11 Essential David Bowie Songs

4 minute read

The world lost an icon when David Bowie passed away after a long battle with cancer, just four days after releasing his 25th studio album, Blackstar.

From the very start of his career in London in the late 1960s, Bowie was a groundbreaking figure in the world of music, fashion and art. His career spanned over forty years, producing an incredible number of wildly influential songs and stage persona.

To mark his passing, here’s a look back at some of Bowie’s most essential tracks, a fitting memorial to one of the world’s most influential musicians.

Read next: The 10 Best David Bowie Music Videos

“Space Oddity” (1969)

Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the song follows the unfortunate fate of Major Tom, an astronaut lost and drifting in space. Bowie’s breakout track became a hit in 1969, the year of the first Moon landing. It’s compelling and heartbreaking, putting a horrifying Ray Bradbury story line to a haunting melody.

“The Man Who Sold The World” (1970)

While younger fans may know the song thanks to Kurt Cobain’s haunting cover on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special, Bowie’s rendition was equally memorable, full of beautiful heartache, longing, and regret.

“Life on Mars?” (1971)

This song highlights Bowie’s multi-faceted talent, as he sings over a simple piano tune before the track builds with the help of a soaring string section. The song helped redefine rock in the 1970s and put Bowie firmly on the path to super-stardom.


“Changes” (1971)

Bowie was already famous in the U.K., but it wasn’t until “Changes” that he made an appearance on the U.S. charts in April 1972. He would eventually earn 25 entries on Billboard, including two No. 1 hits, “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”

“Ziggy Stardust” (1972)

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a complex and perfectly executed concept album that not only introduced one of Bowie’s best and most indelible characters, Ziggy Stardust, but also brought songs like “Suffragette City” and “Rock and Roll Suicide” to the world.

“The Jean Genie” (1973)

After a worldwide tour as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was re-born as Aladdin Sane with “The Jean Genie” (originally released in 1972) as the lead single, introducing fans to the Iggy Pop-inspired character. The song has gone on to be one of Bowie’s most beloved hits.

“Fame” (1975)

Bowie was never beholden to one genre or style of music, instead easily slipping through electronic, pop, and rock before eventually landing on “plastic soul” with his 1975 album, Young Americans. As with the other styles, Bowie made it his own mixing funk and American soul music with a Brit pop aesthetic. The song “Fame” was co-written with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, who knew something about fame.


“Heroes” (1977)

Bowie reportedly wrote this song after seeing a couple rendezvousing under the Berlin Wall and imagining their story. In the hands of Bowie and producer Brian Eno, the song is an impassioned plea, resulting in an aching and human love story.

“Modern Love” (1983)

Co-produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and featuring Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar, “Modern Love” off of 1983’s Let’s Dance showed Bowie once again changing with the times, a move–and a song—that subsequently introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.

“The Next Day” (2013)

By 2013, it was widely assumed that Bowie was retired from the music industry. Always one to defy expectations, he surprised fans by releasing his 24th studio album, The Next Day, on his 66th birthday. It revealed that Bowie was as creative and contemplative as ever, and the album became his first number one in the U.K. in 20 years.

“Lazarus” (2016)

Released on his 69th birthday—and just a few days before his death—this visceral track and accompanying video featuring Bowie blindfolded on a hospital bed was already a haunting tune, made even more so in the wake of his passing. The fact that he was creating music and releasing videos while battling cancer is emblematic of Bowie’s dedication to his art.

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