The 100 Greatest David Bowie Moments
The finest gifts of sound and vision
80. Opens for himself with 45-minute drum-and-bass set at secret Dublin show (1997)
In 1997, during his peak industrial moment, Bowie surprised just 300 people in Dublin with an intimate club gig following the release of Earthling. He also opened for himself, spinning drum ’n’ bass for 45 minutes for a brief stint as the coolest DJ on earth. — S.G.
79. Backing vocals for TV on the Radio’s “Province” (2006)
When the Goblin King claims your child, he assumes it’s his; the same goes for the musician who plays him. After presuming that Bowie’s phone call to express his admiration was their friend playing a joke, Brooklyn indie icons TV on the Radio let their biggest celebrity fan choose Return to Cookie Mountain’s “Province” to call his own — and that he does, curdling its already haunting chorus with his ragged, resonant growl. — H.B.
78. Dream Bowie from Flight of the Conchords (2007)
There’s something eerily prophetic about how Jemaine-as-Bowie’s ascension through the decades in Brett’s dreams — first as a ’70s pant-suited sex god, then his “Ashes to Ashes” character, and then a Labyrinthian velveteer — both mirrors Bowie’s own aging and gives the impression that, somehow, he had already transcended physicality at that point. And yet, even though he’s 20 minutes late to a “party in space” (heaven?), he’s as clumsy and hilarious as the rest of the Flight of the Conchords universe. — H.B.
77. Hanging out with the Sigma Kids in Philadelphia (1975)
When Bowie was in Philadelphia recording Young Americans, a group of kids started following him from the Barclay Hotel on Rittenhouse Square to Sigma Sound Studios on North 12th Street. On the final day of recording, Bowie invited the kids into the studio to listen to the final cut of the album; a not-uncharacteristic act of gregariousness. If you’re ever in Philly, go to Doobie’s on 22nd and Lombard and ask for Patti, she’ll tell you all about it. — M.E.
76. Playing the rube in Jazzin’ for Blue Jean (1984)
David Bowie’s charisma shone so brightly he commanded attention without any effort — which is why his labored turn as a straight man in the long-form “Jazzin’ For Blue Jean” video is such an awkward delight. Mugging for the camera and stammering like David Niven, Bowie does not take well to playing a rube — not for nothing is he overshadowed by his glam alter-ego Lord Byron (also played by Bowie) during Byron’s performance of the single — but watching him struggle is the fun of this. — S.T.E.
75. Faux-turn in The Venture Bros. (2006)
Perhaps the greatest moment of genius on Adult Swim’s The Venture Bros. was revealing that David Bowie was the (literally) shapeshifting leader of the villainous Guild of Calamitous Intent. Even though Bowie didn’t actually voice this major character, and later seasons would reveal that the chameleonic figure wasn’t the real David Bowie, his turn at the helm of a classier Legion of Doom checked out: As co-creator Doc Hammer said, “it made sense because, I mean, doesn’t everybody at least once in their lives pretend to be David Bowie?” — J.G.
74. “Where the f**k did Monday go?” from “Girl Loves Me” (2016)
A refrain that, on January 8, rung out as water-cooler talk for all us wage slaves, a slightly unhinged hook teetering between the profane and mundane; but since January 10, it’s gotten tougher to simply smirk when confronted with this question, harder to block out the panic and fear behind it. The lack of an answer is the answer itself. Where the f**k did Monday go? Doesn’t matter, it’s just gone. — KYLE MCGOVERN
73. Cameo in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Bowie’s links to the Lynchverse are many, having played the lead in the Broadway version of The Elephant Man and soundtracked the closing scene of the director’s Lost Highway. But only for one scene did the two Davids truly interact as actor and director, when Bowie showed up in the Twin Peaks film sequel Fire Walk With Me as the mysteriously disappeared agent Phillip Jefferies. He wears an inappropriate suit, he speaks gibberish in an indiscernible accent, he screams, he’s a natural. — A.U.
72. Harmonica solo in “Unwashed and Slightly Dazed” (1969)
Despite dedicating a song to him on Hunky Dory, Bowie didn’t spend much of his career as a Dylan acolyte, but at the very least, he picked up an affection for the harmonica from ol’ Zimmy. The instrument makes a number of memorable appearances throughout the Bowie catalog, nowhere moreso than on Space Oddity’s underrated “Unwashed and Slightly Dazed,” where a swampy Bo Diddley stomp provides the perfect backdrop for a couple minutes of serious blowing from Benny Marshall — former singer of the Rats, the breakout band for one Mick Ronson. — A.U.
