With the death of Bowie came the rapid re-examination of his back catalogue. Thankfully, we’re here to help you with 9 carefully picked selections from his 50-year career to get you on your way to understanding the Starman a little bit better.
Even at the end, Bowie was no stranger to delving into his soul to search for material and ‘Blackstar’ offcut ‘No Plan’ is no example of that. Melancholy personified, with Bowie singing “All the things that are my life / my moods / my beliefs / my desires / me alone / nothing to regret / this is no place, but here I am”, and facing up to his forthcoming death.
Word On A Wing
From 1976’s ‘Station To Station’ – an album of which Bowie had very little memory of recording due to his cocaine addiction – ‘Word On A Wing’ sees Bowie struggle with his place in the universe and religion. It’s painfully overlooked – which isn’t a surprise when you consider the sheer quality of his output around this time – but deserves its place at the very top in Bowie’s discography.
God Bless The Girl
Originally appearing as a Japanese bonus track on 2013’s ‘The Next Day’ before getting a worldwide release on a deluxe edition. Telling the story of Jacqui who was “aiming for the stars but landed on the clouds”, it’s simplistic straightforward storytelling – something Bowie had a penchant for. The chorus particularly is some wonderful lyrical playing from Bowie, “The wonder turns to danger, spring turns to winter / god bless the girl / but I will treasure, treasure every single moment / god bless the girl / fire turns to water, light becomes darkness / god bless the girl / and I don’t wanna hurt you, just wanna have some fun” backed with a choir with a sprinkle of piano on top of everything else – it’s just brilliant.
‘My Death’ is actually a cover of a French song translated into English. Performed mostly on the Ziggy Stardust tour with just Bowie and his acoustic guitar (along with some atmospheric piano from Mike Garson) he gets the opportunity to show off the depth of the emotional charge in his voice and it’s just wonderfully haunting.
Who Can I Be Now?
Originally recorded in 1974, the gorgeous saxophone intro sets the tone for what is Bowie soliloquising about where he can go next and who he can be. Its grandiose production shows off Bowie’s songwriting at its very best in his soul moment. It only beggars belief that it didn’t make the cut for ‘Young Americans’.
Loving The Alien
Bowie never shied away from rearranging or rejigging his songs long after they’d been recorded and released – even ‘Rebel Rebel’ received a new version as a bonus track on 2003’s ‘Reality’ – but 1984’s ‘Loving The Alien’ was rearranged to just Bowie’s vocal & a guitar on ‘A Reality Tour’ in 2003 which even he remarked as perhaps “the way it should have always been done.” Ignore the original version, it is the 2003 version – which can be found on the live album of that tour – this is the definitive version.
As The World Falls Down
Part of the soundtrack for ‘Labyrinth’ (in which Bowie took an iconic bow as Jareth the Goblin King), it’s easily his most beautiful composition. It’s almost indescribable quality is timeless – it’s simple, the lyrics are wonderful (particularly “I’ll paint you mornings of gold / I’ll spin you Valentine evenings”) and quite frankly, it is an outrage that the song isn’t readily available.
Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing (Reprise)
Technically, on its original release on 1974’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ it was 3 songs that flowed. This was changed with the 2008 compilation ‘iSelect’ in which it was combined into 1. It’s grandiose glam excess is unparalleled in Bowie’s career along with “Will you see that I’m scared and I’m lonely?” delivered with such emotion that it hits the listener directly in the gut with all the pain that loneliness can bring.
Released on 1980’s ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, Teenage Wildlife sees Bowie taking a shot at those who he considered had copied him. The guitar parts from Robert Fripp & Chuck Hammer are just sheer musical brilliance, whilst the lyric “As ugly as a teenage millionaire pretending it’s a whizz kid world” is just absolutely majestic. This is arguably Bowie’s greatest singular piece of work, and it’s not hard to see why. Clocking in at 6:56, the listener goes on a journey through Bowie’s voice accompanied by the magnificent winding music and it’s just absolutely astonishingly heartbreakingly incredible.
So there you have it. Get listening.