Jan 132012

Certain artists play especially well here in the Halls of Rock. By “play especially well” I mean they instantly spark discussion, incite turf wars, cause Townspeople to question their fellow Townspeople’s true motives for getting so worked up about the particular artist. Respected, accomplished, yet polarizing artists The Boss and REM are sure to get folks going. Most Townspeople are willing to jump in as pure fanboys on any Beatles-related topic, but throw a Stones thread up here, especially one that plays off the ’60s Stones vs the ’70s Stones, and Townspeople take their positions personally. Among all the “go-to” artists for inciting rock chatter, however, few hold a candle to David Bowie. There are so many angles at which Bowie can be appreciated or derided, all of which boil down to, Is Bowie a shaman or a sham? We don’t question this split personality in an artist like Bob Dylan, but Bowie’s ambiguities are a constant cause for examination. Who could forget sammymaudlin‘s groundbreaking study of Bowie’s deep-seated balls envy, Bowie & Balls: If He Can’t Have Them, No One Can.

In high school I bought the standard Changesonebowie single-album greatest hits collection in high school and loved almost everything on it. Despite the pleasure derived from those 11 songs, I soon found Bowie’s album cuts frequently disappointing if not outright annoying. The whole chameleonic Bowie persona was a turn-off too. Here I was, hip deep in trying to be all that I could be while this guy was, as I saw it, constantly running away from himself. In college I heard a few more good album cuts off The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, but at the same time the worst Bowie music ever had become wildly popular: the Let’s Dance album. Just typing that album title gave me a gated reverb flashback. Ugh. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I finally bought Hunky Dory and realized I probably loved 30 Bowie songs yet still couldn’t say that I loved Bowie. Word got out and friends wanted to know what was lacking in the 30 songs I loved by David Bowie that failed to put the artist over the hump for me. Probably nothing was lacking in the songs. All the stuff I didn’t like about Bowie, including how frequently I strongly disliked those songs of his that I didn’t love, was too much to overcome, at least until recently.

In November 2007, after years of prodding and a campaign led by Townsman alexmagic, I finally released the list of the 30 David Bowie songs I love. Yesterday the Magic Man asked whether Bowie’s “Five Years” would make my next grouping of songs 31-60. I replied that it would probably rank among the Top 35. Then I thought about this issue some more. There’s no way I could fill out a list of my Top 60 Bowie songs, but I think I could fill out entries 31 through 40. Following is my list of the next 10 Bowie songs that I like.


  71 Responses to “Mr. Mod Releases the List of the Next 10 Bowie Songs That He Likes”

  1. Happiness Stan

    I was only thinking the other day about downgrading Bowie in my critical estimation, after years of just not listening to his records.

    The thing that struck me most about looking at your post from five years ago was not so much that there were some I would agree with and some that I wouldn’t, but rather how much the quality of debate in the Hall has grown up since then.

    I loved Bowie’s hit singles when I was a kid, and he was just what the ten-year-old ordered being all glammed up on Top of the Pops, so – as with many of the artists of that era who get discussed on here – I am not coming at Bowie from a serious Rock Fan angle, but from my regular teenybop sensation point of view. I went from loving all the singles from Space Oddity up until Diamond Dogs, a song which I like now but didn’t think much of then, thought that Fame was a stinking heap of something stinky, (and as it turned out a precursor of the music that sparked the punk revolution). I think that Hunky Dory was the first album I bought, and I like it still (although not as much as the Space Oddity and Man Who Sold The World albums, which few agree with me about, but I can live with it). Ziggy was good, I don’t think Aladdin Sane sounded as good at the time and don’t think that it’s aged as well as it should have done (although I’d listen without complaint if it was playing), and probably the same goes for Diamond Dogs. After that I just don’t find much of his stuff interesting, although Low is a stunning piece of work, and the song Heroes is a beacon of awesome on an otherwise (for me) unlistenable album, but there’s enough there to keep me happy, if constantly disappointed that I don’t seem to be able to see any merit in Station to Station, Lodger, or any of the late seventies/early eighties albums which others I know profess to enjoy.

    I looked through the discography and saw a lot more to like than I had been able to think of the other day, and probably about thirty to love.

