Remembering David Bowie on His 75th with his Best Songs

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 17, 2022
Originally published on January 13, 2022

David Bowie in 1987
David Bowie in 1987  (Source:Associated Press)

David Bowie would have turned 75 this week, had liver cancer not taken the legendary Starman from us in 2016. He was only 69, and, as far as premature celebrity deaths go, this one still hurts the most.

 

Bowie's remarkable influence has touched nearly every corner of the music industry for six decades and counting, and there's little doubt that for as long as recorded music is being written, his influence will remain a mighty force. From Madonna and Lady Gaga to Culture Club and The Killers, there are leagues of artists who have credited Bowie with shaping their careers.

 

David Bowie in 2007
David Bowie in 2007  (Source: Associated Press)

Of course, David Bowie isn't only legendary for his music: his early candidness about his sexuality was massively influential. In 1972, he famously said in an interview, "I'm gay, and always have been."

At the time, Bowie was still struggling to break through and was years away from being considered a rock'n'roll superpower, so it was an incredibly gutsy move on his part. Even now, 50 years later, if a major star came out of the closet in the infancy of their career, it would be considered risky. David Bowie truly was the first — and last — of his kind.  
 
But his legacy endures, as it always will, both for his immeasurable contributions to music and to the LGBT community. In celebration of Bowie's legacy and birthday, here's a look at his 10 best songs:  

'Heroes



 
While "Heroes" was not a big hit when it was first released in 1977, it has aged like a fine wine and has become something of a signature song for Bowie. In the years since his death, it's taken on a newfound poignancy, too, which is a bit odd given that the song is actually about two lovers who live on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. In fact, Bowie performed the song at the German Reichstag in West Berlin in 1987 and the performance is often cited as a catalyst to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Is there anything Bowie can't do?

'Under Pressure'



 
Often called one of the greatest musical collaborations of all time, this David Bowie-Freddie Mercury masterpiece was written and recorded in Switzerland when both artists happened to be in the same place while working on their own music. A chance meeting led to a jam session, and the improvisational nature of the song is evident even in the final recorded version. Interestingly, Bowie never performed this song live in his own concerts until after Freddie Mercury's death in 1992. 
 

'Ziggy Stardust'



 
Only David Bowie could have gotten away with writing a song about a bisexual alien rock star back in 1971. This glam rock anthem is, like so many of Bowie's songs, largely considered one of the greatest songs ever written, though at the time, it actually wasn't even released as one of the album's singles.  

'Starman'



 
Like Ziggy Stardust, his occasional alter ego, "Starman" became another kind of character and nickname for Bowie. This was actually the lead single from 1972's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," despite it being a late addition to the album. Can you imagine the album without it? We can't. Here's something a lot of people don't know: the chorus of the song is based on "Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz." 

'Let's Dance'



 
By 1983's "Let's Dance," Bowie had already released 14 albums, yet it marked the first of his work to be nominated for a Grammy Award. It's hard to believe that despite all of his influence, success and icon status, his groundbreaking work was ignored by the Recording Academy for more than 15 years. This title track, produced by Nile Rogers of Chic, is one of Bowie's biggest selling tracks and was his first and only song to top the charts in both the US and the UK.

'Changes'



 
Twelve years before "Let's Dance," there was "Hunky Dory", which is when things sort of began to take off for David Bowie. There were a couple other albums before this one, but they failed to make much of an impression, despite Bowie trying very hard to experiment with different musical sounds that might finally bring him the success he was looking for. That experimenting is what "Changes" is about, even if both the song — and the "Hunky Dory" album — would flop. Still, it's considered one of his best songs and like much of his catalogue achieved greater success years after its release.

'Life On Mars?'



 
Also from "Hunky Dory," this one has an interesting backstory behind it. A few years earlier, Bowie was asked to supply English lyrics for a Claude François song called "Comme d'habitude," but his lyrics were rejected. Instead, Paul Anka rewrote the song, which became "My Way," a massive hit for Frank Sinatra. Bowie was annoyed by this, and used the framework of "My Way" to write "Life on Mars?" as a semi-parody of Sinatra. We love a petty David Bowie.

'Rebel Rebel'

From his 1974 "Diamond Dogs" album, "Rebel Rebel" was the album's lead single and is considered to be his farewell to glam rock. In fact, "Rebel Rebel" was written for a Ziggy Stardust musical that never came to fruition. Imagine what that would have been like?

'Modern Love'



 
The opening track from 1983's "Let's Dance," "Modern Love" was inspired by Bowie's own personal rock hero, Little Richard, and was both a critical and commercial hit. When David Bowie and co-producer Nile Rodgers set out to make "Let's Dance," they wanted to create an experimental-sounding album that would be a departure from his previous sound, and "Modern Love" was the second song that they recorded for the album. However, after they recorded "Modern Love," Bowie switched gears and instead told Rodgers to make something more commercial, abandoning the experimental sound completely. 

'Space Oddity'



 
Bowie's oldest single on this list, "Space Oddity," comes from a 1969 promotional film called "Love You till Tuesday", a project that Bowie's manager hoped would introduce him to a wider audience after the failure of his 1967 self-titled album. Released to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing, the now iconic track sold poorly in the UK and was consequently banned by BBC TV, which is ironic, because the BBC ended up using "Space Oddity" in its coverage of the moon landing. The reason? They felt the song was "a killjoy."