Hey guys, this is Jon Ellison. Normally, I review/rank movies and TV shows, but for some time, I’ve also been planning to review music groups, musicians, songs, you name it. I remember studying music after I finished my A-Levels, but I recall not liking the course. Another thing is that I don’t care much for the charts. Whatever position in the charts each song is in or whether it’s in the charts really doesn’t have any effect on my music tastes.
The main reason for this review though is due to the fact that we’ve lost a true musical legend recently, need I give details, a lot of us know about it anyway and it’ll take me time to recover from the event. This is why I feel now would be the best time to rank what I consider the top best song by this particular artist.
David Bowie is my all-time favourite solo musician. Most people consider Michael Jackson to be the ‘king of Pop’, but in my world, David gets the crowning. Let me make one thing clear that it simply has nothing to do with skin color. I say this, because I once stated that I didn’t like 2Pac and some classmate asked a totally random question; “is it because he’s black?”, when in fact, it was to do with his music. And that’s why I admire David Bowie so much. Because of his music.
When I was young, I wanted to follow David’s footsteps, well not just his, other musicians too, but it was especially him I idolized. I’ve got a few albums of his. He’s the kind of person who expresses art through his music. He also experimented with various music genres from folk, art-rock and glam-rock to disco, soul and house. I’m talking a wide range of types of music. If you compare David to, say, Barry Manilow, all Barry Manilow does is boring and forgettable ballads, the only one I can remember off by heart is Mandy and it’s just,… meh.
Actually, a more comparable artist would be Elton John. The reason is because both artists have released ba-jillions of singles and albums (slight exaggeration) and have certainly kept themselves busy for decades. I personally prefer David to Elton. The reason being is that David’s music is less cliché than Elton’s. Elton is one of them artists who writes love songs and we do get an occasional ballad from him. With that said though, he has released awesome material i.e. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Crocodile Rock, I’m Still Standing and them songs from The Lion King. David Bowie on the other hand, the majority of his material is more rhythmic, even those album tracks i.e. Hang On To Yourself are so unforgettable.
Anyway we have to move. For the following list, I’m going to rank my top 11 personal favourite songs by David Bowie. Why top 11? Because I’ve decided to follow the Nostalgia Critic’s footsteps and go one step beyond. Before I begin, there’s one problem; David’s got a gigantic collection of over 100 songs. To narrow things down, I’m only going to include the ‘singles’, so if you don’t see Aladdin Sane or 1984 on there, don’t be too surprised.
So let’s enter the golden years as I review the Top 11 David Bowie songs;
11. I’m Afraid Of Ameircans
Album: Earthling (1997)
UK Chart Position: Didn’t chart
I commence the countdown engines on with a masterpiece from the nineties. Don’t take the title the wrong way. Despite that, the song did chart in the US, but it’s a mystery why not in the UK and David Bowie lived in the US for a while. I’m Afraid Of Americans is a funky industrial rock song with a sort-of Born In The USA theme. It’s a fish-out-of-water story about a guy who’s new to the country and finds it hard to relate to the residents. Every country does have some cons; there’s gun nuts, there’s the KKK, dodgy politicians. I’m Afraid Of Americans doesn’t literally state them words, but does point out that the USA does have some problems, even though there is some good to it.
10. When The Wind Blows
Album: When The Wind Blows soundtrack (1986)
UK Chart Position: 44
For those who don’t know, When The Wind Blows is an animated feature based on one of Raymond Briggs’ graphic novels about an elderly couple who are attempting to survive through a nuclear war. David makes his second contribution to a Briggs related film (the first being The Snowman) with this incredible theme tune. Like the cartoon, When The Wind Blows is massively underrated. It has rarely appeared on any of David Bowie’s collection albums. It has a distinctive guitar riff and the lyrics so relate to the film’s content. You don’t always need to rely on the film to understand what David’s on about. But I do recommend checking out the film as well as this song.
9. Blue Jean
Album: Tonight (1984)
UK Chart Position: 6
Another underrated song. Most David Bowie fans are familiar with Space Oddity, Starman, Jean Genie and Life On Mars, but Blue Jean never seems to be the first song that comes to the fans’ minds when it comes to conversations about the guy. Blue Jean is a nostalgic rock & roll inspired song which parodies the ‘casual sexism’, a recurring theme for many of the rock & roll songs from the 50s and 60s, or as David referred to it as a ‘sexist rock and roll song about picking up birds’. It also pays homage to his older hits i.e. Jean Genie. The song is an entertaining romp which will get you into the groove.
