My 3 favourite Springsteen songs he never wrote

 

Every now and then, I come across a song by a band or artist that makes me think, ‘wow, Springsteen could have written this track’. This has led me to wonder about what it is exactly that defines a Boss song.

As I believe my selections below demonstrate, there’s really no typical style or methodology that singularly defines Springsteen’s songs. I would have said it was their quintessential Americana that gave them their commonality but two of the songs below are Australian in origin and identity and yet still have that quality that places them firmly in Springsteen’s wheelhouse. I must, therefore, conclude that it is, in fact, the spirit of the songs which mark their ‘Bruceness’.

Paul Kelly and the Messengers – Sweet Guy

There is actually a baker’s dozen worth of Paul Kelly songs that Springsteen should cover live immediately. Just listen to Foggy Highway, To Her Door, Pouring Petrol on a Burning man or If I Could Start Today Again and I think you’ll get my point. However, I ‘ve chosen Sweet Guy because it reminds me of the E Street Band in full rev on songs like Radio Nowhere and Murder Incorporated.

 

Cold Chisel – Flame Trees

I could just as easily have chosen Khe Sanh (the Australian Born in the USA) but this track is probably the most beautiful Chisel ever produced and sits right smack in  Springsteen’s spiritual heartland. A song about small town life redolent with longing and regret. I’d love to hear what The Boss would do with this gem. The comparisons are obvious: My Home Town, Long Walk Home, Factory all live in the same space as Flame Trees.

As an aside, Chisel front man Jimmy Barnes covered Steve Van Zandt’s Ride the Night Away (originally recorded by Southside Johnny) on his first solo album For the Working Class Man and reprised it later with Stevie playing guitar on the recording.

20170202_205159a.jpg

The Decemberists – Down By The Water

This track, off the Decemberists’ album The King Is Dead, has all the hallmarks of  Americana Springsteen style. Again, this is real heartland stuff and I can hear The Boss belting this out with Patti and Soozie lending just the right flourishes on backing vocals. The harmonica at the beginning, in particular, reminds me of the plaintive opening strains of The River.

 

Other Decemberist songs that feel ‘touched by The Boss’ are: Make You Better, Rise to Me, Calamity Song, Stateside and The Harrowed And The Haunted.

I know the stylings of the various vocalists featured in these songs can be a little distracting but, if you imagine Bruce singing the leads, they suddenly take on a very E Street/Springsteen aspect.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’d be interested in hearing from you about your own candidates for perhaps a Part two of this post.*

*I’d also thought about including XTC’s Hang on to the Night as a wild card because it reminds me quite a lot of some of the Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes to be found on Tracks and The Promise but, in the end, I decided to leave it out because it is very 70s New Wave and not something that ever would have made it onto an actual Springsteen recording proper (and yet, here it still is).

 

 

Words and image are my own.

©2017

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My Folk Top 10 (current)

And I was green, greener than the hill
Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now I’m darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

Nick Drake, Place to be

 

There’s simply too much insanity going around today. I can’t remember a time when people seemed more angry or divided than over the past decade or so. And with each year that passes, things seem to grow steadily worse. Our politicians are warmongers, our culture is spiraling, and music is increasingly turning into corporate elevator muzak.

With all of that in mind, I’ve decided to do a post about my favourite folk songs. Now bear in mind that my ideas about what constitutes folk could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered purist. If you’re looking for scratchy recordings from the dim and distant pre-stereo past read no further.

I tend to focus on music which is largely acoustic, introspective, or just plain beautiful. I’ll give you just a sample of what I like in this post. Let’s call it my Folk(ish) top ten.

  1. Family, Noah Gundersen

I really love this song. It speaks of human frailty and resignation to the inevitability of life’s grim cycles. Gundersen also has a voice that is at once youthful and worldly which wonderfully complements the unexpected depth of wisdom in his lyrics.

Alternate cut: Garden

  1. Time has told me, Nick Drake

Drake’s story is a tragic one. All his fame and success came after he had committed suicide out of a despair for his lack of recognition. As sad a tale as that is, his music was unbelievably beautiful and the small legacy he left behind him (just a handful of albums) has had a lasting and far ranging effect on the musical landscape.

