With his recent inclusion on London's Music Walk of Fame and new documentary Moonage Daydream out in theaters, David Bowie is back in the limelight. Not that he's ever really left it – even in death, Bowie is considered one of the original kings of rock 'n' roll. He's basically the poster boy for the subgenre of glam rock.
Bowie developed an interest in music as a child, studying art, music, and design before pursuing a professional music career in 1963. Years later, he is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Bowie was acclaimed by critics and musicians, particularly for his innovative work during the 1970s and theatrical stage presence. Undoubtedly, his music and stagecraft had a significant impact on popular music – and pop culture as a whole.
During his lifetime, Bowie's record sales – estimated at over 100 million records worldwide – made him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone has ranked him among the greatest artists in history, and as of 2022, Bowie is the best-selling vinyl artist of the 21st century.
Curious to see which beloved Bowie tracks are Live365's faves? Put on your red shoes and keep your electric eyes on this list as we count down our Top 10 picks of David Bowie's best songs!
10. "Ziggy Stardust"
This rockin' track is from Bowie's iconic 1972 album of the same name. "Ziggy Stardust" is sung from the perspective of the Spiders from Mars, Ziggy’s band. It shows the animosity that arises between Ziggy and the group, as Ziggy gains the spotlight, pushing them into the shadows.
Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust – an alien rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings – was inspired by Vince Taylor, who Bowie met in the 60s. Taylor was popular as one of the driving forces of rock 'n' roll, until his decline due to drugs.
Another track off Ziggy Stardust that also includes the word "star" in its title. With a catchy chorus and chipper, plucky guitar strings, "Starman" is a hopeful Bowie anthem, and arguably one of the most influential songs in his catalogue.
On "Starman," Bowie's drummer Mick "Woody" Woodmansey said about the song, "It lifted the attention away from the depressing affairs in the ‘70s, made the future look better. 'Starman’ was the first Bowie song since ‘Space Oddity’ with mass appeal. After ‘Starman,’ everything changed." The song was recently used in the trailer for Disney’s 2022 movie Lightyear, as well as in the Matt Damon movie The Martian.
A song that measures the passage of time in a different sort of way, the bittersweet "Changes" is all about speeding through life, feeling disatisfied with the past, and embracing the unknown. Despite its poor chart performance, the song frequently appears on “Best of” compilations – including Changesonebowie, which takes its title from the track.
“Changes” originally appeared on David Bowie’s classic 1971 Hunky Dory album. In 1972, it was released as a single with “Andy Warhol” as the B-Side. If you were a young kid in the early 2000s, you may have been introduced to this song thanks to Shrek 2, which famously used "Changes" during its second act.
7. "Let's Dance"
Funky, smooth, sultry, and oh-so danceable. “Let’s Dance” is the first single and title track from David Bowie’s 1983 album Let’s Dance. Produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, the track showcases a shift from Bowie's post-punk and art rock sound to a funk, post-disco, and dance pop sound. While Bowie was criticized for the change, it also gained him a whole new generation of young fans.
This stylistic switch aligned Bowie with the popular music of the ‘80s and led to “Let’s Dance” becoming one of Bowie’s biggest-selling tracks. It topped the charts in the U.K., U.S., Ireland, and New Zealand. Ultimately, Bowie would decide to continue with the pop direction due to its widespread appeal.
6. "Modern Love"
Whether you've heard this song in Frances Ha, Adventureland, the trailer for Long Shot, or in the second episode of Hulu's High Fidelity, you've got to admit "Modern Love" is a hard song to get out of your head once you've heard it. It's upbeat, youthful in feel, a little metropolitan, and totally authentic. It's David Bowie at the top of his game.
"Modern Love" is Bowie’s hit single from 1983 – a song he claimed was inspired by Little Richard due to the “back and forth” lyrics in the chorus. The first track and third single from the Let’s Dance album, “Modern Love” was internationally successful, reaching the top 10 in several countries.
5. "Rebel Rebel"
We feel "Rebel Rebel" is the most textbook version of a rock song in Bowie's catalogue. And for a classic rock song, it's anything but conformist. The opening guitar solo is iconic and probably one of the most recognizable electric guitar bits in history, and when "Rebel Rebel" first came out in 1974, it was a staple of rock radio stations.
As one of Bowie's earliest hits, "Rebel Rebel" did great in the U.K. (#5) but not so hot on the U.S. charts (#64). However, it became a huge concert favorite. It's also remembered as a song that deals openly with Bowie’s uncertain sexuality. "Rebel Rebel" is considered his last glam single, taken from his funk and soul-heavy Diamond Dogs.
4. "Moonage Daydream"
Want to feel like you're in the middle of a sci-fi movie, cruising through faraway galaxies inside a luxurious space ship? Take a listen to "Moonage Daydream." This starry-eyed track is adventurous, psychedelic, and lulling in feel. It's the theme song of dreamers and space cadets everywhere.
