The 20 Greatest Bowie Songs (Fantastic Voyage)

The 20 Greatest Bowie Songs(Fantastic Voyage)

Music is my favourite topic to write about.  David Bowie is one of my favourite musicians.  I grew up listening to his music as a teenager.  I hope you enjoy reading my list of The 20 Greatest Bowie Songs.

 

20 Greatest Bowie Songs

Everyone will have their own opinion. I would love to read some comments below to let me know if you agree with my choices or not?

When Bowie sadly left us it felt like a member of my family had passed away. He introduced me to real music.  His music will always live on.

Bowie was the Starman

Like all my music posts.  If you choose to listen to the songs play them loud and uninterrupted.

#1 – Let Me Sleep Beside You

David had been trying to get famous for a long time when he recorded this saucy ditty.  Released in September 1967 and rejected for release as single by his record label. He had appeared in a variety of bands such as the Mannish Boys and the Lower Third with little success.  A lot of the songs from this period sound a little Dick Van Dyke/Tommy Steele to my ears but this song really stands out.  His voice sounds mature and not strained.  Its a departure from the bandstand sound of his Deram material. 

This is sexy and a small glimpse of what was to come.  It was also the first introduction of long-term friend and producer Tony Visconti.

I have included the Bowie at the Beeb version on my Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post.

 

Standout Lyrics

Lock away your childhood and throw away the key
For now the streets and city sounds will burn your eyes as coals
We shall drink the oldest wine and velvet skies will linger
Child, you’re a woman now, your heart and soul are free
I will hold a lighted that lamp and we shall walk together

 

#2 – The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud

Released July 1969.  This was the B-side to Space Oddity.  Space Oddity is an excellent track and one of Davids best known but this is an absolute gem.  Its a trippy and far out tale of the Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud.  This is David beginning his trip of alienation.  The wild eyed boy punished because of the madness in his eyes. 

Bowie said, “It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they’re left outside, which was how I felt about me.”  (As quoted in Charles Welch’s book We Could Be Heroes)

Isn’t this what we loved about Bowie? He was different. 

Its also the first track that featured Mick Ronson. Enough said.

Standout Lyrics

But the cottages fell
Like a playing card hell
And the tears on the face
Of the Wise Boy
Came tumbling down
To the rumbling ground
And the missionary mystic of peace/love
Stumbled back to cry among the clouds
Kicking back the pebbles
From the Freecloud mountain
Track

 

#3 – All the Madmen

This corker of a tune released on the 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World.  The title track almost made my list but this track is splendid in so many ways.  

It begins with a soft acoustic guitar and slowly builds to a rock crescendo weird chant. Woody’s  drums are powerful and driving.  Mick Ronson on guitar, playing EPIC riffs. More of which, would come later on as the nucleus of the Spiders.  Tony Visconti playing a great bass line.

The mid-section creepy spoken breakdown around 2.40 mark is genius.  Using the same varispeed vocal technique as used on the novelty hit, ‘The Laughing Gnome’.

The song deals with mental illness not exactly, ‘chirpy, chirpy, cheep cheep’.  Bowie’s older half-brother Terry was diagnosed as schizophrenic.   

Bowie explained in this interview with Phonograph Record. “All the Madmen, was written for my brother and it’s about my brother. He’s the man inside, and he doesn’t want to leave. He’s perfectly happy there, perfectly happy. Doesn’t have to work, just lies there on the lawn all day, looking at the sky.”

 

Not many singers could sing about mental illness with conviction but with this song Bowie manages to do so, and does it with style.

Standout Lyrics

Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall
I’m not quite right at all…am I?
Don’t set me free, I’m as heavy as can be
Just my librium and me
And my E.S.T. makes three

 

#4 – Life on Mars?

I could have picked any song of Hunky Dory but not every song is this good.  The song is beautiful.  The piano is melancholic and stunning. Rick Wakeman from ‘Yes’ is outstanding.  This is Bowie at his peak. 

