David Bowie’s Top 70 Songs

Celebrate the 70th birthday of the late Starman with his greatest and most enduring works


    Original artwork by Cap Blackard. Prints and other versions available here.

    Top Songs is a feature in which we definitively handpick the very best songs in an artist or band’s catalog. Sounds simple, right? Oh, if only.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 rose and set with David Bowie. The year began, in a sense, with both a birth and a death — the jubilation of welcoming a new album soon blanketed by a sense of profound cosmic loss. A week ago, the year expired in another heap of accolades and reflections with a burgeoning constellation of blackstars ready to shoulder the galaxy. In between, the gifts he left us helped us negotiate a year that for all it gave seemed to take a lot more. With on the turntable, we sought out meanings and narratives far more numinous and transcendent than #2016Sucks. We examined the relationships between art, artist, and mortality not in terms of ashes to ashes, dust to dust but “Ashes to Ashes”, Stardust to stardust.

    As it turns out, 2017 also seems poised to be a year in which Bowie’s name remains on the tip of our tongues. This very morning, what would have been his 70th birthday, a new David Bowie EP and video beamed down from the sessions. That’s how you know someone’s an icon — we still celebrate their birthdays after they’ve stopped having them. And to that party, along with some smiles and tears, we’re bringing our list of the 70 Bowie songs from across his entire catalog that best remind us that some stars shine a bit brighter than others and never show any signs of burning out.


    Happy birthday to our eternal Starman.

    bowie David Bowies Top 70 Songs

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director

    70. “Seven”

    Hours (1999)

    It’s hard to believe that anyone other than the most die-hard Bowie followers has spent more than a few minutes revisiting Hours; however, if you wager that you have a spare 4:04 to allocate, “Seven” won’t be time ill spent. A gently strummed reminder that all we have is now, the song repeats, “I have seven days to live my life or seven ways to die.” It’s a lyric that resonates all the more given what we know about Bowie’s last days on our planet. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “The Gods forgot they made me/ So I forget them, too”

    69. “I Can’t Read”

    Tin Machine (1989)

    While Tin Machine now feels more like a footnote than the footprint Bowie intended, “I Can’t Read” remains worth peeling open when the doldrums set in. The cut captures that miserable, helpless feeling that accompanies looking at the world and throwing one’s hands skyward in futility. Whether you’re an icon who just wanted to blend into a rock and roll band or an American aghast at your President-elect’s latest dunderheaded Tweet, some days you “just can’t read shit anymore.” –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “I don’t care which shadow gets me/ All I got is someone’s face”

    68. “Let Me Sleep Beside You”

    The World of David Bowie (1970)

    This is the track that established Bowie’s relationship with longtime producer Tony Visconti, a song that would lay the groundwork for one of the most fruitful producer-artist relationships in rock history. The two daub up the prototypical come-on track with moody strings and lusty charisma, Bowie vocally translating a primitive want into something surreally captivating. The summer of love looks good on David. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric:Child, you’re a woman now, your heart and soul are free/ I will boldly light that lamp and we shall walk together.”

    67. “The Jean Genie”

    Aladdin Sane (1973)


    Bowie pulled from numerous inspirations when writing, but few songs are as rich of a smorgasbord as “The Jean Genie”. Aladdin Sane’s lead single snatched at its inspirations with greedy hands. He wrote the song to amuse Andy Warhol’s Bad actress and model Cyrinda Foxe. The lyrics’ protagonist mirrors Iggy Pop. The title goofs with author Jean Genet’s name. The music itself treads all over Americana styles, leaning into The Yardbirds-style R&B riff, the country rock guitar solo, the heavy harmonica flourishes. Bowie, once again, proved himself to be a masterful mix-and-matcher. –Nina Corcoran

    Bowiest Lyric: “He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition/ And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear”

    66. “I’m Afraid of Americans”

    Earthling (1997)

