“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” — David Bowie
David Bowie was never an artist to fit any pre-ordained trajectory for his career. In fact, he never approached anything creatively with any rigid idea of how to proceed. It means that, unlike many of his contemporaries, Bowie never set out to write a ballad, or a rocker, or even a love song with such singular intent. Instead, he’d much rather the music and the art flow through him with authenticity. However, that doesn’t mean that the Starman hasn’t dropped a few love songs in his time.
As you might imagine, however, these songs are usually a little bit different from what we think of as a traditional love song. There are very few instances where Bowie becomes needlessly perfumed or overtly romantic. Instead, he prefers to channel his love through his abstract lyrics and reflect on the encompassing emotion’s power to both gratify and nullify life as we know it. Below, we’ve picked out our 10 favourite David Bowie love songs.
If you were to pose the question of David Bowie’s greatest love song, the chances are his diehard fans — and there are plenty of them — would struggle to pick one out. Not because the singer has so many it becomes impossible to choose but because his inspirations, direction and assertions in the recording studio are often so varied and rendered in the duality of life that it can be difficult to pinpoint what is and what isn’t determined as “a love song”.
For example, if to you a love song is all rose-coloured hues, dreamy piano tinkling and the faint smell of Ferreiro Rocher in the air, then Bowie is not for you. If, however, you like your love songs to be dripping in sex, danger and everything in between, then the Starman has you covered. Though all of the songs in the list below might not quite reach the heights of piano balladry that you’d expect from a love song list, it does offer a searing view of the man who created them.
If you want to know how David Bowie loves, then you need only listen to his music. The quick answer is: with his every being.
David Bowie’s 10 best love songs:
10. ‘Moonage Daydream’
Of course, to try and convince a lamen that David Bowie wasn’t actually singing about being an alligator in ‘Moonage Daydream’ and that he was actually singing a song about love, lust, and everything in between is a pretty monumental task. However, when you dissect the iconic track, it’s easy to see the sexual tension that permeates the song, typified in the line “I’ll be a rock and rolling bitch for you.”
The song may well be the archetypal Ziggy Stardust tune, but it was the Spider from Mars who stole the show on this one. Across the entire record, Ziggy Stardust, Mick Ronson’s guitar sound is formidable, but there’s one moment which typified Ronson’s work — the solo on Bowie’s iconic track ‘Moonage Daydream’.
Put it all together and you have not only one of Bowie’s best love songs but one of his finest tracks ever.
9. ‘Golden Years’
It was the first song he recorded for his 1976 record Station to Station, and it remains one of his most purposeful vocal performances. Drenched in a gentle groove and the warm hues of the seventies, Bowie is at the top of his game. The song is largely thought to have been written for Elvis Presley, an icon with which Bowie has always shared an affinity. But where does the love come in?
Bowie’s ex-wife Angie has often claimed that the song may have been written for Elvis but it was about her and their relationship. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel, come get up my baby, look at that sky, life’s begun, nights are warm and the days are young,” sings Bowie, apparently about the pair’s “golden years”.
8. ‘Lady Grinning Soul’
A touching number from Bowie’s iconic Aladdin Sane album, ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is often regarded as one of the purer love songs Bowie ever created, largely because of the song’s designated recipient.
As the Starman explains, the track “was written for a wonderful young girl whom I’ve not seen for more than 30 years. When I hear this song she’s still in her 20s, of course. A song will put you tantalisingly close to the past, so close that you can almost reach out and touch it. The sound of ghosts again.”
7. ‘Young Americans’
By 1975, David Bowie’s continuous devotion to artistic evolution had seen him once back travel back to America for his inspiration. The country, and New York City, may have inspired the street culture of Ziggy Stardust but there was no clearer adaptation of US traditions than Bowie’s own version of soul music — or blue-eyed soul, as he called it.
The best moment from the singer’s flirtations with the mainstream’s soul and disco scene has to be ‘Young Americans’.
A song that is guaranteed to have feet-tapping and hips swaying from the very moment the needle drops. Bowie effectively toes the line of cheesiness to deliver one of his crowning moments on record and it’s all built out of the inertia one feels when meeting someone for the very first time.
6. ‘An Occasional Dream’
Written about Hemroine Fratghingale, more on that name later, this song feature don David Bowie’s self-titled LP from 1969. Bowie had become infatuated with the trained dancer after meeting her alongside Lindsay Kemp, “I was a classically trained ballet dancer, and like many a dancer, I continued training myself with ballet classes,” recalled Farthingale.
