With the official drop of David Bowie‘s 24th opus The Next Day imminently upon us (March 12), we here at Team SONGLYRICS couldn’t help but travel back in time to cherry-pick some of the great chameleon of rock’s finest moments of verse/chorus. From his ‘mind blowing’ Babe Ruthian called freak-folk shot in ’67, to post-millennial ambiguity, join us in this 10-sentiment toast to ‘Generation Bowie’, it knows no gaps.

The Gospel According to Tony Day‘; [LISTEN] (1967)

The British caricatures – Tony Day, Pat Hewitt, Marianne Brent, Brendan O’Lear – that speckle this Syd Barrett kooky psych-folk deep cut are ancillary. So is its promotion as a novelty record. What’s important is the first taste of the sonic shape-shifter breaking outside of his previous Stones’ emulations and onto something that would become quite magical. Especially this oboe-lulled Babe Ruthian, ‘mind-blowing’ non-sequitor. – Gavin Paul

Your mind – blow it, blow it

Moonage Daydream‘; [LISTEN] (1971)

Four rip-curling power chords and a super-sonic lashing of the tongue later and so is born rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust. “Moonage Daydream,” with its frankly erotic word-riff interplay, serves as the all too flawless ‘entrance music’ for the promiscuous space invader sent to tempt, with a lick of Zig’s lips, “the church of man” from itself. Not that it is at all auto-biographical, eh, Bowie? – Jess Grant

I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you

Fame‘; [LISTEN] (1975)

With a groove borrowed from funk forefathers, rightly influencing every Red Hot Chili Peppers record, Bowie aptly discusses the influence of fame – such as telling the publicinaccurately – of its own fabricated homosexuality, possibly to cash in the taboo for 1970s infamy. While the gay community embraced him for that decision, his lyrics still apply for the strange, contrived strategies employed in the pursuit of fame. – Karl Fagerstrom

Fame – what you like is in the limo
Fame – what you get is no tomorrow
Fame – what you need, you have to borrow
Fame

Ashes to Ashes‘; [LISTEN] (1980)

Before he could really get stuck into the 1980s, Bowie had some personal demons to slay. “Ashes to Ashes” was a moment of textured catharsis for the Duke. So returns Major Tom, the rocket scientist first introduced on Bowie’s breakthrough, “Space Oddity.” Bowie self-deprecatingly reassumes the role of the “junkie, strung out in heaven’s high.” But as the final line swirls deliriously to fade, so too, does the cosmonaut’s decade of drugs, divorce and despair. – J.G.

My mother said, ‘To get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom’

Fashion‘; [LISTEN] (1980)

Another lyrical pearl from Bowie that holds relevance today, “Fashion” delivers a tongue-in-cheek jab at the power of mindlessly-followed trends, to which no one is immune – be they from “good” or “bad homes.” This takes on additional life in relation to Bowie’s career; his ‘chameleon’ status saw him both influence hordes of other artists, as well as draw from many of these same acts in a sort of feedback loop. – K.F.

There’s a brand new talk and it’s not very clear
That people from good homes are talking this year
It’s loud and it’s tasteless and I’ve heard it before
You shout it while you’re dancing on the dance floor

Absolute Beginners‘; [LISTEN] (1986)

The film of the same name might have been an absolute howler, likewise Bowie’s roaming American accent, but the title theme certainly isn’t worthy of the same derision. Blending 50s doo-wop with 80s new wave, it may be unashamedly head-over-heels and unusually simplistic, but Bowie’s ‘love conquers all’ idealism is delivered with such conviction that you don’t doubt for a second that a smile from his fellow Absolute Beginner is all he needs to survive. – Jon O’Brien

As long as we’re together
The rest can go to hell
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same

The Wedding Song‘; [LISTEN] (1993)

By the time “The Wedding Song” was released the ’90s were already in full swing. The internet was connecting the world, and the race to the millennium had everybody buzzing. Bowie was in the thick of it, and this was his call to action. It was largely inspired by his marriage to Iman, and you can hear the elation in his voice. The world was thirsting for change, Bowie just provided the soundtrack. – Jeff Min

I’m gonna be so good
Just like a good boy should
I’m gonna change my ways
Angel for life

I’m Afraid of Americans‘; [LISTEN] (1997)

In which the Thin White Duke tips his top-hat to industrial rock, this is basically Nine Inch Nails‘ “Head Like a Hole” reappropriating Reznor’s “God money” anti-worship parable with a Western world mask. “Americans” in its original Showgirls’ soundtrack inception was actually “animals.” “God is an ‘animal’” would have been entertaining. But “God is an ‘American’” bites even harder, after Bowie uses “Johnny” Amurrica to showcase our nation’s worst values and their encroachment upon the rest of the world. – G.P.

Jonny’s in America
Jonny looks up at the stars
Jonny combs his hair
And Jonny wants pussy and cars

I’m afraid of Americans
I”m afraid of the world

Thursday’s Child‘; [LISTEN] (1999)

Bowie’s final 21st Century hit saw him in an equally reflective and incredibly modest mood as he once again admits he feels he has little to offer. He may have virtually reinvented the wheel with every album he released in the 70s. But “Thursday’s Child” downplays the hugely influential role he played in modern culture on a surprisingly vulnerable dissection of his career which then segues into a contrastingly optimistic declaration of new love. – J.O.

All of my life I’ve tried so hard
Doing my best with what I had
Nothing much happened all the same
Something about me stood apart
A whisper of hope that seemed to fail
Maybe I’m born right out of my time

Everyone Says ‘Hi’‘; [LISTEN] (2002)

While the ’90s allowed Bowie to sail along carelessly, the millennium seemed to bring him back down to Earth in very real ways. Heathen echoes with uncertainty, and is steeped in loss and nostalgia. And the disconnect going on in “Everyone Says ‘Hi‘,” embodies Bowie’s general disappointment with the turn of the century. Reuniting with Tony Visconti set the mood, and in classic fashion, Bowie lets the ambiguity of the lyrics carry the song. – J.M.

Shoulda took a picture
Something I could keep
Buy a little frame
Something cheap for you