In my business, death is a headline. It causes us to shed our feelings and get to work. I’ve done it countless times, and tried to do it when David Bowie died. It almost worked. But I was, and am, a fan. As a teenager, Bowie was a cultural touchstone. I remained a lifelong admirer.
Bowie died overnight prior to the first day of the 2016 Georgia General Assembly. As I covered the legislature that day, I scratched out a remembrance on 11alive.com; the exercise kept me distracted as I recalled specific instances in which Bowie performances kinda blew my mind.
The distraction was week-long, probably because my lovely wife, Mrs. LAF, has been somewhat obsessed with Bowie for much of her life. As a child, she had a parakeet named Bowie. When I went to tell her the news at dawn Monday, she was in the shower, crying, because she already knew.
The week has given me cause to contemplate some of what I would consider to be the sublime moments in Bowie’s music catalog. In abbreviated form, here are 12 of them. The list is, admittedly, woefully incomplete. You are welcome to chime in.
The Bewlay Brothers. The haunted “lay me place and bake me pie, I’m starving for me gravy” chant is a biting end to a slow and lovely song.
Queen Bitch. Mick Ronson’s buzzing electric guitar fuels the Velvets-style riff that ignites the song and becomes Bowie’s signature sound for his next record, Ziggy Stardust.
Moonage Daydream. Ronson’s beeping, outer-space guitar solo at the end of the song does so much with so few notes. Heard in the right circumstance, it can bring a tear to the eye.
Hang on to Yourself / Arnold Corns version. The prototype of the punk anthem on Ziggy that started off with an unlikely slide guitar and an indifferent yet fetching vocal. It’s a country demo that pairs compellingly with its better-known rock twin.
See Emily Play. The early Pink Floyd cover on Pinups is arguably the best of many raucous covers on Bowie’s most fun record. The chanting vocals in the refrain, plus the playful psychedelic interplay among the drums, piano and fiddles make this song one of Bowie’s career highlights.
Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing Reprise. In Diamond Dogs, the singer is at the height of his Bowie vocal powers. In this song, his range is so stunning that he never (to my knowledge) tried to replicate it in concert nor on any subsequent album.
Young Americans. The title track is a vocal and songwriting tour-de-force, sufficient to make me overlook my disdain for the alto saxophone.
Right. A song from Young Americans whose call-and-response vocals with a bank of background singers (including Luther Vandross) is multilayered and mind-boggling.
Heroes. Robert Fripp’s feedback guitar racket never gets old on the lovely title track. But the record has other gems. “Someone fetch a priest!” is a subversive lyrical throwaway in the raucous Beauty and the Beast. Not to mention …
The Secret Life of Arabia. The song starts gently with Carlos Alomar’s jangly rhythm guitar, then slams into Bowie’s most listenable dance song (and my personal anthem whilst covering the invasion of Iraq).
Lodger is a great and overlooked record. Its lone hit, “DJ,” probably its weakest song, still delivers with its “time flies when you’re having fun” bridge. The hyperkinetic African Night Flight and Look Back in Anger are unlike anything else in Bowie’s repertoire.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), the beeping and hooting title track to Bowie’s last 70s record, is a joyous horror.
It’s No Game Reprise, the final song on Scary Monsters, is another Bowie song that can moisten the eye under the right circumstances. The songwriting, and Alomar’s guitar are sublime.
- The drum riff that starts The Supermen
- The austere beauty of Life on Mars, Five Years and Sorrow
- The piano in Aladdin Sane
- The wistful elegance of This is Not America
- The finger-snaps and handclaps in Golden Years.