Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Morrissey, Ricky Gervais and more choose their favourites…
6 Ashes To Ashes
From Scary Monsters (September 1980); released as a single, August 1980. Highest UK chart position: 1
Bowie’s second No 1: an audaciously self-referential junkie confessional, matched with a sublime video, perfectly timed to catch the New Romantic wave
ROBERT DEL NAJA (Massive Attack): I was 16 when it came out, just left school. I was sniffing too much glue, messing around with chemicals. Growing up with Bowie as a kid, with the references in the song, I bound them into this idea of addiction, and personality development, and change. As well as being a beautiful pop song, it dealt with those issues in an accessible way. The sense of impending change and doom was interesting to a boy of my age. Major Tom’s so strung out he’s in outer space. I was going through a time where I’d lost my grip. That line, “My mother said, to get things done, you’d better not mess with Major Tom” was really resonant for me. That record was an echo of what was going on inside my head, questions I couldn’t answer.
“Ashes to Ashes” sounds so distinct. It’s got a strange start-stop quality, there’s something very beautiful about the way it rolls. Although it’s electronic construction, with its synths, it’s still one of the great songs of that time which managed to convey absolute human spirit. You were totally captivated by the song and the voice.
5 Space Oddity
First released as a single, July 1969; re-issued September 1975. Highest UK chart positions: 1
His first hit, rush-released to cash-in on the Apollo 11 moon landing, this snapshot of cosmic alienation was also – six years later – Bowie’s first UK No 1
SUFJAN STEVENS: It’s so beautiful, bizarre and otherworldly. It’s everything that Bowie does in one song: there’s humour, a political thrust, great guitar sounds and beautiful melodies. The countdown especially gives it a childlike feel. It’s got that comic-book quality, similar to what The Beatles achieved with “Yellow Submarine”, and yet it’s vast and psychedelic like a Pink Floyd song. Bowie sings it like an alien.
I suppose “Space Oddity” is the song on which he started to explore the idea of becoming a character, as followed through later on Ziggy Stardust. I first remember seeing Bowie doing “Let’s Dance” on MTV in the ’80s. Then I saw the film Labyrinth – I loved that when I was a kid. Bowie was so odd, so magical, and… I don’t know… sexually ambiguous. And that’s a very strange impression to take away as a kid! His art is so multi-faceted. He has many faces. I mean, even his eyes are two different shades.