Tuesday, May 27, 2014

top ten Tuesday: David Bowie songs.

Around Valentine’s Day, I told you all about how much I love Simon and Garfunkel. They are my favorite musical group of all time, and they have been for more than a decade. But who is my second favorite?


I started listening to David Bowie not too long after I discovered Simon and Garfunkel, but my love for Simon and Garfunkel eclipsed everything else… for YEARS. So anything NOT Simon and Garfunkel got pushed to the sidelines. When I realized that there was other music out there besides Simon and Garfunkel, I revisited David Bowie – and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

One of the (many) things I love about David Bowies is that he is so bizarre. (Two words: Ziggy Stardust.) But he’s an extraordinarily talented musician, and during his extensive career, he’s dipped into a little bit of everything. That being said, I firmly believe that there’s a David Bowie song out there for everyone.

Case in point: James. For the longest time, he insisted that he didn’t like David Bowie, but he wouldn’t even give David Bowie a chance. One car ride not so long ago, I offered (read: demanded) to give James an Intro to David Bowie lesson. I played him about twenty David Bowie songs, and by the end of it, James grudgingly admitted that he was impressed with David Bowie’s musicianship. James slipped into music teacher mode and started talking about adventurous chords or something like that, but he’d finally given David Bowie his seal of approval.

So for this top ten Tuesday, I’d like to humbly present my top ten David Bowie songs. Just like the top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs, I had a tough time narrowing my David Bowie songs to just ten. But here they are!


“Changes” is one of those songs that I heard long before I had much of an idea who David Bowie was. I’m sure you’ve heard it before – it’s quoted at the beginning of The Breakfast Club, for crying out loud. I was fourteen when my parents got a computer with a CD burner, and “Changes” was one of the first songs I ever burned. Obviously, “Changes” and I go way back.

Golden Years
When I was living in Minneapolis, I listened to nothing but the Current – it’s a branch of Minnesota Public Radio, and they play a little bit of everything. I first heard “Golden Years” on the Current and loved it. (Who doesn’t love Funk David Bowie?) The Current had a feature every day at noon called “My Three Songs”: listeners would submit blocks of three songs, and the host (Barb Abney) would play one block every day. I know I’ve talked about this about a thousand times, but for my 24th birthday, I requested a “My Three Songs” set of “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order, “Punkrocker” by Teddy Bears and Iggy Pop, and “Golden Years” – all three of which were songs I’d first heard on the Current. And wouldn’t you know, Barb Abney played those three songs on my 24th birthday. It was AWESOME.

Modern Love

One of the things I love about David Bowie is that he’s not afraid to use some truly awesome instrumentation. “Modern Love” is full of trumpets and saxophones, and it just makes you want to dance. “Modern Love” was key in getting James to finally appreciate David Bowie: James had a hard time saying no to anyone that sticks a bunch of trumpet players in their pop music.

Let’s Dance
“Let’s Dance” has got a lot of the same great instrumentation of “Modern Love,” but it doesn’t have the same dance-party energy. It’s even a bit romantic (or, you know, as close to romantic as David Bowie gets): “because my love for you/would break my heart in two/if you should fall into my arms/and tremble like a flower.” But with lyrics like “put on your red shoes and dance the blues,” what’s not to love?

Space Oddity
In high school, my friend Allison was the one who helped fuel my newfound love for David Bowie. She started me off slowly: I wasn’t ready for the Ziggy Stardust years yet, so she got me hooked on David Bowie’s very early stuff. Listening to it now is kind of ridiculous – David Bowie barely sounds like himself – save for a few gems, like “Space Oddity.” It was one of David Bowie’s earliest hits, and it’s got a great (albeit eerie) story line: it’s about space, after all. If you’re not too familiar with David Bowie, “Space Oddity” is a great place to get started. “Space Oddity” came along before David Bowie started with his distinctive Bowie singing voice, and “Space Oddity” is all about the story and the lyrics.

“Kooks” is downright adorable. It’s about David Bowie’s son Zowie (yes, Zowie Bowie – he now goes by Duncan Jones, and I don’t suppose I can blame him) and how he’s got weird parents who will do their best for him. It’s not often that David Bowie goes off-the-wall goofy in one of his songs, but he does it for “Kooks,” and the result is awfully charming.

Life on Mars?
According to Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia), BBC Radio once referred to “Life on Mars?” as a “cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dali painting,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s got surreal lyrics (hence the Dali reference) and a beautiful piano part. “Life on Mars?” was one of my early favorites, and I love it just as much now as I did then.

Ziggy Stardust
You can’t talk about David Bowie without talking about Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie’s glam persona, and Ziggy Stardust cemented David Bowie as a rock legend. The song of the same title gives you an overview of Ziggy Stardust’s backstory, and you can almost see the glitter.

Young Americans
I have to say, I love soul David Bowie. “Young Americans” is a bit on the cynical side, but it’s catchy and full of saxophones. I get “Young Americans” stuck in my head more than any other David Bowie song, and – oddly enough – I hear it in more stores than any other David Bowie song. (When I first started working at American Eagle, “Young Americans” was on the in-store back-to-school soundtrack.)

Under Pressure
With the powers of David Bowie and Queen combined, you get a song so amazing that no written description can ever do it justice… and that song is “Under Pressure.” “Under Pressure” is one of those songs that I will ALWAYS stop to listen to, and you can’t help but feel totally awesome just because you’re listening to it. And that bass line? OH, that bass line. (If you say one thing about Vanilla Ice, I’m going to punch you in the face.) David Bowie and Queen are two musical powerhouses with styles all their own, but when you put them together, you get “Under Pressure,” which is magic.


Those, my friends, are my top ten David Bowie songs. Honestly, I had a harder time writing about my ten favorite Bowie songs than I did my ten favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs. It could be because I was never as obsessed with David Bowie (or anyone/thing) as I was with Simon and Garfunkel. It could be that I spent more time listening to Simon and Garfunkel with friends than I did David Bowie – my love for David Bowie truly blossomed thanks to the Current, when I’d hear Bowie songs in the car or at work. Or it could be that I’m simply at a loss to describe these songs and do them justice. While Simon and Garfunkel were all about beautiful harmonies and haunting lyrics, David Bowie is all about experimentation. Simon and Garfunkel songs tend to be pretty recognizable as Simon and Garfunkel, but if you’re not too familiar with David Bowie, you may not realize that it’s him right away – his style evolved so frequently, which is one of the things I love about his music. So if you don’t care for my Bowie choices, never fear – there are about a bazillion more David Bowie songs out there, and you should have no problem finding some of your very own.
Don't let David Bowie down.

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