10. ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (‘Scary Monsters’ / 1980)
Many artists of David Bowie’s generation struggled greatly during the transitional period between decades – particularly from the 70s into the 80s. The production and instrumental tropes of the decade are as memorable as they are often cringeworthy. Overproduced music, thick reverb, and drum machines litter the landscape of the era. Bowie’s debut in the decade, ‘Scary Monsters,’ was a resounding success. ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ the first single, is a hauntingly bizarre nursery rhyme that strikes the perfect balance of Bowie oddity and 80s style.
9. ‘Seven Years In Tibet’ (‘Earthling’ / 1997)
Seven Years In Tibet’ is, quite frankly, one Bowie’s most impressive rock compositions. From the Phil Spector-like walls of sound that bombard the listener to the erratic brass sections and synthesizers – it’s a beautiful cacophony of noise. It also toys with the Buddhist notions that gripped Bowie so firmly later in his life. This influence clearly remained relevant until the end of his days, as he requested his ashes be scattered in a traditional Buddhist ceremony in Bali.
8. ‘Let’s Dance’ (‘Let’s Dance’ / 1983)
1983’s ‘Let’s Dance’ continued Bowie’s relentlessly tactful slicing and dicing of 1980s musical stereotypes. The record is to this day, one of Bowie’s most successful commercial works. Boasting tracks like the titular song, ‘China Girl,’ and ‘Modern Love,’ that shouldn’t come as a surprise. ‘Let’s Dance’ finds perfect ground between danceable 80s club music and sonically layered production. The inclusion of Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar certainly helped, too.
7. ‘Sound and Vision’ (‘Low’ / 1977)
The Berlin trilogy is one the most fascinating album arcs in history. From 1976 to 1977, Bowie released three vastly different albums. They all did, however, run in similar veins of experimentalism. Hopped up on cocaine and hanging out in Berlin for awhile, the Thin White Duke got weird. He started playing with instrumental layering, saxophone, eclectic synthesizers, and vocal variations. ‘Sound and Vision’ off the middle album, ‘Low,’ is a terrific look into Bowie’s carefree headspace during this era.
6. ‘The Next Day’ (‘The Next Day’ / 2013)
In 2013, Bowie did something we didn’t know he could still do: he blew our minds. After a very extensive hiatus, he released a lengthy collection of songs that acted as a spiritual successor to the Berlin trilogy. (The album art is a nod to that.) The album is a catchy rock record with personable hooks, some jazzy musings, and some of David Bowie Songs darkest imagery ever. The title track is especially dark. (Goodness, just watch the NSFW music video.) It’s also an anthem that declares Bowie’s unwavering relevance in the twenty-first century.
5. ‘Blackout’ (‘Heroes’ / 1977)
‘Heroes’ is the most fondly revisited record of the Berlin trilogy, and the album that finalized it. It’s one of those albums that enters the exceedingly rare classification of a “perfect record.” There isn’t a track on it that isn’t jaw-dropping. ‘Blackout,’ a bit of a deep cut from the middle of the collection, is one that outshines even the famous title track. (Honorable mention: ‘Joe The Lion,’ the performance art-inspired track toward the front of the album, is another exceptional highlight of ‘Heroes.’)
4. Space Oddity (‘David Bowie’ / 1969)
There was a hesitation to include this track on this list. ‘Space Oddity’ is, of course, the track that introduced countless fans to Bowie. Lyrically, it’s rather simplistic. It’s not a complex composition, either. In that simplicity, though, Bowie defines something. He creates a space of intrigue, of wonder, and of mystery. It’s a hopeful track, a loving one, even. It’s something the world desperately needed in 1969. For that very reason, it can’t not be addressed as one of the most lovely tidbits of Bowie we ever received. (There’s a similar argument for ‘Changes’ to be made, but it was edged out of this list by ‘Oddity.’)
3. Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide (‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ / 1972)
The concept album wasn’t new to the world in 1972. The Beatles had ‘Sgt. Peppers,’ Johnny Cash had been toying with it for years, and prog rock acts had field days with it. In 1972, however, Bowie recorded *the* concept album. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is a beautiful spyglass into Bowie’s equally beautiful mind. The story of a rock icon at the end of the world is timeless, and your kids, their kids, and their grandkids will be spinning the album with the same relevance it had in 1972. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ isn’t the most recognizable track from the effort. It is, though, the embodiment of its bread and butter. The succinct, incredibly poetic lyricism… the simplistic C major acoustic backing… the climactic finale… breathtaking.
2. ‘Fame’ (‘Young Americans’ / 1975)
There is a very good reason ‘Fame’ is near the top of this list. It’s one of Bowie’s slickest efforts. ‘Young Americans’ was the first record he dropped his unearthly personas in favor of suave, human realism. ‘Fame’ isn’t just the best commentary on its namesake. It’s also one of the most impressive instrumental feats the man ever recorded. Listen to it closely on good headphones or speakers. The amount of instrumentation in the mix is staggering, held together by a thin, but unbreakable strand of funk influence and undeniably infectious riffing. It’s also an excellent exhibition of Bowie’s vocal range.
1. ‘Lazarus’ (‘Blackstar’ / 2016)
Blackstar is a masterpiece – plain and simple. It’s second single, ‘Lazarus,’ is David Bowie’s greatest song. His entire career arguably led up to this one single track, and it couldn’t have been better. When Bowie recorded the album, and this song, he was well aware of his illness and cancer state. He knew he didn’t have long. ‘Lazarus’ is a goodbye, a swan song. “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he croons over a particularly jazzy soundscape. Aside from the composition being one of his most enthralling, let’s touch on why it’s so important…
‘Lazarus’ may be the most admirable musical feat of many of our lifetimes. It’s an act of pure dedication to one’s art. Bowie knew he wouldn’t reap the benefits of the record. He recorded it to say goodbye, and to push every ounce of creativity out his body for as long as it would let him. He fought it… hard. Painfully. ‘Lazarus’ is the finale to David Bowie’s life.
In the music video, Bowie writhes in a hospital bed, all while desperately pulling away from an unseen force yanking him backward into a dark armoire. Frantically, he runs back to his desk, writes as much as he can, falls back, and then tears his way forward. This is Bowie fighting death in a last ditch effort to finalize his art, his passion, his reason for being. Once he does so, he retreats back into the armoire. Death finally envelopes him as he slowly closes the door. He does so in reverse, as if he’s being taken back to where he came from.
He was taken back to where he came from. Bowie was an unearthly presence, and we only had the good fortune of watching him bend reality around us. He was always too good for this world. Thus, the Starman has returned back to the darkness – the stars from whence he came. These songs on this list will live forever, and ‘Blackstar’ in particular will remain one of the most important albums ever recorded, with ‘Lazarus’ acting as its earthly ambassador.
Top 10 David Bowie Songs
Written by Brett Stewart