Monday, 11 January 2016

My Top Ten David Bowie Songs

*UPDATE: Originally posted in 2012, I'm reposting this today as a tribute. I'm not going to think about whether my song choices have changed - they probably have; they always do. Goodbye, you freaky kook. I'm glad I knew you...*

Compiling these Artist Top Tens is much more difficult than the regular, subject-oriented 10s. If The Smiths was an impossible task, I've virtually given up on Springsteen. I thought Bowie might be easier, but it didn't prove that way. No, I'm not saying that any of the tracks below are necessarily better than Jean Genie, Rebel Rebel, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide... or even This Is Not America. They just mean more to me, for one reason or another.

10. Kooks

Early Dave, at his most romantic, and playful...
And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up this old fool
Don't pick fights with the bullies or the cads
'Cause I'm not much cop at punching
Other people's Dads
And if the homework brings you down
Then we'll throw it on the fire
And take the car downtown
9. Ashes To Ashes

In my late teens, Scary Monsters was probably my favourite Bowie album. I tried to find a way to squeeze Because You're Young or Teenage Wildlife onto this list, but I'd be lying if I said any of them were better than this. The lyrics below were a major influence on a number of storylines in my 90s small press comic The Jock...
The shrieking of nothing is killing me
Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis and I
Ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair
But I'm hoping to kick but the planet it's glowing

Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again
I'm stuck with a valuable friend
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too"

One flash of light but no smoking pistol
8. Starman
That weren't no DJ
That was hazy cosmic jive!
7. Oh! You Pretty Things

I'm always a sucker for just one man and his piano... and then that chorus kicks in. Wow. Plus, Dave = Big X-Men fan?
Gotta make way for the homo-superior!
6. Space Oddity

Probably the first Bowie track to have any kind of impact on me. My sister (a good 18 years my senior) was a huge Bowie fan in the 70s* (she used to tease my Dad that he looked like the Thin White Duke - Dad was not amused). Although she moved out soon after I was born (who could blame her?), I probably absorbed this through osmosis in the womb. A semi-autobiographical extract from my last novel follows, in which I explain how, when I was a kid, I imagined I ran my own TV station...
We had Breakfast Television before anybody else. Ready Brek, Weetabix, or bacon and egg with fried bread on weekends; followed by a lift to the bus stop in my dad’s Ford Granada. Hardly gripping viewing, but when your only competition is the Open University, you don’t need too much sensation to snatch the ratings. We beat MTV to the punch too, though admittedly our playlist was limited to the contents of my brother John and sister Candy’s record collections, Mum’s ‘Country Music Greatest Hits’ Box Set from the Readers Digest, and any songs I managed to tape off the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon, usually with bits of Tony Blackburn talking over the end before I pressed pause. We didn’t have any videos, but sometimes I’d dance around and act out various routines to fit the lyrics. I did a mean ‘Wuthering Heights’ (complete with Kate Bush hand gestures) and a moody ‘I’m Not In Love’. But the one the viewers raved about was my ‘Space Oddity’. For five and a bit minutes, I actually was floating about in a tin can, and the papers really did want to know where I got my shirts. BHS usually, very occasionally C&A. David Bowie even stopped by to sing a duet, live on air. He said it was a pity I wasn’t around when he recorded that album; he’d have had me on backing vocals for sure.

(*It was my sister who broke the news to me this morning, via text. Kind of appropriate, really.)

5. Golden Years

Just plain funky.
Run for the shadows...
4. Modern Love

The LP Let's Dance is sneered at by purists, but as a child of the 80s it was my first proper teenage exposure to the Madness of King Dave and I love just about every song on it (although the album version of the title track goes on for about 6 weeks and that's really not necessary). Modern Love though - you can't beat Modern Love. From the Michael Caine-esque intro to the idea of Bowie chasing after the paper boy... what's not to love?

3. Heroes

I'm sure many people would have this at Number One (even though - insanely - it only reached #24 in the charts) and I couldn't really argue with any of them. Except... there's two other songs I'd take to a desert island with me first...

2. Changes
Turn and face the strange
Don't want to be a richer man
Turn and face the strange
Just gonna have to be a different man
1. Young Americans

Another controversial choice because a) it's from mid-period Bowie, and b) it features a prominent saxophone (always upsetting to purists)... but the intro gets me every time. Like 75% of Bowie's songs, I've no real idea what it's about, but it doesn't matter.
Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?
 *Today, there are lots...*


An impossible task, especially today. But which of your favourites will you be playing tonight?



  1. Is there Life on Mars?

    No, apparently not!

    P.S. The unpublished novel... more please.

    1. There was only so much room for space songs!

      As to the nvl... hey, I can send you the whole thing if you're a real glutton for punishment. I doubt there'll be any reason to post any more of the bloody thing here!

    2. Yeah, I'll have a read. If you have a format I can read on a Kindle, so much the better...

  2. ...and of course number 11 is 'The Laughing Gnome' often recognised as Mr Bowie's personal favourite!

  3. Agree with most of these but I would personally have had to have put the sublime This Is Not America in there somewhere.

    1. I do love TINA, but if I'd included it I would be straying into Bowie duets territory and I'd have had to make room for Under Pressure... and maybe Dancing In The Streets too (for the video alone).

    2. Actually, Rol, you can send me the novel too - I'd genuinely love to read it though I have a backlog of some months' reading to get through first... but do send it!

  4. OH said life on mars. I'm mainly happy with your choices except I wouldn't have space oddity. I'd had had gene genie in there and 5 years but the problem with Bowie for me is so much of it is wrapped up in personal emotions. 5 years particularly, it's not a great by any means but it means something special to me. I don't know that I could choose between let's dance and modern love. But over all Spiders from mars would be my desert land disks album . I could listen to it forever. Final thought: Under Pressure. Yes, I would have had that in there too!

    1. I'm starting to feel bad about excluding Under Pressure.

  5. Prefer the David Jones era meself! It's possible that drugs played a contributory role in some of these songs. Laughing Gnome is a classic piece of social history. Or summat.

  6. You could do dozens of Bowie top ten lists but mine would probably overlap with this one here and there. Aside from the obvious big gungs, I always felt Time Will Crawl was a sadly overlooked single (from a dire album, admittedly). Panic In Detroit?

    1. Y'know, I don't even own Never Let Me Down... though I do quite like Day In Day Out. Panic In Detroit is great though.

  7. Starman is the one I've been playing.Could have just as easily been one of 20 or 30 others.

    1. I heard Pretty Things on the radio (among many others) and it had the biggest impact. But when I put my headphones on tonight, I really wanted to listen to Teenage Wildlife. Go figure.

  8. I couldn't say which are my favourites...I know that the music world has lost a remarkable's a shame he never liked The Laughing Gnome which always made me laugh when I was in short trousers...I'd probably go with Starman

    1. Similar to The Laughing Gnome, I was listening to Please, Mr. Gravedigger last night. Another unduly shunned offbeat classic.

  9. I'd still go with Life On Mars.

    Over and above some of the tracks you've listed here, I have a inexplicable soft spot for Absolute Beginners too. That'll probably rankle the purists, but there you go. Great look to camera about 30s into the video too.

    1. I have no problems with Absolute Beginners, but them I'm not a muso. ;-) Hell, I love Dancing In The Streets!!

  10. I'm sticking with my comment from 2012, I still feel the same. (Can't believe I've been a Rol groupie for so many years!)

    1. I can't believe anyone reads this rubbish more than once.

  11. Great tribute. Young Americans is a good choice for #1 which always reminds me of the end credits of Dogville. Bowie had an amazing career. RIP


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