Alternate cut: Pink moon

  1. Grown ocean, Fleet Foxes

I don’t know where these people came from but I’d like to go there. Again, Fleet Foxes only released a small body of work (two albums and an EP) before they imploded but this band was phenomenal. Their terrific vocal harmonies and simply heavenly arrangements send shivers up my spine.

Alternate cut: Helplessness blues

  1. Arrow, Husky

My son introduced me to this remarkable local group (local if you happen to live in Melbourne that is). He has even befriended a couple of the members of the band and he and I have attended one of their gigs together. To me, bands like Husky and Fleet Foxes are where Folk is at right now (please forgive my hep talk).

Alternate cut: Dark sea

  1. America, First Aid Kit

Speaking of where folk is at, these two young sister songbirds hailing from Sweden are the real deal. Their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song America is appropriately wistful and melancholic. Truly great, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Alternate cut: Emmylou

  1. Oats on the water, Ben Howard

Another example of the ‘new folk’ this song tears at my soul and makes me seriously take stock of my life. Weirdly, I haven’t been able to get into any other song he’s done. Still, this one track is better than many entire albums so it all balances out I guess.

  1. The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel

This has all the elements that put me in a state of relaxational bliss. It tells a wonderful, poignant story, the harmonies are superb, and it carries itself with just the right amount of gravitas for me to take it seriously.

Alternate cut: Only living boy in New York

  1. Time (the Revelator), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

I’m going to call this folk because frankly, I often can’t tell the difference between ‘folk’ and a lot of ‘country’ music I hear. This duo is simply without peer. I had the intense pleasure to see them perform live last year and it was a transformative experience.

Alternate cut: Miss Ohio

  1. Place to be, Nick Drake

Another wonderful piece from the mind of a misunderstood genius. This track is my Sunday afternoon song, not because I listen to it on  Sundays particularly but because any time I listen to it becomes a long lazy Sunday afternoon in my mind.

  1. Masters of war, Bob Dylan

This epic anti-war anthem is often overlooked in discussions about Dylan’s folk period. I don’t know why that should be as the song has only become more relevant as the years have passed.

Alternate cut: The times they are a changing

Okay, that’s my current top ten. I’ll admit it regularly changes but today it’s accurate. Please feel free to add your own faves in the comments. I’m always interested in what you’re listening to.

©2016

Sorry for the way this post bunches up weirdly. I always take my time creating carefully considered spacings to make my stuff pleasant to read but half the time as soon as I post it I find the software has just ignored what I’ve done and squashed everything up. It looks ugly but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.

As a very visual person, I find this extremely frustrating but I suspect this may be how the good folk at WordPress push you into using the paid version rather than the free one.

Three Songs, Three Songwriters

 

“Songwriting is mysterious to me. I still feel like a total beginner. I don’t feel like I have got it nailed yet.” – Paul Kelly

 

Australian music is in my blood. Maybe it started when I was a babe in arms. My first sitter – when I was a very wee baby – was a fifteen-year-old pop singer name Patricia Amphlett. Patricia (known as Little Pattie) had just released her first single He’s My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy which was climbing the Sydney charts at the time.

Patricia also happened to be a cousin of that other Amphlett girl, Chrissy, who would storm the world’s charts with her band the Divinyls in the eighties.

This country has been blessed by many stellar talents. In the late 50s and early 60s a wave of immigration from the UK brought an impressive crop of musicians (and actors) to our shores and the resultant bands; the Easybeats, Bee Gees, and later AC/DC (to name just three) all impacted upon the world stage to various degrees of greatness.

Other bands like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Max Merritt, and Daddy Cool would dominate the local charts through the late 60s and early 70s. Then the Birthday Party came along.

The arrival into the Australian music scene of Nick Cave and his band the Birthday Party (formally the Boys Next Door) seemed to signal a sharp change in the tone of Australian music. This change had already been foreshadowed in the sound of Brisbane band The Saints (and Sydney proto-punk outfit Radio Birdman).

Pre-dating the ‘76 punk explosion, the Saints had received critical interest from the music press for their raw Stooges/MC5 style sound and strong songwriting but received little actual airplay at home.