    The first time I saw Bowie live was at the Phoenix Festival in the mid-90s and he was a great big pile of pants. I disappointedly dragged myself off to see The Cocteau Twins in the other tent (who had been a big pile of pants when I’d seen them a few years earlier) who were amazing. The second time I saw him was at Glastonbury sometime in the noughties or thereabouts and he was just stunning, I’m really glad to have caught that set.

    I guess the reason these discussions are had is that a lot of us probably feel intensely disappointed that, after the promise of all those great early songs, we’ve had to listen to so much below-average to shockingly-poor output just to pluck the odd worthy gem from his prolific output – yet why he should be singled out above others who have gone off the boil is puzzling, I feel somehow more betrayed by Bowie than the Stones, Paul McCartney, REM, and all the usual suspects, and I know instinctively that this isn’t fair. I’m disappointed that many long established acts don’t make records which are consistently and regularly disappointed but with the odd gem among them, yet still hold them in esteem for what has gone before. This may have something to do with him being a pretentious arse, but then he always was, so it seems unfair to hold that against him now.

    I was out in the car with the kids a couple of weeks ago and put on a compilation I made years ago for the kids which included the Laughing Gnome. There is a lot to not like in that song, but watching the five-year-old and the ten-year-old bopping around in the back to it, and hearing them singing it around the house since, reminded me of how much I liked that song when I was nine, and how – when I was nine – Bowie could not put a foot wrong.

  2. alexmagic

    Mod, the “Five Years” question was a trap! That would not make my Bowie Top 60. “Lady Stardust”, however, would be in my Top 30. I encourage you to seek out the demo version of the song (available as a YouTube clip, I believe), where Bowie’s voice is more raw and he’s hiding behind less. It’s a better version, and I think it might even help you get behind one of your chief Bowie hang-ups, his decision to embrace being a peformer.

    After all, your “shaman or sham?” question on Bowie is a sham itself. He’s a sham, that’s the whole point, he’s up front about it. He’s a mime! Even when he’s playing a character like Ziggy Stardust, he still sings in third person about the character. And I think the true measure of his talent is a song like “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide”, where he’s obviously playing around with the idea of rock martyrdom (it took Jagger two more years to catch up with him), and yet he’s so good at it, he still gets people to buy into it in the course of the song, and the way he does that long pause into the “YOU’RE NOT ALONE!” shout is a testament to his skills as a performer. Plus, that brief Ronson guitar fanfare right before the song ends? Top 30, no question.

    Anyway, obviously, I continue to support your openness on the subject, and I like some of your 31-40 choices. “Stay” is a good late-period Bowie winner, good choice there. “Watch That Man” is a winner, too, and I agree that it could have been donated to Mott or Iggy and been a hit for either of them, but Bowie was probably aware that he needed more than 30 great songs or run the risk of being deemed complete garbage, so maybe that’s why he held onto it. I was surpised, recently, to learn that my parents – who both enjoy Bowie – had never heard it, though.

    I’m with you on “Blue Jean”, arguably the Last Great Bowie Song, and obviously on “Fashion”. And I’d rate “The Man Who Sold The World” a lot higher than you, but that’s OK.

    “China Girl”, however, stinks. The only thing I like in the song is the “you shut your mouth!” aside, but that feels like something Bowie should have sold to Jagger. If Mick has a “you shut your mouth!” to deploy on “Too Much Blood” or “Harlem Shuffle”, the former instantly improves and the latter still stinks, but it stink slightly less.

    Finally two songs that would be in my Top 30 that I would ask you to consider when you compile “Bowie: 41-50” in 2015: “Black Country Rock” and “Cracked Actor”.

  3. Is the demo of “Lady Stardust” on one of these reissues? I listen to the demos on Hunky Dory a lot and like some of them better than the album versions. I think there are some similar demos on my CD of Ziggy. I’ll have to pull that out.

    I forgot about that coda on “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide.” That song may be #41 on my list.

    My rationale for my inclusion of “China Girl” took a lot out of me, man. How much more candid do I need to be? Why challenge that selection?

    I remember having heard those last 2 songs, but I can’t remember if I liked them or not. The latter sounds like the kind of song I wouldn’t like, like one of his Marlene Dietrich (sp?) numbers.

