David Bowie: The Starman's notable fans reveal their favourite songs

The world is weeping to ‘Sorrow’ and kicks off its shoes to ‘Let’s Dance’ following the singer's death

Lisa Ronson

"Heroes"

"Heroes" speaks to everyone, we can all be heroes in a moment, or for a day. It's one of his most powerful and emotive vocal performances. That song is as good as it gets! 

Lisa Ronson is a musician whose father Mick Ronson played guitar alongside Bowie

 

Brian May

"The Man Who Sold the World"

It’s very evocative for me.  It brings back those days when I’d just met Rog and Freddie and John and we were looking with wonder at what David Bowie was doing.  It was tantalisingly close to the vision we had for Queen, yet subtly different.  We admired his musicianship, and creativity, but also the way he handled himself, in a very mature way.  And this was really not a pop record … it had such mystery, and told a story which resonated with us.  Mick Ronson’s mournful guitar plays a big part in creating the atmosphere.   He was a great musician and contributed much magic to Bowie’s early recordings.  I think Mick's last appearance on stage was with us at the Freddie Tribute, playing ‘Heroes’.  Brilliant stuff.  And time takes away all.  

Brian May is the lead guitarist of Queen

Julian Baggini

“Ashes to Ashes”

“Ashes to Ashes” captures the genius of Bowie to be both avant-garde and completely accessible at the same time. It’s a deeply strange song, with a jerky rhythm and a complex structure with its labyrinth of bridges between verse and chorus. And yet it was a No 1 single, bought by fans of Spandau Ballet and The Human League. Of course, the new romantic influence was evident in the aesthetic of the Scary Monsters album, reflected in the video which was both eerie and psychedelic. Bowie always borrowed, but he returned everything transformed.

Julian Baggini is an author and philosopher


Phil Campbell

“Moonage Daydream”

I have two favourite songs: “The London Boys” from his early career. So lonely, but when I had moved there I felt exactly like that song. Later, when he finds his feet it’s got to be “Moonage Daydream” – the epitome of “sleaze rock”. The sweet sounds of his 12-string and Mick Ronson’s boxy electric defy any of his attempts to distance himself from the genre afterwards. The man was a rocker. He invented the 1970s.

Phil Campbell is the vocalist for The Temperance Movement 


Sarah Churchwell

“Changes”

We discovered Changesonebowie in the early 1980s, as Bowie was bursting (back, but we didn’t know that) on to the pop scene with “Modern Love”. It’s a cliché (but we didn’t know that either, and if we had we wouldn’t have cared) but our anthem was “Changes”. “Turn and face the strange”: is there a better piece of advice for an adolescent – or anyone? We were the children immune to their consultations, and felt quite aware of what we were going through, but we weren’t. Bowie was helping us see in the dark with his stardust.

Sarah Churchwell is Chair of Public Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London


Chris Difford 

“Letter to Hermione”

When my wife woke me up yesterday to tell me he had died, I recalled the wonderful opening lines of “Letter to Hermione”: “The hand that wrote this letter sweeps the pillow clean, so rest your head and read a treasured dream, I care for no one else but you, I tear my soul to cease the pain, I think maybe you feel the same, what can we do? I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to do so I’ve been writing just for you. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do either so I will write some words of love to you.” Thank you and God rest your soul in heaven.

Chris Difford is a singer, musician, songwriter, record producer and founding member of Squeeze


Joyce DiDonato

“Dancing in the Street”

No, please, not David Bowie. I naively always thought of him as immortal and timeless. It’s pointless to try and pin descriptives to him like “iconic”, “legendary”, or “titan”, and yet we try rather impotently in an effort to pay adequate tribute. What I do know is that he gave us all the example of how to live life without boundaries, without limitation, with colour, integrity and imagination, and perhaps above all, fearlessness. I can’t pick only one song, but the first I needed to put on was “Dancing in the Street” for its infectious capture of the joy of music and living: “All we need is music, sweet music… Laughing and singing and music swinging.”