Despite the Saints playing John the Baptist to their proverbial (anti)Christ, when Cave and co. exploded out of Melbourne’s punk underbelly, Australia was little prepared for the aural and visual assault that was the Birthday Party and had no idea what to make of any of it.

Feeling stymied by the self-limiting minds and imaginations of what then passed for the local culture, the boys from Melbourne took their talents to London (a tradition among Australian bands at the time) where they fast developed a reputation for violent and dramatic gigs that became the main influence for the eighties Goth scene.

The Birthday Party, having inspired a slew of new Goth bands, disintegrated around ’83. A few years later, bassist Tracy Pew died of injuries sustained during an epileptic seizure (of the original Birthday Party line-up, Cave, Mick Harvey, and Phill Calvert survive, Rowland S Howard having succumbed to liver cancer brought on by a Hepatitis C infection in 2009).

From the Ashes of the Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds were born. It was this band that gave Nick Cave the vehicle to truly develop his unique songwriting skills. Cave is often dismissed as some sort of Lord of Goth but that is patently reductive and belies his transcendent writing skills.

My pick for Nick Cave is Fifteen feet of Pure White Snow not because it is my favourite (mine is  Are you the one I’ve been waiting for?) but because I think it nicely sums up what latter-day Cave is all about.

Paul Kelly’s songwriting career stretches back as far as Cave’s, though Kelly was certainly the more accomplished in those early years. Kelly eschewed the growing trend towards punk and new wave in the late 70s and early 80s, choosing to focus more on solid songwriting in the folk rock vein.

Like Cave, Kelly is a musical storyteller but unlike Cave, his stories are very Australian. Any country could have produced a Nick Cave, only Australia could have produced Paul Kelly.

His songs were, and are, a landscape of the Australian psyche and he has been able to move effortlessly through genres taking in and often reconfiguring folk, soul, blues, rock, and (much later) electronica. Kelly is an institution in Australia having passed into the mainstream without dropping a beat credibility wise.

In his searing honesty and self-examination, he reminds me a great deal of Springsteen, though if anything, he is even more earthy and authentic than that great artist.

Paul hails from Adelaide originally but has moved around a great deal over his career. This has given his music a universal feel and allowed him to capture the everyman in his songwriting. He has also worked with many of the luminaries of Australian music and is greatly respected by his peers.

My Paul Kelly choice is Dumb things because, in my opinion, it is one of the finest songs to ever come out of this country.

My final songwriter is Paul Dempsey of the band Something for Kate. There would be plenty of Australian’s in particular that would be outraged that I’ve included him in this company and left out such greats as Robert Forster and Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens, however, I consider Dempsey (a baby at just 40) one of this country’s finest.

Dempsey – another Melbourne boy – has been pumping out fantastic, genre-spanning material for over two decades both with his band and on two masterful solo records.

The thing I love about Dempsey is that he’s no purist, he’s a music enthusiast, with a deep love of all good songs regardless of genre. This has given his own songwriting efforts a fluidity and freedom that is remarkably rare.

Paul, like Springsteen, has suffered bouts of depression (seems to come with the territory when you have Irish blood) and I believe this experience has lent a depth to his songwriting. Added to all this is his phenomenal singing and multi-instrumental skill as a player (He played almost everything on his most recent solo album).

My pick for Dempsey is California because it captures the amazing musicality of the band, Pauls terrific songwriting, and the pop sensibility that has put such an incredibly nuanced band into the mainstream charts.

There you have it, my three favourite Australian songwriters in a nutshell. Many will disagree but I stand by my choices. All three have grown me as a person and provided the soundtrack to my weird little life.

©2016

Love songs

 

When the last bird falls
And the last siren sounds
Someone will say what’s been said before
It’s only love we were looking for.

I guess it’s fair to say that poetry is the true language of love. Even poorly written verse has the power to convey that most complex of human emotions more effectively than regular prose. That must be why I keep circling back to poetry whenever I feel the need to convey the depth of my feelings for Jersey girl.

Music too shares this unique gift. And the combination of well-crafted words and music is the ultimate vehicle for the emotions of the heart. Who can fail to be touched by a well-crafted love song? Not I, that’s for certain. I’ve been a hostage to one song or another for the entire of my life; an extremely willing hostage at that.

