DAVID Bowie’s greatest hits represented milestones in both his own career and that of pop music in general – here, Chris McCall examines seven that charted key moments in the late songwriter’s career
SPACE ODDITY (1969)
The song that transformed Bowie from an also-ran of the 1960s beat scene into a chart-topping star. Released in July 1969, the single introduced the world to Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who would reappear in several of his future singles, including 1980’s Ashes to Ashes. The single’s success ensured Bowie’s record deal with Mercury continued. Rick Wakeman, the future frontman of prog-rock titans Yes, played melotron on the record. It topped the charts in 1975 upon its re-release.
Hunky Dory, Bowie’s 1971 album, was a critical success and helped establish him as one of the UK’s best known solo stars as the glam era was beginning to take off. Changes is perhaps its strongest track - but it still missed the UK Top 40 when it was released as a single in 1972. The lyrics are often interepreted as a manifesto for his chameleonic personality. Changes would be the last track Bowie would ever peform live at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006.
Bowie became a global superstar following the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which introduced the first of Bowie’s many famous on-stage personas. Starman, one of its best loved songs, almost didn’t make the album. It was only included at the insistence of record label executive Dennis Katz - who spotted its potential as a hit single. It replaced a forgettable cover of Chuck Berry’s Round and Round. Bowie’s performance of the song on Top of the Tops is credited as one of the major crossover points of his career.
SOUND AND VISION (1977)
Bowie’s rising fame throughout the 1970s was not without negative consequences. A spell living in Los Angeles during the middle of the decade saw him retreat from public apparences and battle well-publicised drug problems. He moved to Europe in 1976, first to Switzerland, then West Berlin, in an attempt to clean up and revitalise his career. The first of his so-called Berlin Trilogy, Low, appeared in 1977. While not as commercially succesful as its predecessors, it remains among his finest work. The Tony Visonti-produced lead single, Sound and Vision, still managed to make the Top 3.
The title track of Bowie’s second album to be largely written and recorded in West Berlin, it has since become one of the best-known tracks from what’s now referred to as his Berlin period. It is thought to be his second most covered song after Rebel Rebel. Co-written with former Roxy Music star Brian Eno, the track tells the story of a couple seperated by the Berlin Wall – a fixture that could be seen from the studio in which Bowie was then working with producer Tony Visconti. Although not a chart hit, the song features perhaps the best vocal of his career. Beginning in hushed, almost whispered, tones, Bowie gradually increases the power and volume of his voice as the song goes on - something Visconti managed to capture using innovative studio techniques.
LET’S DANCE (1983)
The early 1980s saw Bowie’s popularity reach its zenith. Following the commercial success of 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) - which moved away from the more introspective themes of his Berlin period - the star was keen to build on his new-found chart domination. For his next album, he chose to work with American producer and songwriter Nile Rodgers of disco legends Chic. The title track of the resulting LP is more bombastic than much of his previous work but remains a dancefloor special more than 30 years on.
WHERE ARE WE NOW? (2013)
Following a period of ill-health in 2004, Bowie retired from live appearences and gradually slipped out of the limelight. By 2013 he had released no new music in 10 years and many presumed he quit the business for good. The sudden release of this track - on the day of his 66th birthday - surprised and delighted fans in equal measure. A reflective look on his time in Berlin, the song proved Bowie had lost none of his ability to command attention on his own terms when he wanted.