Five tracks to remember the amazing artistry of David Bowie

Today marks five years since the world reeled in shock at the death of iconic musician and actor David Bowie.

Back in 2016 Bowie released his 25th album Blackstar on the 8th of January, his 69th birthday. Two days later the news broke that the singer had died from liver cancer having kept his condition private. His final record had been proclaimed one of his finest, but in the light of his passing it’s lyrics about mortality and life after death were viewed with greater meaning.

Between 1967 and 2016 Bowie was a permanent fixture on the cultural landscape creating 25 solo albums, one soundtrack record and two records as part of rock band Tin Machine. He also had a successful career as an actor appearing in everything from Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. On Broadway he delivered acclaimed performances in The Elephant Man. 

His career produced a avalanche of songs that are played often on mainstream radio including Absolute Beginners, Rebel Rebel, Fame, Changes, Let’s Dance, Blue Jean, China Girl, Space Oddity, Starman, The Jean Genie, Young Americans, Diamond Dogs, Sorrow, Golden Years, Suffragette City, Heroes, Under Pressure, Ashes to Ashes, and Modern Love.

But behind this epic list of hit singles is a wealth of lesser known songs and albums tracks that allow a listener a deep dive into a wide variety of musical styles and topics. Here’s some amazing Bowie songs to listen to on the anniversary of his death.

Bring Me the Disco King
Reality, 2003

Bowie first recorded this tune for his Black Tie White Noise album in 1993, originally it was a dance orientated song at 120 bpm, a comment of the disco craze of the 1970’s. The sing didn’t make the final cut for the album. A second version was recorded for Earthling, Bowie’s drum ‘n bass influenced record of 1997, but once again it didn’t make the final cut.    

When it finally got a release on 2003′ Reality it had been transformed into a brooding jazz influenced number.  A remixed version created by ex-Nine Inch Nails member Danny Loder was featured in the film Underworld. 

Where Are We Now
The Next Day, 2003

In 2002, while on tour promoting his Reality album, Bowie suffered a heart attack and for the next decade he didn’t release any albums. In 2003 he surprised his fans when on his 66th birthday a new track Where Are We Now appeared on iTunes. His album The Next Day had been secretly recorded with only a handful of close confidants knowing Bowie was back in the studio.

The song is a reflection on ageing and features one of the singer’s most tender vocals in his career. The song was a massive hit, heading to the top of the charts in many countries, but sadly not here in Australia where it was overlooked, it only reached number 78.

In 2021 Boy George released a cover of the song.

Lady Grinning Soul
Aladdin Sane, 1973

This song is the closing track on Bowie’s 1973 album, and is said to be inspired by the American soul singer Claudia Lennear, who Bowie met in 1972. With it’s soaring melodies, delicate vocal, romantic piano and muted rock n roll guitars, it is quite unlike anything Bowie had previously released.

Many people said the song sounded like a lost Bond theme. While the song was never a single, it’s been covered by many artists including Anna Calvi and Momus.

Look Back in Anger
Lodger, 1979

In the 1970’s Bowie recorded three albums in Berlin with Brian Eno. This song was released as the album’s lead single in America, where Bowie’s record company thought Boys Keep Swinging was too controversial with it’s clear theme of sexual androgyny. Clocking in at exactly three minutes in length it’s a thumping pop song about a message from an angel.

Bowie recorded the song a second time in 1988, this longer 7 min version is filled with a long rock intro and featured guitarist Reeves Gabrels. The recording is seen as a catalyst in Bowie deciding to form the band Tin Machine who released two albums.

All The Young Dudes
First recorded by Mott the Hoople, 1972

In 1972 Bowie worked with glam rock band Mott the Hoople. He offered them the song Suffragette City but they turned it down. Bowie would go on to have a major hit with his own recording of the song. For Mott the Hoople he quickly wrote another song All The Young Dudes. 

The song has been proclaimed as a hymn to youth, but Bowie said he considered it to be the complete opposite, a warning of impending apocalypse. Lou Reed said he thought the song was a gay anthem, a rally call for queer people to come out and show how beautiful they are.

Bowie recorded his own version of the song in 1972 for his Aladdin Sane album, but it remained unreleased until 1995. He did however perform the song live on many occasions, including at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Bowie used the music, but in reverse, as the basis of his track Move On which appeared on his Lodger album. 

Graeme Watson

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