So today I’ve decided to share my all time favourite songs of love, lust, and heartbreak*. I’ll limit my choices to ten (even though I could easily come up with fifty) because I’ve asked Jersey girl to contribute her own selection, which I’ll run concurrently with mine. So, without further ado, here are our lists beginning with….

  1. Wichita lineman Glen Campbell (Anthony)

This song (written by the great Jimmy Webb) contains the most romantic line ever committed to disc, and I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time… Damn! Those 15 little words perfectly encapsulate my feelings for my girl. Nothing I write will ever capture it better. The rest of the track (backed by the Wrecking Crew, of which Campbell himself was a former member) is pretty awesome too.

   10. You only hide something for Kate (Jersey girl)

And I wander through, the lost city of you. We have both loved this song for pretty well as long as we’ve been together. Paul Dempsey is the romantic’s romantic.

  1. Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for? Nick Cave (Anthony)

Another piece of perfect poetry that contains the killer lines, O we will know, won’t we? The stars will explode in the sky. But they don’t, do they? Stars have their moment then they die. I’m sorry, but if you don’t get a tingle down your spine when Nick sings those words, you may want to check you still have a pulse. This entire song is like a soundtrack for our (Jersey’s and my) tale; epic stuff.

     9. Throw your arms around me Hunters and Collectors (Jersey girl)

Yet another Melbourne band, Hunters and Collectors started out as an industrial art pub band and then suddenly started coming out with songs like this. Somehow, Mark Seymour has captured a universal experience of love in a uniquely Australian way.

    8. Here we go Jon Brion (Anthony)

You’ve got to know that there’s someone for you, as strange as you are. Who can cope with the things that you do, without trying too hard. A track that grabbed me from line one. I can totally relate to every single word expressed in this song. Love is weird.

    8. Back in your arms Springsteen (Jersey girl)

One of the all time great songs of regret, this track tears at the heart. Springsteen channeling the soul masters; just gorgeous.

    7. Nothing can change this love Sam Cooke (Anthony)

And speaking of the soul masters, you can’t have a list like this that doesn’t include Sam Cooke, can you? Only god knows how many teenage pregnancies that man is indirectly responsible for. Soul master indeed.

      7. Rootless tree Damien Rice (Jersey girl)

This track (especially the iteration in this video) is utterly devastating. Lisa Hannigan features on backing vocals. And if you hate me, hate me, hate me then hate me so good that you can let me out, let me out, let me out of this hell when you’re around.

  1. Walking after you Foo Fighters (Anthony)

Dave Grohl really hasn’t written much of note in the past five years but, if he never writes another song, I’ll always admire him for penning this little ballad of obsessive love. I actually prefer the album cut to this version, but this video is very…moving.

      6. Dusty Beds Fences (Jersey girl)

If I knew where that was, I’d stay between her legs
And fucking catch me leaving, ’cause life’s that way
I’ll stay in drowned inside her mouth
She’ll kiss me and she’ll sniff me and she’ll keep me around
Inside her purse, like a chorus and a verse
Neatly on some paper with a heart drawn on the words

Well, alright then. Is it hot in here?

  1. Jersey girl Springsteen version (Anthony)

Well, I had to include this one, didn’t I? I love Tom Waits’ original, but I’d say Springsteen’s version ramps up the romance.  And that extra verse is what really makes me think of my own gorgeous Jersey girl when I hear it. So, for me, it was a no-brainer; Springsteen takes the honours.

     5. Handwritten Gaslight Anthem (Jersey girl)

Jersey boys Gaslight Anthem are known for their high-octane live shows but singer-songwriter Brian Fallon has a sensitive side which he puts to good effect here.

  1. Ain’t No Sunshine Bill Withers (Anthony)

There’s a wonderful sense of yearning in this track I find hard to resist. And that I know I know riff is down right mesmeric. An absolute classic. Lean on me is another track that’s hard to go past.

    4. Arsonist’s lullaby Hozier (Jersey girl)

All you have is your fire…
And the place you need to reach –
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep ’em on a leash

Hozier is one of those songwriters who leaves nothing out. He’s totally uncompromising and raw. He really should be better known than he is.

