Australian musicians share their favourite Bowie songs
‘Ashes to Ashes’ (1980) - Jon Toogood and Tom Larkin from Shihad
‘Ashes to Ashes’ came out as a pop track when we were growing up, but when you think about it, it really is at the limits of the art form.
David Bowie is an endless source of inspiration, he’s the reference for how to do pop in an interesting way. Or how to be fearless.
Growing up I knew that song like a nursery rhyme yet when you look back at it after learning how to write songs you realise that that’s not the standard format at all. He’s pushing it everywhere. It’s an experimental track that just happens to be really catchy.
‘Space Oddity’ (1969) - Josh Pyke
My favourite David Bowie song is definitely ‘Space Oddity’. It’s an incredible story and the character development is just really fantastic. You feel a real connection to Major Tom and you also sense empathetically his isolation up in space when it talks about sitting in a tin can. I also love how the dynamics change; it’s almost like a mini musical theatre song. It changes from upbeat to more whimsical when he’s floating through space, then when things are becoming more tense you get that almost ‘Teen Spirit’ guitar riff. I also love that [Bowie’s] a savvy marketer. He created these characters to connect with people and he released ‘Space Oddity’ as a single just days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, so he was tapping into the zeitgeist that everybody was thinking about, which is pretty clever. For me it encapsulates everything I love about Bowie: he’s an artist, he’s an incredible producer, but he’s also a conceptual artist and he’s tied this track to what was happening in popular culture at the time.
‘As The World Falls Down’ (1986) - Kris Schroeder from The Basics
There’s a common anecdote from many who grew up with Labyrinth about how David Bowie’s pants played a pivotal role in their early sexual maturity. But for me seeing the film on VHS as an 8 or 9 year old, I was instantly captivated by the world that Henson and his team including David Bowie had created. It was just so evocative, so colourful, so edgy, kind of dangerous in a way. It wasn’t until much later however that I came to appreciate this particular song which, as a child I regarded as a bit of a low point in the film. It appears in the scene in the ballroom where Jennifer Connolly and David Bowie are having their little flirtatious moment. But as an adult I see the genius in how he’s taken the traditional 1-6-4-5 form popular in 1950s ballads, and twisted it with a minor fourth, and later a minor second in the chorus, to create something really quite sublime.
‘Young Americans’ (1975) - Elana Stone
I pretty much love all of the songs from Bowie’s plastic soul era but this one has a great story to it, about a couple that are in a bit of a hurry to get married. It rolls off into this political situation and all these pop culture references and there are so many lyrics... but they’re all there for a reason. There’s a lot of energy and a lot going on in the song. Luther Vandross is one of the backing vocalists, Willie Weeks is on bass (from Donny Hathaway’s band) and Andy Newmark is on drums (from Sly and the Family Stone). It’s an amazing band that sounds great with David Bowie’s English voice scratching and screaming and singing beautifully over it all.
‘Boys Keep Swinging’ (1979) - Davey Lane
One of my favourite Bowie songs is ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ off the Lodger album. I really love this song because it just has this great sloppiness to it. I think the story goes that in the studio David Bowie switched everybody’s instruments around so it ended up that the guitar player got on the drum kit and Tony Visconti got on the bass... So there’s this really great raw sloppiness and looseness that I really love. And the lyrics are super playful and nuts too.
‘Changes’ (1971) - Paul Dempsey
‘Changes’ – what a song! It was so strange to me the first few times I heard it, I think I had trouble keeping up with where it was going. It’s got this incredible combination of cabaret-style, piano-driven verses and then it completely switches gear into this completely groovy, bass-driven rockin’ chorus. It’s got these really weird rhythmic turnarounds as well but after you’ve heard it a few times it’s just undeniable. It’s infectious; it gets under your skin. It’s always been a favourite of mine.
Something For Kate had the pleasure of opening for Bowie the last time he was in Australia. The final night of the tour was an outdoor show in the Treasury Gardens in Perth. I think up until that point he hadn’t played ‘Changes’ at all on that tour and we’d all been hoping to hear it. Halfway through the show, there’s 15,000 people outside under this beautiful summer night sky, and suddenly he goes into ‘Changes’. In the middle of the song this shooting star blazes across the sky for what seemed like a really long time. The whole entire crowd saw it, you could hear the gasps of everybody watching this surreal moment. But I don’t think Bowie saw it with all the stage lights in his face, then after the show we were hanging out backstage and I told him about the shooting star and told him how exciting it was, that the whole crowd saw it and it was this really amazing moment. Completely unflappable, cool as a cucumber, he just put his arm around my shoulder and says “well, I’ll tell you what Paul, you work hard and one of these days you’ll get your own shooting star.”
What a dude.