When someone dies, they may no longer be with you, but they never leave you. In the case of David Bowie, we’ve truly been blessed with nearly 50 years of fantastic art that has painted the textures of entire generations of lives. There are so many reasons to enjoy his work: his fantastic songwriting and personas, his impeccable style, his incredible humor, his warm, yet gruff vocals — all of it brought so much joy.
This isn’t the list of David Bowie’s greatest works or the definitive ranking of his best. These are just the songs that we love by someone who we cared for very much. Here are Uproxx Music’s Favorite David Bowie songs.
“Dancing in the Street” From Dancing in the Street
There are two things I love most when it comes to music: (1) Unorthodox duets, and (2) covers of classic tunes that make the originals their own without changing too much. David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s 1985 recording of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” for Live Aid hits both of these spots right on the mark.
Sure, the bass line is a little louder and the lead is split between two singers, but the backup vocals, horns and basic beat are all the same. However, let’s be honest. Musical highlights aside, the best thing about this song is the music video, which Bower and Jagger shot immediately after recording a rough mix of the track. Why’s it so good? Because it features two men sporting ‘80s fashion while dancing in and around an abandoned building. There’s even a gratuitous ass-wiggling shot. Pure, unadulterated gold.
-Andrew Husband (@AndrewHusband)
“Changes” From Hunky Dory
I discovered a lot of music while in high school, hanging out in the basement of my buddy Dave’s house. And while we listened to a lot of Nirvana, we took the time to do some homework and to learn about “classic rock.” So on a Saturday Dave suggested we check out Bowie. “Changes” was the first Bowie song I heard that stuck with me.
“Ziggy Stardust” was cool and all, but me, I’m a “ch-ch-changes” kind of guy. I mean, I’m a sucker for horns, so that helped. But the song is so damn catchy and it’s wonderful to sing-along with too. Fast forward 20 years later and if “Changes” comes on, I turn it up and start singing. When I heard Bowie had died, it was the first song I wanted to listen to.
-Ryan O’Connell (@rynofrommaine)
“Starman” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Whenever I think of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust this is the first song that comes to mind. Easily one of the major standout songs from one of the best albums of all time. If you know someone who isn’t into Bowie’s music than play them this song, it’ll turn any non-Bowie fan into a fan for life.
For such a simple song there is so much going on and with so many layers, from the acoustic guitar opening to the grand sing along ending. This song holds a special place in my heart because it was the song that turned me into a Bowie fan. The first time I heard it I was in middle school and I became hooked almost instantly.
-James Sullivan (@sully1289)
“Golden Years” from Station To Station
Revoke my music-critic pass if you want, but I really wasn’t a fan of David Bowie growing up. I didn’t see Labyrinth as a kid and his weirdness didn’t seem all that strange with my ears enveloped in the sounds of his acolytes. My age allowed my to ignore the massive ship carving its way through music that was Bowie for all the current musicians surfing in his wake. I’d sing along to the chorus of “Changes” if my dad threw on his Greatest Hits collection, but — compared to most people I hung around with — I stood at the altar of Bowie with knees pointedly unbent.
Then I heard “Golden Years,” a song that was so much funkier than the Bowie I’d been fed. Here was a capital-M Musician making tracks that didn’t sound like they were prioritizing style for substance with otherwise basic sounds. It forced me to do a deep dive and re-evaluate the Thin White Duke’s discography, and I’m so glad for it. For every “Space Oddity” (which I find boring), there’s something that grooves on or near the level of “Golden Years.” Not my fault that the radio ignores it.
“Modern Love” from Let’s Dance
The ‘80s are still fighting an uphill battle in terms of salvaging its reputation as a music making decade. By the time Bowie released Let’s Dance, it was his 15th album. He was already a seminal figure in music history, a man who had made decidedly inventive, and strange, decisions that helped reshape what popular music was.
Let’s Dance is not as exotic or unusual as other albums; It’s a quintessentially ‘80s album and “Modern Love” is a tremendously ‘80s song. It’s also proof that isn’t a bad thing. It’s a fantastic, high-energy explosion of pop magic. Over a decade into his career, Bowie hit his creative peak, and he did it with an ‘80s pop song.
-Chris Morgan (@ChrisXMorgan)
“Warszawa” from Low
David Bowie is one of my favorite singers. Just the weekend, before the news hit, I was listening to “Modern Love” and “Under Pressure” and thinking about how extraordinarily gifted he was simply as a vocalist. But one of my favorite Bowie songs is one in which we barely hear his voice at all until the end. And when we do, it’s reciting syllables that have no meaning, but suggest a lot.
“Warszawa” is the finest track on the mostly instrumental second side of Bowie’s 1977 album Low. The first of several made with Brian Eno in the “Berlin” period, after the city where Bowie relocated after bottoming out in cocaine-filled Los Angeles, it follows the upbeat “A New Career In A New Town” and, though more ominous, similarly evokes the discovery of a new world and a new way of living. In that, it’s as quintessentially Bowie as anything he recorded. Opening up new worlds is what he did.
