I try to keep these introductions brief at this stage of the longer lists, so I’ll just say you can find links to the first three parts of this list at the bottom of this (and every) entry; when I refer to “Pegg,” I mean Nicolas Pegg via his book The Complete David Bowie; when I refer to “O’Leary,” I mean Chris O’Leary via his blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame; and this entry’s cover is my best attempt at Ziggy Stardust done in MS Paint.
Edit (March 4, 1018): I discovered that two singles that I assumed were late releases from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars and thus had initially ranked higher on this list were actually the inferior live versions from Stage. After much grumbling and moaning, I’ve reordered the list to reflect where I feel these two singles should actually be. Thus, “Soul Love” was moved from #6 to #115 and “Star” was moved from #40 to #103. This resulted in at least one and usually two songs from every section being moved up into the next sections. I’m not happy about this and probably I’m the only one who cares, but it would have bothered me if I didn’t fix it.
120. Love You till Tuesday
Second single from David Bowie (1967), Re-recorded for single release (1967)
Both Pegg and O’Leary point out that the single received very good notices but, ultimately, failed to chart. The single version is a huge improvement from the album version, but both feel like Bowie is trying to force the jokes – my theory is that comedy works best when it doesn’t scream “hey this is funny laugh at this.” I am reminded of the Frenchy scene from Good Morning, Vietnam. The final joke about “might stretch it to Wednesday” works better on the album version – on the single, it’s worked to death. That said, strip away the lyrics and just play the music and you have one of the great swinging London sounding tunes, flop or no. Put the lyrics back in and its number 119 on my list.
119. The Hearts Filthy Lesson
First single from 1. Outside (1995), released as a single in 1995
All right, soooo….
I find more to admire about “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” than to actually enjoy. The first track from the Brian Eno produced 1. Outside (numbered because it was, in theory, the first of a series of 3 – or perhaps 5 – albums) was clearly intended as a provocation – Bowie was aggressively changing styles again embracing industrial without apology. After meandering around a bit for more than a decade, he picked a strong direction, a striking new look (see this Letterman performance) and reclaiming his place outside the mainstream. Everything about the track sounds filthy, uncomfortable and a little inaccessible by design. I admire Bowie’s vocal performance, Reeves Gabrels’ angular guitar noodling, and Eno’s anti-Eno keyboard work (the least Eno that Eno ever sounded). In context of the album (where Ramona and Nathan were recurring characters), the song makes a different kind of sense but divorced from the record, it is nigh-impenetrable. To this day, every time I listen to it, I try to find a way into it and am confident one day it will leap up in my estimation.
On the other hand, at the time, I remember thinking “Oh lord, Bowie is trying to jump on the industrial train.” By the time I discovered Bowie’s work in the 80’s – I mean beyond “Fame” – he had already switched styles a half-dozen times and to my young ears it sounded like he’d always been folk rock/glam/plastic soul/Eno-esque. I am sure at the time in the 70’s, there were people who rolled their eyes as hard as I rolled mine when I first heard this song.
In conclusion, David Bowie was a land of contrasts.
(Spoiler – this story that I heard is not very true) I remember when Bowie released “Blue Jean,” there was a story that went around that he’d asked Bryan Ferry to star in the video as the nebbish (eventually played by Bowie) who attends the concert and loses the girl. Ferry, according to the story, said no. I will Google in a moment to see if this was true, but the reason Bowie allegedly asked Ferry was because there was a rivalry (perhaps one-sided) between the two. When Ferry was getting ready to put out an album of covers in 1973 (These Foolish Things), the legend we heard in Newtown, Connecticut in the 80’s was that Bowie rushed to record and release his covers album – Pin Ups – on the same day. And Google says…. Well, apparently the character of Bowie’s roommate in the Jazzin for Blue Jean video may have been a parody of Bryan Ferry and Ferry himself seemed to ultimately believe the similarity in the two albums was a coincidence.
“Rosalyn” is from Pin Ups. It was originally by The Pretty Things. It’s a great cover of the song which, unfortunately, I only sort of like. So points for being a great cover, I guess.
117. Moonage Daydream (as part of Arnold Corns)
Stand-alone single released in 1971
Aw, man, the Ziggy Stardust version of this song is a favorite, but this ain’t the Ziggy Stardust version. Bowie had two huge successes in the UK in the late 60’s – “Space Oddity” and “The Laughing Gnome.” After that, he went several more years before he had another hit. He explored different styles, had a cabaret show, and wrote like mad. This version of “Moonage Daydream” is by a short-lived Bowie band called the Arnold Corns (named after the Pink Floyd tune “Arnold Layne”). On this recording, the band consisted of Bowie, Mark Carr-Pritchard on guitar, Peter ‘Polak’ DeSomogy on bass and Tim ‘St Laurent’ Broadbent on drums. The Ziggy Stardust version featured the incomparable Mick Ronson on guitar (and, of course, the rest of the Spiders from Mars) and different lyrics that were tied more closely to the rest of the album. This version maintains the shape of the song but doesn’t have anything like the bite of the later recording. Even though it was released as a single, it sounds like a demo of the later great version.
