Pop Singer. Glam rocker. Soul singer. Electronica innovator. Young hotshot. Elder statesman. Straight. Bisexual. Character actor. Fashion icon.
David Bowie has been all of these things at various points in his career and, no Wayne Coyne, he ain’t dead yet.
The breadth of Bowie’s influence is almost too vast to consider. From Madonna to Nine Inch Nails to Depeche Mode to Lady Gaga to Blur to Marilyn Manson to The Arcade Fire, many of the top artists from today and yesteryear owe a great deal to the man who put on make-up and sung about space travel, androgyny and a whole bunch of other stuff that us mere mortals will never fully comprehend.
A true rock star, Bowie appeared to bow out from music following 2003’s Reality. After a 10 year hiatus, the man is back with new music.
In honor of the release of The Next Day, Bowie’s 24th official album, we’re taking a look at the top 24 Bowie tracks.
24. “Modern Love” (from Let’s Dance)
For many, the phrase “Bowie in the Let’s Dance era” has the same connotations as “Dylan goes Christian” and “The Rolling Stone’s Their Satanic Majesties Request,” which is to say that there’s some great stuff if you’re willing to look past certain established prejudices. At first listen, “Modern Love” sounds like a bit of straight up ‘80s cheese—the synths, backup singers, an expertly placed sax, it’s all there. In fact, one would be mistaken in thinking, based the first few notes, that you were listening to the opening of “Footloose.” Production aside, Bowie’s charisma and expert sense of pop songwriting transforms this into a rousing, head bop-inducing track that’s impossible to resist.
23. “Bring Me the Head of the Disco King” (from Reality)
Contrary to some perspectives, Bowie did release quality stuff towards the latter half of his career. Never more was this more apparent than in “Bring Me the Head of the Disco King,” the final track of his final (or so we thought) album, Reality. Sounding like a recording from some dark jazz bar, the song has Bowie reflecting on his career, and it’s not a happy listen. Rather, it’s a song filled with regret and sadness. No wonder people thought Bowie was done with music forever. Though the meandering, seven-plus minute track might prove a bit taxing for some, it’s the kind of song that, if it hits you at the right time, will haunt you long after it’s over.
22. “Cat People” (Putting Out the Fire) (from Let’s Dance)
A deep cut from Bowie’s successful but oft-maligned Let’s Dance, “Cat People” was originally composed for writer/director Paul Schrader’s ultimately ill-conceived 1982 remake of the classic horror film Cat People. Much like the film, the song was soon forgotten. Of course, leave it to master revivalist Quentin Tarantino to recognize the greatness of this song and insert it into a pivotal sequence in his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds.
21. “I’m Afraid of Americans” (from Earthlings)
Whenever one goes with the “old meets new” model of collaboration, the level of success can be a definite crapshoot. In this instance, it was the right one. Whatever your feelings are regarding Trent Reznor as a songwriter, one has to admire the skill of his industrial production. Certainly, the versatile Bowie fits into Reznor’s musical landscape like a snug glove.
20. “Starman” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)
One of the centerpieces of the Ziggy Stardust concept album, “Starman” has some callbacks to Hunky Dory, especially given its octave leap during the song’s sweeping chorus. That being said, got to say I still prefer Dewey Cox version of the song (I kid, of course).
19. “Rebel Rebel” (from Diamond Dogs)
If ever there was a Bowie song that could soundtrack a sporting event, this would be it. Ironic, since the lyrics contain multiple references to gender-bending such as “You got your mother in a whirl/ She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” Often cited as being Bowie’s elegy to his glam rock days, you couldn’t ask for a better exit.
18. “Fashion” (from Scary Monsters)
While Mick Ronson is the guitarist most often associated with Bowie, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp here more than rivals that legacy, releasing some intense metallic riffs that augment the song’s reggae-influenced progression.
17. “Rock and Roll Suicide” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)
Without ever having laid eyes on Bowie or his numerous elaborate costumes, you could probably safely guess from this, the closing track to the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, that he was a man who enjoys the flamboyant and the theatrical. In less than three minutes, Bowie progresses from quiet acoustic guitar strumming to a bombastic blast of strings, brass and shredding guitar.
16. Ashes to Ashes (from Scary Monsters)
Beginning with a wonky synth line that sounds like a lost sound effect on an old Doctor Who episode, “Ashes to Ashes” revisits the character of Major Tom (from another Bowie composition that shall be mentioned later). According to the song, Tom is now a junkie and wasting away. Certainly one of Bowie’s most oft-kilter songs, it’s also, naturally, one of his best.
15. “TVC 15” (from Station to Station)
The more one listens to the Kraftwerk-inspired greateness of Bowie’s Station to Station, the sadder it becomes that the man himself—emotionally despondent and walking through a cocaine haze at the time—barely remembers recording it. Reportedly inspired by a hallucination Iggy Pop once had, “TVC 15” spins a simple yarn about a woman who is sucked into a television, leaving her man behind. The surreal lyrics make a jarring contrast with the honky-tonk piano intro that sounds straight up Dr. John. But, then again, what is Bowie about if not contradictions?
14. “Suffragette City” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)
“Wham bam thank you ma’am!” Only David Bowie can make an inconsiderate quickie sound so damn charming. Of course, that only scratches the surface of this relentlessly catchy, furious blast of rock that sounds like a speed-up Chuck Berry number.
13. “Changes” (from Hunky Dory)
The lead-off single of Hunky Dory, Bowie reportedly wrote this song as a parody of nightclub songs. Considering the chameleon-like nature Bowie’s career would take, hoping from one musical persona and one genre to the next, lines like “Changes are taking the pace I’m going through” make the song feel less like a pop single and more like an artistic manifesto.