While performing a mundane household task the other day I thought I’d put on some music. I had a look through our CDs and settled on some Bowie – a “best of” collection. Just out of interest I thought I’d try to decide which was my favourite of these vintage tracks. (Well, I guess all Bowie’s vintage now, but this particular album covered 1969–1974.) One track did win out for me, but there were a few close runners-up.
Hazy cosmic jive
I’ve been a Bowie fan since I was first aware of Space Oddity. I would’ve been two years old when this was released, so its one of those tracks that’s always just been there. It’s a unique track, and listening to it closely there’s incredible detail in the recording – something that’s true of all of these songs. But this one’s not my favourite.
For a while I thought it’d be Changes, with its warm, alluring intro, shifts in tempo and key. Or Sorrow with its soft, lilting vocals, saxophones and strings. But no. The Man Who Sold the World (my wife’s fave) is another great track. I love it’s lazy, compressed guitar hook, but the lyric I gazed a gazely stare drops me out of this one every time. I’ve got something of a soft spot for Rock n Roll Suicide: like Space Oddity it’s a track that stood out even when I was a kid. But I didn’t feel that was the one, either.
So which track was it? Well, in a way I didn’t want it to be this one, because in many ways it’s an obvious choice.
The winner is (insert drum roll here): Life on Mars
Oh, man, look at those cavemen go
Life on Mars is a stunning track. The piano riff on the run up to the chorus is superb. Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy. That lyric alone could swing it for me. There are eddies and flows and orchestral flurries, the sheer drama of the cellos and strings. Timpany drums! And that beautiful, delicate piano in the reprise, followed by the ringing phone and the words I think that’s the one – presumably referring to the recording, I don’t know. Life on Mars is melancholy and dramatic and unashamedly epic, and I love all that about it.
While listening to these tracks I was reminded of Bowie’s immense talent. The man’s a master of vocal variation, and the musicianship on these recordings is fantastic. There will not be another like him, so versatile and influential.
So that’s it: my favourite vintage Bowie track. Predictable, perhaps, but with good reason. What’s yours?