  4. misterioso

    Basically I am willing to take Bowie’s great decade of work (from The Man Who Sold the World in 1970 to Scary Monsters in 1980) as a whole. Obviously not every song in that period is great but as a body of work it is impressive. Most artists–maybe every–suffers once you start taking apart their work on an atom-by-atom basis. But, pretending to play along, I think as an exercise in skimming the cream off the top Mod’s list(s) are pretty good. Without looking at track listings, I would point to Look Back in Anger from Lodger as a pretty great song and deserving to be on such a list. More importantly, the absence of Life on Mars? is glaring.

  5. Good song but the chorus is out of hand.

  6. BigSteve

    I agree with the ‘take Bowie whole’ position.

    I understand Mod’s ruling to leave Under Pressure out of the running, but god that’s a great record. Maybe the greatest thing Bowie’s ever been involved with, and certainly far beyond anything Queen ever came up with. Who would have predicted that that (brief) marriage would have succeeded so brilliantly?

  7. I would take most if not all of the big 3 (Hunky Dory, Ziggy and Aladdin). Maybe some of them aren’t as strong when considered as individual tracks (Andy Warhol, Drive in Saturday) but they’re pretty sensational as a whole.

    I had Changesone in 7th or 8th grade and liked it all except for Golden Years and Fame but I never really heard the big 3 in their entirety until about 5 years ago, and they were a revelation.

  8. I agree with you, Misterioso about 1970-1980 Bowie.

    I don’t understand Townspersons’ affection for “Blue Jean.” The Last Great Bowie Song, as far as I’m concerned, is “Absolute Beginners,” which I bet a lot of you loathe, but it has sentimental value for me, especially the great BBC version from 2000.

    The use of “Cat People” in Inglorious Basterds is definitive. Nastassja who? If I were a closer in baseball, this would be the song playing as I take the mound, ending right after the big “WITH GASOLINNNNNNNE!”

    Finally, “Life of Mars?” is one of my favorite songs, dramatic swells and all. And today is the anniversary of the release of Low, one of my favorite albums, including the instrumentals!

  9. “Under Pressure” is Top 3 Bowie and #1 Queen for me.

  10. There’s a ’60s pop song humility to “Blue Jean” that I find endearing. It’s like his Beach Boys “Do it Again.”

  11. I feel the same way about “Spies Like Us.”

  12. alexmagic

    Yeah, the Lady Stardust demo should be one of the extras on those Ziggy re-releases. It’s just Bowie and piano, with maybe him doubletracking himself on the “allllll right”s.

    I wasn’t challenging your selection of China Girl so much as admitting that I think Bowie’s got some stone cold duds, Mod. I was reaching out there. (But also challenging you, yes. You can expect your mild enjoyment of “China Girl” to slowly be blown out of proportion into you loving the song in a series of my comments over the next few months.)

    Despite the title, “Cracked Actor” is actually on the rockin’ Bowie end. I’d say it’s closest to Jean Genie, but I actually think it’s even better.

  13. alexmagic

    If I can find the clip, I’d love to post Tom Scharpling’s dissection of Under Pressure, where he tried to determine “who won the song”, Bowie or Mercury. It’s the most Rock Town Hall-like thing I’ve ever seen (heard, I guess) someone not on the Hall undertake, and was the direct inspiration for the We Are The World post done here a few years ago.

    Has anyone had the stones to actually try to do a duet cover of “Under Pressure” yet? I honestly can’t think of one, but it boggles my mind that no one has given it a go yet, that there’s no will.i.am/Bono “Under Pressure 2K10” debacle out there.

  14. alexmagic

    Oats, we’re going someplace for Happy Hour where we can play “Blue Jean” on the jukebox and hashing this out, because you’re wrong on this one.

    The video doesn’t hurt, either, of course, but I think the song alone is right there with “Modern Love” of Bowie getting the best he could out of that version of himself, and based on those songs alone, I think it had something to do with the backing vocals (which “Let’s Dance”, another beloved Bowie dud, doesn’t share), which lends credence to Mod’s throwback humility.