8. Jump They Say
Album: Black Tie White Noise (1993)
UK Chart Position: 9
Whilst I was watching the final episode of Top Of The Pops back in 2006, I can remember one of the presenters stating that the nineties was all about Britpop and girl power. Er… no. And this house-techno yarn from one of David’s greatest albums proves them guys so wrong. There was so much more during the nineties. Remember the Prodigy’s hardcore-dance tunes and the M-People’s house power? Jump They Say marks a massive contribution and provides a funky-soul taste. Despite the joy we easily get out of this song, Jump They Say does tackle a emotionally serious issue; schizophrenia leading to suicide. The term Jump They Say refers to demons of a depressed man who encourage him to jump off a tall obstacle to end his life. The singer encourages the man to take no notice and withdraw from committing suicide. David himself had a schizophrenic half-brother who committed suicide and apparently, sometime afterwards, David thought about doing the same. Good job he didn’t in the end, but we can all understand how he felt.
7. Sound & Vision
Album: Low (1977)
UK Chart Position: 3
Now for an Eric Clapton-style tune. Dave didn’t play lead guitar on Sound & Vision himself, but still, as I said during the introduction, he was all about making a difference. Sound & Vision could nearly qualify as an instrumental; there are very few lyrics with little meaning; I don’t understand the ‘blue, blue’ bit, though what I do get out of ‘sound & vision’ is the sound of music contribution to any visuals. In a way, Sound & Vision is a song you could listen to for some inspiration. In the end, when I listen to a rock song, I don’t care. If it has a great rhythm/melody to it, I’d feel in the groove for it and Sound & Vision is no exception.
6. Modern Love
Album: Let’s Dance (1983)
UK Chart Position: 2
Modern Love is a Little Richard inspired song. This relates to me, because I too am a Little Richard fan. Every-time I listen to one of his songs, I always feel in the groove. My tastes don’t really have much to do with Little Richard’s religion. This is one of the minor things I love about Modern Love. I also admire the lyrics, because it refers to how much the tradition of love relationships is changing and clearly, the protagonist wants to live with his relationship the way he wants and not care about ‘keeping up’ with the other romantic couples, who are probably obnoxious or just assume that the protagonist is going to have a religious wedding and/or following it with sex, sex, sex. Of course, when I was an elementary school student, I had a girlfriend and this seemed to have a lot of impact on our classmates, who asked us immature questions i.e. “are you going to have sex with her?”. Seriously, what would lead to anybody who is our age asking us something that’s clearly taboo and adult. Whatever my then girlfriend and I would’ve done would’ve been our business and not their’s. I remember when we kissed and them boys snitched on us. Again, that was none of their business. But Modern Love is an awesome track, with a great chord sequence, a groovy rhythm and fantastic lyrics.
5. Day-In Day-Out
Album: Never Let Me Down
UK Chart Position: 17
Another tune which I consider one of David Bowie’s most underrated material, Day-In Day-Out is also one of his most political. It criticises the urban decay America suffered back then. It tells a story of a young mother who’s struggling financially to look after her child. She shoplifts and even prostitutes herself, but we can’t blame her for that, because she has very little money and she’s homeless. Even the music video demonstrates so and is also underrated. It starts with the baby being delivered and sees the woman struggling in life. It was unfairly banned by certain TV stations, who clearly didn’t observe the subject matter properly and personally, I don’t blame David for how annoyed he was when he heard the news. Day-In Day-Out is a pop rock masterpiece with a heart-pounding rhythm and highly political lyrics. It’s worth a listen.
4. TVC 15
Album: Station To Station (1976)
UK Chart Position: 33
I sometimes wonder if Dave looked into the future. To me, TVC 15 is about the development of technology and the impact it has on many people. It is in fact based on a holographic television that Iggy Pop owned and believed was sucking his girlfriend in. This inspired Dave to write the song which sees the protagonist’s girlfriend crawling into the television, motivating the narrator to go in himself and find her. The lyrics “he’s got more channels” is one of the suggestions on how amazing the TV is.
In short, TVC 15 is an observation of the virtual world. This was released over two decades before the Matrix films came out. The music also fits the tone. It begins with a funky bass intro and a nice quiet piano riff. The song may be quiet compared to David’s previous material, but it’s enough to give us inspiration on what’s going on through.
Album: Hunky Dory (1971)
UK Chart Position: Didn’t Chart (1971), 49 (2016)
No, I ain’t referring to the Black Sabbath ballad. With that said though, David’s version is also about the current changes of the world, hence Changes. Apparently the song failed to chart on its first release, but over the years, the song has led a large impact. I remember when we had our first PC, we had the Encarta 96 Encyclopaedia and a snippet of this song was included and my god was it awesome!
