Thirteen David Bowie Songs I Want To Write About
Had planned to write a lot this week about a lot of different things. But David Bowie died and that’s all I can think about so that’s all I’m going to write about.
A few people have asked me what my favorite David Bowie songs are. That is not this list. I couldn’t make that list if you put a gun to my head. There are too many. Instead, these are the songs I think about the most when I think about Bowie, and the ones that trigger specific memories or feelings.
No artist has ever effected me as much as David Bowie has. I suspect it will be a while before I’m able to move on from this one.
There are countless David Bowie songs for nearly every mood or activity imaginable. He has love songs ideal for slow dancing; sexy songs for getting your groove on; bitter tracks for post break-up self-loathing; political tunes for when you feel like nothing is right with the world; and upbeat dance numbers for when you just feel like dancing and having fun.
This is the only David Bowie song for kicking someone’s head in. That’s probably not why it was written, but that’s how it makes me feel.
It’s just the most aggro shit ever and I’ve never been able to get enough of it. I have seven different versions of this song. The album cut, the single version and five different live versions which include one with Nine Inch Nails, another with Frank Black, one from Saturday Night Live and even an acoustic “country” version that Bowie did for a radio show. Sometimes I just listen to all of them in a row on repeat. While this is in no means a “Best Bowie Songs” list, on most days if you asked me what my favorite David Bowie songs is, this would be the answer.
And it’s a song that just got better as Bowie experimented and expanded upon it. The original version is blistering, and its pounding beat and freakish guitar solo by Robert Fripp help to focus on the track’s themes of paranoia. But in the 90s the song became even more intense, thanks to pumped up industrial beat and extended outro that often found Bowie (and whomever sang the track with him) just fucking screaming like a madman into the mic.
This the song that really got me diving head first into David Bowie. That version with Nine Inch Nails that I mentioned? That was the first version of the track I heard, thanks to a bootleg. I was a Bowie fan before that, but I only owned a few greatest hits and Ziggy Stardust, the discovery of this track had me dive headfirst into Bowie’s catalog, changing my life.
“Do you like girls or boys? It’s confusing these days.”
YES DAVID BOWIE IT WAS SO THANKS FOR HELPING ME OUT THERE.
God Knows I’m Good
“Space Oddity” was Bowie’s breakthrough single and probably one of the greatest tracks of all time, but it’s strange how rarely people talk about the other tracks from that album, which straddles some strange line between proto-glam, progressive rock and folk music.
Not many artists have ever tried to tackle guilt in a way that this one does, telling the story of an old woman who is trying to steal food from a supermarket (presumably out of necessity) only to be captured by security and immediately collapse, chanting the song’s title. Heartbreaking, simple, and still powerful.
An utterly vile song written from the perspective of a faded star whose chosen to belittle and demean the prostitute he’s with while simultaneously begging her to not leave him. Revolting in its subject matter, but still sexy as all hell because anytime Bowie proclaims that he wants someone to blow him my ears perk up a bit and I want to volunteer.
This the best song ever written about getting a blowjob. It nearly makes it sound like a religious experience, which I imagine what having sex with David Bowie must’ve been like. It also includes the wonderful line “until there was rock you only had God” which is the most Ziggy Startdust line ever.
The best David Bowie from the 80s with “dance” in the title, and probably the closest Bowie ever got to recording a children’s song. The simplistic “dance magic dance” chorus certainly sounds like something you’d hear on a children’s program. It’s like a sexy Barney track.
That’s supposed to be a compliment. Please take it as such.
I vividly remember this track being the highlight of Labyrinth when I saw the film as a child. Like many, I think that movie helped to awaken…certain feelings in my young mind. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was consciously attracted to David Bowie at age seven, but I definitely thought he seemed like a cool dude who I wanted to hang out with, and that Jennifer Connelly was an idiot for not wanting to throw her boring, mundane life in suburbia away for a life of adventure with the Goblin King and his tight pair of trousers.
Okay, yeah, so a lot of this list is me talking about how much I wanted to have sex with David Bowie. Sorry.
Dead Man Walking
So in high school my friend Bryan and I would go to Rudy’s, a local hot dog dive in my hometown. They had a jukebox that had this song on it. Equipped with a dollar, we would play it four times while we ate. On the way out put another dollar in and selected a quartet of Hanson’s “Mmbop.”
We were shitty teenagers.
The Heart’s Filthy Lesson
This song plays over the end credits of Seven, and while it’s not as revolting as that film, it’s nearly as mean-spirited and cruel, so it’s a good fit. Lyrically this song is an enigma to me, I suppose it has something to do with the confusing concept behind Outside, which I honestly never really understood. Despite not knowing who Patty and Ramona are, or what the fuck a “death abyss” is, jaded late teens/early 20s me really dug this song. Now that I’m in love, I can’t get behind it like I used to, but I still come back to it whenever I’m feeling particularly misanthropic.
She Shook Me Cold
File under: David Bowie songs that reference oral sex that I really like. It’s the last one on this list I promise.
80s Bowie is often maligned, and sometimes for good reason. To go from Low to Tonight in less than a decade is certainly a jump in both quality and artistic integrity that wasn’t for the best. For fans of Bowie’s late-70s output, which was some of the bravest and most avant-garde music ever released by a pop musician, “Let’s Dance” must’ve seemed a like a slap in the face.
That being said, David Bowie was a hell of a pop singer. And while I can appreciate a brazen atonal confrontation like “Breaking Glass,” let’s be real “Let’s Dance” is a crazy fun song. And in my opinion “Blue Jean” is even better. All the good points of 80s Bowie; a perfect pop sensibility, a catchy as hell chorus, and a fun beat you can dance to, all rolled together. Is it the kind of song that garnered Bowie the reputation as a legendary icon who crafted some of the greatest music of multiple generations? Nah.
But it sure is fun to dance to.
I’m Afraid Of Americans
Talk about an eerily prescient song. The track was actually written as a response to American culture dominating the global landscape, but to me it’s taken on another meaning as a response to America’s rapid decline into violence and its cultural rejection of empathy. As I packed up and left America two years ago, this song was certainly in rotation in my brain.
The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell
This is from Hours…, an album I remain firmly not a fan of. I’d go as far to say that its one of Bowie’s only bad records, right down there with Never Let Me Down. And that’s entirely due to the first half of the record. “Thursday’s Child,” “Seven,” “What’s Really Happening” and so on, they’re some of the most bland and meandering tracks that Bowie ever recorded.
The second half of the album is much better, thanks to it having a tempo. And the peak of it is this wonderful track, which reads like a angry reaction to the “pretty things” of “Oh You Pretty Things,” who abandoned their glam and hippie ways in the late-70s, became yuppies in the 80s, and were working as to destroy the world as fast as possible by the end of the 90s. As my love for “Scary Monsters” no doubt shows, I’ve always been a fan of angry Bowie, so that may be why I like this track so much.
FYI, the album version is good, but the version from the Stigmata soundtrack, which is a bit more on the industrial side, is even better.
Gonna go have a cry now. Good night.