We’re looking back at some of David Bowie’s favourite songs as he picks the best tunes for his BBC Star Special and gives us a little insight into the musical mind of the Thin White Duke. The essential show, which offers up a stunning playlist, can be found below and we’ve compiled a playlist you can take with you too. It works as a reflection of an artist who refused to be categorised by the industry.
David Bowie knew a thing or two about music—that we can all be certain of. It’s fair to say his adoration for alternative acts like Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Devo and Blondie plus so many more, brought them into the British mainstream. But it wasn’t just those acts that Bowie adored. The singer was a devotee of pop music and was often noted as being avid fans of the most adventurous bands and artists and, using his platform, Bowie was always ready to promote them. One of a few ways Bowie did that was with this iconic radio moment, David Bowie’s 1979 Star Special.
On March 20 1979, BBC Radio 1 invited the musical chameleon Bowie on air to live out all of his DJ fantasies and spin the decks at Britain’s biggest station. The cultural touchpoint was only a few weeks on from releasing the final piece of the singer’s hallowed ‘Berlin trilogy’, Lodger and gleefully took the opportunity to play some of his favourite records for a few hours and now we can hear them too.
Naturally, the songs he selects are very eclectic. Those songs range all the way from 20th-century composer Elgar to Little Richard and pretty much everything in between. He obviously makes time on the show to give moments of praise to Iggy Pop, his old chum, but also doffs his cap to New York’s new wave with his selections of Talking Heads and Blondie. It’s a mixed bag which perfectly sums up the divine creativity that pulsated through Bowie’s body.
Bowie starts the programme like the absolute pro he is, suave and smooth he begins “Hello This is David Bowie. It’s a bit grey out today but I’ve got some Perrier water, and a bunch of records… erm, I think if I was walking outside at the moment I would like to be walking on this street… it’s ‘Love Street’ by ‘The Doors’.”
As we sit here, listening over four decades in the future, these moments are so precious to look back on. As wonderful as the songs are, and there are some simply stunning and certainly more unusual tracks here, the real moments of joy come from listening to Bowie speak about the music and share his love for the art form he held dearest.
He says of Iggy Pop’s track ‘TV Eye’, offering an insight into their friendship, “a buddy of mine, Iggy Pop, this is just something I remember with affection because it’s when I was with him on tour playing the piano for him this one’s called ‘TV Eye’.” The love-in continues too.
The ‘Fame’ singer recalls listening to the Velvet Underground for the first time, “First single that I heard when I first went to America, on the first day that I got there was in New York and I was taken over to a writers apartment that he had in probably on 8th Avenue somewhere and he played me a new album that had just come out and he was very excited about this track and so was I.” He then plays the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane’.
Bowie also displays his incredible eye for talent. Having famously introduced Lou Reed to Britain and labelled DEVO the “band of the future” he also saw the burning potential in David Byrne’s Talking Heads: “Here’s a band I admire very much, some very charming people, David Byrne, in particular, we’re talking about ‘Talking Heads’ of course,” playing the band’s ‘Warning Sign’, a left-field track that few would select.
He even throws in a few of his own songs for good measure and says of ‘Yassassin’: “Here’s one that I wrote… I started writing this thing in Berlin… erm and I ended up finishing this thing in New York… it’s gotta sorta Turkish quality to it..erm… I find it quite hypnotic, I think it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album,” he concludes. After the track is played he follows up with a little more background.
“Yassassin, if it’s of any interest to you means ‘long life’ in Turkish. I didn’t know that, I had to phone up the Turkish Embassy and find out what it meant, I read it on a wall… I read most things on a wall… I read Kierkegaard on a wall… Ha!!… He speaks highly of me as well.”
Between the recommendations and tidbits about Bowie’s life, remains the view of a man who is deeply fascinated and pleased by the creation of music. The fruition of art and the joy, sorrow, pain and adulation a record or simply a song can bring to someone — it’s something Bowie lived his life by until the very end. This radio show is proof of that.
So, sit back and listen to David Bowie’s Star Special radio show from 1979 in full below. 40 years on, Bowie is still making us feel better about everything through his and others’ music. Below find his full list of choices and marvel in David Bowie’s love of music.
David Bowie’s favourite songs (1979):
- The Doors – ‘Love Street’
- Iggy Pop – ‘TV Eye’
- John Lennon – ‘Remember’
- ? and The Mysterions – ’96 Tears’
- Elgar – ‘Nursery Suite’
- Danny Kaye – ‘Inchworm’
- Philip Glass – ‘Trial Prison’
- Velvet Underground – ‘Sweet Jane’
- Mars – ‘Helen Fordsdale’
- Little Richard – ‘He’s My Star’
- King Crimson – ’21st Century Schizoid Man’
- Talking Heads – ‘Warning Sign’
- Jeff Beck – ‘Becks Bolero’
- Ronnie Spector – ‘Try Some, Buy Some’
- T-Rex – ’20th Century Boy’
- The Mekons – ‘Where Were You’
- Steve Forbert – ‘Big City Cat’
- The Rolling Stones – ‘We Love You’
- Roxy Music – ‘2HB’
- Bruce Springsteen – ‘Saint In The City’
- Stevie Wonder – ‘Fingertips’
- Blondie – ‘Rip Her To Shreds’
- Bob Seger – ‘Beautiful Loser’
- David Bowie – ‘Boys Keep Swinging’
- David Bowie – ‘Yassassin’
- Talking Heads – ‘The Book I Read’
- Roxy Music – ‘For Your Pleasure’
- King Curtis – ‘Something On Your Mind’
- Staple Singers – ‘Lies’