I remember liking — but completely not understanding — Mike Garson‘s crazed piano solo on “Aladdin Sane.” I was about 15, listening with a friend to David Bowie’s ChangesTwo greatest-hits album. My friend hated the solo, but to me, it was fun (and, now that I’ve re-listened, even crazier than I remembered).
Garson did it again, to a less avant-garde extent, on Earthling, Bowie’s drum-and-bass album of 1997. It’s in “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” played in a chopped-up fashion that reflects the cut-and-paste nature of that genre of music:
Bowie’s death at age 69 seemed abrupt. I’m not sure anyone knew he was battling cancer, and at this writing, no news outlet seems to have details. (Bowie died Jan. 10; I’m writing this in the wee hours of Jan. 11.)
Like so many other people, I relished in Bowie’s pop facets, picking up early on “Ashes to Ashes,” partly because it was ubiquitous in the early days of music videos, and then learning some of the hits via the Changes albums. He was a culture follower, but he did it well.
Sadly, the Bowie album that I’m most familiar with is Let’s Dance — it was huge during my high school years. But during and after college, I became more intrigued by Bowie’s darker sides. I tried hard to like Black Tie, White Noise, but the snappy hip-hop influence didn’t click with me. (I did like the single, “Jump They Say,” with its strangely woven harmonies.) Years later, I bought Earthling on a whim and loved it.
As for his latest work — The Next Day didn’t entice me, but Blackstar does. It seems to be strange, ambitious non-pop that includes musicians like saxophonist Donnie McCaslin, whose own experiments in electronica are getting interesting.
So, then: Here are eight David Bowie tracks that happen to be on my mind tonight. I burned out on the hits long ago, as I did with most classic rock. This is more a list of relative obscurities that I happen to be remembering fondly:
“Dead Man Walking” — Best track on Earthling, one of my top Bowie songs of all time.
“Queen Bitch” — David Bowie trying to be Lou Reed. The one Bowie song I’ve learned on guitar.
“Miracle Goodnight” — Not the best bit from Black Tie, White Noise, but it has a simple synth riff that sticks in my head like a commercial jingle.
“Criminal World” — Most people who bought Let’s Dance probably considered this B-side filler, but I really liked it. (I will admit to liking “Modern Love” more.)
“Gunman” — An Adrian Belew song, written with Bowie. Been on my mind lately for other reasons.
“Station to Station” — One thing I like about “Blackstar,” the song, is that it’s a return to this kind of epic songwriting.
“Stay” — Also from Station to Station, a kind of minor-key rocker that somehow makes me nostaligic for a ’70s New York glam world I never knew.
“Fashion” — Because my kids will find the “beep beep” part hilarious. I know I did. And yet, I found I wanted to hear this ridiculous little song again and again. Listening to this song was the first time I realized that I kind of liked this weird David Bowie character.