  1. Suspicious minds Elvis (Anthony)

The energy in this song, which was penned by Mark James, has kept me coming back for decades. Elvis never sounded better and the torment he conveys here is palpable. This is the other side of love, the side we hope never to see. Pardon my French but his track is fucking majestic.

      3. Hold back the river James Bay (Jersey girl)

Once upon a different life
We rode our bikes into the sky
But now we call against the tide
Those distant days are flashing by

  1. If I should fall behind Springsteen (Anthony)

Springsteen has not written as many love songs as people generally imagine and often when he does they tend to be fairly gritty. This track and the superb Back in your arms are two exceptions of note. Of the two, I personally favour If I should fall behind. This track resonates on so many levels for me. It’s pretty much an instruction manual for getting your love through the hard times in one piece.

     2. You’re missing Springsteen (Jersey girl)

You’re missing when I shut out the lights
You’re missing, when I close my eyes
You’re missing, when I see the sun rise
You’re missing

The Boss does longing and loss really well. This is off his 9/11 album The Rising and is another one of those ‘huge emotions in a small room’ tracks of which he is a past master; heartbreakingly beautiful.

  1. When it don’t come easy Patty Griffin (Anthony)

Discovering Patty changed my life. If you want raw, unflinching honesty in your music, you simply can’t go past this superb singer-songwriter. There is a moment in this song where the music kicks up in intensity and her childlike voice wails in anguish, So many things that I had before, they don’t matter to me now. Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost, and the love I‘ve never found. Sweet Jesus.

     1. Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for? Nick Cave (Jersey girl)

See above for my comments.

I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near
I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here
You’re my destiny is this how you’ll appear?
Wrapped in a coat with tears in your eyes?
Well take that coat babe, and throw it on the floor
Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

As you’ve been moving surely toward me
My soul has comforted and assured me
That in time my heart it will reward me
And that all will be revealed
So I’ve sat and I’ve watched an ice-age thaw
Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built
Out of longing great wonders have been willed
They’re only little tears, darling, let them spill
And lay your head upon my shoulder
Outside my window, the world has gone to war
Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

O we will know, won’t we?
The stars will explode in the sky
But they don’t, do they?
Stars have their moment and then they die

There’s a man who spoke wonders though I’ve never met him
He said, “He who seeks finds and who knocks will be let in”
I think of you in motion and just how close you are getting
And how every little thing anticipates you
All down my veins my heart-strings call
Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?

Honorable mentions

As always there were plenty of tracks that didn’t make the list and should have.   Something for Kate The fireball at the end of everything, Washed out to sea. Springsteen She’s the one, All that heaven will allow, Atlantic City. Lisa Hannigan, Ocean and a rock, Couldn’t love you more. Ray LaMontagne Let it be me, You are the best thing, Shelter. Patti Smith Because the night. Elvis Costello Good year for the roses. Bowie Wild is the wind. Lou Reed She’s my best friend. Them Baby please don’t go, Gloria. U2 All I want is you, With or without you. The National I need my girl Etta James I’d Rather Go Blind.

Please remember, these are just our favourites not a manifesto. Feel free as usual to add your own contributions in the comments section.

*Inevitably there is a bit of crossover here between this list and previous favourites lists for which I apologise.

It’s all too beautiful too

 

I knew I’d end up doing another of these. I just can’t resist the beauty in music.

Continuing on with my ‘Melbourne bands rule’ theme, my first selection will be fall at your feet by Clare Bowditch. Clare hails from here but the song was written by Neil Finn of Crowded House (Finn is, of course, a  New Zealander but Paul Hester and Nick Seymour, his band mates, were Melbourne boys).

You’re hiding from me now
There’s something in the way that you’re talking
Words don’t sound right
But I hear them all moving inside you
Go, I’ll be waiting when you call

Next up is one of my all time favourite tracks what’s going on by the inestimable Marvin Gaye. This song can reduce me to tears, which is a prerequisite for true beauty in my book. Oh, that smooth soul sound.

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

This next track could be the theme song to the movie of Jersey girl’s and my life. Irish child-woman Lisa Hannigan and her gorgeous ditty ocean and a rock have nursed me through many a near breakdown over the past five years.