Released in 1971 as part of the excellent Hunky Dory LP.  The song started life in 1968. Bowie wrote the lyrics “Even a fool learns to love” set to the music of the French song called “Comme, D’Habitude.”   The song was never released.  Paul Anka heard the original version and bought the rights and wrote a not very well known song called ‘My Way’.

Bowie was a little pissed off for missing out on a small fortune. He re-wrote the song as a Frank Sinatra parody and called it “Life on Mars”.  The liner notes on the album cover say(Inspired by Frankie) 

20 Greatest Bowie SongsThe song was later re-released as a single at the height of Ziggy mania in 1973. The lyrics are surreal. 

‘Rule Britannia is out of bounds, to my mother, my dog and clowns.’

‘Oh man!Look at those cavemen go.’ 

Random sentences that reading now  can only be associated with nobody else but Bowie.

Like the majority of Bowie songs its open to interpretation.  Some people say that its a love song.  Others see it as a sad story of a woman looking at the silver screen hoping to escape the reality of her life.  Bowie stated “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality.  She’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

If you listen closely at the very end you hear a phone ringing and someone speaking.  Producer Ken Scott explained here in a lecture

“This phone which was in the bathroom at the side of the studio, started to ring and it was picked up on the piano mics which were right by the door of this bathroom, and we had to stop the take. And Mick Ronson, who happened to be in the studio, was just cursing and swearing like mad because we had to stop it.”

Standout Lyrics

Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

20 Greatest Bowie Songs

 

#5 – Lady Stardust

I have to admit I am a sucker for a piano solo.  The piano on the song is magnificent.  I selected this song for my  10 Bowie Hidden Gems that are too Good to Ignore list.

Released in 1972 as part of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust album.  The talented Mick Ronson plays the laid-back piano introduction.  The song considered to be a homage to friend and fellow Glam-rock star Marc Bolan.

Stand out lyrics

“Femme fatales emerged from shadows 
To watch this creature fair 
Boys stood upon their chairs 
To make their point of view 
I smiled sadly for a love 
I could not obey” 

#6-Lady Grinning Soul

The second lady to grace this list and wow, what grace.  The song finishes the 1973 album, Alladin Sane. The beautiful and romantic piano played by pianist Mike Garson is fantastic.  The song thought to be about soul singer Claudia Lennear. Bowie had a fling with her and they remained friends until his death.

20 Greatest Bowie Songs .Stand out lyrics

“And when the clothes are strewn
Don’t be afraid of the room
Touch the fullness of her breast
Feel the love of her caress
She will be your living end”

 

#7 – Rock’N’Roll With Me

Released in 1974 as part of the George Orwell’s “1984” concept LP, “Diamond Dogs” The piano has a soul-vibe. Something he would explore in his next studio album.  The song explains the relationship with his fans.  As explained in a Melody Maker interview.

“Wasn’t it ironic, then, I suggested, that so many of Bowie’s own fans look to him as a leader – someone give them answers.”

“That’s just it,” Bowie said. “That’s what I said in Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me. I mean, the verse of that talks about that… you’re doing it to me. Stop it.”

 

Stand out lyrics

You always were the one that knew
They sold us for the likes of you
I always wanted new surroundings
A room to rent while the lizards lay crying in the heat
Trying to remember who to meet

I would take a foxy kind of stand
While tens of thousands found me in demand

#8 Can You Hear Me

On paper this shouldn’t have worked.  Bowie was a rock star.  Slightly strange but a rock star none the less.  Bowie found soul. 

In hindsight isn’t this what made him special?  Trying new things. 

This beauty released in 1975, as part of the Young American’s album.  Bowie moved away from rock and glam to “plastic soul.” The end results solid gold.  Bowie the smoothy, crooning this laid back tune. The album and this song highlighted the talents of his new guitarist Carlos Alomar.  And an unknown backing singer called Luther Vandross.  The song is thought to be a love song for his lady friend Ava Cherry.

