A long time ago I ranked all of The Beatles’s opening songs, mainly just as a fun way of showing how the first song on the album is one of the most important and usually one of the strongest of the record. I wasn’t really planning on giving any other artist the same treatment, but I suppose if there was ever an artist to change my mind it would be Bowie.
I always knew his openers were strong, but I was taken aback by just how magnificent a lot of them are. More than half of them are really quite exceptional openers to their respective albums, and some even rank among the greatest songs of all time. How would I rank all of the Thin White Duke’s opening numbers?
You can check out some of my related Bowie lists below:
26 – Uncle Arthur (David Bowie 1967)
It’s quite funny how in hindsight this was Bowie’s first song on his first album of an illustrious career, as it doesn’t get much worse than this.
I’m sure he looks back on this, and the album as a whole, and laughs, as there’s really nothing unique or even remotely good about it. I’m glad he didn’t stick to this style of music, as it really doesn’t suit him.
25 – Rosalyn (PinUps)
I don’t like PinUps as an album – never have, never will – and I find the majority of the covers to be unoriginal at best and downright annoying at worst.
“Rosalyn” is one of the weaker covers on the album, and that’s saying something. I guess I have to give it credit for lowering my expectations, but even on my first listen I knew from this opener that the rest of the album wasn’t going to be for me.
24 – Future Legend (Diamond Dogs)
It’s a little harsh to just consider “Future Legend” on its own considering it almost instantly transitions to the title track, but on its own I have to rank it low down.
If I was to include “Diamond Dogs” it could have even cracked the top 10, as it does a really excellent job of setting the scene for the concept album.
23 – Leon Take Us Outside (1.Outside)
This has exactly the same problem that “Future Legend” has, as this too transitions straight into the title track to get the album underway.
I think I like “Leon Take Us Outside” a little more as an opener, as it feels like it has a bit more substance just beyond the creepy-ness factor. When coupled with “Outside” it might be slightly weaker than “Diamond Dogs”, but on its own it’s ever so slightly superior.
22 – Day-In Day-Out (Never Let Me Down)
Never Let Me Down was a huge blunder in Bowie’s discography, and most songs are just bland, cheesy 80’s pop tunes that you’ll forget instantly – but in all fairness “Day-In Day-Out” is one of the more palatable tracks of the bunch.
The chorus is very catchy, and it does a good job of clueing you in to what you’re about to experience. Not sensational by any means, but it gets the job done (so it’s a shame there weren’t really any other tracks that topped it).
21 – The Wedding (Black Tie White Noise)
Bowie’s 1993 comeback needed a sensational album to put him back in the limelight, but I don’t think Black Tie White Noise was quite the right album to catapult him back to stardom.
I certainly like it though, and there are quite a few underrated songs within its tracklist. One of the most unique things about the album is that it starts and ends on the same song, which is a pretty neat idea (although the closer is better, which makes this seem worse in hindsight).
20 – Buddha of Suburbia
This is easily one of my least favourite Bowie albums, as while it is technically a TV soundtrack it still counts for some reason within his discography as a proper Bowie record.
The title track (and opener, of course) is fairly decent all things considered, and while it might not bring the house down it’s a pretty catchy tune with a great vocal performance.
19 – It’s No Game (Pt. 1) (Scary Monsters & Super Creeps)
Similarly to “Black Tie White Noise”, Scary Monsters was the first occasion when Bowie started and ended an album on the same song, but I think I like its use on this album more than his 1993 effort.
“It’s No Game (Pt. 1)” can feel a bit too harsh and screechy at first, but the more I listen to it the more I like it for exactly that reason. The closer (Pt. 2) is a bit more laid back and groovy, so if I had to pick a favourite I would say that one.
18 – The Next Day
Bowie once again was tasked with creating a new comeback album in 2013, and while it isn’t an album I listen to that often it certainly starts with a bang.
His vocals are much more aged and matured, and it gives the vocal performance and lyrics a bigger sense of gravitas and history. There are better tracks on the album, but it sets up the expectations for the sounds nicely.
17 – Watch That Man (Aladdin Sane)
I’m surprised “Watch That Man” didn’t end up being a hit, as it has all the hard rock goodness that you’d come to expect from a Bowie song from this era.
My only gripe is that the vocals are a little quiet in the mix for whatever reason, but otherwise this is an excellent way to hype up the rest of the record.
16 – Thursday’s Child (Hours…)
“Hours…” is by far the least interesting and most forgettable of all the Bowie albums, and pretty much every song is passable at best.
The one exception, luckily, is the opening track “Thursday’s Child”, which is Bowie at his most easy-listening. The production and vocals are just so smooth, and the vocal performance is surprisingly mature and introspective.
15 – Speed of Life (Low)
It was a bold move to start the album off with an instrumental track, but “Speed of Life” is a really fun and energetic way to kick off “Low”.
It also does a great job of preparing the listener for what’s to come, as the production has all the Brian Eno-isms you’d expect, and you won’t be shocked later on when the final half is also purely instrumental.
14 – New Killer Star (Reality)
I can see what Bowie was going for on “Reality”; there’s a simple rock appeal that almost harkens back to his glam rock days, but it’s not an album for me.
The opening track might just be the best song on the album in terms of what he was going for, as “New Killer Star” is a great rock tune that feels both stripped back and complex simultaneously.