    Many aging rock stars may have been sunk by toying with industrial electronic or having a song feature in the Showgirls soundtrack, but David Bowie excels in even the most theoretically ill-fitting suits, looking sleek and charming. He’s telling tales of humans in ruin, of futility and idealism, and while the original version that appeared in the schlocky midnight movie was afraid of “the animals,” the eventual final take changed it to “Americans,” an electro-crunchy slab of sardonic delight. The title is a picture-perfect distillation of what it means to live in this world. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: “Nobody needs anyone/ They don’t even just pretend … I’m afraid of the world/ I’m afraid I can’t help it/ I’m afraid I can’t”

    65. “Underground”

    Labyrinth (1986)


    There’s always been an element of seduction in both Bowie’s sound and appearance, so why should “Underground” be any different just because it plays over the credits of a children’s movie? Director Jim Henson sought out Bowie for the part of Jareth the Goblin King precisely because he’d bring a dark, sexual maturity to the role, aimed at luring a young, naive Jennifer Connelly toward the moral murkiness of adulthood. When Bowie assures her that “It’s only forever/ It’s not long at all,” it’s hard to imagine anyone not being tempted to flee with him, fairy-tale logic and the suspicious bulge in his beige pants be damned. Now, that’s some voodoo. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “Don’t tell me truth hurts, little girl/ ‘Cause it hurts like hell”

    64. “Shadow Man”

    Toy (2001)

    When you want to relive Ziggy Stardust vibes, turn to “Shadow Man”. Bowie originally wrote and recorded the song in 1971 during those very sessions, but it didn’t see the (public) light of day until he rerecorded it in 2000 for Toy, a planned but unreleased LP of his. Eventually, it stumbled out on a bonus disc of Heathen in 2002 where its acoustic strumming and stripped-down delivery give the song’s lyrics about self-discovery and communal emotionalism an extra punch. —Nina Corcoran

    Bowiest Lyric: “You can call him foe/ You can call him friend/ You should call and see who answers/ For he knows your eyes are drawn to the road ahead”

    63. “Conversation Piece”

    B-Side of “The Prettiest Star” (1970)

    This omission from Space Oddity sees Bowie the singer-songwriter still in his pupal stage before emerging an otherworldly being. The jacket might say “Bowie,” but this song appears to be all David Jones in an autobiographical ramble through disillusionment, disconnection, and one-sided conversations with himself. It’s charming, if not out-right heartrending, and makes you want to cuddle the humorously over-tragic young artist. –Cap Blackard

    Bowiest Lyric: “And my essays lying scattered on the floor/ Fulfill their needs just by being there”

    62. “All the Madmen”

    The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

    Space, sages, and saviors are three S’s Bowie triumphantly returned to throughout his career, but a good number of songs are also simply about looking out one’s window and seeing utter senselessness. While “All the Madmen” deals directly with insanity — Bowie claimed to have written the song about his schizophrenic half-brother, who appeared on the original US cover — the more salient question becomes whether the asylum walls are holding the real loonies in or keeping them out. By the time the song’s closing nonsensical French chant commences, disparate elements, like Tony Visconti’s flittering recorder and guitarist Mick Ronson’s distorted chords, have already become psychotic voices holding a town hall in the listener’s headspace. You know what they say: The whole world’s a padded cell. –Matt Melis 

    Bowiest Lyric: “‘Cause I’d rather stay here/ With all the madmen/ Than perish with the sad men/ Roaming free”

    61. “Move On”

    Lodger (1979)

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall for the studio antics of the Bowie-Eno-Visconti bro sessions that yielded the batshit experiments of Lodger. “Hey, David. What if we took that one song you wrote for Mott the Hoople, sped it up, played it backwards, and wrote a new song over the top of that?” “Oh brilliant, Brian! What a creatively liberating abstraction of the songwriting process.” “Move On” is as fun as its origins are absurd, and if the lyrics are any indication of the globetrotting holidays Bowie was having at the time, it’s no wonder the dreariness of The Berlin Trilogy was nowhere to be found. –Cap Blackard


    Bowiest Lyric: “Feeling like a shadow, drifting like a leaf/ I stumble like a blind man/ Can’t forget you, can’t forget you”

    60. “China Girl”

    Let’s Dance (1983)