Stand out lyrics

“Once we were lovers, can they understand? 
Closer than others I was your, I was your man
Don’t talk of heartaches, oh, I remember them all
When I’m checking you out one day, to see if I’m
Faking it all”

 

#9 Station to Station

If there is one song on this list that deserves to be played loud.  This is the one.  This was the song that got me hooked on Bowie.  As a 13-year-old.  I played the Stage album on repeat with this song played to death.  What I would have given to see David on this tour. I am jealous of fans who saw this tour. You only have to watch the video posted above to see how tight they were.   The train sample was innovative.  The bass line epic.  The feedback magnificent.

The song is the title track from the 1975 album.  Bowie re-inventing himself yet again from plastic soul to Krautrock.  More of which was to follow .  Even now the song sounds fresh.  The song starts with the sound of a train shifting from left-to-right speaker. Leading into Earl Slick’s very long feedback.  Combining with Carlos Alomar.  Wow, what a duo.  Then Bowie delivers one of the best opening lines of his entire catalog. “The return of the thin white duke, throwing darts in lover’s eyes.”

During the recording of the album.  Bowie was living in LA on a diet of cocaine, milk and peppers. At one point he dropped to less 100 pounds.  They show this in the excellent ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary.

The lyrics are a glimpse of where Bowie’s head was at. Paranoia fueled by drug use.  Images of the occult and symbolism.  The title refers to the stations of the cross and not train stations.  Although trains where Bowie preference for traveling as he suffered from a fear of flying.  The stations of the cross refer to a set of images depicting Christ on the day of his crucifixion. (Something happened on the day he died.)

Stand out lyrics

The return of the Thin White Duke
Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes
Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff
From where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Here am I, flashing no color
Tall in this room overlooking the ocean
Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, you drive like a demon from station to station

#10 Sound and Vision

This song makes me feel warm inside. It soothes my mind. The bass, drums, and guitar introduction, nice and chilled. Then here comes the warm synths.  It’s almost halfway through the song before Bowie’s vocals.

Simple lyrics that fits perfectly within the confines of the pioneering 1977 album which it came from.  It’s very Low profile and its superb.

The song started life as an instrumental with Visconti’s wife supplying the ‘doo, doo, dooh’s’.  Bowie added the sparse lyrics later on.

The song is about writing a song.  Bowie had left the madness of LA behind him. It’s probably the happiest song on Low.  Here is David on a comedown.  The album was appropriate for his state of mind.  The album has some other classics one of which I posted in my previous post.

Bowie said in an interview in 2003  “I was locked in a room in Berlin telling myself I was going to straighten up and not do drugs anymore. I was never going to drink again. Only some of it proved to be the case. It was the first time I knew I was killing myself and time to do something about my physical condition.”

Stand out lyrics

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue

I will sit right down
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision

#11 “Heroes”

I have tried to avoid the obvious choices on my list but some songs are just too good.  The album has some great tunes.  I love Beauty and the Beast and the paranoia of Blackout.  Joe the Lion is immense but “Heroes” is another level.  For me it has to be the full-length album-version.

Released in 1977 the title track of the 2nd album in the Berlin trilogy.  Bowie wrote the song with Brian Eno.  It was the only album out of the Berlin trilogy produced in Berlin.  The city clearly influenced this song.  Bowie played several instruments, recorded backing vocals and co-produced.

The underlying riff came via Carlos Alomar with Robert Fripp from King Crimson adding some feedback flourish.

The song is about two lovers’ meeting at the then intact Berlin wall.  The studio was around 500 yards from the wall. The rumour was that it was producer Tony Visconti meeting with a German lady he was having an affair with.

Bowie confirmed in an interview in 2003. 

“I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was (laughs). But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin.”

The song didn’t really dent the charts in ’77 but has since become one of Bowie’s best know anthems.  Bowie played the song 10 years later in West Berlin almost opposite the original studio. 

Bowie explained.

“I’ll never forget that,” he recalled. “It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the Wall itself so that it was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realise in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert, where the Wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life. And I guess I never will again.

Bowie also had the unenviable job of following the triumphant infamous Queen performance at Live-Aid.  His performance often over-looked. Bowie more than held his own, performing this song with a makeshift band.  His performance was inspiring.  I remember watching as a teenager.