13 – The Width of a Circle (The Man Who Sold The World)
After the smash hit “Space Oddity”, it was important to hit the ground running with his next album … and “The Man Who Sold The World” wasn’t quite the album to do it.
The opening song might have been too heavy for some people, as the 8-minute epic “The Width of a Circle” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it’s peak hard rock Bowie.
12 – Beauty and the Beast (“Heroes”)
It’s big and it’s grand, full of tension and fear.
“Beauty and the Beast” is an awesome way to kick off “Heroes”, and the harsh sounds and production are already apparent straight away. It’s one of the catchiest songs on the record as well, and even if it isn’t commercially viable it’s definitely one of my favourites.
11 – Little Wonder (Earthling)
“Little Wonder” is a huge statement to start off the album, as Bowie and EDM / Jungle seemed to be the last combination you would think of.
Somehow, admittedly quite miraculously, the song is actually really good and one of Bowie’s best from the 90’s. He nails the tone of the album straight from the opening synth screech, and he doesn’t let his foot off the gas for the rest of the record.
10 – Modern Love (Let’s Dance)
Bowie himself isn’t a huge fan of this song, probably because it’s too Pop-y and mainstream, but I absolutely love it.
That opening guitar riff is instantly iconic, and the chorus is one of the catchiest and most danceable in Bowie’s entire discography. The opening 3 songs on Let’s Dance all do an exemplary job of providing some fun tunes, and “Modern Love” is the track that kickstarts the party.
9 – Sunday (Heathen)
“Heathen” was a bit of a return to form for Bowie, or at least a return to what made him great in the first place. “Earthling” was a little weird, and “Hours…” barely even exists, so it’s refreshing to have an art rock album again.
The opening track “Sunday” is absolutely gorgeous, with phenomenal vocals, lyrics and production. Almost definitely inspired by the events of 9/11, that sense of tragedy is prevalent throughout the whole track.
8 – Fantastic Voyage (Lodger)
One of Bowie’s personal favourites, and while it took me a few listens to understand why I now hold it really high regard and might even consider it the best track on “Lodger”.
The piano work is extraordinary, and Bowie delivers one of his all-time great vocal performances – especially in those huge build-ups at the end of the choruses.
7 – Five Years (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
While the actual song itself isn’t too crazy, and I might personally put it down the list towards the 15-20 range in terms quality, I can’t deny what a wonderful job it does setting up the concept of the album.
“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” wouldn’t work at all as a concept unless “Five Years” set the scene so beautifully, and Bowie’s vocals are once again at the top of their game.
6 – Loving The Alien (Tonight)
“Tonight” is a huge mis-step in Bowie’s catalogue, and while I actually don’t mind the album too much I can’t deny that it pales in comparison to nearly every other Bowie record. Most tracks (apart from “Blue Jean” maybe) feel like they could have been written by anyone, and the whole album just feels tame and forgettable.
You wouldn’t think that though based on the opening song – “Loving The Alien” is absolutely fantastic, and not indicative at all of the quality to come. It’s a seven minute epic with some wonderful production, and it sounds like Bowie is having the time of his life making it.
5 – Changes (Hunky Dory)
I knew some of Bowie’s openers had the potential to be in my “All-Time Great” tier, but I wasn’t expecting a whopping five tracks to be there!
The “least good” of all those openers is probably “Changes”, a gorgeous song that comes across as a bit of a quiet riot. There’s a lyric in particular that’s gone down as one of my favourite ever: “These children that you spit on, while you try to change their world, are immune to your consultation – they’re quite aware what they’re going through”.
You occasionally hear a song being called “Changes, but for the 21st Century”, but I think deep down the people making that connection know the original will never be topped.
4 – Young Americans
One of Bowie’s biggest hits ever, everything from the delicious saxophone solos to the sexy vocals make this one of his most timeless tracks.
What I think “Young Americans” possibly has over “Changes” is the way it sets up the album to come – Bowie had never done this kind of Soul before, so it was important to hit the ground running. He didn’t just do that, though, he completely knocked it out of the park.
3 – Space Oddity
A song that will forever be remembered as the song that shot Bowie into stardom, but I think it’s quite easy to forget just how magnificent the track truly is on its own.
Bowie nails the ethereal, spacey vocals and instrumentation, and some of the creative risks he takes for such a young songwriter are breath-taking. This track completely redefined his image for a generation, and was the true beginning to an unbelievably fruitful career.
2 – Blackstar
I don’t think anyone was expecting “Blackstar” to make such a cultural impact when it released, but the sudden news of Bowie’s tragic passing meant that it was destined to be an album embedded into music legend forever.
It seems almost crude to say, but I think Bowie’s passing sends this song into another plane of existence with its dark themes, and creates an opening track unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s nightmarish, jazzy, sometimes a mixture of both, and Bowie’s terrifying vocals only help to enhance the bizarre experience.
1 – Station to Station
There’s a reason “Station to Station” is my favourite Bowie album – it starts off in a tense, methodical way in the opening track, and then at the halfway point an incredible energy is injected into the song and that momentum never stops for the rest of the record.
It has an almost “Doom Disco” quality to it, and the thumping bass and piano parts do an exceptional job of complementing the screeching guitars and anthemic vocals. This song most definitely was the side effects of the cocaine, but I’m thinking that it must be love nonetheless.
Aaaaand that’s my list. As you can imagine, a “Closing Tracks Ranked” will be coming fairly soon … but until then you can check out some of my latest blog posts below:
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