    One of Iggy Pop and Bowie’s collaborative songs, the track actually appeared on Pop’s The Idiot six years before Bowie unleashed his own version. Bowie’s was by far the bigger success, featuring Nile Rodgers production that seemed geared directly for the pop charts. It worked, reaching the top 10 in both the UK and US. In fact, it’s Rodgers’ imagining of the song that made it so successful, with Bowie often standing back and letting the song exist around him. –Philip Cosores

    Bowiest Lyric: “I stumble into town just like a sacred cow/ Visions of swastikas in my head/ Plans for everyone”

    59. “Baby Universal”

    Tin Machine II (1991)

    There’s no harm in a bit of rock ‘n’ roll fun, and Bowie and Reeves Gabrels are imbibing heavily. “Baby Universal” is the opening track to the woefully overlooked Tin Machine II. It’s a telltale indicator that this time around the Tin Machine experience is tighter and decidedly more “Bowie.” Let’s see another rock outfit from ’91 aptly wield cut-up lyrics with such calculated abandon. –Cap Blackard


    Bowiest Lyric: “Hallo, humans/ Can you feel me thinking?”

    58. “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed”

    David Bowie (1969)

    Tony Visconti and Bowie put in a lot of work together on arranging the wailing harmonica, dizzying blues riffing, and flailing vocals, allegedly meant to capture an important relationship: the one with Bowie’s father, specifically his feelings immediately upon his death. It’s easy to hear the emotional weight dropping behind his words, weary and frayed nerves suffocating his poetic touch. Though that might be the intent, there’s a more general anxiety and unease in the verses and something truly transcendent in the extended psychedelic freak-out outro. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: I’m the Cream/ Of the Great Utopia Dream/ And you’re the gleam/ In the depths of your banker’s spleen”

    57. “Blue Jean”

    Tonight (1984)

    Bowie has always been a trendsetter, but Tonight may have been a clear case of the artist trying too hard to chase his own trend. Aiming to maintain the momentum of the previous year’s smash, Let’s Dance, Bowie rushed back into the studio with minimal new material to capture the same sound, which also meant he’d play no instruments for the second album in a row. Fans flocked, critics balked, and Bowie came to regret his rushed approach, but time has been a bit kinder to the record and originals like “Blue Jean”. While Bowie may have written the song off in the late ’80s as a dumb “piece of sexist rock ‘n’ roll,” it remained a live staple until he finally stopped performing. Shrug, sometimes dumb works. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “Remember that everybody has to wait in line/ Blue Jean, look out world, you know I’ve got mine”

    56. “The Width of the Circle”

    The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

    Some cite The Man Who Sold the World as the beginning of glam rock. Even if the record, at times, feels more like Zeppelin than Ziggy, certainly it at least marks a major departure for Bowie. After all, how much more removed from orbiting Earth in a most peculiar way can one get than supernatural sexual escapades in the caverns of hell? Salacious, if ambiguous, details aside, once this epic opener began splitting eardrums, Ground Control likely forgot about all that came before, including Major Tom floating in his tin can. –Matt Melis


    Bowiest Lyric: “Oh, I said so long and I waved bye-bye/ And I smashed my soul and traded my mind”

    55. “DJ”

    Lodger (1979)

    “I am a DJ/ I am what I play,” Bowie sings with his best knowing smirk — and Talking Heads impression. The track even comes complete with Heads collaborators Brian Eno and guitarist Adrian Belew, though the latter before he joined David Byrne and co. on tour. But even when doing some mimicry, Bowie captures a powerful sense of alienation, frustration, and passion, all tied in a clever, fashionable bow. There’s some thought, too, that in this case DJ stands for his birth name, David Jones, and the song explores the duality of who he is against who people perceive him to be through his music. Either way, it’s a great self-aware jab and a funky groove that doesn’t lose its power or take itself too seriously. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: I am a D.J., I am what I play/ Can’t turn around no, can’t turn around no”

    54. “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving”

    Toy (2001)


    The last single Bowie released under his birth name, Davy Jones, “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” carries threads of safe, standard pop rock of the era — even straying near the realm of another famous Davy Jones. But then Bowie never could hide that eccentric streak, leading The Lower Third with a nasal, twisting vocal delivery as the band dips down through rumbling, loose bass and honking harmonica. It’s a fascinating look at what might have been had he kept experimenting in rock rather than rocketing into space. Our favorite version, though, can be found on his unofficial 2001 LP, Toy. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: Sometimes I cry/ Sometimes I’m so sad/ Sometimes I’m so glad, so glad.”

