Longevity is definitely the name of the game for this ancient, yet ultimately hip rock/glam musician. David Bowie is the definitive chameleon in terms of musical and personal style. What he did for androgyny, no one following him could duplicate. An icon from the 1960’s, David Bowie has done about as much work behind the scenes, as he has on vinyl. Though I’ve only been around for part of this man’s massive catalogue, I have acquired quite a few favorites:
1. “Let’s Dance” – Oh the 80’s!! With a series of background singers murmuring the introductory “ahhhs”, this song was very “new wave” and kitschy – despite the addition of horns throughout the song. The percussion is what makes this song really work. It’s a very simple drum track. But David’s haunting vocals makes this dance song sound like anything butÃ¢Â?Â¦
2. “Ashes to Ashes” – This is a really deep song, presumably about drug abuse. But what I really enjoy is the charming synthesized keyboard melody which opens the song. It’s an incredibly “80’s” sound. But the rest of the musical composition keeps the effect from sounding too cheesy. Again, it is Bowie’s evocative lyrical phrasing that gets the song moving.
3. “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” – First heard during the closing credits of hit blockbuster movie, “Seven”, I immediately fell in love with this song. David Bowie’s foray into an extremely edgy trip-hop sound is pure genius. He has this way of cooing lyrics that echoes with sensuality and a hint of the macabre. The provocative line : “Ã¢Â?Â¦Oh Ramona, if there was only something between us – – – -other than our clothesÃ¢Â?Â¦” – won me completely over.
4. “Fame” – This song, which was actually released in 1975, was a collaboration with John Lennon. Funky, funky, funky is what it is. The background vocals have this nifty swagger that fits right in with the soulful vibe of the song. The hook is more than memorable. And the song has actually been used in quite a few movies, including the 1995 crime thriller “Copycat”, starring Sigourney Weaver.
5. “China Girl” – Again, Bowie writes (with help of Iggy Pop) another song about drug use. The song, was originally written for Iggy Pop’s 1977 album, but then later was refurbished on Bowie’s own “Let’s Dance” album in 1985. His penchant for using metaphors is brilliant. The melody itself is daunting, even though the overall production is incredibly slick.
6. “I’m Afraid of Americans” – The Thin White Duke continues to make statements about the world in this quirky, yet simple song. Originally released in 1997, it was remade complete with a video by Trent Reznor. The song has a razor-like guitar riff and catchy background vocals. The actual song is very repetitive, which is what I think Bowie was going for in his quest to imitate how “programmed” Americans are. This was a very skillful approach.
7. “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)” – The most memorable and poignant line comes to mind when I think of this song: “Ã¢Â?Â¦And I’m putting out the fire, with gasolineÃ¢Â?Â¦” This line completely captures the notion of making bad problems worse. But what this song is really notorious for, is the fact that it is the title track to the 1982 sensual animal thriller, “Cat People”, starring Nastassja Kinski. The style of the song is incredibly gothic, having been penned in 1981. The song was written specifically for the film, and employs a group of soulful gospel-like background singers.
8. “Under Pressure” – Vanilla Ice would probably like to forget this song. His 1990 hit single “Ice Ice Baby” created much controversy over the riveting piano sample from this David Bowie classic. Bowie’s song, however, is the true brainchild. Written with smash rock group, Queen in 1981, the song opens rather mysteriously. But as soon as the vocals kick in-the tune is suddenly kicked up a notch, and sounds eerily like some kind of television commercial. Calling the song a classic would be an understatement.
9. “The Man Who Sold the World” – This song, covered rather well by Nirvana in 1993, was already 23 years old at the time. This is perhaps one of Bowie’s most poignant songs he’s ever done. Written during a time when he was more introspective about his image, the lyrics possess many multiple meanings. The guitar chords used in the opening song (and throughout) are what punctuate this emotion.
10. “Modern Love” – This is a really commercial sounding song that often reminded me of a soft drink television advertisement whenever I heard it. However, after some period of time the song grew on me, and became one of my lesser favorites. It is a pop song with the uncomplicated message that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I would recommend that anyone who’s never been a fan of David Bowie’s, but is interested in experiencing the many changes that his music has gone through-listen to the Best of Bowie double-disc collection. This is truly a representative sample of his best works. It also displays the many musical “outfits” that he wears with his vocals, collaborations, production, and song content. David Bowie (also known as the Thin White Duke) has truly proven himself to be one of the most famous musical icons in the world.