  15. I’m hopeful that he’s got a “Kokomo” in him.

  16. Do we have a Glossary term to describe this “throwback humility” phenomenon yet? Is this “Kokomotion” or something related to that? If not, I’m not sure if that’s le mot juste (sp? – and whatever the French word for “phrase,” rather than “word” is). Something to think about?

  17. I must have missed that episode. I look forward to hearing that!

    I can’t think of an “Under Pressure” duet either, not even some American Idol atrocity. Should the duet ever take place, I would like to put together two younger artists, maybe Adam Levine of Maroon 5 with the big guy with the bad hair from Arcade Fire or, if he’s not game, the entire band Scissor Sisters.

  18. alexmagic

    There was a certain negative, self-cannibalizing connotation in mind when I first thought of Kokomotion, but I freely admit that I haven’t ever fully sketched it out. It’s less fully formed than the Rhythm Beard, even.

  19. I believe Crooked Fingers (aka- the guy from Archers of Loaf) covered “Under Pressure,” but I never heard it, nor do I even know if it’s a duet.

    Bowie and Queen did it with Annie Lennox at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in the ’90s. I guess that’s a half-cover.

  20. Misterioso, Alexmagic, BigSteve, HappinessStan and other Bowie fans: I strongly recommend the blog Pushing Against the Dame (http://bowiesongs.wordpress.com), which is reviewing every Bowie song in chronological order. Some of my favorite music writing of late. His piece on “Heroes” is particularly excellent.

  21. tonyola

    While I agree with the general consensus that Bowie’s classic period stretched from Man Who Sold the World to Scary Monsters, I think Bowie still managed quite a bit of fine stuff in the 1990s and beyond even if he was no longer musically leading the way. Earthling, Outside, Heathen, and Buddha of Suburbia are all really good in my book, and the remaining albums in the period have at least a few worthy cuts each. The weakest albums of the “classic” era are Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.

    “Blue Jean” isn’t in my admittedly-variable Top 30 or 40 Bowie list (it might scrape the bottom on occasion), but I prefer it to the one-riff-wonder “Rebel Rebel”. “Absolute Beginners” on the other hand remains solidly in the lower reaches of my list.

  22. misterioso

    tony, how can you be so right about It’s a Mad Mad (etc) world and so wrong about Rebel Rebel?

  23. hrrundivbakshi

    “Rebel, Rebel” drives me absolutely fucking crazy. When I say I can’t stand that song, I mean it literally.

  24. misterioso

    I’ve looked at that–some very good stuff.

  25. misterioso


  26. Please excuse me Tony and Hrrundi while I reach past you to give Misterioso a well deserved HIGH FIVE!

  27. Count me in on the “Cracked Actor” train as well. It’s one of Bowie’s most underrated songs, and for an artist with so many overrated songs, that’s gotta count for something.

  28. tonyola

    “Rebel Rebel” is dull and sounds like Bowie wrote it in his sleep. Perhaps he did. 95% of the song is one riff repeated ad nauseum. I have nothing against straightforward rock and roll out of Bowie at all – I think the fakey-boogie-blues of “Jean Genie” is great. But “Rebel Rebel” is just plain dumb.

  29. tonyola

    Please excuse me while I knock your intruding arm so that your intended high-five to misterioso becomes a hard slap.

  30. I think I get what HVB means: “Rebel Rebel” has a truly astonishing riff. I mean, better than “Sweet Jane.” But it already starts running out of steam by the time the first chorus is over. Then the second verse is the same as the first, and literally the entire last two minutes of this four-and-a-half-minute is a repeat of the chorus and a dead boring faux-extemporaneous rap that — again — does little more than restate the first verse.

    Honestly, if “Rebel Rebel” were like 90 seconds long, it would be perfect. At 2:45, it would be great. At 4:34, it’s just draining.

  31. I can no longer be friends with HVB and tonyola. Nothing personal guys.

  32. misterioso

    tony, do we really need to list other great songs that are basically just a riff? I’m not suggesting one listen to nothing else but riff-rock, but surely it isn’t the fact that the song is basically one riff is not itself an argument against its greatness.

  33. misterioso

    Ok, so there should have been a 45 edit.