    53. “Some Are”

    Low outtake (1977)

    This haunting lullaby of winter Weltschmerz [world weariness] was recorded by Bowie and Eno during the Berlin years. It conjures images of the Napoleonic forces’ slow retreat from Moscow, moving among their dead comrades, and features subtle notes of wolves howling in the distance. “Some Are” would have been a welcome addition to Low and got new life in 2008 when it was included by Bowie in his hand-picked retrospective, iSelect. With mention of sleigh bells, it’s the closest Bowie ever came to a Christmas song, excepting his Bing Crosby duet. –Cap Blackard


    Bowiest Lyric: “Some are bound to fail/ Some are winter sun”

    52. “Bring Me the Disco King”

    Reality (2003)

    A lot of Bowie’s early aughts output can be viewed as casting an eye on the past, whether that meant reimagining old songs; reflecting on a long, winding career; or noting the passage of time and moments wasted. He wrote “Bring Me the Disco King” all the way back in 1991 as a way to comment on his past. His original recording of it for Black Tie White Noise — the first of three different attempts to nail down the song — parodied ’70s disco, a far cry from the salsa and jazz vibe of the future Reality standout. Happy with the final result after a decade of tinkering, Bowie himself said, “This poor, little Orphan Annie thing seems to have a home now.” Now, just remember to drink your Ovaltine. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “Life wasn’t worth the balance/ Or the crumpled paper it was written on”

    51. “Buddha of Suburbia”

    Buddha of Suburbia (1993)

    “Buddha” sees Bowie waxing nostalgic about his outsider youth in South London, a journey paralleled at least in part by the novel The Buddha of Suburbia and the subsequent BBC adaptation, which this track was the theme song to. Featuring nods to “Space Oddity” and “All the Madmen”, “Buddha” is a surprisingly plainspoken autobiography of Bowie’s ascent from the monotony of suburban life. It also comes in a version “enhanced” (read: “overcomplicated”) by the guitar work of Lenny Kravitz. –Cap Blackard

    Bowiest Lyric: “Elvis is English and climbs the hills”

    50. “Where Are We Now?”

    The Next Day (2013)

    By the time I really discovered David Bowie — sometime in the late aughts — there was legitimate reason to believe there might never be another album from him. To hear his voice anew, then, on surprise single “Where Are We Now?” after a decade felt something akin to a forgotten astronaut emerging from the far side of the moon and regaining radio contact. His frail voice floats through much of the song, somberly depicting the passage and fleeting nature of time, until the rousing final build seems to lead not necessarily to an answer to the track’s titular question, but instead to enough consolation that the inquiry becomes moot: “As long as there’s me/ As long as there’s you.” Hearing from Bowie again, we felt the same way. –Matt Melis 

    Bowiest Lyric: “Where are we now?/ The moment you know/ You know, you know”

    49. “Watch That Man”

    Aladdin Sane (1973)

    In yet another classic Bowie twist, the man we most want to watch buries his vocals deep in the mix, making the task that much more difficult. Considering the story song’s shady (and Shakey) characters, the lux posturing, and the run away from all the rock and roll showboating lyrically, it only makes sense that the singer would be swallowed up by the thick Stones-y jam. The result is a relentless, undeniable hook into one of Bowie’s best albums. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: Oh honey, watch that man/ He talks like a jerk, but he could eat you with a fork and spoon”

    48. “Cygnet Committee”

    David Bowie (1969)