The lyrics say it all; “And my time was running wild/A million dead-end streets”, “Just gonna have to be a different man/Time may change me/But I can’t trace time”, “So the days float through my eyes/But still the days seem the same/And these children that you spit on/As they try to change their worlds/Are immune to your consultations/They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”, “Changes are taking the pace/I’m going through”. In short, this is a coming-of-age theme and demonstrates that time goes by and nobody gets any younger and it’s time to try different things now and then, overwise you’ll find you ain’t lived a day in your life.
Added to that, Dave was not alone when he recorded this masterpiece. Not many people know that the pianist is in fact the legendary Rick Wakeman. Extra credit goes to him! Dave and Rick, splendid combination!
2. Rebel Rebel
Album: Diamond Dogs (1974)
UK Chart Position: 5
I have fond memories of that awesomely riffed hard rock yarn. When I was an elementary school student, we would get lifts to and from school each time and the minibus driver often had Leicester Sound (some local radio station based in Leicestershire, England, which is now called Capital) playing on the radio. Rebel Rebel was one of the songs the DJs played during that time. It’s ironic, because it usually plays music from the 80s, 90s and afterwards. But it didn’t matter. I loved the guitar riff so much I sang to the lyrics, as did some girl who often sat next to me.
8 years later, I covered the song for a concert at Longslade (my high school) which took place during the school’s open day. The school’s purpose was to advertise all the subjects taught and I represented the performing arts section. The theme for our show was based on youth gangs and I had a small part singing Rebel Rebel. When I got to the chorus, a girl named Rebecca, who was also part of the show, came on stage and shoved me. I was like; “hey what the hell do you think you’re doing?” and Becca was like; “You don’t act much of a rebel” and read some poem. Great memories.
Not many people know that the distinctive guitar riff was performed by David himself. Around that time, Mick Ronson would’ve normally contributed to the guitar work. It’s like Dave is developing a similar skill to George Harrison, Brian May and Eric Clapton; singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar simultaneously, which is a rather hard task. Rebel Rebel is also about the narrator tolerating transvestism, which was a controversial topic back then; “she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl/Hey babe let’s go out tonight”, clearly due to his bi-sexuality, Dave wouldn’t have cared about that ‘woman’s’ gender. It’s an awesome hard-rock song, which I never get tired of listening to. Maybe that song should’ve been used for the trailer of Disney’s Mulan, that would’ve been great, but oh well.
Before I reveal my number 1 pick, here are some honourable mentions:
And my number 1 favourite David Bowie song is…
Album: The Rise & Fall OF Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (1972)
UK Chart Position: Didn’t Chart (1976)
And Thunderbirds are go! Apparently David wrote this masterpiece for the then failing and forever underrated band Mott The Hoople, but they turned that one down and decided to use All The Young Dudes instead. Suffragette City is one of them songs I know how to play on my guitar and every time I play the song. I know all the words and chords and rhythms. It’s an upbeat classic. It also really speaks to me. Each time I think of a Suffragette City, I think of a place where women are free to go and do whatever the hell they please, without the harsh authority. I may be a bloke, but it doesn’t mean I have an arrogant attitude towards females. I reckon this song would make a great political campaign song for women’s rights, LGBT rights and other issues that fix the context. I also think someone should make a YouTube fan video of that scene in Mary Poppins where Winifred Banks sings Sister Suffragette and have Suffragette City dubbed over it. Speaking of films, did you know that the lyrics ‘Droogie don’t crash here’ is a reference to A Clockwork Orange? The kids probably may not, because they’re far too young for that film. This is the kind of line that could be used as a warning to rapists and those who commit domestic violence to back right off.
In fact, Suffragette City is a lot better than I remember it. Not only is it my favourite song by David Bowie, but also one of my top 100 favourite songs in general. If you’re the kind of person who knows nothing about David Bowie and wishes to check out his stuff, don’t forget this one!
So that was my top 11 favourite songs by David Bowie. I’m an absolute fan of his work and I can’t think of one song of his that I truly despise. Though if I had to pick a worst song of his, I would say;
Just For One Day (Heroes)
Album: F*** Me I’m Famous (David Guetta’s album)
UK Chart Position: 73
That’s the song which he did with David Guetta. While Bowie made a difference to the music industry, all Guetta did was dance mash-ups which are frankly forgettable and no different to one another. Just For One Day is just a mash-up of Heroes, a classic tune. All it does is repeat the last two lines of the chorus and it goes on and on and on and on and oh my God, it’s so much like Kanye West’s Diamonds From Sierra Leone which wrecked a respectable theme tune to a James Bond film sung by the legend that was Shirley Bassey. The fact that she loved Kanye’s version doesn’t change my opinions. It’s like; “just play the whole song” and doesn’t lead a good impact on younger viewers, who have yet to know who David Bowie is.
Thanks for reading and I shall sit right there waiting for the gift of sound and vision. God bless David Bowie.