Thoughts of you warm my bones
I’m on the way, I’m on the phone
Let’s get lost, me and you
An ocean and a rock is nothing to me

Speaking of soundtracks to our story (and Melbourne bands) It’s back to Something for Kate for a song which is just one of the Dempsey compositions that have had me wondering where he hides to spy on our life. Washed out to sea is biographically graphic and anatomically correct in every detail.

Arrival and departures
Yeah, we know them so well
Oh, from sleeping and dreaming
On a baggage carousel
We know every step and every crack
Every scene leading to the final act
Every comic trick circling back, back, back…

I can’t seem to get away from Paul Dempsey today. Here’s a cut off his brand new solo effort Strange Loop. The song’s called True sea (Oceans and seas seem to be a recurring theme in my selections – five out of the ten tracks so far. Ocean = emotion in Jungian symbolism, s0…).

Just get me off of this ocean
Want to move on a true sea
There’s no above or no below, just you
Just you beside me

That’s all I have for you for now. It’s all too beautiful will return…

It’s all too beautiful

YOUONLYHIDE

I was listening to Patty Griffin’s divine track When it don’t come easy today and marvelling at the sheer beauty of the song and performance. It inspired me to post my top five  ‘achingly beautiful’ songs. I’m aware this is entirely subjective but it’s just a bit of fun so here they are. Weirdly, three of the bands are from my hometown.

First up is the aforementioned Patty Griffin song. I was struck speechless the first time this track rolled over me.

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

Next is a band I’ve mentioned a lot on this blog, Melbourne outfit, Pony Face with their sublime track Sea and the dunes.

Far from the fishhook smiles
The stepped on tails
My suburbs tears
Mopped up in the aisles
And drips of me are still there

And relative newcomers (also from Melbourne) Husky and their deeply beautiful track Dark sea.

We were once just children
Staring up at the stars
When did we grow old
Brother we’ve come so very far

It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that both Jersey girl and I love Something for Kate, from (you guessed it) Melbourne. This track, You only hide is a particular favourite.

So I keep watch
And you keep breaking
Breaking formation to become
Someone else
And your eyes become corridors
Where I wander with a candle
Calling out to you

And finally, the Band Fleet Foxes (not from Melbourne but Seattle) are, sadly, now defunct but they left behind this gem, Someone you’d admire.

I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire

That’s your lot. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Feel free to post your own favourites in the comments. Remember, the theme is beauty.

My Bowie top twenty

 

David-Bowie-and-Iggy-Pop-in-the-1970s-3
Bowie and Iggy (image: Philippe Halsman)

 

Since the Springsteen list went over so well, I’ve decided to do one for my other all time favourite artist, Bowie. This is a tricky one. Bowie was as prolific as Springsteen and if anything even more diverse in the styles he embraced. With a body of work spanning five decades, there are so many tracks to consider.

If you’re looking for ‘Heroes’ I’m afraid you won’t find it here. It was a great track at the time, but I grew bored with it years ago.

OK, wish me luck, I’m going in.

  1. Andy Warhol

Put a peephole in my brain
Two New Pence to have a go
I’d like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show

I’m choosing this one for the outstanding dueling acoustic guitars and the sheer cleverness of the lyrics. This album (Hunky Dory) was really, I think, the first taste of Bowie the innovator.

  1. The Bewlay Brothers

Now the dress is hung,
the ticket pawned
The Factor Max that proved the fact
Is melted down
And woven on the edging of my pillow
Now my Brother lays upon the Rocks
He could be dead, He could be not
He could be You

One of the most indefinably sinister and downright unsettling sets of lyrics from Bowie, ever. This song is a minor classic that, like Andy Warhol, came off the seminal Hunky Dory; quite brilliant.

  1. Moonage Daydream

Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man, love
Is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care

Make me jump into the air

The trouble with Bowie is that he made it all look so effortless and sound so simple that even now, most people fail to get just how clever his song structures were. Bowie did things with chords and with timing changes that nobody else would even think to try in a pop song. The man was a genius.

