10 Best David Bowie Songs
Some would argue David Bowie is a musical god among mortals, and that attempting to narrow down his discography and pick his 10 best tracks is a fool’s errand. But we’ve accepted the challenge, and having revisited all of his records — his self-titled debut all the way through this year’s ‘The Next Day’ — we’ve compiled the following inventory. Mixing big hits with a handful of more obscure choices, we’ve tried to capture this prodigious musical chameleon at various points in his career. Scroll down to embark on the odyssey that is our list of the 10 Best David Bowie Songs.
‘I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship’
No matter what he does, Bowie will always be aligned, at least partially, with glammed-out space rock, and he knows it. He embraces this fact on ‘I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spacecraft,’ No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best David Bowie Songs. Interestingly, this is actually a sped-up cover of an obscure 1969 song from cult figure the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
‘Where Are We Now?’
Contrary to popular belief, Bowie didn’t drop off the face of the Earth after releasing his two studio albums in the early 2000s. Although rumors circulated he was incapacitated, or that he’d suffered massive weight gain, Bowie proved he was still in fighting form with the release of ‘The Next Day’ in 2013. ‘Where Are We Now?’ is a plaintive ballad, but it doesn’t dwell. As the title implies, Bowie’s concern is looking ahead, not behind, just like it’s always been.
‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’
No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best David Bowie Songs comes from the singer’s 1967 self-titled debut, released on Deram Records. Stylistically, the album’s is all over the map, and it’s clear he was grappling with who he wanted to be, both in terms of music and image. But ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’ stands out, presenting a loss-of-innocence narrative on its face with a more subtle seduction underneath.
Deep in his neo-soul phase, Bowie gifted listeners with this, the title track of his ‘Young Americans’ album. The song’s high-energy gaiety belies a certain borderline-bombastic feeling of nostalgia only Bowie can pull off. But the juxtaposition works well enough to make this one of his best songs of all time. Ain’t there one damn song that can make him break down and cry?
Despite the title’s implication that Bowie’s written a tune about playing bridge and grabbing the early-bird specials with his special lady, ‘Golden Years,’ off 1975’s ‘Station to Station,’ is an homage to something Bowie’s adroit at depicting: living for the moment. On the flip side, click the link below to check out his not-so-golden lip-syncing to the track on ‘Soul Train.’ (Rumor has it he got drunk prior to going on the show.)
‘Boys Keep Swinging’
It’s sometimes easy to forget how truly trailblazing Bowie was (and is), especially back in the day, when gender norms weren’t often subverted and sexual taboos were, well, much more taboo. ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ offers a tongue-in-cheek paean to the joys of manhood. (And as far as the music video goes, screw modern-day special effects and the million-dollar budgets — ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ is the best pre-MTV video ever. Watch for yourself if you don’t believe us.)
‘Panic in Detroit’
A true standout from the classic ‘Aladdin Sane,’ ‘Panic in Detroit’ is sometimes overlooked despite being perfectly executed from its buildup to its wailing end. Interpretations of the lyrics vary, and while some say it’s about Detroit riots, other see it as Bowie’s tributes to associates that dabbled in revolutionary work. Either way, ‘Panic in Detroit’ is an unlikely yet enduring anthem for activism.
‘Be My Wife’
This is a song with one simple request (it’s baffling why this isn’t played more at weddings, by the way), but Bowie — being Bowie — makes even the simple substantial. “Sometimes you get so lonely,” he asserts, and while it’s a sentiment that’s a tad hard to believe coming out his mouth —who knows, perhaps he was being glib — sometimes it’s better not to question such things.
Supposedly written as a “screw you” kiss-off to then-rival Lou Reed, ‘Queen Bitch,’ next on our list of the 10 Best David Bowie Songs, is the biggest rocker on ‘Hunky Dory,’ and it’s one of the biggest straight-ahead rockers in the man’s discography. It’s so iconic, in fact, that a number of modern-day artists have not-so-subtly ripped off everything from the chord progression to the melody (most notably the Killers in 2003’s ‘Mr. Brightside’).
Hey man — leave him alone. True, we could have picked virtually any song from the iconic ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ album, but it’s hard to beat this whiplash collection of lyrics (“she’s a total blim-blam”) and imagery. Plus, any song that contains the interjection “wham bam thank you, ma’am” at its climax wins with us.