Stand out lyrics

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes, just for one day

 

#12 – DJ

Lodger is a strange album.  It’s a cocktail of Bowie songs.  Whereas Low and Heroes beforehand where moody.  Lodger is like a postcard of stand-alone songs.  Not one of my favourites at first but it has grown on me over time and I love the random nature of its songs.  

I was close to selecting ‘Repetition’ as my choice cut but I selected that for my other list.  

DJ is a great song.  I love his voice on this song.  I love the groove and chorus.  The drums are fantastic.  Adrian Belew’s guitar solo is boss (another ex King Crimson guitarist).  The song is very scattershot and driven ending with the DJ breaking down.

The song tells the story of a DJ who has lost his girl and lost his way.  When Bowie was growing up during the late 50’s and early 60’s the DJ was the man.  During the 70’s and punk not so much.  Fast forward to the 90’s and beyond.  DJ’s are like rock stars.

The video is ace.  Bowie spins some tunes in the studio and then he appears in public mobbed which is both exciting and intimidating.

Stand Out Lyric

Time flies when you’re having fun
Break his heart, break her heart
He used to be my boss and now he is a puppet dancer
I am a D.J., and I’ve got believers
I’ve got believers

#13 Teenage Wildlife

Scary Monsters (Super Creeps) released in 1980 had some excellent songs. Ashes to Ashes, Fashion and the title track spring to mind.  ‘Teenage Wildlife’ is one of them songs that takes a while to like but it would always be in at least one of my top 10 Bowie lists. 

From the long drawn out guitar intro leading into Bowie’s wayward vocal.

The song’s working title was “It happens every day”.  Robert Fripp returns, performing masterful guitar licks like he did on “Heroes”.  This time dueling with the ever-present Carlos Alomar.

During the late 70’s leading into the 80’s. Several clubs in London held ‘Bowie’ themed nights.  People would come dressed in similar styles to David.  Almost in a Bowie style face-off.  Steve Strange who formed Visage worked on one of the doors.  He appeared in the video for ‘Ashes to Ashes’.  Gary Numan, Bauhaus, Human League, Japan, and A Flock of Seagulls clearly influenced by Bowie.  

The song takes a swipe at the new-romantic movement that saw Bowie as its major influence.

“One of the new wave boys”
“Same old thing in brand new drag”

What is ironic is that the music press at the time. The NME and Melody Maker both criticised a lot of what Bowie released.  So on the one hand Bowie was past his best according to the press but revered by the very same groups that where being praised.

Bowie explained here.

“Ironically, the lyric is something about taking a short view of life, not looking too far ahead and not predicting the oncoming hard knocks. The lyric might have been a note to a younger brother or my own adolescent self.”

Stand out lyric

Same old thing in brand, new drag
Comes sweeping into view, whoa, hoe, hoe, hoe, hoe, hoe
As ugly as a teenage millionaire
Pretending it’s a whizz-kid world
You’ll take me aside, and say
“Well, David, what shall I do?
They wait for me in the hallway”
I’ll say, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know any hallways”
But they move in numbers and they’ve got me in a corner
I feel like a group of one
No, no, they can’t do this to me
I’m not some piece of teenage wildlife

 

#14 China Girl

For me the 80’s was not my favourite era for Bowie. I know people get all nostalgic for the 80’s (my wife being one of them) but there was a lot of shite around.  ‘Tonight’ and ‘Never Let me Down’ never made my list sorry.  

I was 11 when Lets Dance came out (wow makes me feel old).  I still remember the strange video with the aboriginal dancers.  At the time, I was too young to make the Serious Moonlight Tour.  Bowie went mainstream this was his biggest selling album. He was everywhere.  Modern Love and Let’s Dance are great songs.

It was a tough choice between Cat People and China Girl.  I chose China Girl for a couple of reasons. The way Bowie delivers the song is so fucking cool.  The saucy video of course. And because it was co-written with Iggy Pop.   Niles Rodgers does a good job as well.  I mean the fact that this song was playing everywhere with the line “Visions of swastikas in my head and plans to rule the world’

Iggy is great.  This is one of the reasons why I love Bowie.He introduced me to music I would have probably missed. Iggy being one of them.  He is an acquired taste.  The Idiot and Lust for Life are great albums produced by David.  I saught them out due to the Bowie connection alone.  Iggy was my very first concert at the age of 15 when he released Blah, Blah, Blah, wow what a performer.   On first listen to Iggy singing ‘China Girl’ on The Idiot , I didnt like it but I am not sure which one I prefer now?

