My Top Ten – David Bowie

I’m setting myself a near-impossible task with these top tens!

David Bowie is one of the great originals. From “Hunky Dory” in 1971 to “Let’s Dance” in 1983 he released a string of albums which are unsurpassed in their combination of invention, variety and sheer pop power. Always one step ahead of the game. Challenging, fascinating, , innovative, funky, foreboding, electro, brilliant rock’n’roll. He has done some good things since 1983, like the “Black Tie, White Noise” album, but it is those twelve years  from 1971 to 83 that were exceptional. All my choices come from that period – when Bowie could genuinely lay claim to being  the greatest pop artist of all time.

I’ve set myself one rule: only two tracks from any one album.  Makes the selection reasonably varied, but in some ways even harder!. But here goes, anyway.

10. Queen Bitch, from Hunky Dory (1971)

There are so many tracks I could have chosen from “Hunky Dory”, Bowie’s first great album. “Life on Mars” would be a big one, for many, and I really like “Andy Warhol’. But “Queen Bitch’ has a wonderful, dirty rock’n’roll riff, and some some of Bowie’s seediest singing.

9. Let’s Dance, from Let’s Dance (1983)

Bowie’s always moved with the times. This was his shiny disco hit, as pop, soul and dance really started to come together in the eighties, Michael Jackson to the fore. His last truly great record?

8. Rebel, Rebel, from Diamond Dogs (1974)

“Diamond Dogs” is an extraordinary album, one of Bowie’s best. It works as a piece, a disturbing piece. “Rebel, Rebel” juts out, stand-alone, his Rolling Stones tribute, his teenage angst song.  Got your mother in a whirl, not sure if you’re a boy or a girl… In ’74 this was revolutionary.

7. Hang On To Yourself, from The rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

This selection process is brutal. This is my only track from Ziggy. How can that be? “Hang On To Yourself” is another of those rasping rock’n’roll songs with a twist, which Bowie was so brilliant at in the first half of the seventies. It’s as simple as that.  It rocks!

6. Golden Years, from Station To Station (1976) 

Bowie made some brilliant funk tunes, including “Fame” and  “Fashion”, but this is the standout, for me.  It’s funky, slinky, and unmistakeably Bowiesque.

5. Sound and Vision, from Low (1977)

“Low” was a total groundbreaker, as Bowie retreated to Berlin, drew the curtains, called up Iggy Pop and embraced Germanic electro. “Sound And Vision” is a story of depression, but extraordinarily uplifting at the same time. Because of its vision and sound.

4. Panic In Detroit, from Aladdin Sane (1973)

This is a track that has grown and grown on me over the years.  Powered by another great rock’n’roll riff, it is an extraordinary tale of urban paranoia. Shaky…

3. Jean Genie, from Aladdin Sane (1973)

Bowie’s greatest pop tune?  Enormous piledriver riff.  That edginess that pervades all of “Aladdin Sane”. Competed at the time with the Sweet’s “Blockbuster” which had a remarkably similar riff. I had this on my 50th birthday party playlist.  Everyone – all ages – rocked to it! Primal…

2. Heroes, from Heroes (1977)

The Berlin Wall song.  So poignant, such an anthem.  Presaging the fall of the wall. Tragic and uplifting. Ordinary people fighting the Machine. Bowie’s electro perfection and an inspiration to so much pop music thereafter, not least the New Romantics.

1. Station To Station, from Station to Station (1976)

Bowie as the Thin White Duke wasn’t exactly a role model.  Coked out, Nazi salutes at Victoria Station. But the music was on another planet.  Station to Station is an epic, building slowly from the sound of the incoming train, the stabbing piano, the return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lover’s eyes, the frantic, pounding finale.  It’s too late!.. Mysterious and magnificent, I still find this song the most powerful in the Bowie canon. And that is saying something…

You can listen to the top ten on Spotify at TFW510-Bowie

As ever, so many near misses. They include: “John,  I’m Only Dancing”, ” The Man Who Sold The World”, “Andy Warhol”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Starman”, “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”, ‘Aladdin Sane”, “Cracked Actor”, “Sweet Thing/ Candidate”,  “The Chant of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family”, “Young Americans”, Fame”, “Right”, “Stay”, “TVC 15″, “Breaking Glass”, “Always Crashing In The Same Car”, V2 Schneider”, “Ashes To Ashes”,  “China Girl”…. and beyond.

All I can say is listen to all the albums!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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19 Responses to My Top Ten – David Bowie

  1. Wonderful! As I mentioned to you, my own choice might change constantly, but certainly every track here is a classic.

  2. Always meant to check out his very earliest stuff out of curiosity though I’m told some think that era is best forgotten! Love “Golden Years” and “Heroes”. I remember a teenage neighbour bringing her “Jean Genie” single over and playing it again and again. She was from the States and loved British music. I was about eight at the time and liked it but didn’t really get it!

  3. Thanks for the awesome blast from the past! I dig :)

  4. jactherat says:

    Too many Bowie’s to choose from! But agree with Let’s Dance – shot in Australia, so a bit extra special for me. I love Wild is the Wind from S&V and really ALL of Ziggy and Aladdin. Indeed I just love Bowie and wonderfully so do my girls.

    • John S says:

      I guess my favourite album is station to Station, but Aladdin Sane and Ziggy and Diamond Dogs and….. run it really close. Great that the Bowie gene has passed into the next generation!

  5. LuluRou says:

    Glad you made that list cause Bowie is the next music monster I want to know better (I just know the most famous like life on Mars, Starman or let’s dance), and I didn’t know where to start. So this post could be a good start, thank you !

  6. John S says:

    Thank you and happy listening! If you are going to start anywhere, I might just recommend Aladdin Sane.

  7. Pingback: Day 15: A band/musical artist whose music impacted your life « It is a Strange Life… and I'm loving it!

  8. Jonathan E. says:

    Ah, John S, I’m sure you knew I’d be on your trail here….

    Your list is of course very excellent, and your runners-up equally so, but the joy of that core-period Bowie (probably 1972-77, or -84 at a stretch) is that the great songs just kept on coming.

    In that regard I’d like to put in a special plea for “Young Americans”, which is only briefly mentioned in despatches. Though the hits (the title track, “Fame”, “Fascination”) are fondly remembered, it also features some absolutely stellar songs – “Win”, “Somebody Up There Like Me”, “Right”, “Can You Hear Me” – that demonstrate the richness, power and emotional pull of Bowie’s soul vocal.

    That he managed to create this showcase of R & B and Philly Soul in the middle of the Diamond Dogs U.S. tour, and while undergoing (how can we put it) all his well-documented narcotic challenges, says amazing things about his creativity – and stamina, I guess? And check out the studio credits – Willy Weeks, Earl Slick, Mike Garson, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, John Lennon….not your average backing band.

    A work of special genius. Thanks for giving the Thin White Duke his due!

    JE

    • John S says:

      You are spot on Jon! A brilliant – and timeless – album. I had “Young Americans” hanging on in there until the last brutal chop to get it down to ten.

  9. dc says:

    keep your mouth shut.
    you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird and i’m busting up my brains for the words…
    or put another way : moonage daydream would be way ahead of hang on from ziggy.
    saw mick ronson not long after bowie disbanded and the one bowie cover he did was moonage which is a corker.
    otherwise agree with most of yours.
    d

  10. Love David Bowie! Great post!
    anne

  11. Pingback: Have You Heard? – (31) “Where Are We Now?” by David Bowie | Thoughtsfromwestfive

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