71. “Bowie Secrets” on Conan (2002)
With complete deadpan seriousness, Bowie told the audience of Late Night with Conan O’Brien some of deepest, darkest secrets, like his love of touching all of the straws at the McDonald’s. He doesn’t crack once, keeping his cool while he admits to his real identity as a Korean woman. But man, don’t you want to see the outtakes? — M.E.
70. “This seeeeerious moonlight” from “Let’s Dance” (1983)
On a pop-funk single with enough mainstream appeal to top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, Bowie was still able to imbue a sinister bent through his growling, near-threatening delivery of this fundamentally strange phrase. Idiosyncratic wording as it may have been, “serious moonlight” became iconic enough not only to title the accompanying Let’s Dance tour, but also a Meg Ryan comedy flop from a quarter-century later. — A.U.
69. Cameo as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Shot and held for a few seconds in long shot so that his celebrity doesn’t distract, Bowie’s cameo in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Nicolas Kazen novel that upset sane people in 1988 is a small masterpiece of superciliousness. In Pilate’s eyes Jesus Christ is another Jewish troublemaker, a bore, a would-be magician. He has no time for him. — A.S.
68. “I’m trying hard to fit in your scheme of things” from “Word on a Wing” (1976)
Station to Station ranks tonally among Bowie’s most arch and artificial rock records, but he lands an astonishing moment of vulnerability in its center. “I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things,” he sings, powerless, to a potential or imaginary lover, his voice reaching a strained peak he wouldn’t match again until the climax of “Heroes.” — S.G.
67. The bridge to “This Is Not America” (1985)
Streamlined in the fashion of Let’s Dance, “This Is Not America” — theme song to the 1985 Sean Penn/Timothy Hutton Cold War thriller The Falcon And The Snowman — plays its ominousness as elegance, but achieves a state of grace when Bowie glides into a soaring “time” on the bridge. — S.T.E.
66. Bowie on Bugs Bunny (1986)
As part of a special celebrating the 50th anniversary of Looney Tunes in 1986, a number of real-world celebrities were “interviewed” about classic characters from the series — including David Bowie, who reluctantly answered questions about Bugs Bunny while fleeing to his hotel room. The chuckle-worthy clip paints Bugs as a figure of much deep-seated resentment for Bowie, but as something of a wascawwy wabbit within the pop world himself, it certainly makes sense that the Thin White Duke would see the legendary Leporidae as a worthy adversary. — A.U.
65. Solo break to “Up the Hill Backwards” (1980)
That Bo Diddley beat again, through which Robert Fripp’s guitar hacks like a scimitar and castanets add accents. — A.S.
64. “I think we’re in for a big surprise right between the eyes” from “Bombers” (1971)
A song this good should never have been a rarity. Look how Bowie uses from the refrain “I think we’re in for a big surprise right between the eyes”: At first it’s forceful and near-shouted, but repeated for the final time, the line leads brilliantly into the song’s melancholy ending. — M.E.
63. Cinematography in the “Absolute Beginners” Video (1986)
A big hit in Britain but essentially nonexistent on the U.S. charts, “Absolute Beginners” is accompanied by a gorgeous Julian Temple video that bests his 1986 feature of the same name by trading in a luxurious black-and-white. Bowie is right at home in these noir environs, racing through the shadowy streets like the classic movie star he always wanted to be. — S.T.E.
62. Astronaut Chris Hadfield does “Space Oddity” in outer space (2013)
We always knew that Bowie was too big for Earth, but Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took him up into the cosmos for real. Hadfield’s wistful, longing expressions as the globe spins beneath him give both humor and pathos to his “Space Oddity” rendition. Lookin’ forward to when NASA gets its act together and we can hear “Life on Mars?” from our brand-new Red Planet base. — J.G.
61. Screeching hook to “Little Wonder” (1997)
The NIN’n’Squarepusher-styled Earthling is predictably a mess, but it’s more fun than U2’s contemporaneous Pop, and as a bonus, Bowie produced his bats**t techno excursion all himself, rather than hiring hipper know-it-alls. And anyway, who was hipper than Bowie? Prodigy? Nah. Six-minute opener “Little Wonder” is unpleasantly schizoid as a whole, but the good half hinges on a Skrillex-dolphin cyber-guitar squeal that Reznor himself would kill for. — D.W.