  1. Hang on to Yourself

Well she’s a tongue twisting storm, she will come to the
show tonight
Praying to the light machine
She wants my honey not my money she’s a funky-thigh
collector
Layin’ on ‘lectric dreams

Mick Ronson was Bowie’s secret weapon of mass seduction during this period. Ronson’s guitar rips up this track and drives the rhythm well beyond the confines of Bowie’s carefully cultured vocal treatment.

  1. Suffragette City

Hey man, Henry, don’t be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can’t take you this time, no way
Hey man, droogie don’t crash here
There’s only room for one and here she comes
Here she comes

This song is a blast to play live and I’m amazed Bowie didn’t include it more often in his sets. Again, Ronson is the powerhouse behind this speedy little nugget. A glam classic.

  1. Young Americans

Ain’t there a man who can say no more?
And, ain’t there a woman I can
sock on the jaw?
And, ain’t there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces?
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me
break down and cry?

To me, this is Bowie’s The River (though it predates the Springsteen track by a good six years). Thematically there are some very strong similarities and I do wonder if Bowie played Springsteen this track when the young Jerseyite visited him at Sigma sound studios in Philly during the recording of the album. Perhaps some of the ideas percolated through to Springsteen’s own efforts. The River (as everyone knows) draws upon his own sister’s experience of teenage pregnancy but still, it’s another obvious point of comparison between these two songwriting giants.

  1. Panic in Detroit / John I’m only Dancing

He laughed at accidental sirens that broke the evening
gloom
The police had warned of repercussions
They followed none too soon
A trickle of strangers were all that were left alive
Panic in Detroit, I asked for an autograph
He wanted to stay home, I wish someone would phone

Shadow love was quick and keen
Life’s a well-thumbed machine
Saw you watching from the stairs
You’re everyone that ever cared
Oh lordy
Oh lordy
You know I need some loving
Move me, touch me

I know, I do this a lot but in my defense, some songs are simply equal in every respect. In the case of these two tracks, there is also a musical kinship. Both are frenetic bordering on anarchy. Bowie at his early strangest.

  1. Loving the Alien

But if you pray
all your sins are hooked upon the sky
Pray and the heathen lie will disappear
Prayers they hide
the saddest view
(Believing the strangest things,
loving the alien)

And your prayers they break the sky in two
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

The inclusion of this track (ahead of some absolute Bowie classics) may seem strange but the sheer poetry of his lyrics here justify its inclusion. The production on the actual studio version is far too slick, but he did some killer live renditions.

  1. Jump They Say

They say hey that’s really something
They feel he should get some time
I say he should watch his ass
My friend don’t listen to the crowd
They say ‘Jump’
Got to believe somebody
Got to believe

I simply adore this track. Inspired by the suicide of his older brother and included on the album (Black Tie, White Noise) which he recorded as a wedding gift to Iman, this song is latter day Bowie at his very best.

  1. I Would Be Your Slave

I bet you laugh out loud at me
A chance to strike me down
Give me peace of mind at last
Show me all you are
Open up your heart to me
And I would be your slave

For the bass line alone this track deserves to make the list but it is also a piece of masterful writing from the erstwhile Thin White Duke. A tragically underrated addition to the DB pantheon.

  1. Blackstar

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

What can I say about this track? Written by a man who knew his days were numbered, it is simply beautiful. So achingly beautiful that I have trouble screwing up the courage to listen to it. Incidentally, the type of tumor that Bowie had is known as a black star tumor because of the way it looks in X-rays.

  1. Rock n Roll Suicide

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

From, arguably, Bowie’s greatest album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars comes this work of poetic magnificence. To my ear, it is very reminiscent of some of Springsteen’s early New York/ New Jersey myth arc songs, like Incident on 57th Street or Jungleland. It has the feel of the streets and a descriptive poetry building steadily towards an inevitable crescendo.

  1. Time

Time – He’s waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His script is you and me boys

Time – He flexes like a whore
Falls wanking to the floor
His trick is you and me, boy

Another poetic masterpiece, this cut gives me chills now whenever I hear it. An ode to mortality, it is spiritually linked to Blackstar. This is Bowie at his best, forcing us to look deeper, to pull back the curtain on life’s truths.