The lyrics where written by Iggy about his infatuation with Kuelan Nguyen, a beautiful Vietnamese woman who hung around the studio when they recorded the song for the The Idiot.

Stand out lyric

I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It’s in the whites of my eyes
My little China girl
You shouldn’t mess with me
I’ll ruin everything you are

#15 Jump They Say

Apologies for skipping ‘Tonight’ and ‘Never Let Me Down’ they just didn’t do it for me.  Although Absolute Beginners almost made the list.  Tin Machine was a slight return to form but this song from the 1993 album ‘Black Tie White Noise’ was Bowie doing his thing.  Being David

The song was about schizophrenia and the death of his half brother Terry who committed suicide in 1995.  Bowie had previously visited the subject on All the Madmen and Bewley Brothers.

Terry had tried to commit suicide previously but lay down on the train tracks nearby Cane Hill. Bowie didn’t attend the funeral for which he was criticised by the media.

At the time Bowie said of his brother: “I invented this hero-worship to discharge my guilt and failure, and to set myself free from my own hang-ups.”

The song is driven with an excellent trumpet solo from Lester Bowie.  The video is quiet good as well.  The rest of the album is a bit of a mixed bag but it was good to have David back again.

Stand out lyric

They say
He has no brain
They say
He has no mood
They say
He was born again
They say
Look at him climb
They say jump

#16 – Strangers When We Meet

This little beauty can be found on The Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack from 1993.  He re-recorded the song he deemed too good to leave on a soundtrack for his Outside album release in 1995.  Bowie made the right choice.  

Outside is a long strange concept album that has some great songs.  The overall concept fits together and Bowie was back again with Eno.  The Hearts Filthy Lesson, We Prick You, Outside, No Control and Hallo Spaceboy are some of the highlights.  I suppose it depends on taste?  I prefer the album version of Hallo Spaceboy over the Pet Shop Boys remix.  The overall album was a return of form for Bowie. It is slightly bonkers and over ambitious but a return in form.

Strangers When We Meet stands out on Outside.  The industrial and intense songs give way to this amazing song.  The guitar sounds to my untrained ears similar to “Heroes” The piano played by Mike Garson is outstanding.  Mike Garson is one of Bowie’s longest standing band members from “Alladin Sane” onward.

As with a lot of Bowie’s tunes it’s open to interpretation.  On the surface it would seem that the song is about adultery.  The Kirk Douglas film of the same name was about that very subject. 

But an alternative take could be the alienation of a couple who have drifted apart or separated. I understand this concept because I have been in this situation myself.  Either way its a fantastic song.

Stand out lyrics

All my violence
Raining tears upon the sheet
I’m bewildered/resentful
For we’re strangers when we meet
Blank screen TV
Preening ourselves in the snow
Forget my name
But I’m over you

 

17 – Everyone Says ‘Hi’

I didn’t skip Earthling and Hours intentionally.  I simply ran out of time and this post is never ending and I really, really love this song.  Released from the 2002 ‘Heathen’ album.  I was struggling between this and ‘Slow Burn’.  I picked this because it’s so infectious and for one single line alone. 

Bowie was 55 years old when this was recorded.  Most rock stars re-hash their hits but not David this still sounds just as fresh today as when it first came out.  The man really is special.

The song is upbeat and the lyrics seem quiet jolly.  But in typical Bowie fashion there is a twist that changes the complexion of the song. 

In the excellent biography by Simon Pegg.  Bowie explained that the song is a meditation on bereavement. He said “When my father died in 1969, I couldn’t actually believe that he was not going to come back again.” He continues, “It really took a long time for me to be able to take in the fact that I wouldn’t see him again.  So this one was just a little simplistic reference to that, about how it always feels like somebody has gone on a holiday of some kind. And there’s something sad about ships as well. That’s why this person in this song doesn’t go on a plane. A ship took them away – I guess that’s the boat that took people over the river Styx, isn’t it?