Joyce Di Donato is a leading mezzo-soprano


Robert Elms

“Starman”

“Starman” is the song  that played the biggest role in my life. In 1972 I was a 13-year-old living in a council house in north London. Top of the Pops comes on and my mum says, “he’s weird,” and I say, “I want to be him.” Here was this man – stick thin, angular, his arm round another man, he just completely changed your notion of what your future might be. He opened horizons to things I never knew existed. Who knew about Nietzsche, or mime, or art, or bisexuality? And yet here he was, speaking in a voice like mine, coming from a place that was like where I was from. Let all the children boogie – well, we did boogie.

Robert Elms is a broadcaster


Robin Ince 

“Kooks”

My head is a jukebox. It is playing Bowie at random – but it keeps coming back to “Kooks”. Was that my first favourite? When the artist dies, we dust off albums and return to vinyl unplayed for years. Sometimes, we had forgotten our adoration, lost in the humdrum of growing up. This was not true of Bowie. I was listening to Blackstar last night, then to Station to Station. This morning, Low was going to be played whatever. I’ll just be hearing it a little differently today. And the sweet sentiment of “Kooks” was a little sharper as I walked up that hill with my son, hand-in-hand as always.

Robin Ince is a comedian, actor and writer


Kelly Jones 

“Life on Mars”

We toured with him across America in 2003, his last tour, and he was a gentleman to us. To see a man from the era he came from to always be constantly moving forward artistically was an inspiration. He would watch our soundcheck, we’d watch his. He would ask our opinion. I’d be in the empty amphitheatre watching and he’d ask, “What do you think, Kelly?” I’d be like “yeah sounds amazing, ha!!”. He dedicated “Life on Mars” to me one night. God bless him. 

Kelly Jones is the lead singer of Stereophonics


Jim Kerr

“Jean Genie”

We owe so much to David Bowie – as fans but even more so as artists. We looked to him as a guide to the possibilities of what could be done with pop music. Our band’s name was taken from a Bowie lyric on “Jean Genie”. I love it for its lyrics and its earthy blues riff. It was a proud day when we got to record with David Bowie at Rockfield studios in 1979. No one had a camera to record the moment, but the memory of it will last forever for us. 

Jim Kerr is the lead singer of  Simple Minds


Ally McErlaine 

“Drive-in Saturday”

I liked science fiction as a kid I was really intrigued by this song. I love the “strange ones in the dome” lyrics. When I saw Bowie at the Astoria and he played that song I watched Mick Jagger sitting in the front row when Bowie sang “the people stared in Jagger’s eyes”, and there was a really special connection there. It was a spine-tingling moment. 

Ally McErlaine is a guitarist with Texas


Catherine Pepinster

“Rock’n’Roll Suicide”

Earl’s Court, 12 May 1973: seats in the gods, until we dashed down the fire exit stairs, ending up right next to the stage. The playlist was almost all from Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. So many intriguing, brilliant narratives, stunning metaphors, but the favourite must be “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”, which reflected perfectly our adolescent angst. I was 13, it was the first gig I’d ever been too and is probably still the best. I’ve still got my ticket. David, you really were The Prettiest Star.

Catherine Pepinster is Editor of Catholic weekly ‘The Tablet’


Shelly Poole

“God Knows I’m Good”

It’s so sad and odd. I love this song as he sings it with a cry and It really gets me. Can I have two? Because I totally love “Let’s Dance”, even though it was later on but that’s when I actually fell in love with him. It reminds me of all the good things about being a teenager and the way he sings and feels it is incredible.

Shelly Poole was the singer-songwriter for Alesha’s Attic


Lisa Stansfield

“Under Pressure”

This song excited me from the moment I heard it. The tension is unbelievable and then the explosion. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie together in music. Maybe they’re together now.

Lisa Stansfield is a singer, songwriter and actress


Kim Wilde 

“John, I’m Only Dancing”

My first memories of Bowie are from the early 1970s. I went out and bought “John, I’m Only Dancing”. I loved glam rock, and no one was more glam than Bowie. “Life on Mars” had fed into the imagination of my 12-year-old mind. On my bedroom wall was a poster of David Bowie, a hypnotic portrait of an extraordinary artist who will never be forgotten. 

Kim Wilde is a pop singer, author, DJ and television presenter

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