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David Bowie: 30 Essential Songs

From “Ziggy Stardust” to “Lazarus,” we survey the catalog of the late, great art-pop shapeshifter

In the days and months to come, it’s going to become a commonplace to say that David Bowie packed seven or eight careers into his one. That’s one of those cliches that’s actually true: His catalog is full of album-length statements that wrestled pop’s future into revelatory new shapes again and again. But Bowie was also one of rock & roll’s all-time great singles artists — an AM-radio Picasso who could pack more joy and loss and wonder into three minutes than most other artists could dream of in a lifetime. His genius comes into the sharpest focus when you listen to a playlist of his best songs spanning those four decades, which is what we’ve assembled here: a rough guide to Bowie, from 1969’s “Space Oddity” up through last week’s “Lazarus.” It’s a head trip, and it’s only the beginning.

David Bowie

FILE PHOTO: English singer, musician and actor David Bowie, circa 1974. Bowie turns 60 on Monday January 8, 2006. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty

“Lazarus” (2016)

Bowie was on the cutting edge until the end, fusing his love of rapper Kendrick Lamar and jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin in the secret sessions for his 25th and final studio album, . Recorded during marathon sessions beginning in 2014, Bowie would often sing for seven hours straight. "Lazarus" appears to have been written for the current off-Broadway play of the same name, about a lonely, once-wealthy man living in New York. Over a spooky, hypnotic rhythm, Bowie conjures the character as convincingly as he did Ziggy and the Thin White Duke. After the singer's death, the lyrics took on deeper meaning, and thousands started retweeting lines from the song: 

Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama
Can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now 

Oh, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I'll be free
Ain't that just like me?

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