So you’ve heard “Heroes,” watched Labyrinth, and maybe you even know that the Nirvana song “The Man Who Sold the World” is actually a cover of the title track of Bowie’s second studio album. But if you’re still mourning this month’s passing of the Thin White Duke (and let’s be honest—who isn’t), you’re going to need more than a few plays of “Changes” and “Let’s Dance” to get you through the pain.
The Billboard Top 200 announced last Sunday that David Bowie’s recent album Blackstar has claimed the No. 1 spot on the charts — a first for Bowie in the United States. And, according to Spotify user data, a lot more people have been listening to Bowie lately. But “Life on Mars?” and “Ziggy Stardust” remain some of the most listened to tracks, while others — some rightfully and some wrongfully so — collected virtual dust. Read on for 8 deep cuts that rival some of Ziggy’s chart-topping hits.
One of Bowie’s earlier songs off 1971’s Hunky Dory, “Andy Warhol” features folk guitar with heavy, satisfying beats. He was inspired to write the song in honor of the visionary pop artist after meeting him in New York (the same week he met Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, in fact). Bowie remained a Warhol fan following this encounter, and even took on the role of the artist in a documentary film many decades later. Warhol, reportedly, found the song insulting, and needless to say was not the world’s greatest Bowie fan. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t enjoy it, though.
Strewn amongst the harsher chords and jarring vocals of Aladdin Sane, “Time” opens in a minor key with a piano solo you might expect to hear at an early twentieth century freak show. It’s easily one of the more striking tracks on the album, and with lyrics like, “You are not evicting time,” is eerily appropriate given recent events.
Serving as a backdrop for Bowie’s notoriously expensive and elaborate Diamond Dogs tour in 1974 (“My set is amazing, it even smells like a street”), “Sweet Thing,” “Candidate,” and “Sweet Thing – Reprise” comprise a Broadway-esque medley driven by jazzy saxophone and the Thin White Duke’s stunning vocal range. It’s impossible to listen to the tracks separately, as they are so vital to the musical narration of Diamond Dogs — not to mention they serve as the perfect segue into long-time fan favorite, “Rebel Rebel.”
Wild is the Wind
Many Bowie fans consider Station to Station to be one of the Thin White Duke’s most brilliant works, and with hits like “Golden Years,” and the album’s 10-minute epic title track, it’s not such an outrageous claim. “Wild is the Wind” features a rarely heard stripped down, pining vibrato, and is a window into the range and emotional depth his voice can carry.
A New Career in a New Town
Even as a self-proclaimed Bowievangelist, I am always hesitant to recommend Low, Bowie’s 1977 studio album, to new fans. The B-Side is entirely instrumental, which, after Ziggy Stardust not five years prior, rubbed more than a few fans the wrong way. However, as the first album of his highly-acclaimed “Berlin Trilogy” and his first of several collaborations with ambient innovator Brian Eno, Low yet again pushed the boundaries of what the world thought Bowie was capable of. “A New Career in a New Town,” laden with synthesizers and harmonicas, provides an upbeat—and perhaps autobiographical—instrumental that just feels like a fresh start.
Beauty and the Beast
Not to be confused with the fairy tale of the same title, “Beauty and the Beast” serves as the opening track for 1978’s “Heroes”, the second installment of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” The track is definitely one of the most upbeat on the album, shredding out electric guitar solos reinforced by Bowie’s rich baritone. The meaning of the lyrics, like most of the legend’s songs, is hard to read. But nonetheless, it makes for a fantastic opening that is often overshadowed by the album’s enormously popular title track, “Heroes.”
Boys Keep Swinging
David Bowie is well known inside and outside of LGBT circles for pushing genderqueer boundaries, but rarely is this made so evident in his music as it is in “Boys Keep Swinging.” With lyrics like, “When you’re a boy, other boys check you out,” it is unapologetically progressive for the late 1970s, which is made more surprising by Bowie’s generally low-key approach during this era. Even more eye-catching is the music video, which features Bowie in drag — three different ways.
Bowie began to step away from ambient sounds as he made his entrance into the ‘80s with Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which features hits like “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion.” “Teenage Wildlife” is a lesser known but no less powerful track, and nicely displays Bowie’s powerful voice as he belts lines like, “I feel like a group of one, no, they can’t do this to me.” No two verses are the same as the song jumps from melody to melody, not dissimilar to the adolescent experience, the only uniting verse being a variation of “I’m not some piece of teenage wildlife.”
This short list of the Thin White Duke’s underrated songs could, of course, be miles longer. Do you have a favorite underrated David Bowie track that didn’t make it onto the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!