  1. Drive-in Saturday

His name was always Buddy
And he’d shrug and ask to stay
She’d sigh like Twig the Wonder Kid
And turn her face away
She’s uncertain if she likes him
But she knows she really loves him
It’s a crash course for the ravers
It’s a Drive-in Saturday

Bowie loved to play with notions of sexuality and never more so than in this little number. Set in a future where people have lost the ability to make love organically, They look to alien intervention and old videos of Jagger to relearn the skills of their ancestors. Or something like that.

  1. Life on Mars?

Sailors fighting in the dancehall
Oh man!
Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

This had to be included. It may be almost a cliché to consider this a favourite but who can really resist the pull of these prescient words put to some of the most emotive music he ever wrote. Rick Wakeman rather than Mike Garson did the keyboard honors on this one.

  1. The Next Day

First they give you everything that you want
Then they take back everything that you have
They live upon their feet and they die upon their knees
They can work with satan while they dress like the saints
They know god exists for the devil told them so
They scream my name aloud down into the well below

After a break of nearly a decade, Bowie roared back with one of his best albums since the 70s. This, the title track, was just one of the standout cuts. I’ve included it to represent the entire album which, recorded in secret, was dropped almost unannounced upon a public desperate for more output from their idol. If you don’t own this, you’re no Bowie fan.

  1. Starman / Station to Station

I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV
we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light

If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright

Here are we
One magical movement
from Kether to Malkuth 1
There are you
You drive like a demon
from station to station
The return of the Thin White Duke
throwing darts
in lovers’ eyes

I know these two are a little incongruous placed together but they are both defining moments in Bowie’s career and equally worthy of 4th place.

  1. Aladdin Sane

Motor sensational, Paris or maybe hell – I’m waiting
Clutches of sad remains
Waits for Aladdin Sane – you’ll make it

Who’ll love Aladdin Sane
Millions weep a fountain,
just in case of sunrise

This has been a long time favourite of mine going back to my twenties, which is the reason it has scored a position near the top. Mike Garson’s piano arrangement is pure and undeniable genius. I had the thrill of getting him to sign my copy of this album back during Bowie’s Reality tour. It remains a treasured possession.

  1. Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan, he could lick ’em by smiling
He could leave ’em to hang
Here came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.

This is one song I will never grow bored of. It’s deceptively simple upon first listening but any guitarist will tell you, it’s not until you attempt to work out the chord structure that you realise what a clever piece of writing it truly is. Ah Ziggy, you canny little alien.

  1. Ashes to Ashes

Do you remember a guy that’s been
In such an early song
I’ve heard a rumour from Ground Control
Oh no, don’t say it’s true

They got a message from the Action Man
“I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too.
I’ve loved. All I’ve needed: love.
Sordid details following.”

The shrieking of nothing is killing me
Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis
And I ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair
But I’m hoping to kick but the planet is glowing

[Chorus:]
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time low

Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh, no, not again

I’m stuck with a valuable friend
“I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too.”
One flash of light
But no smoking pistol

I never done good things
I never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue,
Want an axe to break the ice
Wanna come down right now

The return of Major Tom (from such an early song) caused quite a ripple of excitement in the ranks of Bowie fandom when this track was dropped back in 1980. That said, the song was simply the most alien thing most of us had heard coming out of the radio – ever*. As weird as Kate Bush’s ethereal hit Wuthering Heights, Ashes to ashes helped cement Bowie’s legacy as the high priest of strange. It’s hard to believe he followed this album up with Let’s fucking Dance.

Songs that should have made the top twenty: Breaking Glass, Scary Monsters, I’m Afraid of Americans, Wild is the Wind, Diamond Dogs, The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, (You Will) Set the World on Fire, Bring Me the Disco King, All the Young Dudes, and finally, Fame.

Well, there it is. I could do an entire alternative top twenty of equally fantastic and essential tracks. That’s the problem when you’re trying to encapsulate the prolific output of a bonafide creative force of nature.

I hope you enjoyed our little musical journey. Comments, as always, are encouraged.

*And a major contributor to that unique sound was none other than E Street’s Roy Bittan who played keyboards on this and other cuts from Scary Monsters.

The Music Enthusiast’s list.

©2016