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“Young Americans”

Young Americans marked a transition away from Ziggy Stardust to Bowie’s experiments as the Thin White Duke, a slickly dressed, disenchanted, cocaine-huffing master of ’70s soul music. The album’s eponymous lead single referenced Richard Nixon, American racial tensions, and a prescient understanding of 1970s historical standing as a disillusioned, indulgent reaction to 1960s idealism, all atop one of the decade’s best examples of sax-heavy blue-eyed soul. The juxtaposition between melancholy lyrics and infectious rhythm, one of Bowie’s signature techniques, helped cement the singer as a major musical force in the United States, where it was his second biggest single to date. Nee-Vogelman


“Life on Mars?”

Bowie is often rightly credited with introducing hitherto unexplored levels of theatricality to rock, usually in connection with his wild stage outfits and that one time he mimed fellatio on Mick Ronson’s Les Paul. “Life on Mars?” and its show-tune-grade piano-and-strings melodrama is proof that his sense of grandeur could be well-exercised in the studio as well. The song contains a few of Bowie’s most memorable lines, “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” among them, and features the singer sounding cynical enough about the commoditization of entertainment to leave the planet entirely. But once he hits the money note on the chorus, it would have hardly mattered if he’d just been reading the phonebook during the verses. Winograd



Released in 1977, “Heroes” was an inspirational pillar in a time of turmoil, and Bowie’s legendary performance of the song in West Berlin in 1987 would later come to symbolize a turning tide in the Cold War and the reconciliation of East and West Berlin. Almost 40 years after its release, “Heroes,” co-written by Brian Eno, continues to ride Bowie’s uncharacteristically warm vocals and easy, hypnotic guitar to prominence in ads, soundtracks, and radio stations across the world. Nee-Vogelman


“Space Oddity”

As the world awaited the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, Bowie tapped into the Western world’s hopes and fears for the future of humanity with “Space Oddity” to catapult himself to international superstardom. Major Tom, the song’s hero, who would go on to appear in several other Bowie songs over the years, floats through space over one of 1969’s most infectious choruses, a dazzling homage to the grand potential inherent in the vastness of space, and the potential in Bowie’s burgeoning career. Nee-Vogelman


“Suffragette City”

Bowie and the Spiders’ casual stoner dialect, the iconic, chill-inducing “wham, bam thank you ma’am” breakdown, even the hilariously misheard “This mellow-thighed chick/The smell of fat chicks” line—on Ziggy Stardust’s walloping, breakneck climax, these are all but secondary concerns. The true central thrust of “Suffragette City” is Mick Ronson’s monstrous guitar tone. Sounding like a turbo-charged chainsaw crossed with a rocket engine, Ronson’s preposterously crunchy riffage is one of the greatest achievements in the history of the electric guitar. Winograd