As my friends all know (and may even be tired of), I’m huge into David Bowie. Like. Huge into. I have a tattoo. Every one of my college projects had a hidden Bowie. It runs deep. David Bowie is my long adored childhood idol that I never let go of (and probably clung harder to) as an adult. Some of my first memories involve me watching re-runs of the Freddie Mercury tribute concert with my mother, and David Bowie performing in a green suit. Hilariously, neither of my parents are fans of Bowie. My mom, a huge fan of Queen, accidentally got my child-self into David Bowie through her love of Freddie Mercury. I’m fairly sure that in my child-self’s eyes, he was mostly cool because of the lime green suit, but the cool man in the lime green suit lead me to adoring Labyrinth, which lead me to listening to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on repeat, which lead to me listening to every album my aunt owned (which was most of them) when visiting her in New York in my teens. Everything that man touches is gold to me.
This list is pretty hard for me to pick, and there’s a good part of me that wants to say “My top 5 Bowie songs are all of them”, and I’ve actually elected to go by my plays on iTunes to simplify this. This is by no means picking a top 5 by technical merit, or larger meaning in the scheme of Bowie’s work as an artist, because that’s honestly impossible for me. I love that man. It’d take years.
Heroes (Heroes, 1977)
I feel like in any list of David Bowie’s work, or even great songs of the 1970s overall, this particular track (written by both Bowie and Brian Eno) is a given. The looped-back and sustained guitar throughout the song gives it a dramatic feel, and Bowie’s vocals build from a breathy and pleasant delivery at the start to an emotional shout by the end of the song. It’s epic, it’s bittersweet, and perfect. It also happens to be my personal favorite song….probably ever. There’s just something about it, and something about the whole Berlin trilogy of albums that emotionally, not just sonically, separates it from the rest of his work.
Without You I’m Nothing (Without You I’m Nothing, 1999)
So, really, this is a Placebo song, but this is actually the top played song in my entire iTunes library, and Bowie sings on the single version, so it has completely earned a spot in my personal top 5. The album version (the Bowie-less version) is a decent enough track, but it honestly doesn’t compare in the least. Something about the contrast between Brian Molko’s androgynous falsetto and the low growl Bowie emits on this version of the song completely changes the meaning and atmosphere. The collaboration made it a completely unique song. There’s also a really great video of Brian and David rehearsing it backstage before a show at Irving Plaza that has a special place in my heart.
Moonage Daydream (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
I don’t have anything to say about this song that cannot be expressed by the girl in the crowd doing her own entire dance to this song in the Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars film. I can’t. I can’t top that.
We Prick You (Outside, 1995)
This song is so grossly under appreciated, as is everything else on Outside. Outside was written after Bowie reunited with Brian Eno for the first time since Lodger (1979). Artistically, I find the album astoundingly interesting, both musically and in concept. Everything Bowie and Eno did together as a whole is so wildly different than anything either artist has put out alone, and shows sensibilities from all over the musical spectrum. We Prick You is the ultimate example of this. Experimental electronics, strangely catchy chorus, a multitude of emotions and nuances packed into one song. There’s also a version with Nine Inch Nails from when the two groups toured together, and every live track from that tour is completely solid.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972)
I’m trying to think of a way to write about this one that isn’t solely personal, and I’ve just decided there really isn’t a way. I’d listened to this song many times in my life, but didn’t really care for it until very recently. It was the end of last year, and I was in a rough patch, and I was outside smoking (a rare thing for me) and listening to things on my phone when this came on, and for some reason from that listen on, it hit me hard. Something about it digs deep for me, even if I still can’t pinpoint exactly what about it appeals to me. Whether it’s the lyrics or the way Bowie shouts “you’re not alone”, it clicked in that moment and became a favorite.