David Bowie is 65 years old today. By the time you read this, he’ll be a week or two older, but I am marking the momentous event with a look at old Dave’s lyrics as he picks up his freedom pass. 

When we think of Bowie we think of the fashion, the make-up, the glamour and the glitz. The ever-changing cultural chameleon: Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke. You don’t usually think of his lyrics. But in a career spanning five decades there are lashings of great lines and after some painstaking listening (and a lot of dancing round my room) I’ve whittled it down to a few that need your attention.

Bowie has often said that many of his early lyrics were written using the Dadaist cut-up technique – rearranging words from newspaper articles or his own diaries. I don’t know which songs were created this way and I don’t care to, he’s a poet nonetheless. Albeit covered in glitter.




'Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide'

Ziggy Stardust’s swansong, looking back at his career now he’s a has-been, is so dramatic and filmic. It was written in the early 70s but completes a concept album lest we forget – it’s about Ziggy not Bowie. I love how he personifies time so beautifully, squaring up to the years gone by. Even the most natural things like the sun and milk are giving him a hard time – blasting and taking him for a ride.

  • Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
  • You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
  • The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
  • Oh you're a rock 'n' roll suicide
  • You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
  • And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
  • You walk past a cafe but you can't eat when you've lived too long
  • Oh you're a rock 'n' roll suicide
  • Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
  • But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
  • Don't let the sun blast your shadow
  • Don't let the milk float ride your mind
  • They're so natural - religiously unkind



'Rebel, Rebel'

You’ve heard it a million times before for a very good reason. The last of Bowie’s glam singles, this track is every tomboy’s anthem. His rebel girl refuses to conform to her parents’ attempts at taming, as she tears around nightclubs, dancing, falling and ripping up her clothes. She’s a typhoon of fun that any teenaged girl who loves a loud gig wants to be, and every teenaged boy at the gig wants to be with. The Diamond Dogs album has some gorgeous lyrics, but I had to feature this one for it’s great proof that Bowie appreciated feisty women, and I appreciate that.

  • Got your mother in a whirl
  • She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
  • Hey babe you’re hair’s alright
  • Hey babe let’s go out tonight
  • You like me and I like it all
  • We like dancing and we look divine
  • You love bands when they’re playing hard
  • You want more and you want it fast
  • They put you down, they say I’m wrong
  • You tacky thing, you put them on…
 


'Station to Station'

The title track of my favourite Bowie album is a drug-fuelled journey of paranoia, reflecting on where it all went wrong. By 1976 Bowie’s dependency on drugs was mammoth, so much so that he claims he can’t remember being in the studio recording this album at all. Despite that, he managed to pen a mind bending 10 minute long track that directly addresses his problem, he’s completely disconnected with the world around him. The most notorious line "it’s not the side effects of the cocaine – I’m thinking that it must be love" retains that tongue in cheek playful Bowie attitude, even now in his lowest of lows; "too late" to redeem himself and climb back to normality.

  • Once there were mountains on mountains
  • And once there were sunbirds to soar with
  • And once I could never be down
  • Got to keep searching and searching
  • Oh what will I be believing
  • And who will connect me with love?
  • Wonder who, wonder who, wonder when
  • Have you sought fortune evasive and shy?
  • Drink to the men who protect you and I
  • Drink drink drain your glass
  • Raise your glass high
  • It's not the side effects of the cocaine
  • I'm thinking that it must be love
  • It's too late to be grateful
  • It's too late to be late again
  • It's too late to be hateful
  • The European cannon is here



 

'Modern Love' 

I had to include this moment of 80s pop genius, as this seemingly sugar coated track is a king sized helping of bitterness. It sounds so fun and positive, but beneath the synth and suits this jaded star has had enough - enough of love, the idea of love and all love entails. It’s so perfectly framed by his opening, spoken words "I know when to go out, I know when to stay in" that are just so matter of fact that you couldn’t possibly doubt him. It sets the Let’s Dance album off to a smashing start that keeps on kicking.

  • Never gonna fall for
  • Modern Love
  • Walks beside me
  • Modern Love
  • Walks on by
  • Modern Love
  • Gets me to the Church on Time
  • Terrifies me
  • Makes me party
  • Puts my trust in God and man
  • No confessions
  • No religion
  • Don't believe in Modern Love


Another favourite that I had to leave out is Fill Your Heart on Hunky Dory, not on this list as the big man didn’t write the song. There are so many more, but I’ll stop there. Give us a tweet @luciegraceface with your own personal Bowie favourites – I’d love to hear them. I might have to write a book about his lyrics now. I’m on a roll…