Sound Quality Mattered to David Bowie: 5 Rocking Bowie Tunes to Remember

David Bowie’s stellar recording career not only included his work with A-list musicians, but some of the best engineers in the music industry.

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With the world mourning the loss of the iconic musician David Bowie it's easy to lose sight on the fact that not only did he write classic songs and constantly push and challenge the creative process, he also impacted in the way popular music sounded. 

Through a catalog that includes songs like “Changes,” “Heroes” and “Let's Dance,” Bowie always seemed a step ahead in an era in which individiuality mattered. Besides his legions of fans one other group of people that greatly benefitted from Bowie's desire to create something fresh and new were audiophiles. Characterizing the sound sound of Bowie's catalog is impossible, but generalizing it from an audiophile perspective, his albums always sounded big and dynamic with lots of ambient space.

Digging into five classic Bowie songs, here are some selected elements that make these songs stand out.

“Fashion” — Released in 1980 and featuring G.E. Smith and Robert Fripp on guitar “Fashion” offers some amazing guitar tones/effects run down the center of the mix and a typical huge sounding bass line supporting the song's melody. Like many Bowie songs there's an interesting use of percussion in this song, and specifically hand claps that complement hi-hat accents in the ending chorus refrain of “Fa-Fa-Fashion.”

“Ashes to Ashes” — This is fairly densely recorded song with lots of layered vocals. