David Bowie’s 30 best songs

Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Morrissey, Ricky Gervais and more choose their favourites…

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4 Starman
From The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (June 1972); released as a single, April 1972. Highest UK chart position: 10; Highest US chart position: 65
The last song to be recorded for Ziggy Stardust, supposedly because nobody heard a single on the album. The chorus octave-leap self-consciously apes “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”

WOODY WOODMANSEY (Spiders From Mars drummer): I first met David in 1969 at his place, Haddon Hall in Kent. Mick [Ronson] had been working with him for a few months. My only knowledge of him was “Space Oddity”, and a Hull festival flyer showing him with what looked like an afro hairstyle. So I met this guy wearing red cords, red slip-on shoes with a blue star painted on them, and a rainbow-striped T-shirt. His hair was long, so I didn’t immediately recognise him. We chatted about music. He even did a bit of mime. My impression was that this guy’s serious about making it, he’s already living it. For me the whole trip was a leap of faith. By Ziggy, we were all focused. We all lived in Haddon Hall. David was writing almost on a daily basis, He’d just started writing on the piano. I love “Starman” as it’s the concept of hope that the song communicates. That “we’re not alone” and “they” contact the kids, not the adults, and kind of say “get on with it”. “Let the children boogie”: music and rock’n’roll! It lifted the attention away from the depressing affairs in the ’70s, made the future look better. “Starman” was the first Bowie song since “Space Oddity” with mass appeal. After “Starman”, everything changed.



3 Fame
From Young Americans (March 1975); released as a single, July 1975. Highest UK chart position: 17; Highest US chart position: 1
Bowie meets Lennon in New York, and talk naturally turns to celebrity team-up – superbly soundtracked by Carlos Alomar’s irresistible guitar riff

DAVE GROHL: I’d like to pick one that not everyone else is going to pick. I love “Fame”, it’s fucking amazing. The drums, the vocals, the arrangement, the performance. That song is fucking slimy. I think it’s classic Bowie – the guitar tones just sound dirty, it sounds like a fucking garage band and could have been a Sub Pop single. There’s also“Hello Spaceboy”. We [Foo Fighters] played it with him at his 50th birthday party, at Madison Square Garden. Fuck man, the four of us onstage with his band – it was so fucking brutal. But for classic Bowie I’d have to say “Fame”.


2 Ziggy Stardust
From The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (June 1972); released as the B-side to “The Jean Genie”, April 1972
Supposedly inspired by a combination of Brit rocker Vince Taylor and C&W weirdo The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the first of Bowie’s many adventures in rock’n’roleplay


PETER BUCK, REM: I lived in a small town called Roswell, Georgia, which
is now pretty much part of Atlanta but back then was like the Moon. “Ziggy Stardust” was about as weird as anything that existed anywhere. I remember buying the LP and learning four or five of those songs. I loved “Ziggy” particularly – Mick Ronson’s guitar lines are just beautiful. As someone who was trying to figure out a way to be a guitar player, but who didn’t want to be a Southern rock boogie guitar player, it was nice to see a soloist playing something angular and forward looking, and not rooted in “Hoochie-Coochie Man”. Ronson was very much an influence – the pithiness and intelligence of his playing. He does a lot of single-note stuff that doesn’t sound like he’s soloing away – it’s very melodic and very smart guitar-playing.

Living where I did, when I did, there weren’t any glam people in my town. But I did see the New York Dolls when I was 15. Bowie wasn’t quite underground – some radio stations would play him – but it didn’t make you popular to like that stuff. It would call your sexuality into question. But there were about five of my friends who would put on a little makeup, or wear one black thumbnail. Getting beaten up by guys in pick-up trucks was always a threat but, you know, all those guys are selling insurance somewhere or working for fertiliser companies.


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