Yesterday, the world lost one of its greatest artists; few have given more to music, culture and global entertainment in the past century than David Bowie. He pioneered glam rock and pop throughout the 1970s, sold over 140 million records with nine platinum albums, and acted in roles to create films that remain permanently marked on the public subconscious. Few comparable figures have touched more lives, spread as far and as wide. Following his passing away on the evening of January 10th at age 69, The Edge came together to ponder the greatest – and our personal favourites – of his creations.
‘Ground Control to Major Tom…’, if there is ever a lyric that could defy my childhood, that would be it. David influenced my life in more ways than one, and even though ‘Life on Mars’ was the first track I’d ever heard by him at around four years old, it was ‘Space Oddity’ that stuck with me in my teenage years. It’s hard to talk about how much David meant to me. Growing up, it felt as though he was an extended member of the family. He was one of the prevailing reasons why I wanted to play a guitar. Why I wanted to become a rockstar. Hell, why I wanted to become an astronaut at one point or another. ‘Space Oddity’ was definitely one of David’s songs that influenced me the most, and was funnily enough one of the first songs I learnt on guitar.
Whether it was from my fascination with space, or the dreamy instrumental build-up to the chorus, ‘Space Oddity’ is one of Bowie’s gems. The title and subject matter of the song were largely inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The character of Major Tom first appears here, and is subsequently revived in the Bowie tracks ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ and most recently ‘Blackstar’.
Words by Sophie McEvoy
‘Life On Mars’
By 1971 Bowie had released his fourth album, Hunky Dory; a critically acclaimed piece, considered among the best in his career, that laid down the blueprint for what was to come. It had cinematic tones, a kaleidoscope of artistic influences melded with an easy listening vibe. It showed his desire to distance himself from the traditional musical scene in ‘Changes’, to the tributes paid to rock influences in ‘Song For Bob Dylan’. But the track that will forever stay with me, and which I burst out crying mumbling the words to this morning, is ‘Life On Mars’.
By all accounts ‘Life On Mars’ is a ridiculous track; it is full of nonsense lyrics, political statements and accusations. What often makes me attached to a song isn’t there; there’s no character to see myself in, barely a cause to rally myself behind. But what there is, is Bowie. Singing, in that bright and beautiful voice, almost orchestral, behind a high sweeping chorus. He implores you to watch, and you do; it’s a song for seeing madness and beauty in the world, through cynicism. That’s what makes me emotional about it. That’s the cause I rally behind. The cry and the question that – not necessarily with any real meaning – asks us to see something in the world.
Never has this meaning been more clear than when it was featured in the BBC TV show of the same name. My favourite show, it’s about a policeman who wakes up in 1973 and his movement to try and make his way back home. The show is about a hope to find meaning, in a place that is otherwise otherworldly. It’s the story of the song. It is the song. Bowie – his music, and contemporary stylings – are a huge influence on the show and its sequel series, just as the man was throughout the 70s and 80s, to today, and into the future.
Words by Camilla Cassidy
It may have been Ziggy Stardust and those funky ol’ spiders from Mars that rocketed Bowie to fame in the early 70s, but his 1973 ode to rock ’n’ roll Aladdin Sane is worthy of just as much praise. From its humble beginnings with the positively groovy guitar riffs of ‘Watch That Man’ through to the throat-strainingly epic and punky ‘Pain in Detroit’, and the twinkly, almost Bond-like after-tones of ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, Aladdin Sane is a beautiful mess of eclectic tastes and inspirations.
Described by Bowie himself as simply “Ziggy goes America”, originally intended as just a continuation of the Ziggy Stardust image, Aladdin Sane took things to entirely new levels, and almost accidentally opened up a blazing world of energetic performance and experimentation for one of rock music’s most legendary figures. If you’ve never given it a shot, now’s the time to do so. The Jean Genie will be sorely missed.
Words by Ben Robins
Springing from the heart of Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs, ‘Rebel Rebel’ is punchy, confident and slick. It emerges from the tapping of drumsticks to a full bodied, empowering track. It’s a track that gives you confidence in the morning, with Bowie’s carefree lyrics of “hey babe / your hair’s alright / hey babe / let’s stay out tonight.” In this song Bowie doesn’t care what the rebel looks like, he loves her anyway. It has personal resonance for me, too. It gave me the confidence to go out and ask for a job that I then held for two years, and I remember bouncing along the road listening to it. It puts a spring in your step, and makes you feel like everything is going to be okay. It’s an important track about other’s not knowing what is going on beneath the surface, and of course, going out with David Bowie to forget everything.
Words by Amy Wootten
‘Let’s Dance’ is the title song from Bowie’s 1983 album of the same name. It was also released as the first single from that album in 1983, and went on to become one of his biggest-selling tracks. Blues icon, Stevie Ray Vaughan played the guitar solo at the end of the song.
The single was one of Bowie’s fastest selling to date, entering the UK Singles Chart at number five on its first week of release, staying at the top of the charts for three weeks. Soon afterwards, the single topped the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Bowie’s second and last single to reach number 1 in the U.S. In Oceania, it narrowly missed topping the Australian charts, peaking at number two, but peaked at number one for 4 consecutive weeks in New Zealand. The song has become a classic of Bowie’s and even allowed him to make a cameo in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander.
