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Five years on, we remember the legend (Picture:
Five years ago, the music world was united in grief as we lost David Bowie.
The artist, widely considered one of the greatest rock stars of all time, died on January 10 2016, 18 months after he was diagnosed with liver cancer – a diagnosis which he kept a secret from the public.
His death came two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar, his 26th studio album that bookended a career of boundary-pushing innovation and reinvention.
It’s hard to condense Bowie’s career into a list of ‘best moments’ – everyone has a different favourite song, depending on whether you were a fan of the Berlin era or a Ziggy Stardust devotee, a favourite look and a favourite movie.
But in honour of the fifth anniversary of David’s death, we have chosen just a few of the standout moments from his back catalogue of music, style and art, to prove that although we lost the Starman, we will always have his legacy.
Aladdin Sane cover
The lightning bolt is one of the most enduring images from Bowie’s career
There are some album covers that have become just as memorable as the songs that lie beneath – from Andy Warhol banana on the front of The Velvet Underground & Nico, to a baby swimming after a dollar for Nirvana’s Nevermind, to the Beatles walking across Abbey Road. The album artwork for 1973’s Aladdin Sane is one of those covers, with the image of Bowie with a lightning bolt across his face forever linked with the man.
Brian Duffy shot the picture of Bowie’s new character Aladdin Sane – described as Ziggy Stardust goes to America – with a red and blue lightning bolt painted on his face, and added the teardrop on his clavicle in post.
At the time, the cover was the most expensive cover ever produced due to Duffy’s insistence on a seven-colour system rather than the usual four.
The lightning bolt has come to be one of the defining images of Bowie’s career, and features on merch and in galleries.
Glastonbury headlining set
The 2000 headlining set is considered one of the greatest in Glasto history (Picture: Jon Super/Redferns)
Widely considered one of the best headlining sets in Glastonbury history, Bowie headlined the Sunday night in 2000 and had the crowd in his hands from the moment he emerged in an Alexander McQueen coat to launch into Wild Is The Wind.
It’s as close to a greatest hits set that we ever got from Bowie, with songs like Changes, Life On Mars?, Ashes to Ashes, Starman, Rebel Rebel, Let’s Dance and Heroes sending the crowd wild.
It’s hard to have a perfect festival performance, but we reckon Bowie did it with this.
Emily Eavis later said: ‘I often get asked what the best set I’ve seen here at Glastonbury is, and Bowie’s 2000 performance is always one which I think of first. It was spellbinding; he had an absolutely enormous crowd transfixed.
‘I think Bowie had a very deep relationship with Worthy Farm and he told some wonderful stories about his first time at the Festival in 1971, when he stayed at the farmhouse and performed at 6am as the sun was rising. And he just played the perfect headline set. It really was a very special and emotional show.’
Bizarrely, the BBC decided to cut to a short film about underground theatre at Glastonbury instead of showing the full set, but the whole performance has since been aired and commercially released.
You remind me of the babe… (Picture: Sony Pictures Televsion)
A generation of kids were introduced to Bowie via Labyrinth, the 1986 Jim Henson movie that’s probably a bit too weird and dark for young children to be watching, but they watched it anyway every half-term.
Bowie played the Jareth the Goblin King, who threatens to turn teenager Sarah’s baby brother into a goblin if she does not solve his labyrinth, and depending on your age watching it, you are either terrified of him or you have a massive crush on him – we all remember those ridiculously tight trousers.
Bowie’s enchanting performance of Magic Dance, surrounded by Jim Henson puppets, is part of what has made Labyrinth a cult classic.
The Thin White Duke
The Thin White Duke was Bowie’s most controversial persona (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Following bisexual glam rock aliens and astronauts was hard, but the Thin White Duke, Bowie’s persona from 1975 to 1976 made a big impact.
Linked to his album Station to Station, the Thin White Duke was less flamboyant than previous characters. He was well-groomed and wore a white shirt, black trousers and a waistcoat. But it was his seemingly pro-fascist statements that made the Duke Bowie’s most controversial character.
Bowie soon disavowed the comments he made as the Duke, calling it theatre, and in later years revealed he suffered drug-induced paranoia and depression at the time due to living on a diet of hard drugs, particularly cocaine, red peppers and milk.
