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Hear Five Songs That Perfectly Showcase David Bowie’s Influence

From LCD Soundsystem to Lady Gaga.

A month has passed and yet still we are in mourning about the passing of David Bowie — by “we,” I mean “I,” and by “mourning” I mean “denial,” since David Bowie, who felt like more of a concept than a mortal, seemed like he would transcend death. He embodied all life forms, from the corporeal to the ethereal: human, celebrity, alien, angel. His amorphous, chameleon-like genderlessness wasn’t just part of the appeal, it was the root of it. "He's sort of like an alien prince. He still runs my universe as well — like, every morning I wake up and I think, 'What would Bowie do?'" Lady Gaga told Alan Carr in 2013; “Even now, he’s morphed into something that no one else is doing,” Janelle Monáe once told Rolling Stone. I’m not the first person to write this, and I won’t be the last, but as The Smiths’ Johnny Marr once wrote in NME, “David Bowie is easily the most influential and important artist to come out of the UK, for so many reasons — there are musicians who are influenced by him who don’t even realise it.”

Bowie’s death engendered a feeling of us being shortchanged, of a talent lost simply too soon — not at the mercy of drugs or a freakish accident but rather time. We were never going to have enough years with Bowie, who continued to make good music into his golden years. His influence transcends the human vessel he embodied, and artists from Madonna to Kurt Cobain to St. Vincent have and continue to borrow from him. It’s said that artists are only as good as the techniques other people can steal from them, and in Bowie’s case, that amounts to a compendium of modern pop’s greatest hits — from other artists. Here are just a few of the many songs indebted to Bowie:

 

Janelle Monáe -- “Q.U.E.E.N. ft. Erykah Badu”

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Janelle Monáe has openly paid homage to Bowie’s 1977 hit “Heroes” -- most notably in her high-profile cover of the song for a Pepsi campaign in 2014. But the Bowie influence is more subtle in one of her first big crossover hits, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” which features Erykah Badu. The song’s intergalactic keys and its notion of an alternative, space-age creative universe is a concept that Bowie pioneered. Songs like “Q.U.E.E.N.” and “Dance Apocalyptic” are Monáe’s way of taking her music planetary while crafting her voice in strokes as bold as Ziggy Stardust’s lightning strikes. “Bowie is a part of my musical DNA in so many ways … he’s transcendent,” she once told Rolling Stone. “He’s a true time traveler, and I think that that is a part of who I am and the legacy that I want people to remember. I will never expire. Nor will David Bowie.””

 

LCD Soundsystem -- “All My Friends”

 

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LCD Soundsystem will return for this year’s Coachella, where they will no doubt perform one of their most Bowie-indebted singles, “All My Friends.” The track’s glam-y keys and elliptical base give it a distinct ‘80’s influence, and James Murphy’s upper-register singing hearkens to the kind of cyclical hooks that Bowie made famous with “Rebel Rebel.” (Also worth listening: James Murphy’s minimalist cover of Bowie’s “Golden Years.”)

 

Lady Gaga -- “Applause”

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Lady Gaga’s co-opting of the Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt amounted to a pretty obvious steal when the former came out with “Just Dance” in 2008. More subtle, however, are the laser synth arrangements and the fame references on her Artpop hit “Applause,” and the way in which that song represents Bowie’s influence on Gaga’s career in general. Bowie was always reinventing himself, which is why musicians like Gaga (or Madonna, who often cited Bowie as an inspiration) who love conceptual art continue to gravitate toward him. The episodic nature of their art -- like chapters in a narrative, with each artist articulating themselves anew in each “phase” -- appeals to the label-shunning class of pop stars. Ziggy Stardust, of course, also set a precedent for subsequent artists to push the boundaries of gender and sexuality.

 

St. Vincent -- Digital Witness

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Bowie’s theatricality has also resonated over the years with guitarists like St. Vincent, whose 2014 embrace of Bowie-esque bleach was underscored by “Digital Witness”’s embrace of Bowie-esque horns (the kind of spacious brass accents canonized by  “Let’s Dance”). “David Bowie’s mutating aesthetic and persona are as much an instrument as his voice or guitar,” Annie Clark wrote of Chicago MCA’s David Bowie Is exhibit last year. “Sound and vision,” she reiterated, “hero, icon, alien.” (Reportedly, Clark decided to bleach her hair for the first time after seeing footage of Bowie’s 1974 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.) “He’s so theatrical,” she justified to NME, “I almost think of it as a Shakespearean thing, so it doesn’t surprise me that he caught on in Britain when he did ... If there’s one thing I got from David Bowie, it’s that you can be a shapeshifter and never be pinned down; if people get the same thing from you every time, that’s actually disappointing.”

 

Arcade Fire -- “Reflektor”

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Bowie was the first musician to go to outer space, so the notion of futurism falls forever in his legacy. Fusion music like Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” has the perfect quotient of horns, space-age keys, and abstract futurism to feel distinctly influenced by the Space Oddity. Arcade Fire have performed everything from “Five Years” to “Wake Up” with Bowie himself, and the band’s last album and its meditations on technology and modernity presuppose an idea that Bowie made famous: the notion that it is possible to bridge the gap between planetary concerns and what lies beyond -- the modernity that Bowie pioneered, and the legacy for which he will be remembered.