  34. REALLY well said, no joke – and I can see how some of you may feel this way. Nevertheless, you too can expect a “Dear John” letter.

    As possibly the world’s biggest sucker for the 4-on-the-floor beat, I don’t care how much space he fills with that one idea. I need, like, a 20-minute version of “Satisfaction.” 2000 Man, do you have such an outtake in your vast collection of Stones boots? I even dig the “faux-extemporaneous rap” at the end. The only thing that song is missing is fake crowd noises during the rap, as Bowie would add to the rap at the end of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.”

  35. misterioso

    Received with thanks.

  36. BigSteve

    The Wikipedia article on the song lists numerous covers, including this very scary item: “In June 28, 2011, The Voice (U.S.) coaches Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton performed a live rendition to open that night’s show.”


  37. tonyola

    But “Rebel Rebel” isn’t even a particularly good riff.

  38. BigSteve

    I agree totally with everything Mr. Ola says in the first paragraph and disagree with everything in his second paragraph.

  39. Can you prove that? Taste is taste, but what else would account for the song’s popularity? There can’t be that many suckers for that beat.

  40. tonyola

    You can’t be serious. Are you really trying to invoke the “popular = good” argument? Especially here of all places?

  41. tonyola

    Also, I can’t prove a riff isn’t good any more than I can prove that I dislike pistachio ice cream. Emotional responses are axiomatic by their very nature.

  42. No, I’m asking you to explain why you feel it isn’t a particularly good riff – and I was giving you a hard time, for sport.

  43. misterioso

    The song works because of the riff; the sound of the guitar; the misunderstood youth/salvation in rock and roll lyric; and do I hear cowbell?

  44. tonyola

    I feel “Rebel Rebel” isn’t a great riff because it wears out its welcome so quickly. An example of a good riff that stays interesting – that guitar line in the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”. Or Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love”.

  45. tonyola

    And maybe the difference is that Keith Richards and Jimmy Page are absolute riff masters – guitar players who are at least as good in rhythm parts as they are as leads, if not better. Now Mick Ronson was a fine guitarist beyond dispute, but he wasn’t the riffmeister that Richards and Page were.

  46. Mick Ronson was an amazing riff-meister (“Ziggy Stardust,” “Queen Bitch”), one who did not play the “Rebel Rebel” riff. That was Bowie himself.

  47. I got you! I’m a bigger fan of the beat and Bowie’s vocal delivery than the riff itself, although I think “The Last Time” is a good comparison.

  48. I remain totally in the tank for Lodger — such great, short, weird songs like African Night Flight, Yassassin, and Red Sails plus the “hits” D.J., Look Back in Anger, and Boys Keep Swinging. I am going to crank it up tonight before the wife gets home. Of course, like many people, she can’t stand it.

  49. hrrundivbakshi

    Exactly. It’s one of many songs in the history of Rock that are just too damn long!


  50. tonyola

    I didn’t know that Bowie played the “Rebel” riff. I stand corrected. However, that would explain a lot. He’s a spectacularly good songwriter but he’s no guitarist.

    I figured out the problem with the “Rebel” riff. It’s not a bad riff in itself. It would be a fine intro or lead-in to a verse or chorus, but as just about the sole riff in the song, it doesn’t work because it doesn’t resolve into anything. Rather than circle back upon itself like the Page and Richards riffs do, it becomes like a stuck record – endlessly repeating itself without going anywhere.

  51. tonyola

    Except that in the case of “Rebel Rebel”, the problem is “not enough notes” – at least not enough to sustain the song for 4:34.

  52. 2000 Man

    I wish I had that version of Satisfaction for ya, but I don’t think they ever did it. They don’t have that many real long jams. At least they don’t have that many good ones.

    I could listen to Rebel Rebel all day. It’s just completely cool in every way. It may not be adventurous or anything, but it gets the job done. Girls like to dance to it and boys like to drink to it. That’s good enough for me.

  53. 2000 Man

    So in your 40 or so songs, you don’t have Width of a Circle? How can you not have that? It’s like the blueprint of what I thought “serious” rock music was when I was a kid. It’s really long and it was lyrically some kind of kinky sex with god song, or something like that.