-Keith Phipps (@kphipps3000)
“Rebel Rebel” from Diamond Dogs
The final song recorded in his signature glam-rock style, Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” from Diamond Dogs was an energetic, passionate kiss goodbye to the flamboyant musical movement that he had pioneered before moving into more American-inspired funk and soul.
Easily one of his most recognizable (and most danceable) hits, “Rebel Rebel” delivers playful but provocative lyrics and a sense of comfort — it’s OK to be weird. It shows love for the nonconformists, “hot messes,” those who raise their mothers’ concerns, those who defy traditional gender roles, and all those who — like Bowie himself — will forever explore and expand their own identities (while having a great, glittery time).
-Sarah Ravits (@ravlove)
“Kooks” from Hunky Dory
Bowie wrote this song for his newborn son, Duncan, who is now an incredible artist in his own right (his film Moon is one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen). It is not one of his weirder or most important tracks, but it is beautiful and sweet and loving.
I have a personal memory of driving to an apple orchard with someone I love and playing this song to her for the first time. It is the soundtrack to pure, optimistic love, and the theme of one of the happiest memories I have. Bowie will remain special to me in a lot of ways, but this is the most personal connection I have to him, and the song I started singing to that same loved one when we found out he died.
-Matt Rothstein (@mattrothstein)
“Rock n’ Roll Suicide” From The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Technically this isn’t my favorite Bowie song, but it’s the song I turned to this morning when I woke to the news, and it’s the song I can’t stop playing over and over. One of the most amazing things about David Bowie is that, for all of the different versions of himself he gave to us, there’s always one that came to us just at the right time. I first heard “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” as a lonely depressed teen, and like every other lonely, depressed teen before me listening to Ziggy Stardust for the first time, hearing Bowie defiantly wail “you’re not alone!” was like a searing gut punch. I was shook. I had never heard someone say those words like they meant it, and more importantly, say those words in a way I could really believe.
On Monday, I got a message from my mom, sadly reminiscing about how we used to dance together to songs from Let’s Dance, complete with little red show emojis, because, you know, moms. A friend reported that people were openly crying together about his death on the streetcar. David Bowie is the common thread that links so many of us in such simple, beautiful ways. This song makes me cry every time for all of those great, clichéd teen angst reasons, but today is different. Today, we’re all turning on with each other. David Bowie, at his end, is still making sure we know we’re not alone. And that’s wonderful.
-Danielle Matheson (@prograpslady)
“The Man Who Sold The World” From The Man Who Sold The World
It’s easy to pick this song out for its uses in pop culture like in Metal Gear Solid V and Kurt Cobain’s famous cover version from MTV Unplugged. But the true reason “The Man Who Sold The World” makes this list for me is how relatable it is to the common listener. We all have those versions of our person that exist in reality and in the mind. The person in the mirror that we desperately want to be and an equally distorted version that we think is reality. Bowie explains it well during the 1997 BBC interview ChangesNowBowie:
I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there’s some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young… there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.
It’s a nice look at how Bowie’s career played out, how one’s own life molds and shapes their personality, and just the tug of war one can have with themselves. The voices of doubt, the self-consciousness, and the final decision to either go along or rebel against it. It isn’t the best song in Bowie’s catalogue, but it is one that stands out on that personal level.
-Andrew Roberts (@andrewroberts)
“Fame” from Young Americans
I love “Fame” for many reasons: The confident, sexy strut of the instrumentation, David Bowie’s poignant description of fame and its ills, and the fact that it’ll always remind me of my grandmother. “Fame” is one of her favorite Bowie songs and it’s through her that I gained an interest in his artistry.
“Every Bowie album is different from each other, but no matter what he always had soul,” my grandmother told me as we talked about his death. There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to Bowie’s catalog: rich in its diversity, offering a Bowie that’s simultaneously different yet the same.
But “Fame” is such a catchy song. The contrast between what Bowie is singing about and the actual music, seems to emphasize the allure of fame and how one doesn’t come to realize how problematic it is until they’re too deep to get out.
-Elijah Watson (@elijahcwatson)
“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” From Bowie: The Singles
The meeting of glam, gender-bender superstar David Bowie and America’s crooning grandpa Bing Crosby is on the face of what makes this song notable, but truthfully, it contains one of Bowie’s most stripped-down and beautiful performances. Knowing he absolutely didn’t want to sing “Little Drummer Boy,” Bowie and a few other songwriters decided to pen “Peace On Earth” to accompany the classic Christmas Carol, and it’s stuck around nearly 40 years.
At the purest center of Bowie’s entire catalog, there’s a spirit of individuality and self-love; no matter who you are, from the bizarre to the boring. There’s an idea that him singing with Bing over a piano in a decorated cabin is odd, and on its surface it may be, but pay closer attention. Maybe for a moment, this wasn’t the Rock God David Bowie we’ve all come to know and love, but it was David Jones, singing a song for his family. (He later said that he accepted the invite for the duet only because his mother loved Bing so much.)
There’s something so calming about him very plainly, in his signature warble, longing for the day that we all will love one another.
“Peace on Earth/ Can it be?” I truly hope so.