A thousand years from now the history channel will probably ponder whether David Bowie was some sort of benevolent extra-terrestrial who descended from the heavens as a creative overlord, offering a glowing boon amid the melee of culture on season 2396 of Ancient Aliens. He stands out as such a singular figure in the world of art that such a notion would seem fitting, he embodied the creative alien ethos and yet he simultaneously defied it with a humanised touch that endeared him to so many artists and fans alike.
This has usually meant that his impact on music comes in the form of an overarching yearning to tap into whatever he was doing. However, the particulars of his songwriting and chameleonic output remain too far out in the mystic for many to imitate. In short, it’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a man who seemingly fell to Earth, but that still hasn’t stopped his influence moulding a few songs in a multitude of ways.
Below, we’re looking at six great songs that have the creative fingerprints of Bowie all over them. Naturally, most of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and various other direct collaborations can be said to bear his influence, but instead, we’re focussing on tracks that grasp at his hallmarks in a more holistic sense.
From homages and odes to tales of interactions with a hero, we’re delving into the backstories of Bowie-inspired belters.
Six songs inspired by David Bowie:
‘Black Screen’ by LCD Soundsystem
David Bowie’s otherworldliness is only catapulted further into the stratosphere by the level of hero-worship that surrounds him. However, it is always tempered by an asterisk that has been cemented in place by hundreds of interviews with those who have met him and attest to the fact that the starman is actually very down to earth. The story of how ‘Black Screen’ came to be sits perfectly in the centre of this dichotomy.
LCD Soundsystem frontman, James Murphy, developed somewhat of a friendship with Bowie over the years, but when he was asked to co-produce Blackstar, Murphy became overawed and regretfully backed out of the project. As he told BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, “It takes a different kind of person than me to walk into that room and be like, I know exactly… I belong here. I should definitely insert myself in this relationship because they just can’t manage to make a record without me.”
The lyrics throughout this 12-minute epic touch upon both Murphy’s lamentable lack of confidence when asked to work alongside Bowie, but also eulogise his career with nods to ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Starman’ and, of course, ‘Blackstar’.
‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo & The Bunnymen
David Bowie’s songs can be musically rather inscrutable as his outward iconoclasm also translated onto the songsheet. He was constantly avoiding constructs in his songwriting, if convention called for a C Minor, he was likely to forage elsewhere on the fret. This has led fellow musicians to pull his songs apart in interesting ways in search of inspiration.
As Ian McCulloch told The Guardian, “I played David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ backwards, then started messing around with the chords. By the time I’d finished, it sounded nothing like ‘Space Oddity.'” And yet the otherworldly atmosphere of its inspiration still shines through.
‘Trans-Europe Express’ by Kraftwerk
One of the beauties of Bowie was his ability to welcome people into the oeuvre of art that inspired him. In the late 1970s, when he relocated to Berlin, he enacted a mutual appreciation society with German electronic band Kraftwerk.
Kraftwerk were a central influence on Station to Station, but it was a fire fuelling relationship that ran both ways. Not only does this share a melodic kinship with his work in the period, but it also features the lyric “From station to station and to Dusseldorf city. Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie,” which references their friendship with Bowie and Iggy as they sought traversed Europe on excursions from Berlin via train. Much like Bowie, it might not be to everybody’s taste, but that inherent polarising only affirms that both artists were always ahead of their time.
‘(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six’ by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
There is no clearer way to signal a tribute track than with a title that just comes right out and says it. However, there is something about the simple sincerity of the title and the lyrical content of the track, that lends it an earnest poignancy. “You’re my favourite thing by far,” is a line of unfeigned devotion akin to the lyric “I absolutely love you,” by none other than Bowie himself in ‘Absolute Beginners’.
In the wake of Bowie’s passing, the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s bandleader, Anton Newcombe, penned a touching tribute that described Bowie as a “rare artist that truly searched for whatever it is until the end of his life – start to finish, and therefore held a torch high so others including myself might see the paths and possibilities in the dark ahead.”
‘Bowie’ by Flight of The Conchords
Inspired by might be putting it a little likely when it comes to this Flight of The Conchords, but it doesn’t seem right not to give it a mention just because it is what you might term “novelty”. The song follows Bowie not only on a journey through space but in a musical trip through his stylings.
Besides, Bowie wasn’t above novelty himself (see ‘The Laughing Gnome’) and he most certainly wasn’t above comedy. As it happens, Bowie was a fan of Flight of The Conchords, but he turned down the chance to play himself in the episode that this song features because he had just finished filming Ricky Gervais’ Extras and didn’t want to do another comedy version of himself so quickly.
‘Terrence Loves You’ by Lana Del Rey
For ‘Terrence Loves You’, Lana Del Rey transposed the story of Major Tom drifting into space with onto the journey of a fading relationship to obsolescence. She grabs to lyric “ground control to Major Tom” and transmutes it into a spiritual call of yearning in a fine example of how David Bowie has transcended culture to become a fixture in many people’s lives.
The very fact that a lyric can be repurposed as a metaphor is indicative of Bowie’s impact. Few lines from music can be so casually referenced and stir up such intense imagery. Bowie’s stardom far exceeded the clutches of culture and his brilliance permeated into the lives of so many that it is likely he will be eulogised in songs both directly and indirectly forevermore.