Words by Natalie Fordham
‘Dancing In The Street’
In 1985, David Bowie and Mick Jagger teamed up to record a cover of the classic 60’s Motown anthem, ‘Dancing In The Street.’ Their exuberant version of the single, which was mixed in an extraordinarily short amount of time, was recorded to raise profits for money for Live Aid and the famine relief in Africa. As you can imagine, when two English rock legends get together, things are bound to get a little wild and the music video for ‘Dancing In The Street’ is exactly that. Camp, energetic and boundlessly silly, the two rockers jump, strut and twirl their way around an estate in a manner that only they could get away with.
Words by Anneka Honeyball
Perhaps the most famed of his cinematic ventures, Labyrinth is iconic because of it’s fantastic combination of muppets, music and the man that is Bowie. In the 1986 cult classic, Bowie stars as Jareth, the cunning Goblin King who indulges on a babysitting teenager’s wish that her brother is taken far away into the Goblin City and kept there forever. When she tries to take her wish back, Jareth challenges her to an ultimatum, wherein he will turn her brother into a goblin if she can’t solve his treacherous Labyrinth and make her way to his castle within 13 hours.
Without Bowie at the centre of it all, with his crooked grimaces, big hair and extraordinarily tight trousers, it’s doubtful that this film would have gained a cult status at all. And along with the dramatic glittery entrances and brooding looks, Bowie brought some great music to the film too, including his uplifting anthem, ‘Underground’ and the melancholic love song that is ‘As The World Falls Down.’ Most memorable of all though, is ‘Magic Dance’ in which he crooned the immortal words: “you remind me of the babe… (what babe?) the babe with the power.”
Words by Anneka Honeyball
Today is a sad day in the music industry; one of its most talented people, David Bowie, will never sing again. It is important to me to talk about him as he had a great impact on my life as a music lover when I was only a child, and more particularly one of the songs he shared with the group Queen, ‘Under Pressure’. 15 years ago, I bought my first David Bowie CD and listened to this song (incidentally discovering Queen at the same time).
‘Under Pressure’ – first named ‘Feel Like’ by Bowie, then ‘People on the Street’ – was released in 1981. David Bowie met Queen in a recording studio in Switzerland and they started working on the song. John Deacon, Queen’s bassist at that time, affirmed that the famous bass at the start of the song was composed by Bowie himself. Apparently Bowie and Freddie Mercury were the principal composers of the song and Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer, being friends with both of them helped the ideas to be shared between them both. This magnificent song mixed by Bowie’s and Mercury’s voice is world-famous and it has to be – because it was conceived by two brilliant artists.
Words by Lisa Veiber
Getting older didn’t stop David Bowie from continuing to pursue his own interests, like many other famous celebrities, and his role as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s mind bending thriller about the escalation of a vicious rivalry between two stage magicians was exciting to discover as usual even if it was smaller than his usual film outings. Being a fan of his work, Nolan has said that he didn’t see anyone else in the role but him, as it was “a small but very important role”. As he’s managed to make it in films beforehand despite being famous within the music industry (musicians haven’t always had success whenever they’ve been translated to the screen – being good at singing doesn’t make you good at acting) we’d be very much inclined to agree with Nolan on immortalising such a wonderful, star studded figure within his own works of art forever in history.
Words by Augusta Melbourne
In 2006, Bowie appeared in a guest role on Extras – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s award-winning series about a frustrated extra called Andy Millman (Gervais), who yearns to be taken as a serious actor, despite his curmudgeon personality. In Bowie’s guest episode, Andy becomes the unfortunate inspiration for a new song, as Bowie puts a peppy melody to the story of “the little fat man with the pug nosed face. (Pug, pug! Pug, pug!).”
Putting Bowie’s iconic status on a comic pedestal is great fun and the song isn’t half catchy! Listen to the audio below:
Words by Anneka Honeyball
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a film full of needle-drops. David Bowie’s 1977 non-hit is the best of them. As the lead characters Charlie (Logan Lerman), Sam (Emma Watson), and Patrick (Ezra Miller) drive, the track comes up on the radio. None of them have heard it before, but from the shimmering opening guitar notes, it strikes a chord with them. As they speed through the Lincoln tunnel, Sam standing in the truck’s bed, arms aloft as the chorus kicks in, Charlie utters the much parodied line “I feel infinite”.
It’s always astonishing that these musically savvy 90s kids don’t know who David Bowie is. Yet for those outsiders, the troubled, and occasionally completely weird kids, his music and character is a perfect fit. Listening to it now, ‘Heroes’ feels like a miracle. It’s a blindingly simple melody, that in the light of 39 years of music (and dull X Factor covers) since its release, feels gorgeously familiar. At 6 minutes, it’s never dull, and the beautifully played, now iconic riffs, are gorgeously woven together. The lyrics of his Berlin-era, of a man trying to break his addictions, are tortured, powerful, and elegantly simple; the vocals even moreso. It’s historic – read his account of playing the song by the Berlin Wall in 1987. And its a truly alchemical piece of songwriting. You never want it to end – it is infinite.
Words by George Seabrook