The line that I love is the final line. The chorus plays, “Everyone say’s Hi. And your big fat dog.”  That line cracks me up.  We have a big fat dog and every day when I arrive home, I swear she jumps up to me and says ‘Hi’.

Stand out lyrics

Said you sailed a big ship
Said you sailed away
Didn’t know the right thing
To say
I’d love to get a letter
Like to know what’s what
Hope the weather’s good
And it’s not too hot for you
Everyone says, “Hi”

 

 

18 – New Killer Star

When I first heard this song it reminded me of ‘Coffee and TV’ by ‘Blur. This song is great.  It was the first single released from his 23rd album Reality in 2003.   Tony Visconti back in the fold playing bass just like the days of old.

Bowie doesn’t write political songs.  But this song open to interpretation as usual. hints at 9/11. Bowie was a resident of New York until his death.  In the press release for the album.

Bowie says, “I’m not a political commentator, but I think there are times when I’m stretched to at least implicate what’s happening politically in the songs that I’m writing. And there was some nod, in a very abstract way, toward the wrongs that are being made at the moment with the Middle Eastern situation. I think that song is a pretty good manifesto for the whole record.” 

From another interview from listenmusicculture.com 

With its reference to Battery Park, I’m assuming ‘New Killer Star,’ the first song on Reality, was inspired by 9/11.

“Absolutely. It’s an impressionistic piece, I guess, revolving around the idea of actually living in the town where all that took place. And out of it, I’m trying to pull something that has the feeling of positivism about it. The positivism that I’m feeling for this album, for the way that I’ve written it, comes from having this entire family unit — and having a three-year-old daughter.”

For all the heavy sadness and anger on Reality. There is still humour and simplicity. “Lets face the music and dance” –  Put on your red shoes baby!

Stand out lyrics

See the great white star
Over Battery Park
Then a flare glides over
But I won’t look at that star
Oh, my nuclear baby
(One who spotted a star)
Oh, my idiot trance
All my idiot questions
(Like the stars in your eyes)
Let’s face the music and dance

 

 

19 Where Are We Now?

And then came the silence.  Us Bowie fans where a spoilt lot.  Bowie had always been prolific.  Release after release.  Tour after tour. Then aged 57 Bowie suffered a heart attack whilst on tour.  Then he disappeared from the public and who could blame him.  He had given us so much.  The last time I saw Bowie was at Glastonbury 2000 which was amazing.  The man needed a break.

Then with no fanfare or press release. In 2013 Bowie was on BBC news with a new song. WTF? The best part was the song was excellent.  The video was weird, but that’s David.  The song was the released on his 66th birthday.  Even better, it was from his new album ‘The Next Day’  A full 10 years since ‘Reality’.  Aged 66 Bowie released a new album.  Most people retire in their 60’s not David.  As Jarvis Cocker from Pulp explained in an interview with the BBC.  “was really a gift to us, his fans.”

Tony Visconti explained in interview with The Hollywood Reporter that David insisted that anyone who was associated with recording the album signed a non-disclosure agreement.  Tony couldn’t tell any of his friends.

THR: Is it that you don’t trust your friends or is it because knowledge of the project would be too overwhelming?

Visconti: I don’t trust Bowie fans. And all my friends are Bowie fans.

The song reached number 6 in the UK charts.  His highest chart position since ‘Absolute Beginners’.  Bowie was one of a handful of artists to have scored a UK top 10 hit for each decade from 1960’s onward.  Even more impressive for the fact that he is a solo artist and original songs.

To me the song is both sad and uplifting.  The subject being Bowie reflecting on his Berlin days. Reminiscing about times gone by.  The chorus asking, ‘Where are we now?’ leading to the uplifting climax, “As long as there’s me, as long as there’s you.” Its beautiful.  

The music slow to build. The soft piano and strings compliment Bowie’s vocals perfectly.