    In the dystopian “Cygnet Committee”, like so many Bowie narratives, good intentions don’t lead to a brighter day, people use each other and let one another down, and pedestals crumble beneath those once anointed. Read by many as a condemnation of the ’60s hippy movement and a reaction to Bowie’s off-putting encounters with those types, the sprawling recounting signals a goodbye to a certain innocence and good will. “I gave them all/ They drain my very soul,” Bowie’s “Thinker” laments. He’s basically saying, “I won’t be fooled again.” –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “I gave them life/ I gave them all/ They drain my very soul”


    47. “TVC15”

    Station to Station (1976)

    “TVC15” falls on the “Entertainment as all-consuming terror” spectrum somewhere between Videodrome and Infinite Jest, though of course pulsing with David Bowie’s intense knowledge and subversion of classic rock tropes. The song was allegedly inspired by Iggy Pop’s hallucination of their television swallowing up his girlfriend, and the song bears that terror out in a funky groove as irresistible as the best TV series. The Thin White Duke’s mantric hook and looping structure play out like the constantly droning screen, all rolling atop that deliriously rollicking piano. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: “My baby’s in there someplace, love’s rating in the sky/ So hologramic, oh my TVC15.”

    46. “Strangers When We Meet”

    1. Outside (1995)


    1. Outside may best be remembered as the reunion of Bowie with Berlin Trilogy collaborator Brian Eno, and “Strangers When We Meet” remains one of the inarguable highlights from the pair’s second go-round. Salvaged from the all-but-buried Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack, the song sheds its previous fuzzy electronics for a crisper arrangement that lets Bowie shine in the foreground. Whether or not you can make heads or tails of the album’s dystopian concept, characters, or story lines, there’s no denying that Bowie sounds rejuvenated and that the song sits among his most essential ’90s output. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “All your regrets/ Ride rough-shod over me/ I’m so glad/ That we’re strangers when we meet”

    45. “Diamond Dogs”

    Diamond Dogs (1974)

    Bowie’s personas have enough character to warrant entire film series to them, nevertheless actual lives, and he knew how to introduce them to audiences in the most Broadway of ways. The titular lead single of 1974’s Diamond Dogs drew up the sashes to reveal a post-apocalyptic Manhattan where Halloween Jack sits atop a skyscraper, a place where Bowie merged glam rock with classic rock blues. It’s a strange mix. And yet it’s one of the only songs out there, not just in Bowie’s catalog, that encourages you to sashay down the street, tilt your head back, and let out a howl like the hound you are. –Nina Corcoran

    Bowiest Lyric: “In the year of the scavenger, the season of the bitch/ Sashay on the boardwalk, scurry to the Ditch/ Just another future song, lonely little kitsch”

    44. “Jump They Say”

    Black Tie White Noise (1993)

    In “Jump They Say”, Bowie contorts personal tragedy into a jazz-infused dance track. Bowie was purportedly long troubled by the looming specter of mental illness in his family, a factor emphasized by the schizophrenia-prompted suicide of his brother, Terry. “Jump” explores the torment of voices and society’s scrutiny with a screaming, warped sax and a BPM matching the pulse of 1993. –Cap Blackard


    Bowiest Lyric: “When comes the shaking man/ A nation in his eyes/ Striped with blood and emblazed tattoo/ Streaking cathedral spire”

    43. “Let’s Dance”

    Let’s Dance (1983)

    Nobody’s going to dispute the fact that Bowie is an icon. You can write dozens of books explaining why — many have — and very, very few would shake their heads and say, “Nah.” But that all changes when you try to name his most iconic song, simply because his body of work is the aural equivalent of a melted Rubik’s Cube. That being said, if you’re going for an obvious pick, you can do no better than “Let’s Dance”, arguably his most popular track and the first song that traditionally comes to mind for the general public upon hearing his name. Yet even at his most accessible, Bowie’s still the sharpest guy in the room, melding funky pop with the sweet Texas blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn. All it took were some red shoes! Who knew? –Michael Roffman

    Bowiest Lyric: “And if you say run, I’ll run with you/ And if you say hide, we’ll hide…”

    42. “Slip Away”

    Heathen (2002)

