Last updated on April 1st, 2023 at 09:56 pm
David Bowie was one of the most important, influential, and creative artists of the 20th century and beyond.
Though he was an accomplished actor and a multi-octave singer, songwriting was where Bowie’s creative genius shined the most.
His music never stopped growing across his 50+ year career, covering blues, pop, folk, glam rock, soul, avant garde, 80s pop, hard rock, industrial, and more.
Finding the best David Bowie songs can be like navigating a labyrinth (see what we did there?). Join us on a journey through space and time to uncover the greatest songs from this incomparable legend.
25 Best David Bowie Songs
25. “Waiting for the Man”
Like many of the biggest names of the sixties and seventies, David Bowie loved Lou Reed and his avant garde rock band, the Velvet Underground.
Some of the best David Bowie songs are covers, but the creative place he takes the VU’s “Waiting for the Man” is unparalleled.
Though he played the song many times on BBC programs like Top of the Pops, this version from Andy Ferris’ Sounds of the 70s is unlike any of them, or any version of the groundbreaking VU track.
Ditching the minimalist approach of the original, a heavy, original guitar riff propels this version. He turns it into an all-out rocker, the kind that was perfectly tailored to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson.
Related: The Best Rock Songs of All Time: The Ultimate Top 40
24. “I’m Afraid of Americans”
Every era of Bowie is worth checking out, and that’s no less true of a sometimes-overlooked decade of his career, the 1990s.
He released many solid albums during the decade, including industrial Earthling, playful pop and experimental Black Tie, White Noise, and ethereal soundtrack The Buddha of Suburbia.
Bowie being Bowie, he also came out with a dense concept album, Outside, which included standout tracks like “Hallow Spaceboy.”
“I’m Afraid of Americans” is from his Nine Inch Nails-influenced 1997 album Earthling. Like the rest of the record, it’s intense but still has Bowie’s charm and sense of melody.
If you’re hungry for more from Earthling, check out lead single “Little Wonder” or “Dead Man Walking.”
23. “Slow Burn”
Like the 1990s, the 2000s were filled with many excellent David Bowie songs, though it’s too often unheralded.
His two albums from the decade, Heathen and Reality, combine The Man’s pop tendencies with the darker, more avant-garde edge he was sometimes known for.
This is especially the case on Heathen, but you probably can’t tell from its lead single, “Slow Burn.”
Bowie belts out one of his best later-era choruses on this perfect pop-rock track, which features Pete Townshend on a simple, rocking guitar riff.
22. “Cygnet Committee”
Easily the biggest dark horse choice on this list of best David Bowie songs, 9+ plus epic “Cygnet Committee” is from his 1969 mainstream breakthrough album.
Originally titled Man of Words, Man of Music, soon after its release it was re-titled for his first big hit, “Space Oddity.”
“Cygnet Committee” is David Bowie’s spin on Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” (it even name checks the song). It finds Bowie going into prophet mode over a handful of different sections, from a folk-y beginning to its exciting build-up ending.
Related: 27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan
21. “Sound and Vision”
In the late 1970s, Bowie released three art rock albums with Brian Eno, Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger.
Called the Berlin Trilogy, they feature practically as many atmospheric instrumentals as rock songs.
“Sound and Vision” is one of the catchiest songs of this period. It also gave the name to an expansive, essential box set in the 90s.
20. “The Jean Genie”
Dig that Howlin’ Wolf howl on this blues-meets-glam rock classic.
Taken from the 1973 album Alladin Sane (which might just have Bowie’s best album cover), “The Jean Genie” became a live staple for his entire career.
Other classics you should check out from Alladin Sane include “Cracked Actor,” “Lady Grinning Soul,” “The Prettiest Star,” and his version of a song he wrote for Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes.”
19. “Modern Love”
Like many times in his career, David Bowie re-invented himself in the 1980s, this time as a glitzy pop star.
“Modern Love” is one of his many massive hits from the 1983 album Let’s Dance. That slick guitar part is played by none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Related: The Best Blues Songs: Where to Start When Discovering the Blues
18. “Young Americans”
1975’s Young Americans saw our hero giving his take on soul music. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘plastic soul.’
The title track is one of those David Bowie songs that you have to crank up every time you hear it in the car.
Proving he could work with any genre that pleased him, “Young Americans” sways with a genuine R&B feel.
17. “Let’s Dance”
Did Bowie have a number-one hit? He actually had two, and one of them was the mega-successful title track from his most popular 80s album.
As on “Modern Love,” it features some scorching guitar work from Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Bowie said that his goal on Let’s Dance was to combine the blues with pop and dance music, and he does so perfectly.
Other worthwhile David Bowie songs from this era that couldn’t fit on our list include “China Girl,” which Bowie wrote with Iggy Pop, “Cat People,” and lost classic “Zeroes” from 1987’s Never Let Me Down.
16. “The Man Who Sold the World”
On 1971’s The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie took a crack at Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath-influenced hard rock. As always, he excelled.
His band was a huge part of that. Guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist (and longtime producer) Tony Visconti, and drummer Woody Woodmansey give Zeppelin a run for their money.
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“The Man Who Sold the World” is one of the trippier, folkier songs from the album.
It gained larger recognition, of course, when Nirvana covered it on their MTV Unplugged show in 1993.
Related: 18 Best Nirvana Songs: Soundtrack for a Generation
Bowie’s androgynous glam alter ego Ziggy Stardust is one of his most beloved.
