We enter the outer circle of top Bowie songs, as chosen by blog readers. If, like me, you were a sorta-Catholic kid who was weirdly fascinated by the hierarchy of angels (oh, you weren’t, eh?), you might say we’re in the Second Sphere, home of Powers, Virtues and Dominions.
Speaking of angels, the speaker in the first song of the Top 50 was one:
50. Look Back In Anger (73 points, 69 votes, 1 #1 vote).
If I’m going to take a solo, I’m going to take a rhythm guitar solo.
It’s a TIE for 49-48 (don’t worry! there aren’t many now): matrimony and blood.
Be My Wife (74 points, 70 votes, 1 #1 vote).
A mime sketch of a rock star making a rock video, yet too comically glum and sulky to go through the required hoops, and lacking the necessary gung-ho conviction…the character (because it isn’t really Bowie, it’s a fellow, a sad sack, a thin-lipped melancholic) makes to play his guitar and gives up halfway through the phrase. He just can’t be bothered.
Momus, on the promo video.
The Hearts Filthy Lesson (74 points, 66 votes, 2 #1 votes).
The filthy lesson in question is the fact that life is finite. That realization, when it comes, usually later in life, can either be a really daunting prospect or it makes things a lot clearer.
47. Oh! You Pretty Things (75 points, 71 votes, 1 #1 vote).
All the nightmares came today and it looks as though they’re here to stay.
46. Bring Me the Disco King (77 points, 65 votes, 3 #1 votes, one specified the “Loner” remix).
Once we’d put down the song against Garson tinkering away, it didn’t need any more. That was the song.
It’s a TIE for 45-44, with a drunk John Lennon or Chris Burden (RIP, both) drawing something awful on the carpet.
Joe the Lion! (78 points, 70 votes, 2 #1 votes).
Art doesn’t have a purpose. It’s a free spot in society, where you can do anything.
You slither down the greasy pipe—so far so good—no one SAW you
hobble over any FREEway
you will be like your DREEEEEEEEEEEEEAMS
Breaking Glass (78 points/votes).
He probably did that shit yesterday in somebody’s room! David’s writing some shit about life here!
Dennis Davis, recalling hearing Bowie’s vocal for the first time.
43. Fantastic Voyage (79 points, 71 votes, 2 #1 votes).
The recurrent “learning to live with somebody’s depression” motif that forms the song’s chorus reminds us that we all get whacked out when we’re depressed, but that the chief of a nuclear nation can get whacked out, too, and then we’re all in trouble.
Charles Shaar Murray and Roy Carr.
42. TVC 15 (80 points, 76 votes, 1 #1 vote).
Despite its quadraphonic sound and hologramic televisions, “TVC 15” was at heart a Fifties teenage death ballad, like “Teen Angel,” “Endless Sleep” or “Last Kiss,” where the singer recalls how his girl perished and wonders whether to join her in death.
Rebel Rebel (still available for Christmas gifting).
Anybody who can merge Lou Reed, disco and Huey Smith — the best I can do with the irresistible ‘TVC 15’— deserves to keep doing it for 5:29.
Onward. Though I admit I’ll never love this song, over the years I’ve come to respect it, and how much it means to a lot of people. I’m glad it’s here…
41. Time (81 points, 73 votes, 2 #1 votes).
I’ve written a new song on the new album which is just called “Time,” and I thought it was about time, and I wrote very heavily about time, and the way I felt about time—at times!—and I played it back after we recorded it and, my God, it was a gay song!
40. Fame (82 points, 78 votes, 1 #1 vote, one specified for the “Fame 90” remix).
When ‘Fame’ came out, that was the first time Bowie had bridged going to AM–he was always FM.
The fucking price of fame. Somebody had made a transfusion of the wrong blood type into Yoko. I was there when it happened, and she starts to go rigid, and then shake, from the pain and the trauma. I run up to this nurse and say, ‘Go get the doctor!’ I’m holding on tight to Yoko while this guy gets to the hospital room. He walks in, hardly notices that Yoko is going through fucking convulsions, goes straight for me, smiles, shakes my hand and says, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you, Mr. Lennon, I always enjoyed your music.’ I start screaming: ‘My wife’s dying and you wanna talk about my music!’ Christ!
John Lennon, 1980.
39. Modern Love (85 points/votes).
I’ve left behind “Ziggy Stardust” in favor of “Modern Love,” though the endless “ah-dern-LOW-OH-OVE” vamping at the end of the latter gets exhausting.
Rob Sheffield, on his Bowie karaoke picks.
38. Fashion (88 points, 84 votes, 1 #1 vote).
[The disco scene] seems now to be replaced by an insidious grim determination to be fashionable, as though it’s actually a vocation. There’s some kind of strange aura about it.
