Glam rock legend David Bowie blurred the lines between male and female, music and theater, outsider and insider, as he ruled the charts for decades ch-ch-changing everything.
Released in July 1969, "Space Oddity" introduced the music world to its favorite fictional astronaut, Major Tom.
Bowie's first major hit since "Space Oddity," "Starman" (1972) was actually a last-minute addition to the album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It replaced a cover of Chuck Berry's "Round and Round" at the eleventh hour when RCA's Dennis Katz heard the demo and loved it. Good thing he did because "Starman" was the track that introduced the world to Ziggy Stardust.
In the early '80s, David Bowie was called in to do some backing vocals for a Queen track, called "Cool Cat." And though that cameo never panned out, something much better did: a jam session, which resulted in "Under Pressure."
Fun fact: The vocal scatting in the song's final version is a testament to the track's improv origins.
"The Jean Genie"
The lead single from Bowie's 1973 album, Aladdin Sane, "The Jean Genie" is Bowie's fantastic, if not darkly cynical, take on Americana: "Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers / Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters / Talking 'bout Monroe and walking on Snow White / New York's a go-go, and everything tastes right."
In 1976, Bowie moved to West Berlin and produced three albums, known as his Berlin Trilogy. "Heroes," the second of these three albums, combined pop and rock with ambient sounds and synthesizers. While the title track wasn't an initial success in either the U.S. or U.K., it ultimately became one of Bowie's most covered signature songs.
"Life On Mars?"
The number four track off the 1971 album, Hunky Dory,"Life On Mars?" was once described by the BBC as "a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dali painting" because of the surreal imagery in its lyrics.
Fun fact: "Life On Mars?" has the same chords as Frank Sinatra's "My Way," and that overlap is intentional. In 1968, David Bowie wrote an English lyric to the tune of a French song, called "Comme, D'Habitude." He was beaten to the punch, however, by Paul Anka, who bought the rights to the song and made a fortune with "My Way." Bowie then recorded this track as a sort of "My Way" parody, noting in the Hunky Dory liner notes that the track is "inspired by Frankie."
Bowie's second number-one hit in the U.S., "Let's Dance" (1983) introduced his music to a new generation of fans.
"Ziggy Stardust" (1972) was ranked No. 277 on Rolling Stone 's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
The last Bowie single written in the style of glam rock, "Rebel Rebel" (1974) is his most covered track. It has been covered by Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Joan Jett, and The Smashing Pumpkins, just to name a few.
Its gender-bending lyrics, like "You got your mother in a whirl / She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl," are also some of the most direct examples of David Bowie's iconic androgynous persona.
"Dancing in the Street"
A signature Motown track, written by Marvin Gaye, William "Mickey" Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, "Dancing in the Street" was epically covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger in 1985. The pair of rock icons recorded the track to raise money for the Live Aid famine relief cause. Their generosity was quickly repaid as the single rocketed to number one.
"Ashes To Ashes"
A U.K. number-one single, "Ashes to Ashes" (1980) was Major Tom 2.0. Unlike the hippie astronaut presented to the world in 1969's "Space Oddity," however, the Major Tom portrayed in "Ashes to Ashes" was a "junkie, strung out in heaven's high, hitting an all-time low."
The title track off Bowie's 1974 album of the same name, "Diamond Dogs" introduced Bowie fans to a new persona, known as Halloween Jack.
Bowie's first number-one single in America, "Fame" marked a new sound for the glam rock icon; one he deemed "Plastic Soul." In a 1976 interview with Playboy magazine, he elaborated, "It's the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak, written and sung by a white limey."
As much as he may have considered the sound "squashed remains" of soul, people loved it. In fact, Bowie was one of the first Caucasian artists ever invited to perform on "Soul Train."
Recorded in Philadelphia, Bowie's 1975 single, "Young Americans" was another huge breakthrough hit for the British artist in America, where his "plastic soul" sound was much appreciated. In 2004, it was ranked at number 481 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
"The Man Who Sold the World"
The title track off David Bowie's third album, "The Man Who Sold the World" (1970) delves into the themes of splintered personalities and the search for personal unity. It has been covered by a number of artists, including Nirvana in 1993.
The number one track off Bowie's iconic 1971 album, Hunky Dory, "Changes" is often interpreted as an introspective look into the star's chameleonic personality and sound. It has also served as a source of inspiration for young people around the world, examining increasingly complex identities: "And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're going through."
"Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)"
The title track off Bowie's 1980 album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), this song is notable for its synthesized percussion, distinctive guitar work, and dark lyrics about a woman's descent into madness.
"Oh! You Pretty Things"
The number two track off Bowie's 1971 album, Hunky Dory, "Oh! You Pretty Things" presents the glam rock icon's omnipresent themes of alien life and the obsolescence of the human race, in a deceivingly cheery musical package. Notable for its stripped down piano verses, this track opens up into an anthemic refrain reminiscent of the Beatles.
While living in West Berlin, David Bowie shared an apartment with Iggy Pop, and the pair co-wrote the track, "China Girl" (1977). In a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie described the music video as as a "very simple, very direct" statement against racism.
This single from David Bowie's 2002 album, Heathen, features guitar work by Peter Townshend and earned Bowie a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Male Vocal Performance.
With lyrical references to "A Clockwork Orange" and musical references to Little Richard, this 1976 track is not to be missed. Recorded near the end of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust sessions, "Suffragette City" has since been covered by such artists as Boy George, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Franz Ferdinand.
One of Bowie's many tracks which imagines a post-apocalyptic future, "Drive-In Saturday" (1973) depicts a population that has to watch old pornographic films to remember how to reproduce. Influenced by 1950s doo-wop, it became a top three hit in the U.K.
The number one track off Bowie's hugely successful 1983 album, Let's Dance, "Modern Love" deals with issues of humanity and divinity: "God and Man no confessions / God and Man no religion / God and Man don't believe / in Modern Love."
Somewhat more funk and soul-inspired than the rest of Bowie's 1976 album, "Golden Years" is perhaps more a product of Young Americans than Station to Station. Nevertheless, fans ate it up. "Golden Years" reached number 10 on the U.S. charts and number eight on the U.K. charts, even earning Bowie a performance on "Soul Train."
On January 8, 2016, Bowie's 69th birthday, he released a jazz-inflected surprise album, called "Blackstar," which yet again saw the music icon exploring new sonic worlds. Days later, he succumbed to an 18-month battle with cancer, casting new light on his swan song album.
The single, "Lazarus," for example, now serves as a sort of farewell from a music legend, who struggled in life with addiction and tormented thoughts, but is finally at peace: "Look up here, I'm in heaven / I've got scars that can't be seen."