“So I was recruited, as people were, from the Dance Centre. It was an audition and we went along. Lindsay sort of snuck David in, because David wasn’t a trained dancer, so really he shouldn’t have been there. But it didn’t matter. It was only a minuet. It was about sixteen people doing a minuet around the room. And that’s where we met.”
The song was composed for the dancer and reigns as one of Bowie’s most obviously romantic pieces.
5. ‘Let’s Dance’
No song typifies the pop career of David Bowie more accurately than ‘Let’s Dance’. Released in 1983 as part of the singer’s resurgence on the pop charts, this track proved that Bowie was not an artist who would be restricted by the musical fashion of the time or by the dwindling of time.
Using the acclaimed producer Nile Rodgers, the musical maestro behind chic, Bowie confirmed himself to the new decade as a relevant pop star once more. While it’s easy to dismiss this song, it’s damn well impossible to resist its charms.
The fact remains if someone puts on the cracker ‘Let’s Dance’ and flicks the volume passed a socially acceptable level, then, chances are, you won’t be able to stop yourself from having a little boogie. Thanks to the suggestion of the title and the song’s refrain, we can safely assume that Bowie is addressing his own dance partner in this track making it easily one of the singer’s best love songs.
4. ‘Modern Love’
‘Modern Love’ was the second song that Bowie recorded for the album after its title track ‘Let’s Dance’, recorded in the first few weeks of January 1983. By the time ‘Modern Love’ was issued as a single, one of Bowie’s most notable tours, the Serious Moonlight Tour was underway, and a new era of Bowiedom had begun.
The title track of the 1983 album Let’s Dance had re-launched Bowie with a new audience, and he was happy to cash in. It meant for the first time in his career he was happy to lean on some of the more easily recognisable pop tropes. Love songs were now firmly on the cards.
That didn’t mean, however, that he would compromise his attitudes. He still crafted pop songs with purpose and while ‘Modern Love’ is as close to pop fodder as Bowie ever got, the singer delivers all the swaggering groove one had come to expect from the singer.
3. ‘Be My Wife’
Now, let’s clear one thing up right from the start, to say that the song ‘Be My Wife’ is a better song than ‘Let’s Dance’ would, of course, be not only wholly untrue but throw into question the music world as we know it. However, as one of the purest love songs on our list, it has to take a top spot.
Having said that, even this song is open for interpretation and ‘Be My Wife’ is sometimes seen by many as Bowie doing his best to play a joke on all of us, using the obvious title to hide his sarcasm.
The second single from his seminal album Low, whether it was a joke or not, Bowie does some of his most overtly romantic writing within the song. It is also marked out as one of the singer’s favourite songs, often proclaiming it as so before he performed it live. Whichever way you cut it, the ragtime piano and the old-fashioned lyrics make ‘Be My Wife’ one of Bowie’s finest love songs.
Though there are moments across the singer’s incredible canon that are more artistically pure or perhaps more daring and, therefore, in keeping with Bowie’s drive, there’s something about this song which is just utterly arresting, captivating and sparkling in all manners of speaking.
The LP’s title song, and perhaps one of Bowie’s most loved songs, was written after the Starman caught a glimpse of Visconti and his mistress hugging on the wall itself. It was a startling message of unity written about something so divisive and became part of the reason Bowie performed it in the city over a decade later, even pointing the speaker toward East Berlin.
It is a song that has seen not only people connect to and enjoy one another but also to hold hands while bringing down those who oppress them. It has become the montage sequence of Bowie’s entire career.
1. ‘Letter to Hermione’
From David Bowie’s self-titled record from 1969, ‘Letter to Hermione’ is often regarded as the finest example of Bowie pouring out his romantic heart. He sings, “He’s strong for you/ And when you kiss/ It’s something new/ But did you ever call my name/ Just by mistake?/ I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do/ So I’ll just write some love to you,” with a sincere purity.
The song’s origination came from Bowie deciding that rather than writing his love, Hermione Farthingale a love letter, he would compose a song, once saying: “That’s me in a maudlin or romantic mood. I’d written her a letter, and then decided not to post it. ‘Letter To Hermione’ is what I wished I’d said. I was in love with her, and it took me months to get over it. She walked out on me, and I suppose that was what hurt as much as anything else, that feeling of rejection.”
Bowie said of the pair’s relationship: “We just started going out with each other, and I just fell head over heels. I think actually it was mutual; we were very much in love with each other. And as young love often does it sort of, you know, went wrong after about a year. I wrote this song really as a way of trying to communicate with her again.”
It’s a stunning piece which not only highlights Bowie’s ability to be romantic but also his often-overlooked vocal power.