You’d Better Not Mess with Major Tom: Our Favorite David Bowie Covers
Including everyone from Beck to Barbra Streisand.
It’s hard to hear someone say that they don’t like David Bowie’s music—not only for the fact that he was a living legend and a musical genius, but also because there isn’t one David Bowie sound. There’s ’60s twee-folk Bowie, R&B groove maker Bowie, glam rock pioneer Ziggy, experimental crooner Bowie, and so many more Bowies that inspired the world throughout his fifty-four year career that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Simply put, there’s a Bowie out there for everyone.
Ever since he started making music, people wanted to cover his songs, and it was that versatility that drew (and continues to draw) other artists to his massive songbook. Here, we look back at some of our favorite David Bowie covers from over the years.
Beck, “Sound and Vision”
Beck is arguably the closest thing that Bowie has to a successor, and appropriately so, his grander-than-grand cover of “Sound and Vision” is arguably the greatest Bowie cover of all time. Here’s to hoping that he revives his Record Club to finish the task and cover Low in its entirety.
Warpaint, “Ashes to Ashes”
LA’s Warpaint made their distinct mark on 2010’s Bowie tribute album We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie with their eerie cover of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)‘s lead single “Ashes to Ashes.” All of the original track’s mysterious messages and unsettling instrumentation are still there, but Warpaint’s signature ethereal harmonies add another layer of uneasiness to the major 1980 hit.
James Murphy, “Golden Years”
You can bet your Coachella ticket new dad James Murphy is playing this music-box version of “Golden Years” on repeat for his kid.
Barbra Streisand, “Life on Mars?”
Yes, this is a true thing that happened. Babs, Ms. Barbra Streisand herself, included a version of Bowie’s 1971 classic “Life on Mars?” on her ill-fated 1974 covers album ButterFly. While this isn’t the best version of “Life on Mars?” we’ve ever heard, Streisand fully committed to the grand orchestration and drama of the Hunky Dory track and gave it her own little spark. Also, she can definitely hit those high notes.
Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin’s off-the-rails “Suffragette City” cover is a relic of their skuzzier shared past—a rapid-fire, back-alley garage take on one of Bowie’s fastest and rawest songs. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
The Feelies, “Fame”
Stop Making Sense and Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme has always had his finger on the pulse of music culture just as much as that of film, and his selection of The Feelies to appear in the cult classic Something Wild is a testament to that. For their part, The Feelies, fresh off their now-classic second album The Good Earth, treated Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith to a medley that includes a funkily robotic take (a trademark Feelies move) on Bowie’s Young Americans closer “Fame.”
Athens psych-glam-rock band of Montreal simply could not exist without David Bowie—from dressing up in flamboyant and fanciful outfits and donning colorful glitter makeup to Kevin Barnes’ affected falsetto and whimsical lyrics—and the group has honored the Thin White Duke in covers for years. In 2009, they captured Bowie’s essence with a spirited and soulful cover of Ziggy Stardust‘s “Moonage Daydream” with a whole lot of help from powerhouse performer Janelle Monáe.
Janelle Monáe, “Heroes”
Janelle Monáe‘s love for channeling Bowie doesn’t stop with her surprise appearance at a Connecticut of Montreal show. In 2014, the singer covered “Heroes” as part of an elaborate Pepsi campaign. Corporate branding aside, Monáe’s version of the 1977 track replaces the original iconic guitar work with bright synths, making it sound much more optimistic while still embracing Bowie’s complex themes and cinematic grandeur.
D’Angelo, “Space Oddity”
D’Angelo’s take on “Space Oddity” isn’t exactly what you’d call a “good” cover; for one, the sweet maestro of soul should’ve parked that faux British accent. But D’Angelo is a singular artist—not unlike Bowie himself—and the idea of him covering anyone at all, let alone someone whose music is typically (though not always) radically different from his own shows the high regard D has for D.
The Polyphonic Spree, “Five Years”
Given the staring-death-in-the-face attitude of ★, the Ziggy Stardust opener “Five Years” is one of the most appropriate Bowie songs to stop and consider. For that task, The Polyphonic Spree’s cosmically triumphant take on it is a good place from which to take off.
Seu Jorge, “Rebel Rebel”
Really, all of Brazilian singer Seu Jorge’s Portuguese covers for Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic are worth your time. But the sashay of Bowie’s greatest riff is a perfect fit for Jorge’s semi-mournful samba rhythm.
Philip Glass, “Warszawa”
If Philip Glass’ Low Symphony didn’t exist, the Downtown art scene would have to invent it. Glass’ lengthy take on Bowie’s famous Berlin record is oddly straightforward, but the haunted fog of “Warszawa”’s melody makes it a perfect candidate for this kind of treatment. Docking points from Glass for not including the original lyrics, though.
EL VY, “Let’s Dance”
Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf’s miniature supergroup put together a quickie cover of the 1983 classic for last night’s Colbert, with Jon Batiste and Stay Human providing the backing track. You have to imagine Bowie would appreciate the spectacle of a dude in a cowboy hat playing a tambourine solo.
Britt Daniel, “Never Let Me Down”
Similar to his recent cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle,” Britt Daniel of Spoon has just shared a spare, acoustic version of “Never Let Me Down,” the title track from Bowie’s oft-forgotten 1987 album. Hard to imagine this one’ll be forgotten.