Top 10 David Bowie Songs
David Bowie has been called many things in his life: rock ‘n’ roll chameleon, musical genius, Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke, to name a few. Still, coming up with a list of best Bowie tracks is both pleasurable and painful. How does one narrow such an eclectic and magnificent career down to just 10 tunes? Missing from this list are “Fame” and “Let’s Dance” — his only two No. 1 U.S. songs — as well as classics such as “Starman,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life on Mars?” and countless others. What made the cut? Check out our list of the Top 10 David Bowie Songs.
“The Man Who Sold the World”
The title track off Bowie’s third album, The Man Who Sold the World, is one of his most haunting songs of all time. Despite the mastery of the original tune, the opening entry in our our list of the Top 10 David Bowie Songs largely went unnoticed at the time. Its popularity grew over time, however, as cover versions by Scottish singer Lulu and grunge goliaths Nirvana helped bring the song into the mainstream.
“Five Years,” which offers a doomsday scenario in which the world ends, serves as an epic opening to Bowie’s greatest album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Lyrically, it paints one of Bowie’s most vivid pictures in a song, while musically it builds into a chaotic crescendo highlighted by the ominous sense of panic in Bowie’s voice during its climax.
“Modern Love” may not be Bowie’s greatest tune ever, but it could easily be called the best ‘pop song’ of his illustrious career. From its spoken intro to its infectious chorus, the next honoree on our list of the Top 10 David Bowie Songs plays as well on a wedding dance floor as it does at a hipster dive bar. As with the rest of the Let’s Dance album, the tune features guitar playing by the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A glam-rock anthem if there ever was one, “Rebel, Rebel” features one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history — and it was Bowie himself who handled lead guitar duties on this track. A rough-and-dirty song with lyrics like ‘She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl‘ and ‘Hot tramp, I love you so,’ the tune serves as the perfect bridge between the Rolling Stones and punk rock.
The signature song of Bowie’s signature character, “Ziggy Stardust” offers up an overview of Ziggy’s talents and exploits with multiple mentions of his backing band, the Spiders From Mars. One of those Spiders was virtuoso axeman Mick Ronson, whose guitar hook on ‘Ziggy Stardust’ gives the song as much of its personality as Bowie’s lyrics do. Ten years after its release, this entry on our list of the Top 10 David Bowie Songs was famously given the goth-rock treatment by Bauhaus.
Bowie takes on soul music with the fabulous “Young Americans” off the 1975 album of the same name. Featuring memorable saxophone playing by David Sanborn and a samba-like beat, the tune offered up a new direction for Bowie as he transitioned from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke. The song contains a lyrical nod to the Beatles‘ “A Day in the Life” — fitting, considering that John Lennon contributed to two other tunes on the album, including “Fame” and a cover of “Across the Universe.”
Not only is “Heroes” one of Bowie’s most inspirational songs, it’s also one of his best. Co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno, the track’s title was inspired by a song “Hero” by the experimental German band Neu! While the tune contains an underlying sense of irony, its hopefulness and optimism reign supreme. Who can forget Bowie performing the song at 2001’s Concert for New York City in front of the brave men and women who risked their lives during the tragic events of 9/11?
Previously recorded under Bowie’s Arnold Corns project, “Moonage Daydream” was given new life on his Ziggy Stardust album and proved to be one of the most powerful songs on the disc — and of his career. Featuring in-your-face, sexually charged lyrics and a monster guitar riff by Ronson, “Moonage Daydream” is a rock ‘n’ roll tour de force. The tune is also significant in that it serves as a musical introduction to the Ziggy Stardust character.
Bowie has often been referred to a chameleon, and he lays that out himself on one of his best-known hits “Changes.” The lyrics deal with reinvention and could be construed as a declaration of what was to come from Bowie. Musically, “Changes” is a beautiful tune that features piano playing by Yes‘ Rick Wakeman. Additionally, Bowie’s singing is at its finest on “Changes,” showcasing one of the most unique voices in rock history.
For an artist who created several masterpieces, perhaps his finest one was the 1969 track “Space Oddity” — the No. 1 item on our list of the Top 10 David Bowie Songs. To think that Bowie was only 22 years old when this was released is mind-blowing. In a five-minute turn, Bowie manages to tell a story that can easily serve as the plot to a two-hour sci-fi film. The song was revolutionary for its time, musically and lyrically, and helped introduce the masses to one of the most dynamic and creative music acts we will ever know.