“Starman” is a hinge track on the concept album that bears his name, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
On the Beatle-esque song, Ziggy begins reaching out to earth, ready to make his appearance.
Fun fact: Ken Scott, who engineered parts of the White Album and other later-era Beatles, produced the album.
Not gonna lie: every time I hear this song, I think of John C. Riley’s disco take on Walk Hard.
Related: 15 Interesting Facts About the Beatles
14. “Under Pressure”
David Bowie and Queen were at the height of their powers when they recorded “Under Pressure.” The collaboration doesn’t disappoint.
Bowie and Freddy Mercury are clearly having a blast. The song structure on this one is so odd for a huge hit, especially the last half, which just builds and builds and builds.
Related: 31 Inspiring Facts About the Band Queen
13. “Absolute Beginners”
Bowie in the 80s was more than Let’s Dance and the Goblin King in Labyrinth singing “Magic Dance.”
As great as those were, some the best David Bowie songs of the era weren’t huge hits or featured on his albums.
This is especially true for “Absolute Beginners,” one of Bowie’s most affecting love songs. His voice is majestic on the chorus.
Although it has that big 80s production and sound, it only works in the song’s favor, giving it an epic quality.
Shortly before the death of David Bowie, he released what would be his last album, Blackstar. It features some of his most daring songs, including “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”
The title cut is almost like a goodbye message: “Something happened on the day he died/spirit rose a metre then stepped aside/somebody else took his place and bravely cried/’I’m a blackstar'”
Musically, it’s spooky, evocative, and experimental, though also accessible. Bowie was pushing boundaries until his last recording sessions.
Simply, “Blackstar” is one of David Bowie’s most meaningful songs.
11. “Rock N’ Roll Suicide”
“Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.”
It doesn’t get more theatrical than Bowie “killing off” the Ziggy Stardust character at the Spiders from Mars farewell show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973.
He did so, naturally, with the last song from Ziggy Stardust, sweeping, dramatic pop/rock gem “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.”
10. “Station to Station”
We begin our top 10 David Bowie songs with another of his most beloved characters, the Thin White Duke.
The 10+ minute title track to his 1977 album is like the train ride the lyrics speak of, beginning slowly and then “gaining steam” (so to speak) to a fantastic ending.
Like so many epic David Bowie songs, it goes through several sections, each building on the last.
“Station to Station” also has one of his best lyrics: “it’s not the side effects of the cocaine/I’m thinking that this must be love.”
We’ve come this far, so you might be wondering: what was Bowie’s biggest hit? That’d be “Fame,” which spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975.
The funky, soulful track can be found on Young Americans.
Who played guitar on Bowie’s “Fame”? None other than Beatle John Lennon, who also co-wrote it and sings harmonies.
Related: The Tragic Story of John Lennon’s Demise
8. “Ziggy Stardust”
“Ziggy Stardust” is the epitome of glam rock. The glitzy guitar riff, space-y lyrics, and classic rock vibe are all perfect.
The only way to listen to it is to follow it up with the next track on the album, “Suffragette City.”
7. “Ashes to Ashes”
Before Bowie went pop in the 80s, he released one of his heaviest, most challenging albums, Scary Monsters.
For its best song, the strung out, experimental 80s pop of “Ashes to Ashes,” he brings back the Major Tom character from “Space Oddity.” The results are mind-blowing, as are other Scary Monsters highlights “Fashion” and “Up the Hill Backwards.”
6. “Moonage Daydream”
What is David Bowie’s most iconic persona? Most would say the aforementioned Ziggy Stardust, his gender-bending glam rock alter ego of the early 70s.
Like most of Ziggy’s songs, “Moonage Daydream” oozes sexuality: “I’m an alligator/I’m a mama papa coming for you/I’m a space invader/I’ll be a rock and rolling bitch for you.”
Dig those hook-y drum fills at the end of the choruses from Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey.
5. “Rebel Rebel”
That’s Bowie himself playing guitar on one of his most recognizable riffs.
“Rebel Rebel,” taken from his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, perfectly encapsulates Bowie: it’s sly, it’s sexy, and it radiates restlessness and rebellion.
Diamond Dogs is Bowie’s darkest, most dangerous album. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Sweet Thing”/”Candidate”/”Sweet Thing” after dark. You might just have nightmares.
1971’s Hunky Dory might be Bowie’s best album. It’s filled with some of his best songwriting.
Like many tracks on that classic record, “Changes” is equal parts simple pop perfection and subtle intricacy.
One of his most beloved songs, “Changes” has earned its place in regular rotation on classic rock radio.
3. “Space Oddity”
How did David Bowie get famous? His first breakthrough hit, “Space Oddity,” propelled him to stardom, though he had been in the music industry for years before his iconic 1969 single.
The wonderful, otherworldly folk rock of “Space Oddity,” which tells the tragic story of Major Tom, still endures today.
Just don’t get it mixed up with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
2. “Life on Mars?”
If you’re looking for David Bowie’s most epic song, look no further than “Life on Mars.”
Everything about it is big: the orchestral pop arrangement, its multiple sections, its trippy-but-meaningful lyrics. Truly a pop classic.
What is considered to be David Bowie’s best song? For our money, it’s the title track from one of his Berlin albums, 1977’s “Heroes.”
The music is tough to describe, as it isn’t like any other pop song. It floats along with a funky backbeat, propelled by Robert Fripp’s singular guitar style.
Then there are the lyrics, which are Bowie’s best.
Yes Bowie, “We can be heroes/just for one day/we can be us/just for one day.”
God bless you, man. We miss you every day.
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