    I love Bowie’s 70’s run, and I can even take the songs on their own, like Prettiest Star (which is even better in the context of the album even though Bowie’s worst cover follows it). The guy was on fire back then, but he wasn’t a huge star like Jagger or McCartney. His 80’s output wasn’t nearly as good, but he sold more records in that decade than any of the 70’s heavy hitters, so good for him.

    You should include Pin Ups. It’s covers, but Bowie makes those songs his own. How he messed up Let’s Spend the Night Together is beyond me after he nailed it so perfectly with Pin Ups.

  54. I don’t think i know that ‘Circle” song. I’ll check it out. I only own 5 full Bowie albums and haven’t heard many of the mid-’70s ones more than once or twice.

  55. Just saw Jimmy Fallon’s Tebowie. Awesome!

  56. Bowie sings his Ass Off in that demo on the Ryko reissue of Ziggy !!

  57. And I have 39 self-selected Bowie songs downloaded for a self-made Greatest Hits. Very close tothe same selection but the Mod missed out on “Fashion”, a style-Nazi Nuremberg and “Teenage Wildlife” with the heavy Fripperisms.

  58. jeangray

    An old band of mine used to cover “Rebel, Rebel.” At first it seemed very uninsipring, but then we got the idea to double time it, and it transformed into this grand, Punk Rock rager. Wish I had a recording of that one.

  59. Happiness Stan

    Somebody’s put a lot of work into that, and it reads well, but I’m not sure that I’m enough of a fan to be able to go through much of it. I’m happy enough to describe myself as a fan of many, many people, but I have never once thought of myself as a ‘Bowie fan’, although clearly if what I wrote yesterday when I should have been doing something else is to have any credibility then that is a very accurate word to use.

  60. tonyola

    I found a clip of that. Yes, it is scary.

  61. misterioso

    Width of a Circle is pretty great. I’m a big fan of the Man Who Sold the World album, though I don’t listen to it as often as some others. Weird, transitional record. But that is true of so many of his better works.

  62. machinery

    You’re like a guy who likes pizza, tomato pie, tomato sauce (gravy), tomato soup, and sun dried tomatoes … But can’t bring himself to say he actually likes a tomato.

  63. machinery

    I always like Scary Monsters, btw … Always made it onto our Halloween Comp. I dig the “all in a different room of the house” production. Very thrown together sounding.

  64. EXCELLENT characterization!

  65. tonyola

    It is a fine album and it’s also notable for Robert Fripp’s unhinged and sometimes wonderfully ugly guitar work. He’s rarely shown such lack of restraint.

  66. tonyola

    Totally agree – Man Who Sold the World is weird and wonderful, and at least in spots perhaps the closest Bowie ever came to heavy metal. Could this be the first goth-metal album?

  67. machinery

    I also have Lodger somewhere in my record stack. I always liked that album, if I remember. I think it was Adrian Belew on that one … but a cool production, too. Lots of big bass as I recall.

  68. trigmogigmo

    Good call! Here I thought I liked and appreciated Bowie quite a lot, but Mr. Mod your list is pretty deep and includes many blind spots missing from my own early Bowie library. I’ve been pulling up some of your list on Amazon to recall ones I didn’t remember.

    I do think you ought to spend some time with some of his later catalog. There is some really enjoyable stuff there on Outside, Earthling, and Reality especially. You might find another 5 there. (I’m still evaluating Hours and Heathen!) It’s nothing like the Ziggy and Aladdin version of Bowie, but what I really appreciate about his later stuff is that unlike the Stones, McCartney, etc. (in my opinion), he was able to keep making interesting, novel, modern music. I’m not sure I can think of another major rock “front man” who didn’t either fall into retirement, nostalgia act, or putting out forgettable new material.

    Ha! The Goblin King himself just crossed my tv screen!

  69. “Station to Station” should be a lock for your top 40 songs. Great singing, some of Bowie’s best lyrics (“It’s not the side effects of the cocaine/I’m thinking that it must be love”), and spellbinding mood/tempo changes.

    If it weren’t for Earl Slick’s utterly tote guitar playing, I’d rank it with “Life on Mars” for artistic ambition.

  70. Oops: I meant “rote” guitar playing.”

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube