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10 Things We Learned About David Bowie's Biggest Hits

List RulesVote up the most interesting tidbits from Bowie's musical explorations.

David Bowie is one of the most influential musical artists of all time. With hits like "Ziggy Stardust," "Space Oddity," "Heroes," "Modern Love," "Let's Dance," and countless others, the word "genius" barely suffices.

Bowie remains an enigmatic figure, but his music (and the stories behind it) paints a pretty vivid picture of how he made his mark on pop culture. Here are some interesting facts about some of his best-known recordings, and how they were made.

  • Photo: RCA

    By the time David Bowie released his ninth studio album, Young Americans, he was a superstar. He was starting to ditch the glam rock sound and cater towards a bigger, more mainstream audience, which placed him more prominently in the public eye.

    With Young Americans, Bowie aimed for a sound inspired by soul and gospel music, and he sought the aid of American artists like Luther Vandross to help him attain it.

    When the album was finally finished, Bowie celebrated by inviting 10 devoted fans, who had been camped outside the studio during the sessions, to come inside and listen to a mix of the album. Not only did Bowie offer them autographs and wine, but the listening session turned into a full-on dance party, with the man himself playing the album a second time while joining fans on the dance floor.

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  • Photo: Joost Evers / Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Even if you're David Bowie, it's not every day that you get to both meet former Beatle John Lennon and write a song with him. In 1974, Bowie met John in New York City and arranged a jam session that ultimately led to Bowie's No. 1 single, "Fame," co-written by John Lennon (who also played guitar and sang backing vocals on the track).

    But before they hopped in the studio together, Bowie had a very tough time breaking the ice with the legendary singer/songwriter. According to Bowie's longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie didn't know how to interact with Lennon and opted to sit on the floor drawing pictures. It wasn't until Lennon requested some paper from Bowie that they jokingly decided to make sketches of each other, resulting in a "great friendship."

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  • David Bowie's first classic single, "Space Oddity," came out at exactly the right time. The late '60s was a time of obsessive focus on space exploration, with the real-life space race mirrored in pop culture by classics such as Star Trek and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

    You might think the Apollo 11 moon landing inspired Bowie's breakthrough single, but actually, "Space Oddity" was recorded a month before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. (Of course, Armstrong's "one small step" was merely the culmination of numerous highly publicized space flights that permeated the atmosphere of the '60s.)

    Bowie admitted that he was inspired by Kubrick's film in conceptualizing the song:

    I found [the film] amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.

    Though an early version of the song was recorded as early as February 1969, the released single was recorded on June 20, 1969 - exactly one month before the moon landing. It was released on July 11, five days before the Apollo 11 launch.

    It is quite likely that the extreme public interest in space travel led to Bowie's biggest hit thus far (indeed, the BBC played the song during its Apollo 11 coverage) and one of the most celebrated tracks in his discography. 

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  • Photo: RCA

    Bowie's rock opera The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was perhaps his greatest album, with hits like "Moonage Daydream," "Starman," "Suffragette City," and of course, "Ziggy Stardust," but it was also the album where Bowie crystallized the sound of his '70s glam-rock persona. You'd think Bowie must have spent a long time perfecting that unique sound, but ironically, the opposite is true. 

    When it came to recording the album, Bowie had little patience for the recording process and apparently gave his backing band almost no time to rehearse the tracks. According to bassist Trevor Bolder

    I remember it being a nightmare because Bowie would come in and just throw songs at us. We were used to it, but the unfortunate thing wasn’t, "Here’s a song. Let’s rehearse it for an hour." It was, "Here’s a song. You got it? Let’s go." You had one or two takes, and that was it.

    Although his methods were unorthodox, they clearly paid off.

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