Tony Visconti explained in an interview, “I think it’s a very reflective track for David. He certainly is looking back on his Berlin period and it evokes this feeling… it’s very melancholy, I think.”

The video is interesting.  David and a then unknown lady appearing within face in a hole puppet.  A projector showing images of Berlin running in the background. All within a studio strewn with random objects.  Towards the end we see David wearing a Song of Norway T-Shirt.  Reminiscing about Hermoinne his ex-lover from the ’60’s.  

Both the cover for the single and the album had images from David’s past.  The single had an inverted live shot of Young American’s era Bowie.  The album had the Heroes mashup.

Stand out lyrics

Had to get the train
From Potsdamer Platz
You never knew that
That I could do that
Just walking the dead

Sitting in the Dschungel
On Nürnberger Straße
A man lost in time
Near KaDeWe
Just walking the dead

Where are we now?

#20 Lazarus

This song topped my list of Top Singer, Songwriter and Performers.

‘Lazarus’ is an excellent, mysterious and sad song that haunts me.  The simple strumming intro mixed with the soft saxophone. The opening lines.  “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen” kill me. Bowie knew he was dying.  He was riddled with cancer (I’ve got scars that can’t be seen).  Yet here is releasing an album days before he died.  A true artist until the end.  I struggle to watch the video.  He looks so fragile yet there is still that old twinkle in his eye. 

During his career Bowie sang and flirted with themes of death.

My Death” the Jacques Brel song was often played live. 

Space Oddity” the story of the doomed astronaut, Major Tom.

We are the Dead” from Diamond Dogs.

Five Years” from Ziggy, the earth doomed to die.

 “Time” from Aladdin.

Ashes to Ashes” 

There are lots of reference to death and rebirth in his music.  “Knowledge comes with death’s release” from “Quicksand”  I wonder if Bowie feared death?

Lazarus.  A follower of Jesus.  Jesus resurrected Lazarus a few days after dying.  When Bowie sadly passed away on the 10 January 2016.  It was just 2 days after his latest album “Blackstar” was released.  Even though his death came to a massive shock to us fans.  He was diagnosed around 18 months beforehand and knew his cancer was incurable.  This song and album are Bowie’s swan song.

It must be horrible being told that you have incurable cancer.  I have lost relatives and friends to cancer.   It humbles me to see how people deal with this awful disease.  Bowie carried on working.  Not just on an album but a Broadway play too.  Something Bowie always wanted to do throughout his career.

The song was released December 2015 as a digital download.  Tony Visconti his long-term friend and producer believed prior to Bowie’s death that Bowie was planning on following up Blackstar.  “At that late stage, he was planning the follow-up to Blackstar,” says Visconti in a Rolling Stone interview.  Visconti commented that he considered that the lyrics and video of “Lazarus” where intended to a self-epitaph.

 This post from Visconti’s Facebook page.

“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

A song about your impending doom could be perceived as miserable and depressing.  The main difference being this was Bowie, and it was one of his best songs.

These are not his best lyrics or even his best song.  But given the context of what followed.  The song took on a different meaning.  Bowie was a genius, and that’s why he is top of my list.  His death was tragic and affected me and so many others.  He worked until he couldn’t work anymore doing what he did best. His art.

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain’t that just like me?

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass
This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me?
Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

Summary

Well that is it.  Apologies for the long post. I would love to get some feedback.  I enjoyed writing the post and learnt new things about his songs in the process from a variety of sources including the excellent Pushing ahead of the Dame.   No doubt, my choices will change next week but that’s the joy of Bowie.

I have included some of my own artwork too.  Keep smiling share the love.

 

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2 thoughts to “The 20 Greatest Bowie Songs (Fantastic Voyage)”

  1. The song I immediately recognise on the list is China girl. And I’m asking more questions …. I didn’t know it was written about a Vietnamese girl – I wonder if she knew? And if she wasn’t part Chinese I wondered how she felt being referred to as “China” girl. Interesting details. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for reading and yes that’s a valid point to be fair I don’t think Iggy Pop had many brain cells at the time he wrote it

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