Recently on Facebook, several of my friends celebrated David Bowie’s birthday (January 8) by posting dozens of his wonderful songs, from lyrics to videos. “Rebel Rebel,” “Lady Stardust,” “Modern Love,” “I’m Afraid of Americans”…they were all there, and it was good. For David Bowie fans. For me. But actually, everyday is a good day when you’re a David Bowie fan. I mean, just having his music in my hands (via iPod), is ever so satisfying. (And I’m hardly done collecting his works.) Like almost every young girl who saw Labyrinth in the mid 1980s, I crushed hard on Bowie as Jareth…the hair, the eyes, the music. [sigh ♥ sigh] As popular radio filtered into my life, so to did his songs, many of which were (granted, overplayed) Top 40 hits. As I gravitated towards classic rock later in life, his songs were there too: Ziggy Stardust, his works from Berlin, his turn as the Thin White Duke. And then, the summer before I started college, I took an odd job painting decorative clocks. It was a home business run by a nice woman who lived on a very rural horse farm with her three little dogs. I worked in a room next to her main studio and was allowed to listen to music, including her collection of CDs, among which were a number of David Bowie albums, many of which were new to me. And oh my god, did I listen. And I became utterly and forever affected by Bowie’s ever-changing persona and sound.
On my iPod, I have six playlists dedicated solely to bands or artists, and David Bowie is one of the six. Though I still have a long way to go in garnering his full catalog, I can’t get enough of what I’ve collected so far. I listen to his playlist at least a couple times a month. No matter how awful I feel, or even how happy I feel, his music never fails to lifts my spirits to their fullest. Of all the songs on that small playlist, here are five that have been in the heaviest rotation. Happy Birthday, Mr Bowie, wherever you are.
“Life on Mars?” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
One of the best songs Bowie has to offer, this pre-Ziggy Stardust tune floats between the real and the surreal. The first time I heard it was the only time I’ve ever heard it on the radio. During my sophomore winter break, I happened to catch a Bowie birthday celebration on the radio in the car while I was driving to the mall. “Life on Mars?” began playing as I parked the car. And then I sat there, listening. It engulfed me, and it made me head directly to the Sam Goody store in the mall to find that song. I didn’t that day, but the song remained.
“Soul Love” (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
If I could only listen to one David Bowie album, or, hell, just one single album for the rest of my life, it’d be The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Every song on it is a masterpiece in sound; and it’s crafted in a way that’s simply brilliant. It ebbs and flows with thought and meaning as much as it does with joy and silliness. “Soul Love” contains my all-time favorite song lyrics: “Inspirations have I none; just to touch the flaming dove. All I have is my love of love, and love is not loving.” And it builds to that climax with such craft and care.
“Aladdin Sane” (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
“Aladdin Sane’ is a fascinating song. It’s so slithery and seductive, and dissonant. The lyrics are short and sad about “a lad insane” as he heads off to war (perhaps wearing rose-tinted glasses), but it’s the music itself, that piano, that captivates. And Bowie wonderful plays off the remnants of Ziggy Stardust in playing the role of Aladdin Sane. And while this song stands out, the whole album is a real treat with hits like “Watch that Man” and “Cracked Actor.” Love it so!
“Boys Keep Swinging” (Lodger, 1979)
Among all those Bowie albums I listened to years ago while painting clocks, I don’t recall Lodger among them. And despite my best efforts to listen to Bowie’s back catalog over the years, this album somehow escaped me, until just a few years ago. I caught this song through a Facebook posting, felt kind of silly for not knowing what it was, and immediately went out searching for its home. It’s a terribly catchy song that I love for it’s sarcasm, sincerity, and sexism. Only Bowie knows what the song really mean, and it means different things to me depending on the mood I’m in when I hear it.
“As The World Falls Down” (Labyrinth soundtrack, 1986)
You’re not going to find a ton of mushy love songs on my iPod, save for the occasionally melody that’s just too good to pass up. “As the World Fall Down” is one of those songs, never mind that I adore the whole Labyrinth soundtrack to the nines. I’ll certainly admit that part of the song’s appeal is the scene that accompanies it in the movie. It’s all too dreamy as the young Sarah, in her flouncy ball gown, gets swept up in Jareth’s glittery gaze as they sweetly waltz. Sure, eventually things get creepy and Sarah breaks free from the trance, but still. All the girls, myself included, wanted nothing more than to be Sarah in that moment.