Despite Bowie remembering little of the production of Station to Station, it is among his most critically acclaimed, and features songs like Golden Years and the title track.
Criticising MTV for not playing enough Black artists
In 1983, Bowie used his time during an interview with VJ Mark Goodman on MTV to confront the station about their reluctance to play videos from Black artists.
He said: ‘I’m just floored by the fact that there’s so few Black artists featured on it. Why is that? The only few Black artists one does see are on at about 2.30 in the morning. Very few are featured predominantly during the day.
‘There seems to be a lot of Black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t used on MTV.’
When Goodman attempted to claim that the channel needed to play music that everyone in America would like, not just teens in New York and LA, Bowie said: ‘I’ll tell you what the Isley Brothers or Marvin Gaye means to a a black 17-year-old, and surely he’s part of America as well.’
Saying that the exclusion of Black artists was ‘rampant through American media’, Bowie refused to let Goodman off the hook, and pressed: ‘Should it not be a challenge to try and make the media far more integrated, especially if anything in musical terms?’
While it’s unknown if Bowie’s statement directly led to change within MTV, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean was put on rotation months later.
Ziggy Stardust was a bisexual alien rock god (Picture: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
Ziggy played guitar… Bowie’s most iconic character is also his most out-there, an androgynous bisexual alien rock star who is worshipped as a messiah by fans but eventually dies of his own fame and excess.
Bowie toured as Ziggy for 18 months between 1972 and 1973, rocking a rust orange mullet that became the Rachel of the era for both boys and girls and wearing avant garde designs from Kansai Yamamoto on stage.
The character was retired during a live concert at Hammersmith Apollo in 1973 but Ziggy lives on in the hearts of Bowie fans and the legacy of glam rock.
Starman on Top of the Pops
Ziggy delivered one of the all-time great Top of the Pops performances in 1972 when he, the Spiders from Mars and Nicky Graham performed Starman, the tale of Ziggy’s message of hope to the children of Earth.
Bowie, as Ziggy, sported his bright mullet and a rainbow-coloured jumpsuit, and wrapped his arm around Mick Ronson’s shoulders as they sang the chorus, managing to be both casual and achingly cool.
On the lyric ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you, ooh ooh’, Bowie turned to look down the camera lens and pointed, singling out the viewer.
Bono, Gary Numan, Robert Smith, Bauhaus, Elton John and Ian McCulloch have all spoken about the profound effect the TOTP performance had on them as they watched it, and it helped propel Starman to be considered one of Bowie’s best songs.
Boys Keep Swinging
Bowie’s effect on style and androgyny is as powerful as his effect on music, and the video for Boys Keep Swinging is a stellar example of this.
Oozing charisma and confidence as he danced on stage in a suit and tie, the video would still have been great if it were just the performance.
But Bowie has never been sexier than when he stomped down the runway in women’s dresses, before ripping off his wigs and smearing his lipstick across his face.
Celebrity cameos in movies can be hit and miss, but Ben Stiller’s Zoolander nailed it with its hilarious appearances from Paris Hilton, Lenny Kravitz and Billy Zane.
But the best is that of David Bowie, who emerges to the riff from Let’s Dance to judge a walk-off between Derek Zoolander and Hansel.
It’s totally absurd, but somehow, makes perfect sense.
Great music makes you feel, and what feelings does Heroes give you? All of them.
The 1977 song, inspired by the sight of Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti embracing his lover by the Berlin Wall, and is considered an anthem of the human spirit’s potential triumph over adversity.
Not only has Heroes become a favourite end of night song at indie clubs and a staple of sports packages, it may have had an influence on history, with his performance near the Berlin Wall in June 1987 credited as influential in the fall of the wall.
After Bowie’s death, the German government tweeted: ‘Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.’
Rebel Rebel riff
Bowie bid farewell to the glam rock era he helped shape with Rebel Rebel in 1974.
The lyrics are sublime, from the references to gender-bending (‘You’ve got your mother in a whirl, she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl) and debauchery (‘You got your cue line and a handful of ‘ludes). But it’s that opening riff that solidifies Rebel Rebel as one of Bowie’s most enduring tracks.
Even more brilliantly, the riff reminiscent of the Rolling Stones was dreamt up by Bowie in an alleged attempt to ‘p*** off Mick Jagger’.