    Heathens marked the return of both longtime co-producer Tony Visconti and Bowie’s mainstream popularity in the States. Part of that re-connection stems from the belief that Bowie, then a New Yorker, had made the album in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the city. Bowie’s denied that he wrote any of the songs post-9/11, but it’s easy to understand how a song like “Slip Away” (previously “Uncle Floyd” on the unreleased Toy album) resonated in those anxious, confusing times. The song marches bleakly forward, nostalgic for a different era, for a time and feeling lost forever. Though the album didn’t surface until the following June, what American that summer didn’t want to “slip away” to a simpler time when fire and pain didn’t rain down from the skies? –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “Don’t forget/ To keep your head warm/ Twinkle twinkle Uncle Floyd/ Watching all the world/ And war torn/ How I wonder where you are”

    41. “Queen Bitch”

    Hunky Dory (1971)

    Sometimes we forget that our icons grew up admiring somebody, too. Not even Bowie landed on the planet not needing a little creative nudge here or there. And that’s partly what makes Hunky Dory such an interesting crossroads: part of the record finds Bowie undergoing an artistic metamorphosis while the latter tracks openly pay tribute to those who had influenced him. In the case of “Queen Bitch”, Bowie concocts a jealous tale of exes and a drag queen that pays homage to The Velvet Underground both in style and in the colorful, seamy vision Bowie had of New York City from hearing Lou Reed’s music as a teen. Reed and Bowie would go on to become lifelong friends and even played “Queen Bitch” together at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden. Bipperty-bopperty-boo! –Matt Melis 

    Bowiest Lyric: “She’s so swishy in her satin and tat/ In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat/ Oh God, I could do better than that”


    40. “Under Pressure”

    Single with Queen (1981)

    It’s strange to imagine what Queen’s hit would’ve been like without Bowie’s contributions. His vocals add a heavier depth to an otherwise sneaky, poppy song, adding contrast between his vocals and Freddie Mercury’s that makes their pairing even more explosive than that build to “Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance?” Yet out of all the song’s moments, it’s Bowie’s parts that usher in goosebumps — because knowing the terror of what this world is about will, unfortunately, never lose its edge. –Nina Corcoran

    Bowiest Lyric: “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/ Watching some good friends screaming, ‘Let me out!'”

    39. “Warszawa”

    Low (1977)

    Low, the first installment in the now legendary Berlin Trilogy, found Bowie kicking a serious coke habit while seriously indulging in electronic and ambient music for the first time. But if legend is to be believed, “Warszawa”, composed by Brian Eno, owes much to producer Tony Visconti’s then-four-year-old son, who sat beside Eno in the studio playing a loop on a piano. The child’s tinkering inspired Eno, whose resulting theme, coupled with Bowie’s faux Eastern European lyrics, creates the effect of staring out at a desolate urban landscape. That’s some pretty dark shit, kid. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “Mmmm-mm-mm-ommm/ Helibo seyoman/ Cheli venco raero/ Malio/ Malio”

    38. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”

    The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

    Ziggy remains one of the rock records by which we measure all others. No matter how many times we take that demented, fractured journey towards the apocalypse, it never fails to touch every pleasure point that rock and roll can. But it also always ends the same way: Ziggy, washed-up, used, and crushed by the weight of stardom. In Bowie’s songs, stars burn out quickly and yesterday’s heroes becomes tomorrow’s punchlines. I’ve always loved that final plea of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, its desperation to save one forgotten soul as impassioned as any of the record’s hopes for all humanity. –Matt Melis  


    Bowiest Lyric: “I’ve had my share/ I’ll help you with the pain/ You’re not alone”

    37. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”

    The Next Day (2013)

    Much the way the music video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” explores duality and the doppelgänger, the song’s structure relies on the keen interplay of light and dark, taut rock and soaring atmosphere, toothy grit and lush density. Bowie delivers lines in exploration of fame and power in a poisoned snarl, each hewn from steel and spit eagerly. Yet the seemingly opposing halves cannot be split, just the way that fame and art, society and its obsession, sincerity and irony, cannot be separated. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: Stars are never sleeping/ Dead ones and the living”

    36. “Beauty and the Beast”

    “Heroes” (1977)

    A perfect flash of the experimental ferociousness that marked Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. “Beauty and the Beast” ensured that everyone who dropped the needle on “Heroes” knew that they’d unleashed a demon of a record. Featuring one-take guitar work from an intentionally jet-lagged Robert Fripp (as per Brian Eno’s oblique production strategies), the track snarls and strobes with dancey, indulgent dissonance. –Cap Blackard

    Bowiest Lyric: “Something in the night, something in the day/ Nothing is wrong, but darling, something’s in the way”

    35. “Who Can I Be Now?”

