Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tuesday Top Ten: David Bowie Songs

"Time May Change Me" by artist Helen Green
I had planned on using this Tuesday Top Ten for my annual ranking of my concerts from the previous year, but that will have to be postponed for another week.  Yesterday morning, I was taking Daughter and Lollipop to school.  We were listening to XRT, and "Heroes" by David Bowie was on.  I didn't think it was odd because XRT plays a decent amount of David Bowie, and Bowie's 69th birthday was this past Friday.  After the song was over, the normally soothing voice of Lin Brehmer revealed that Bowie had died the night before from cancer.  I yelled, "What?!"  My girls asked what I was yelling about, and I told them that David Bowie died.  They took it surprisingly well.

Bowie was rock's chameleon, reinventing himself, his look, and his sound so many times throughout his career -- and doing it successfully each time.  On top of that, he was always cool.  He always seemed like a guy you'd want to know because anyone who wrote those songs had to have an interesting perspective on life.  The first Bowie song I really remember hearing was "Space Oddity," and I thought it was fascinating and terrifying all at once.  I mean, what happened to Major Tom?!  At some point in junior high, I obtained my first Bowie tape, the excellent greatest hits compilation ChangesBowie, which I undoubtedly purchased from Columbia House for one-twelfth of a penny.  ChangesBowie became a staple in my Walkman and, later, it was one of the 15-20 tapes I kept at all times in a shoebox in my car.  Blaring "Ziggy Stardust" with the windows rolled down has never seemed improper.

Depending on your age or how/when you discovered Bowie, I imagine that there are a lot of Bowie fans whose fandom is very different from other fans.  He means different things to different people.  At once, he was the voice of the mods, Ziggy Stardust, the voice of glam, an open bisexual, the Thin White Duke, and the voice for disaffected '80s teens spending their Saturday morning in detention.  His influence is as diverse as his music.  From punk to art rock to alt rock to glam metal to hard rock to grunge to new wave to '80s pop to goth to industrial to hip hop, bands and artists cite Bowie as an influence, be it his music, fashion, attitude, or some combination of all three.

Below are my ten favorite Bowie songs, with the album and year in parentheses following each song.  As you can see, I personally prefer his early '70s era, although I enjoy songs from nearly every Bowie era.  If you don't have The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, you are doing yourself a disservice.  That album is unquestionably one of the best in rock history.

Honorable Mention:  "Space Oddity" (Space Oddity, 1969), "Changes" (Hunky Dory, 1971), "Oh! You Pretty Things" (Hunky Dory, 1971), "The Man Who Sold The World" (The Man Who Sold The World, 1970), "Starman" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972), "Suffragette City" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972), "Cracked Actor" (Aladdin Sane, 1973), "Drive-In Saturday" (Aladdin Sane, 1973), "Panic in Detroit" (Aladdin Sane, 1973), "Young Americans" (Young Americans, 1975), "'Heroes'" (Heroes, 1977), "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" (with Bing Crosby, 1982)

10.  "Jean Genie" (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
For me, this is one of the quintessential '70s glam songs.  It has that glammy snarl, with crunchy guitars, hooks, hand claps, and lyrics about sex.  What else could you ask for in 1973?  No, seriously, let me know.  I wasn't born yet, so I am unfamiliar with the wants of persons alive in 1973.

9.  "She Shook Me Cold" (The Man Who Sold The World, 1970)
This song is straight doom metal.  If the voice behind this was Ozzy Osbourne instead of David Bowie, it would fit on any of Black Sabbath's first six albums. Sure, the boys in Sabbath might not have worn a full-length satin woman's dress and splayed out on chaise lounge on the cover of their albums, but that's the difference between David Bowie and Black Sabbath -- the only difference.

8.  "Modern Love" (Let's Dance, 1983)
In the '80s, Bowie reinvented himself as a pop superstar (again) with the Let's Dance album, which was a Top 5 album in 13 countries (and #1 in 7 of those), spawning hits out of the title track (#1 in the US and UK), "China Girl" (#2 in the UK and #10 in the US), and "Modern Love" (#2 in the UK and #14 in the US).  I like "Modern Love" the best of the '80s Bowie songs.  It has that new wave guitar riff (courtesy of, yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan) that grabs your attention, and then the rest of the song is a sax-laden, catchy early '80s tune about the struggle between God and man –- or should I say between Bowie and Bowie?

7.  "I'm Waiting For The Man" (Live Santa Monica '72, 1994/2000/2008)
I don't know what it is about this Velvet Underground cover, but I just really like it, probably as much as the original –- which may be the best song about buying heroin ever written.  I like that Bowie's version stripped down and subdued, but pretty true to the original, until the guitar growls and Bowie unleashes his vocals in a way that Lou Reed didn't on the original.

6.   "Hang On To Yourself" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972)
This is one of the many great songs off of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.  It's a fast-paced, seething rocker that highlights the fact that Bowie could kick ass just as easily as he could put out an introspective slower song.

5.  "Golden Years" (Station to Station, 1976)
As the Thin White Duke, a coked-up Bowie pursued his interest in American soul, funk, and R&B in the mid '70s, and "Golden Years" is the gem of those years, in my opinion.  It's a funky, catchy song that borders on disco, yet somehow maintains its coolness.

4.  "Moonage Daydream" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972)
"I'm an alligator / I'm a mama papa comin' for you / I'm a space invader / I'll be a rock-and-rollin' bitch for you."  What a great, attention-grabbing opening stanza.  "Moonage Daydream" is a trippy, glammy rocker that always makes me nod my head or at least wonder what life would be like in the future, on mescaline.

3.  "Rebel Rebel" (Diamond Dogs, 1974)
That opening guitar riff has to be one of the most recognizable in rock history.  For one reason or another, I find this song in my head when I'm walking down the sidewalk to and from work.  Maybe the tempo matches up with my stride, or maybe I've got my mother in a whirl because she's not sure if I'm a boy or a girl.  Probably the former.

2.  "Queen Bitch" (Hunky Dory, 1971)
What a badass song.  It's 3:18 of frantic energy, with acoustic and electric guitars complementing each other.  I don't know the exact circumstances of how the narrator came to find himself in this position.  He's up on the 11th floor, watching the cruisers below, talking about, not just any bitch, but the queen bitch, who teases the boys even though she doesn't make false claims, and then he throws some other dude's bags down a hotel hall after spending some time staring at a wall in his room.  I listen intently each time I hear the song, so that maybe I can figure something else out.  Even if I don't, it's an empowering song (I think) that has been on my running playlist for years.

1.  "Ziggy Stardust" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972)
This has been my favorite Bowie song for a long time.  From the majesty of Mick Ronson's opening guitar riff to the ethereal quality of Bowie's voice to the story of the song about Ziggy and his band, this is just a fucking awesome rock and roll song.  The choruses are the highlight of the song for me.  Bowie steps up the intensity and, in a controlled scream, asks us where the spiders were "while the fly tried to break our balls" and tells us that Ziggy is akin to a "leper messiah."  But in the end, what's most important is that Ziggy played guitar.

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