David Bowie died of cancer on Sunday. It almost seems impossible: he made a career out of seeming not of this earth, so it’s shocking to be reminded that he emphatically was. His music, of course, will endure, almost five decades of wildly original, visionary songs and albums that forever changed the course of pop music – several times, in fact. The list below is but one way of looking at his career. Every Bowie fan could make such a list, and it’s a testament to the depth and breadth of his profoundly original music that each of them would be different.
Life on Mars (1971)
Sweeping, operatic, beautiful – and the culmination of approximately a million mixtapes made by forlorn teens – Life on Mars is the standout song on a flawless album, the early Bowie masterpiece Hunky Dory.
Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide (1972)
The last track on Bowie’s fifth album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which documents the decline of Bowie’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in startling, aching style.
Young Americans (1975)
David Bowie got obsessed with soul, and this was the result, a blaring, horn-drenched slice of wannabe Philadelphia-style R&B that some how pays tribute to the music that inspired it while escaping it to become something new entirely.
Always Crashing in the Same Car (1977)
One of the all-time great songs about making mistakes, and a highlight from Low, the first of Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy of albums, which took a dramatic turn toward the interior and ambient.
Written with Brian Eno, and met with lukewarm response upon release, Heroes has gone on to become one of Bowie’s most enduring songs. It’s transcendent.
Ashes to Ashes (1980)
My personal favourite Bowie song, and the inspiration for one of the most fabulously eccentric music videos ever made.
Let’s Dance (1983)
An indelible and infectious piece of pop perfection, and the basis for another weird but wonderful video. Stevie Ray Vaughan plays the guitar solo, and while most people know the short single version, it’s well worth seeking out the seven-plus minute album cut.
Cat People (Putting out Fire) (1983)
Originally cut for an early-80s movie soundtrack, then rerecorded for the underrated Let’s Dance album, Cat People was rescued from relative obscurity by Quentin Tarantino, who used it to score the climactic scene in Inglourious Basterds.
I’m Deranged (1995)
The standout track on Outside, a remarkable and under celebrated record, I’m Deranged is now perhaps best known for its inclusion in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, where it’s extremely effective in helping to establish the film’s truly creepy vibe.
The gorgeously bizarre, lushly patterned, nearly-ten-minute long title track to what will stand as Bowie’s last album, which was released just last week. Heard in light of the terrible news of his passing, it’s almost unbearably beautiful.