The Glam is gone. The Plastic has peeled off the Soul. Ziggy will play guitar no more.
Yesterday, January 10, 2016, legendary rock star David Bowie died. Hiding his malignant liver cancer from the world for the past year and a half, Bowie worked until his last to deliver his art to the world, specifically his musical Lazarus. He debuted his final album Blackstar on his 69th birthday just two days before his death.
Born David Robert Jones in 1947 in the Brixton district of London, Bowie was the epitome of weird and wonderful in rock and roll. Transitioning through a series of musical phases and character personas (shown in the GIF up top) throughout his entire career, no one was more flamboyant in the arts on such a large scale. Fully deserving of his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and universal reverence for changing rock and roll – no, no, music forever.
His themes, his words, his meanings, they were all as complicated as the man himself, and, as he described in his classic song I included in my second annual list of songs to live by, he was ever-changing. Bowie recognized that we are always growing and that trying to conform to a norm is not as rewarding (in his case quite so) as being yourself. His career was helped by the fact that no one, and I mean no one was like him. He was fearless, inventive, passionate, unbelievably original, and frequently coked out of his mind. All of these factors add up to a man who shattered conventions, inspired millions, and will be greatly missed.
It wasn’t always terrific; sometimes it was terrible. Bowie had his downs as well as his ups such as his collaborative cover of “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger. I don’t care if they fucked; why’d they have to punish us with that? We share the blame though, as Peter Griffin says, that happened, and we all let it happen.
The good certainly outweighs the bad however. Bowie produced many iconic songs and albums that will endure eternally. Here I have included a list of my favorites from the man who sold countless records to the world. These are not meant as a ranking, and I’m sure I missed plenty of great ones, but it is as comprehensive as I can make it today while I’ve been listening the shit out of Bowie’s discography. Enjoy and remember the man who made it all happen. I apologize preemptively for some of the puns.
“Suffragette City” – Powerful, fast, frenetic. The most rock and roll song of Bowie’s discography is one that’ll have you saying “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” again and again.
“Rebel Rebel” – The most commonly covered of Bowie’s songs, this was his goodbye to glam rock and hello to a new generation of fans.
“Under Pressure” – Technically a Queen song, but this incredible tag-team effort features perfect synchronous harmony between Bowie and Freddie Mercury with the rest of the band being excellent as always. It’s impossible to imagine this song without Bowie or Queen. Bowie was a frequent collaborator with other major artists (consult the aforementioned Mick Jagger fiasco) and as with the rest of his career these instances were across the board. He did a few songs with Tina Turner, including “Tonight” and for Christmas he sang “Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy” with revered crooner/actor Bing Crosby.
“I’m Afraid of Americans” – This is a fitting song for citizens of every other country, from Bowie’s native England to Australia to Canada to many here in America… especially if Trump gets elected, right guys? HAHAHA! Pandering! Of course, some of our players in the presidential race are probably a fan of the line “God is an American” that is repeated in the coda.
“The Man Who Sold the World” – Thanks to an excellent performance by one of his biggest fans during the famous MTV Unplugged special, this is commonly mistaken for a Nirvana song, so much so that Bowie was often complimented for covering them when he sang this in concerts! Kurt Cobain was a big time fan of Bowie which was evident in his own work, not to mention further reflected by the specific shout out from Anthony Kiedis in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Californication” when he sings, “And Cobain can you hear the spheres singin’ songs off ‘Station to Station‘?” Station to Station was Bowie’s tenth album and one of his cocaine powered works.
“Young Americans” – About a newlywed couple who start to realize they are not as into one another as they first thought. Nice job on the saxophone from David Sanborn too!
“Golden Years” – Bowie could get funky and he was a pro at tapping into the good and bad of the confusion, change, and vibrancy of youth. Here he is on top of his game with both.
“Fame” -Bowie’s breakout hit in America was co-written by guitarist Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. It’s message is pretty self-explanatory: fame is not everything you hope it is and has a disturbing dark side to it.
“Queen Bitch” – Maybe this is the most rock and roll song from Bowie? Either way, it’s fucking great!
“Sound and Vision” – Blue, blue, electric blue! That’s the color of my room!… Actually my room is gray. This song is simply gray-te!
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – The title song to the 1982 erotic remake of Cat People was also used in Inglorious Basterds. Bowie brings the fire to it.
“Moonage Daydream” – This one was in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s out of this world.
“Ziggy Stardust” – The title song of Bowie’s most famous album which is one of the greatest names for an album ever produced: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Remember what I said about being yourself? Do it, because we need more poetry like that in this universe! Ziggy served as the first of Bowie’s famous alter egos. He’s the one oft seen with the lightning bolt emblem over his eye. Ziggy’s life as described in the song is one of the stereotypical rock star hitting it huge and then spiraling down as a result of his own behavior, bad habits, and inflated ego. Nobody karaokes this song like my friend Mark drunk at 4AM in New Orleans.
“Space Oddity” – Bowie’s first hit, and one of his greatest songs. It tells the tragic tale of Major Tom, astronaut extraordinaire. A surprisingly upbeat melancholy song that propelled Bowie into the public eye in the space age. In fact it was released a mere nine days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Another of his most popular works, this song was most famously covered by badass real-life astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station.
“Starman” – Included on the immortal Ziggy Stardust, this serves as the story of Ziggy’s arrival to bring his music to Earth.
“Life on Mars” – A collage of the surreal presented less like one non sequitur after another like Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or The Beatles “I Am the Walrus”, but more like a young girl running through a movie theater observing the plethora of posters and pictures around her. The end result is a song that is on another planet than those two and is my personal favorite from him.
Bowie’s artistic talents were most greatly showcased in his music, yet he frequently worked as an actor as well. He received praise for his performance in the title roles in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth and on stage in The Elephant Man in 1980-81. Many remember him for helping to make Labyrinth more memorable when he played Jareth the Goblin King opposite a young Jennifer Connelly and Jim Henson’s darker D-list muppets. More recently he played electricity wizard and nerd icon Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. And of course, Zoolander proved that if you ever need someone to judge your underground model walk-off I believe Bowie may be of service.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy David Bowie and the many things he crafted over his lifetime. No matter whether you’ve heard every song and have collected each album of his, or if you are just discovering him in the wake of his death, or if you’re in between like me, I hope the man can influence you as positively as he has countless others. So long, Stardust, may you live on in those different looking stars and the hearts of the spiders from Mars.