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David Bowie
Photograph: Jimmy King

The 10 best David Bowie songs

Take a trip through the Starman's spectacular career with these 10 untouchable Bowie classics, from "Ashes to Ashes" to "Life On Mars"

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Miles Raymer
&
Ed Cunningham
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When David Bowie died in 2016, he left behind a sprawling legacy of albums, characters, genres and films. Each of his 25 studio albums—heck, maybe even each of his hundreds of singlescould be said to have defined popular music in its own way. Here was an artist who couldn't help but pioneer, from his lush glam-rock beginnings right through to his final record, the harrowing and existential Blackstar.

This year would've been Bowie’s 75th birthday, so how better to mark the occasion than by compiling a list of his best songs? Narrowing down 10 top David Bowie songs, when there are quite literally hundreds worth your time, is a nearly impossible taskbut we've had a go. Here are some crucial tunes to give you a solid taster of an exceptional artist.

Best David Bowie songs

"Little Wonder" (1997)
Image: Arista / BMG / RCA / Virgin

10. "Little Wonder" (1997)

Bowie saw the '90s rise of electronic music and rave culture and wanted to try it out for himself. The insurgent drum & bass scene served as the foundation for 1997's Earthling, but this song’s clever combination of frenetic beats and icy pop hooks à la the Thin White Duke proved that he was doing much more than just swimming with the tide.

"Sound and Vision" (1977)
Image: RCA

9. "Sound and Vision" (1977)

"Sound and Vision" is a weird single, in that, for almost half of its runtime, it's just intro. A slow funk track filled out with weird spritzes, Brian Eno's sparkling synths and twee background vocals, here Bowie first introduced listeners to what would become his Berlin trilogy. This and the rest of Low found a middle ground between pop and experimentalism, between warmth and solitudethere's little else like it.

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"Rebel Rebel" (1974)
Image: RCA

8. "Rebel Rebel" (1974)

With its glittery swagger and parent-worrying transgressive sexuality, "Rebel Rebel" concisely sums up everything that made Bowie an icon. The indelible riff that frames it has been tried out by every kid who's picked up a guitar sincebut none can match Bowie’s original, a belter that rings and struts like only he could.

"Let’s Dance" (1983)
Image: EMI

7. "Let’s Dance" (1983)

Bowie's groovier, poppier work in the '80s gets much more stick than it deserves. Take "Let's Dance", for instance, a collaboration with isco legend Nile Rodgers and a total dance belteralmost 40 years later, rarely is pop music ever this slinky and stompy; this irresistibly, compulsively danceable.

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"Changes" (1971)
Image: RCA

6. "Changes" (1971)

A remarkably slippery composition, "Changes" is full of wild stylistic shifts—from tightly wound funk to torch-song crooning to utopian hippie pop—that somehow makes sense through the cracked lens of Bowie's madcap brilliance.

"Life on Mars?" (1971)
Image: RCA

5. "Life on Mars?" (1971)

For better or for worse, Bowie essentially invented the power ballad with this unexpected hit that mixed orchestral arrangements and baroque piano (courtesy of prog rock guru Rick Wakeman) with Mick Ronson's epic, shredding guitar solos. Originally written as a sarcastic riff on Sinatra-style sentimentality, it turned out to be one of Bowie’s most stirring songs.

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"Blackstar" (2015)
Image: ISO / Columbia / Sony

4. "Blackstar" (2015)

Bowie created his 25th and final album with the knowledge that it would almost certainly be his last. True to form, he continued to push his boundaries as an artist until the very end. The LP’s ambitious lead single taps into influences from experimental electronic music to stroking free jazz to create a jaw-dropping display of musicianship that remained undiminished right up to the very end.

"Ashes to Ashes" (1980)
Image: RCA

3. "Ashes to Ashes" (1980)

Over the course of his career, Bowie transformed the very definition of pop music several times. But were any of his chart-topping singles quite as weird as "Ashes to Ashes"? Probably not. A synthpop tune that squelches and echoes its way into your ears, overlain with vocals about some cryptic, anxious future, it's a strangebut totally brillianthit.

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"Five Years" (1972)
Image: RCA

2. "Five Years" (1972)

2021 marked five years since the Starman left us and, in a year blighted by pandemic misery, Ziggy Stardust’s opener found an entirely new meaning. All at once, "Five Years" stood as a pained reminder of the years gone by, described a dystopian vision that was seemingly coming true, and maybejust maybehinted at the possibility of a better world in the years to come.

"Heroes" (1977)
Image: RCA

1. "Heroes" (1977)

The Berlin trilogy often relies on Brian Eno's synthesizer-heavy production to evoke the existential mood of a rock star coming down off a years-long cocaine high, but here they're matched with what might be the most crushingly huge and triumphant hook Bowie ever wrote. During the recording of Bowie's vocals on "Heroes", producer Tony Visconti gradually moved the microphone away from Bowie, forcing him to yell out that hook towards the end of the trackwhich might explain why, after all these years (and several thousand TV adverts), nothing can dull its glory.

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