116. The Drowned Girl
From the EP Baal (1982), video released in 1982
Bowie’s five song EP of songs from Bertolt Brecht’s Baal is an essential 80’s Bowie recording. However, there is more to admire than actually enjoy (at least for me). Bowie has almost never sounded better – his voice is in fine form and he sounds like he’s genuinely relishing every note. The songs are (after a fashion) classics. They’re well-played by the backing orchestra. I can listen to him sing them all day long and the immediately forget everything about them except for his gorgeous voice.
115. Soul Love (live)
Japan only single from Stage (1978), released as a single in 1978
Original version from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
I would have put the original Ziggy Stadust version of this song in my top ten. In fact, I had. Then I discovered that “Star” – which I’d originally ranked around 40 – was actually from the live album Stage. With dread, I looked at the rest of the list and discovered that the version of “Soul Love” released as a single was also from Stage. Its ok live, but without Ronson/Woodsmansey/Bolder as his backing band, the song loses some of its glorious glam awesomeness. So here it is now at #115, placed here almost a month after I finished that section of the list and screwing everything up.
114. Prisoner of Love (as part of Tin Machine)
Third single from Tin Machine (1989), released as a single in 1989
Everyone was down on Tin Machine at the time they were active, but really the singles were generally better than much of the rest of Bowie’s other late 80’s work. “Prisoner of Love” finds Bowie quoting Alan Ginsberg in his lyrics and (perhaps) aping Iggy Pop’s style of singing. Indeed, O’Leary suggests sounds like the sort of song Bowie would write for Pop. Since two fourths of Tin Machine (The Sales Bros) were Pop’s band during the Lust for Life era, it kind of makes sense that they’d sound like Pop from time to time. Anyhow, “Prisoner of Love” is not half bad. In fact, it’s not even 3/5ths bad. Bowie stated that he wrote the song for his then-girlfriend Melissa Hurley and I hope that “David Bowie wrote a song for me” is something she says anytime one of her kids (assuming she has kids) gets too big for their britches. I’d be pulling that line out every chance I had were it true about me.
113. Sound and Vision 2013
Stand-alone single from 2013 for a smart phone commercial
Hmm. Sonjay Prabhakar remixed the original Bowie vocal and Mary Hopkins backing vocal with a new piano part by Rob Gentry for a Sony smartphone commercial. It’s barely mentioned in Pegg’s book and O’Leary doesn’t mention it at all. It was a single to promote a phone. It’s a great vocal, of course, and placing it in this context really emphasizes the contrast in dynamics between Bowie’s higher and lower range but it’s just not an essential part of your Bowie collection (by which I mean my Bowie collection).
112. Knock on Wood
First single from David Live (1974), released as a single in 1974
Cover of a single originally written and recorded by Eddie Floyd (1966)
I first heard “Knock on Wood” because of the great Amii Stewart disco cover (and oh my goodness that video is fabulous). The Stewart version is so firmly planted in my skull that I didn’t realize it was a cover until I heard Bowie’s version from David Live (in 1974, he required no last name). Mick Ronson and Bowie had parted ways by the time this song was recorded so the riffs you hear on this song are played by Earl Slick (yes, there were other members of the band but, no, I’m not going to name that all at this time – you can read them here). Bowie recorded and performed a few R&B and soul covers at the dawn of his career (c.f. #134) and this was right before his so-called “plastic soul” period (Young Americans et al). Anyhow, this is a very good high energy performance of the song and if it doesn’t reach the heights of the Stewart version (which is arguably the best version of this song) or the original Eddie Floyd version, it doesn’t sink the song into infamy either.
111. Rebel Never Gets Old
Stand-alone single released in 2004
Official mash-up of “Rebel Rebel” and “Never Get Old” by Go Home Productions
I really dig the idea of mash-ups and Bowie – never one to leave a new way of remixing songs unexplored – seems to have dug the idea too since he had Mark Vidler aka Go Home Productions mash a great single from his Reality album with one of his all-time classic singles. If the result is less than the sum of its parts, it’s still good fun. We’ve reached the “good fun” portion of the list, which is to say “something I don’t feel the need to skip over all of the time.” In addition to liking new movements and techniques in music production, Bowie also appreciated new ways of making money. According to Pegg, this mash-up was partially based on how these two songs were used in an Audi commercial.
Coming Soon: Some live tracks, some demos, some Tin Machine