going to have their own opinion. I could have made this easier on myself by only including one song per album, but then can you imagine this list with only one Ziggy Stardust song or only one of the many classics found on Hunky Dory? … You are also about to find out that I have a very specific Bowie ‘era’ …
I should also note that I’m only accepting songs that appeared on studio albums, performed by Bowie … so no ‘All the Young Dudes’ I’m afraid.
- Fashion (1980, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps))
I planned this list out on Monday and since then ‘Ashes to Ashes’ had the number 15 spot … I then heard ‘Fashion’ on the radio this morning and decided it needed to be here instead. This song announced to the world that the 80s weren’t going to prove a problem for the very ‘70s’ Bowie, the most interesting and innovative solo artist the world has ever seen.
“We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town.”
-Fashion – David Bowie
- Young Americans (1975, Young Americans)
‘Young Americans’ was the song that opened up the magical, fantastical world of Bowie to an entire new audience as this song proved much more ‘poppy’ than his previous output. ‘Young Americans’, with its Beatle-esque sound, is one of Bowie’s most listenable songs and remains a favourite amongst die-hard fans and the more casual listener.
- Oh! You Pretty Things (1971, Hunky Dory)
A strange choice, some may say. Yes, it is probably due to the fact that I think Hunky Dory is Bowie’s, most enjoyable album (although Ziggy is definitely the best) … but come on, it references the X-Men, way before there were superhero films pouring out of every cinema’s orifice. It’s also a great song, that’s easy to sing along to and has been rising through the ranks during the past decade or so to be considered amongst Bowie’s best creations.
“Look at your children,
See their faces in golden rays.
Don’t kid yourself they belong to you,
They’re the start of the coming race.”
-Oh! You Pretty Things – David Bowie
- Fame (1975, Young Americans)
As ‘Young Americans’ brought Bowie further into the world of pop, ‘Fame’ – from the same album – introduced him to the world of funk. A song that could have easily been on a Chic album, this remains one of Bowie’s most enduring classics. This song is one of many that proves what a chameleon Bowie was, able to fade in and out of any style or scene he wanted with ease.
“People will see me and cry,
I’m gonna make it to heaven,
Light up the sky like a flame.”
-Fame – David Bowie
- Queen Bitch (1971, Hunky Dory)
A song that for most people will always be tied to Bill Murray at the end of the much-underappreciated Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. ‘Queen Bitch’ is just one of Bowie’s purely cool songs, that makes you feel cool simply by singing the lyrics out loud and walking down the street like a badass. If you listen to this with earphones, whilst walking, you won’t be able to stop yourself but walk with the beat. Not one of his most famous, but definitely one of the best.
- Moonage Daydream (1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
Any Guardians of the Galaxy fan will instantly recognise this sci-fi, psychedelic masterpiece from Bowie’s greatest ever album. Not Bowie’s first sci-fi song (as the entire album is a sci-fi rock opera), but probably one of his finest. I know it’s the point, but this song feels otherworldly, like it’s being pumped into our atmosphere by aliens … and what do we send up to space for them? … Will.I.Am … Yeah …
“I'm an alligator, I'm a mama-papa coming for you;
I'm the space invader, I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you.
Keep your mouth shut, you're squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I'm busting up my brains for the words.”
-Moonage Daydream – David Bowie
- Sound and Vision (1977, Low)
The best intro to a Bowie song ever? The intro is very lengthy, but proves immediately uplifting to anyone who hears it. Different to a lot of Bowie’s output, but in keeping with Low, ‘Sound and Vision’ is notable for its minimalism. Simple lyrics and simple guitar, this track is as classy as a pop song can be.
- Five Years (1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
Another sci-fi Bowie track, and one that opens the seminal and iconic Ziggy Stardust. The song lays out the story for the album with the arrival of the titular Ziggy Stardust and the Starman and the countdown to the planet’s apocalypse (five years … if you were wondering … or really stupid). This song always reminds me of John Lennon on Plastic Ono Band with the screaming, emotional, and repetitive vocals drilling their way into your ear … this song gives me chills.
“Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing.
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in.”
-Five Years – David Bowie
- Time (1973, Aladdin Sane)
This song has some of the best Bowie lyrics in his repertoire, but mainly because they are so poetically vivid, yet haunting in their brutal starkness. I find that Aladdin Sane is often overlooked because it came hot on the heels of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, but, whilst not as accomplished as the other two, it still holds many treasures … ‘Time’ being the most valuable of the lot.
“Time. He flexes like a whore,
Falls wanking to the floor.”
-Time – David Bowie
- Space Oddity (1969, David Bowie)
Another sci-fi epic, ‘Space Oddity’ is the oldest song on this list and one that made Bowie’s name be whispered in dark corners. The story of Major Tom, who is dying in space is genuinely sad, but the song juxtaposes this down-beat story with uplifting music that showed that Bowie was definitely not the norm and would go on to do great things.
"This is Major Tom to Ground Control,
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today”
-Space Oddity – David Bowie
- Changes (1971, Hunky Dory)
Ch..Ch..Ch..Changes! Do you know anyone who doesn’t crack that out at the start of this iconic pop number? Kicking off Hunky Dory, this song proves that Bowie could do pop just as well, if not better than the rest of the new wave of bands flooding the early 70s. Being featured in the wonderful Shrek in the early part of the millennium has definitely helped the legacy of this song, but the memorable and quotable lyrics speak for themselves … this will always be many people’s favourite Bowie song.
“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds,
Are immune to your consultations;
They're quite aware of what they're going through”
-Changes – David Bowie
- Let’s Dance (1983, Let’s Dance)
Perhaps Bowie’s best-known song among the younger generations of pop music listeners, this song helped propel Bowie forward into a new era of musical experimentation as he reinvented himself once more, this time as a pop God. I always get the feeling that Bowie felt like having some mega-chart success, so wrote a few mega-hits for shits and giggles … luckily, he did as we got some incredible songs like ‘Modern Love’, ‘China Girl’ and this absolutely cracking party dancefloor filler!
- Starman (1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
This song and his resulting appearance on Top of the Pops is what truly made Bowie an icon. It’s quite hard to put into words what makes ‘Starman’ so good, aside from the fact that it’s just a really great song to listen and sing along to. With allusions to the Messiah and an extremely catchy chorus, this song is all the evidence anyone would need to prove that Bowie was one of the greatest artists to walk the planet.
- Heroes (1977, “Heroes”)
I’ve talked before about how this song helped bring down the Berlin Wall, but what makes this long song truly great, is its beautifully emotive lyrics. It’s uplifting and inspiring (even if the lyrics aren’t as happy as people remember them to be) and has been used for charity singles and anthems ever since its release. The radio version is trimmed down, so if you want to hear it as it was intended, pick up a copy of “Heroes”.
“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen;
Though nothing will drive them away,
We can beat them, just for one day;
We can be Heroes, just for one day”
-Heroes – David Bowie
- Life on Mars? (1971, Hunky Dory)
Whatever your opinion on the rest of my list, I’m fairly certain no true Bowie fan can be disappointed that I placed this absolute, stone-cold classic in the number one spot. It’s got brilliant lyrics, a catch melody, and is just pure and simply iconic. A song that couldn’t get boring if it tried, it has proven inspirational for dozens, if not hundreds of artists since its release and it will carry on until the Starman comes and gives us five years…
If you feel strongly that I missed some truly incredible songs off of this list (which I did, unfortunately), then let me know on Twitter @MugwumpBlog