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Reflections on ranking Bowie songs

Yesterday I summarized the top 10 Bowie songs as expressed in the first ten results from Googling “Top 10 Bowie songs.” There are far more than ten such lists and, in fact, my phone and IPad gave me different results, so the lists are not necessarily meaningfully representative. Added to that, I included the top 10 results but some of the lists ranked more than 10 songs, and those ones seemed to get a little more creative. Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see some trends. Here are all the songs that appeared on all the lists, ranked in order of the number of lists on which they appeared:

1. Heroes (9)
2. Space Oddity (8)
Changes (8)
Ashes to Ashes (8)
5. Life on Mars (7)
Starman (7)
7. Let’s Dance (6)
Ziggy Stardust (6)
9. Modern Love (5)
Sound and Vision (5)
Moonage Daydream (5)
12. Under Pressure (4)
Rebel Rebel (4)
14. Lazarus (3)
Young Americans (3)
16. Five Years (2)
Fame (2)
The Man Who Sold the World (2)

And then the following songs each made it on to one of the lists:
Suffragette City
Station to Station
Sweet Thing/ Canddiate/ Sweet Thing
Oh! You Pretty Things
Tis a Pity She Was A Whore
Drive in Saturday
Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide
The Next Day
Seven Years in Tibet
Possibly Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (though this might have been a reference to the album of the same name).

These songs came from a total of 15 albums. Based on the number of appearances songs from the albums appear on the lists, and leaving off those albums from which one song appears on only one list, these 11 albums have the most number of song appearances:

1. The Rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (20 song appearances — Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Moonage Daydream, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide and Suffragette City).
2. Hunk Dory (16- Changes, Life on Mars, Oh! You Pretty Things)
3. Let’s Dance (11- Let’s Dance; Modern Love)
4. Heroes (10- Heroes; Blackout)
5. Scary Monsters (9- Ashes to Ashes; Scary Monsters)
6. Spaces Oddity (8-Space Oddity)
7. Low (5- Sound and Vision)
Diamond Dogs (5- Rebel Rebel; Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing)
Young Americans (5 – Fame; Young Americans)
10. Blackstar (4- Lazarus; Tis a Pity She Was A Whore)
11. The Man Who Sold the World (2- The Man Who Sold the World)

While the source material is not necessarily actually representative of anything, I think the more solid results fall in line with what I would guess— Ziggy, Hunky Dory and Let’s Dance are among Bowie’s most beloved albums. The songs that reappear on these lists are among those songs I think of as his most popular.

While not surprising, it is striking that the 90s are underrepresented on these lists. “Seven Years in Tibet” was a kind of out-of-left-field inclusion on one list, but there’s no “Hallo Spaceboy,” “I’m Afraid of Americans” or anything off the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Heathen. Instead, most of the songs that reappear come from the 70s and early 80s.

Some other notable absences: The Jean Genie, Boys Keep Swinging, DJ, Fashion, Cracked Actor, China Girl, Absolute Beginners, Where Are We Now, Blackstar and obviously, many others.

OK, so what’s my top 10 list? I think I’ve done this before, and if you ask me tomorrow, I’d give you a different response. But here’s my top 10 for today:

1. Beauty and the Beast (Heroes)
2. Panic in Detroit (Aladdin Sane)
3. Queen Bitch (Hunky Dory)
4. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Diamond Dogs)
5. Stay (Station to Station)
6. D.J. (Lodger)
7. Fashion (Scary Monsters)
8. Ziggy Stardust (Ziggy Stardust)
9. Boys Keep Swinging (Lodger)
10. Hallo Spaceboy (1. Outside)

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