When I started this blog in 2009, I didn’t know the next song—I’d heard the album a few times but the track had left no impression on me. But when I got to it in due course, I was stunned: why did no one talk about how great it was? So I tried to make the case for its brilliance in the blog entry, and I hope, in some way, that I helped its standing here:
37. Win (89 points, 81 votes, 2 #1 votes.)
I would listen to the album in my room and when ‘Win’ came on I would feel as though I was swimming in my fish tank.
Commenter “Red Fields,” 2013.
A mild, precautionary sort of morality song.
36. Absolute Beginners (90 points/votes).
When Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were producing the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, heard Bowie’s studio demo of “Beginners,” they were flummoxed, as they had no idea how to improve it. “We’ve been handed this one on a plate,” Langer recalled saying in the elevator afterwards.
When I started going through the ballots, I was wondering what the post-“retirement” consensus pick would be. Pretty soon, it was obvious…
35. Where Are We Now? (93 points, 89 votes, 1 #1 vote).
It did make me cry. It’s what the song is about. I totally identify with what he has done. I know exactly how he feels. It’s like a lament.
34. Suffragette City (95 points, 83 votes, 2 #1 votes).
“Suffragette City” is just so cool.
I remember very clearly the physical reaction I felt listening to “Suffragette City” [for the first time]. The sheer bodily excitement of that noise was too much to bear. I guess it sounded like…sex. Not that I knew what sex was.
And it’s a straight run from Suffragette City across the plains to..
33. Warszawa (96 points, 92 votes, 1 #1 vote).
You may also say that Bowie immortalized a certain image of the city, his inner Warsaw. I thought it always one of the most solemn, uncanny Bowie songs, and a proper homage to my city, which is until this day quite sinister.
Agata Pyzik (who’s now writing a 33 1/3 book on Japan’s Tin Drum).
It’s time for a TIE for 32 and 31 (hey, it’s been a while). Possibly the oddest cohabitation of the survey, but both songs are about transcendence, in a way.
Let’s Dance (97 points, 89 votes, 2 #1 votes, 1 vote specifying the single edit).
When David and I were doing tons and tons of pre-promotion on the album that would become “Let’s Dance”, after we did all this research, David summed what this album was going to be, by a picture he found of Little Richard getting into a Cadillac. Little Richard was getting into his red drop-top Cadillac with his ‘do’ like that (leans forward) and he had a red suit, red Cadillac, bam, had the pomp, and David held it up and said: “(English accent) Nile, that’s rock ‘n’ roll.”
Word On a Wing (97 points, 81 votes, 4 #1 votes).
In times of spiritual crisis, when the very self is being swept away, the Higher Self comes to the rescue, terrible as an army with banners. [If successful, one has a sense of calm] like a ship hove-to, securely riding out the storm.
Well, so much for the epic ‘Station to Station’ ballads…but wait?
30. Wild Is The Wind (99 points, 87 votes, 3 #1 votes).
“Romance is coming back, Warren,” I said.
“You know what’s coming back?” Warren said. “Everything. And then it’s going away for good.”
George W.S. Trow.
I recorded it as a homage to Nina [Simone]…Her performance of this song really affected me.
29. Strangers When We Meet (101 points, 85 votes, 4 #1 votes, 12 votes specified the Outside version, 2 the Buddha of Suburbia one).
The only time his cut-up lyrics moved me, thanks to that gorgeous vocal. All the stresses fall on unexpected places.
28. Quicksand (102 points, 98 votes, 1 #1 vote, 1 vote specified the 1971 demo).
My knowledge had to be the only important knowledge. I wouldn’t own up to the fact I didn’t know it all.
Brett Anderson: You mention [Aleister Crowley] in ‘Quicksand.’
Bowie: Well that was before I tried reading him. Hahaha! That’s when I had his biography in my raincoat so the title showed. That was reading on the tube.
NME interview, 1993.
Well, he had to show up at some point: all hail the leper messiah. And the last song in this list to have reached its position solely by strength of numbers, no #1 votes:
27. Ziggy Stardust (103 points/votes).
Later, Dave [Marsh] and I talked about Bowie. What was it that was missing? ‘Innocence,’ Dave suggested. But maybe it’s just that unlike Lou Reed (who will never be a star here, either) or Iggy (who just might), Bowie doesn’t seem quite real. Real to me, that is—which in rock-and-roll is the only fantasy that counts.
Ellen Willis, 1972.
As David Bowie appears, the child dies. The vision is profound—a sanity heralding the coming of consciousness from someone who—at last!—transcends our gloomy coal-fire existence. David Bowie is detached from everything, yet open to everything; stripped of the notion that both art and life are impossible. He is quite real, impossibly glamorous, fearless, and quite British. How could this possibly be?
And a fitting end just before the Top 25. Turn and face the strange..
26. Changes (104 points, 100 votes, 1#1 vote).
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it!
Next: The Top 25 Bowie Songs.