David Bowie’s 13 Most Iconic Music Moments
News broke at 2:45 a.m. that fashion, art, and music icon David Bowie has died. The star was surrounded by his family when he lost an 18-month battle with cancer.
Bowie started breaking down barriers in the 70s when he burst on the scene, introducing his gender-fluid alter ego Ziggy Stardust. No one had seen anything like him before. Perhaps fellow icon Madonna put it best: “Talented . Unique. Genius. Game Changer. The Man who Fell to Earth. Your Spirit Lives on Forever!”
Bowie was creating music until the bitter end — he just released a new album, called Blackstar, on Friday. With that in mind, it’s only appropriate to pay tribute to this ingenious pop culture icon by looking back at his musical contributions.
Here are 13 of David Bowie’s most important and iconic singles.
1. “Space Oddity,” 1969
It’s hard to imagine that Bowie was forward-thinking enough to sport a fluorescent mullet in the 60s while everyone else still thought the hippie look was the freshest of the fresh. But he really was that ahead of his time. “Space Oddity” was his first U.S. hit and put him on the map — not only as a musician, but as a gender-bending artist to watch.
2. “Changes,” 1972
This insanely catchy track “started out as a parody of a nightclub song, a kind of throwaway,” Bowie once said, and grew into one of his most requested songs. You might remember it from staring out the window of a moving car while trying to get over a breakup, your parents’ divorce, or any other massive shift in your life. It was also the last song he performed before retiring from live shows in 2006.
3. “Starman,” 1972
In this song, Bowie is inhabiting his famous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous rock star who brings messages from aliens to the earth. This was Bowie’s biggest commercial hit since “Space Oddity,” proving the extraterrestrial theme worked for him.
4. “The Jean Genie,” 1972
Sexy and sleazy, “The Jean Genie” was inspired by Iggy Pop as well as Andy Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe, according to Entertainment Weekly. It was the first single from Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” album and also his first single to show R&B influence.
5. “Life on Mars,” 1973
The BBC described this song as sounding “like a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dalí painting” on its Top 100 songs of all time. Bowie said it was a love song and it’s believed it was based on his affair with actress Hermione Farthingale. They’d been in several bands together, and Bowie said their breakup “demolished” him. She inspired “Space Oddity,” as well as the songs Letter to Hermione, An Occasional Dream and Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, according to A Young Vintage Wholigan.
6. “Rebel Rebel,” 1974
“Rebel Rebel” marked a harder, more rock-driven approach to Bowie’s music and probably has his most recognizable guitar riff. Bowie reportedly once said, “It’s a fabulous riff! Just fabulous! When I stumbled onto it, it was ‘Oh, thank you!'”
7. “Fame,” 1975
This funkier-sounding track proves Bowie was musing on the pros and cons of fame waaaay before Lady Gaga and every other pop star would. It’s also responsible for one of the coolest Soul Train performances of all time.
8. “Golden Years,” 1975
Have you ever heard a song quite as exquisitely weird as this one, before or since?
9. “Suffragette City,” 1976
Because it’s responsible for the phrase “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.”
10. “Fashion,” 1980
It’s tough to imagine a time when the fashion world wasn’t an accessible part of pop culture. But like androgyny, the concept of paying attention to the fashion world even if it was out of your financial reach was something Bowie introduced to the general public as early as 1980.
11. “Under Pressure,” 1981
We all know this song but did you know Bowie and Queen allegedly wrote it as a response to conservative British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s restrictive social policies? Really gives new meaning to the lyrics and might make you feel bad for assuming it was about, like, studying for exams.
12. “Dancing in the Street,” 1985
Okay, this isn’t exactly Bowie’s most iconic release — but have you seen the video with Mick Jagger? Feast your eyes immediately:
13. “Lazarus,” 2015
Nobody knew Bowie was fighting for his life when he released this song last month, but it will go down in history as one of the most poignant pop swan songs:
“Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?”
Photos via Tumblr.