    Young Americans (1975) Outtake

    Considering the legendary level of his songwriting, enigmatic and unique persona, history-making fashion sense, and just all-around other-worldly self, it’s a wonder that perhaps the most considered element of Bowie’s career is his ability to shift between phases and styles. And while that’s partially due to the immense talent needed to excel in each of these styles, it’s also a testament to his absolutely honest exploration of self and willingness to expose every bit of uncertainty. The language of chains and blindness in “Who Can I Be Now?” is at once heartbreaking and empowering, a sign that if even Bowie can go through this psychic calamity, we can all stand tall together in our conflicted, muck-y selves. –Lior Phillips


    Bowiest Lyric: Someone has to see/ A role for him and me/ Someone might as well be you”

    34. “Panic in Detroit”

    Aladdin Sane (1973)

    Pressed to describe Aladdin Sane, Bowie responded: “Ziggy goes to America.” It makes sense given that Bowie composed most of the album while touring Ziggy across the States. But what doesn’t make sense is what Ziggy sees once he arrives on this side of the pond. A revolutionary tale told through a Bo Diddley Beat, congas, and female backing vocals, “Panic in Detroit” offers that singular brand of WTF? that only America seems capable of manufacturing. Bowie even suggested that the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt makeup represented his rival emotional responses: fascination and disgust. Take a look at the Oval Office come late January. Not much has changed. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “I screamed and ran to smash my favorite slot machine/ And jumped the silent cars that slept at traffic lights”

    33. “1984”

    Diamond Dogs (1974)

    It must have been strange to be a George Orwell reader as the year 1984 approached. It’s quite enough to step outside one’s door and witness an atrophying world, but to have the great modern dystopian novel circling next year’s calendar in bright red? Hell, I’d refuse to let the ball in Times Square drop. Following 1973’s Pin Ups, Bowie had in mind a musical theater production of Orwell’s novella, but ended up using the material on the back half of Diamond Dogs when the author’s estate denied him the rights. The Shaft-inspired “1984” highlights these compositions and makes the future sound both terrifying and oddly danceable. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air/ And tell that you’re 80, but brother, you won’t care”

    32. “Fantastic Voyage”

    Lodger (1979)

    “I’ll never say anything nice again,” Bowie sings at the end of “Fantastic Voyage”, after detailing the way in which society has gone to the dogs and the world might end. At one point, the lines that should rhyme pair the words “missiles” and “scum.” This is the sound of Bowie facing the reality of the world and almost unable to rationalize just how shitty things have gotten. “I’ve got to write it down,” he repeats over the jumbled tune. The mess isn’t typically this easily represented, and Bowie’s cranky but representative response is touching in its simplicity and directness. –Lior Phillips

    Bowiest Lyric: “We will get by, I suppose/ It is a very modern world/ But nobody’s perfect”

    31. “I’ll Take You There”

    The Next Day (2013)


    Many Bowie diehards will tell you that the bonus material from 2013’s surprise release, The Next Day, actually surpasses the content found on the standard release. And when listening to a track like “I’ll Take You There”, you kinda see their point. Blaring, manic, and fueled with a drive not found on the record proper, this scorching seeker makes a cut like “The Next Day” feel almost superfluous. If we had to choose (thankfully, we don’t) one new Bowie song about frantically trying to make sense of 2013 after a decade away, we’ll go with “I’ll Take You There”. –Matt Melis

    Bowiest Lyric: “I don’t need to know/ Know where you are/ Only that you are/ Safe in this world/ Then I’ll be content/ To get on with my life/ Eat, drink, and sleep/ Look up at the stars”

Personalized Stories

Around The Web

Latest Stories