In an interview with Russell Harty in 1973, David Bowie was asked what he thought of David Bowie. “I’m a collector. I collect personalities, ideas. I seem to draw a lot of fantasies out of people,” Bowie said. He later spoke to Playboy in 1976 about his often questioned sexuality; “It’s true — I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Bowie’s mystique, androgyny and unmistakable talent has kept him in the limelight for close to 50 years. In remembrance of the departed musical god, we’re revisiting 10 classic tracks by the influential icon.
“Space Oddity” (1969)?
“Can you hear me, Major Tom?”
In Bowie’s first classic track, we feared for the life of fictional astronaut Major Tom on his mission to outer space. A rarity, the original music video for the track presents distinct variations from the widely recognized recording.
Upon its re-release as a single in 1972, the song peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100 chart. An updated video, directed by Mick Rock, accompanied it.
“Life on Mars?” (1971)
“The film is a saddening bore, for she’s lived it ten times or more.”
The song Bowie called “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” enjoyed success in the U.K. Two years after it was recorded, Mick Rock directed the infamous music video featuring Bowie wearing a turquoise suit and bright blue eye shadow.
“The Man Who Sold The World” (1970)?
“We must have died alone, a long, long time ago.”
In an interview with BBC Radio in 1997, Bowie explained what the song meant to him: “I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. That song for me always exemplified how you feel when you’re young, when there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great need to find out who you really are.”
Nirvana‘s Unplugged in New York cover not only introduced Bowie’s track to a new generation — it peaked at No. 6 on the Alternative Songs chart.
“John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)
“She turns me on, but don’t get me wrong. I’m only dancing”
When Bowie assured another man (a.k.a. John) he’s “only dancing” with an attractive woman, it sparked controversy. The provocative music video featuring androgynous dancers “The Astronettes” was banned from British music chart TV show Top of the Pops.
“Ziggy Stardust” (1973)
“Like some cat from Japan, he could lick ’em by smiling.”
Bowie’s fictional alter ego Ziggy Stardust (“half sci-fi rock and half Japanese theater“) could play guitar… among other things.
“Rebel Rebel” (1974)
“You’ve got your mother in a whirl, ’cause she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”
Bowie’s glam rock anthem celebrating rebellious (and cross-dressing) youth peaked at No. 64 on the Hot 100 chart. In the music video, Bowie had the opportunity to show off his guitar skills, all while making pirate chic a thing.
“Is it any wonder, I reject you first?”
“Fame,” which was co-written by John Lennon, was performed live on Soul Train in 1975 and peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart that same year. In 1990, it was remixed and re-released as “Fame 90” to promote Bowie’s Sound+Vision tour.
As for Bowie’s thoughts on fame: “It’s quite a nasty, angry little song. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”
“We can be heroes, just for one day.”
Bowie’s “very pretty love song” wasn’t solely about lovers by the Berlin Wall. In an interview with Bill DeMain, he admitted that at the time “Heroes” was recorded, he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. “Actually, it was [record producer] Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was, but I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that. It was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.”
“It’s loud and tasteless and I’ve heard it before.”
Bowie transitioned into the ’80s by snubbing slaves of style. His statement song peaked at No. 70 on the Hot 100 chart.
“Modern Love” (1983)
“Never gonna fall for modern love.”
Bowie’s catchy pop song about the struggle to find solace in love and religion peaked at No. 14 on the Hot 100 chart. The lyric “gets me to the church on time” is a nod to My Fair Lady.