Surprisingly, “Moonage Daydream” was initially a chart flop when released as a single in 1971 by The Arnold Corns: Bowie’s band side project that has since become known as a “dry run” for the Ziggy experiment. Peter Doggett claimed that the song “would have been long forgotten” if it hadn’t later been re-recorded and included on Ziggy Stardust about a year later. The song fits within the concept album by describing Ziggy as a wonderous character, using sci-fi imagery that gives the track a sense of escapism. Appropriately, this gorgeous song was featured in a prominent sci-fi movie: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.
While we don't think "Moonage Daydream" is Bowie's best song, we do know it's a very important track in his discography. In 2002, Bowie published a book about his experience between 1972 and 1973 and named it after this song: Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust. And as you probably already know, Bowie's new 2022 documentary is also titled Moonage Daydream.
During his famous "Berlin Period," Bowie saw American record producer Tony Visconti kissing backing vocalist Antonia Maaß by the Berlin Wall. Their love was a doomed affair, as Visconti was married. "I thought, of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the Wall?" Bowie said about his passionate 1977 hit "Heroes," which was inspired by the affair.
Wanting to cover for his friend’s affair, Bowie anonymised the song with help from Brian Eno. On the song, Robert Fripp of King Crimson played guitar with pitched feedback, while Visconti produced Bowie’s vocals by moving the microphone away from him as the song progressed, forcing him to shout to be heard.
While the song was not initially popular, it's aged like fine wine and is now widely considered one of Bowie’s best. It's frequently played at sporting events and awards ceremonies, and is featured in many film and television soundtracks – like Jojo Rabbit, Stranger Things, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just to name a few. Sonically, it’s believed "Heroes" was inspired by German band Neu! whom Bowie was a fan of at the time. Neu! guitarist Michael Rother almost played on the album after he and Bowie connected in Berlin, but the collab didn't end up happening due to miscommunication.
2. "Life On Mars?"
A song that feels just as operatic and epic in feel as Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Life On Mars?" is a thought-provoking song that will put you in an existential crisis – but in a good way! Originally released on the Hunky Dory album in 1971, this string-heavy and stirring masterpiece was made a single in 1973 during the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era.
The song is about a young girl who wants to go the movies, although her parents are not completely behind the idea. She goes anyway to find entertainment and escape, but instead finds a saddening parody of the mundane reality of her existence. The situation prompts Bowie to raise the question: is there any life/art beyond what we already see in our own lives? It also raises the more existential questions about whether escapism through art is truly possible, when art is really a representation of reality.
As for its writing, in 1968, Bowie wrote the lyrics “Even a Fool Learns to Love”, set to the music of a 1967 French song titled “Comme d'habitude.” Bowie’s version was never released, but Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French version and rewrote it into “My Way,” the song made famous by Frank Sinatra. The success of the Anka version prompted Bowie to write “Life on Mars?” as a parody of Sinatra’s recording. Since its release in the 70s, "Life on Mars?" has been used in the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza, re-entered the music charts in 2013 when the Mars Rover discovered water on the red planet, and even had a British TV show named after it.
1. "Space Oddity"
"Ground control to Major Tom..."
No, not 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. We're talking about Bowie's breakout 1969 hit "Space Oddity." This thing is a truly magical experience. It's got the same intergalactic whimsy as "Moonage Daydream," but feels more grounded in its narrative element. You really feel like you're next to Major Tom as he rockets up to the stars in his "tin can" and finds joy in being lost in space.
1969 marked the first moon landing. It was also a year after A Space Odyssey was released, so space was really "in" that year. Because of this, "Space Oddity" easily became Bowie's first success. But the song is more than just a great astronaut tune – it's got a killer spacey guitar riff played by Mick Wayne during the instrumental bridge, a surprising-yet-chipper riff after the chorus that brings some levity to an intense track, and out-of-this-world vocals from Bowie. And if you don't want to buy into the outer space theme, there are theories claiming this song is actually about a drug trip.
The success of "Space Oddity" eventually generated more songs and sequels about the character of Major Tom by Bowie (“Ashes to Ashes” and “Hallo Spaceboy”). Even other artists tackled the Major Tom mythos: Peter Schilling’s 1983 “Major Tom (coming home)” was one, and K.I.A.’s “Mrs Major Tom” and possibly Elton John’s “Rocket Man” were others. Fun fact: "Rocket Man" is also produced by Gus Dudgeon, who filled in for Bowie’s usual collaborator Tony Visconti after he refused to work on “Space Oddity,” claiming he felt it was a publicity stunt to cash in on the Apollo missions. Whether "Space Oddity" was a publicity stunt or not, Visconti was definitely right about it gaining traction. It's more than just a commercial success: "Space Oddity" is Bowie's magnum opus. It's a tune only he could have made.
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Article Image: The vinyl album cover of David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane," which features his classic lightning bolt makeup look. It sits next to an orange vinyl with Bowie's name on it, over a bright yellow background. (Stefano Chiacchiarini '74 via Shutterstock.)