Which art of the rock era has been the most influential? That is the question I heard the most back during my teaching days, in college and continues to vex me from time to time these days. Making a quick list, no doubt, would include Elvis Presley (for obvious reasons), Chuck Berry (hell, the Stones made a whole career out of riding on Mr. Berry’s coattails), The Beatles (from albums as an art form to innovations in the recording studio to power pop), Motown (does anyone remember the 80s?), Madonna (begot Britney, Christina, Gaga, Minaj, Katy & Taylor), Aretha Franklin (who begot Whitney who begot Mariah who begot Christina who begot JHud, etc.), Sex Pistols & Ramones (the two are intertwined so much that it’s difficult to separate them and their influences on punk, metal and thrash), Black Sabbath (who gave us metal, grunge and even some alternative forms of rap), Kraftwerk (and the world of Radio Shack-based electronics) and George Clinton’s funky empire (we’ve got the funk, the whole funk, nothin’ but da funk and rap of the 80s and 90s). Yes, all of them are worthy, as are hundreds of others. But, one artist does stand taller than the rest when you think about all of the influence this artist has had across the board. The artist I would like to nominate is Mr. David Bowie.
To begin with, the man was one of the first artists to popularize the changing of one’s image to go with an album’s or group of albums’ releases. We watched him take on Glam Rock with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Or, we danced to his mid-Seventies American blue-eyed soul singer as The Thin White Duke. Then, he spent the latter part of the Seventies in West Germany applying the icy feel of the electronica of Kraftwerk and other Krautrockers with his brilliant Berlin trilogy of albums, Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Then, in 1980, Bowie returned to his native Britain to morphed into New Wave’s first New Romantic, only to leave that persona behind for the triumphant Thin Tanned Duke of the Eighties who loved his whole career and toured behind his whole career. And, although the new personas were running thin during the Nineties and Aughties, David Bowie did release two of his greatest albums during the last four years of his incomparable life.
Then, there was David Bowie, the cutting edge music video star, long before MTV ever blasted itself across cable television networks. Just go to YouTube to see all of his pre-1981 music videos that he created long before MTV joined the market on August 1, 1981. And, to further prove Bowie’s emphasis on his visual image, take a look at his performance on Saturday Night Live during the original cast’s run when he had a marionette’s body superimposed under his head as he and his background singers did some performance art movements while singing. It was a mind-blowing event at that moment.
The changing of the personas, gave way to career paths for Madonna and Lady Gaga. While each of the aforementioned personas totally gave way to a whole musical movement. Sure, Ziggy and Aladdin may have been attempts by Bowie to join the whole Glam family, his other personas and musical directions kick-started new musical genres. For example, the whole Scary Monsters image was latched onto by the teens of England of the New Romantic movement that gave us Duran Duran, Adam & the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, among others. His Berlin period popularized the cutting edge synthesizer-based music of such diverse artists as Devo, The Human League and Prince. And, his greatest hits, stadium tour of 1983-84 lead to the hits-packed tours that many of our musical heroes utilize to this vary day. Just ask the Eagles, who have been on the same tour since they reunited over 20 songs ago.
I became aware of David Bowie like most people my age: I heard him on the radio, during his initial brush with American radio success in the mid-Seventies with songs such as “Fame”, “Young Americans” and “Golden Years”. And, his albums Young Americans, Station to Station and Changesonebowie all found their way into the collections of my friends and me. Then, when I got to college, my Bowie world opened up and the Berlin trilogy, Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance became mandatory listening, while we searched for Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Space Oddity at the Used Record Stores.
So, today, I present to you My Top 40 Favorite David Bowie Songs. Please, don’t burn me in effigy because I left your favorite song off my list. Simply remind me of that song in the comment section below. Enjoy!
- “Under Pressure” – Queen & David Bowie (Queen’s Greatest Hits, 1981). How could I NOT have this one at the top?
- “Suffragette City” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972). Wam, bam, thank you, ma’am!
- “Ashes to Ashes” (Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), 1980)
- “Fashion” (Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), 1980)
- “Space Oddity” (David Bowie, 1969)
- “Heroes” (“Heroes”, 1977)
- “Rebel Rebel” (Diamond Dogs, 1974)
- “Changes” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
- “Golden Years” (Station to Station, 1976)
- “Starman” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
- “Young Americans” (Young Americans, 1975)
- “Life on Mars?” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
- “Fame” (Young Americans, 1975)
- “The Jean Genie” (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
- “Lazarus” (Blackstar, 2016)
- “Boys Keep Swinging” (Lodger, 1979)
- “Loving the Alien” (Tonight, 1984)
- “China Girl” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
- “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
- “Absolute Beginners” (single, 1985)
- “D.J.” (Lodger, 1979)
- “This Is Not America” – Pat Metheny Group Featuring David Bowie (The Falcon and the Snowman, 1985)
- “Blue Jean” (Tonight, 1984)
- “Hallo Spaceboy” – David Bowie Featuring Pet Shop Boys (Outside, 1995)
- “Modern Love” (Let’s Dance, 1983)
- “TVC 15” (Station to Station, 1976)
- “Ziggy Stardust” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
- “Moonage Daydream” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
- “Sound & Vision” (Low, 1977)
- “Beauty & the Beast” (“Heroes”, 1977)
- “John, I’m Only Dancing” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
- “The Man Who Sold the World” (The Man Who Sold the World, 1970)
- “Oh! You Pretty Things” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
- “Never Let Me Down” (Never Let Me Down, 1987)
- “I’m Afraid of Americans” – David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails (Showgirls OST, 1998)
- “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” – David Bowie Featuring Maria Schneider Orchestra (Blackstar, 2016)
- “Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger & David Bowie (single, 1985)
- “Look Back in Anger” (Lodger, 1979)
- “Warszawa” (Low, 1977)
- “Baby Universal” – Tin Machine (Tin Machine II, 1991)
Now, there’s some Bowie for you! Enjoy!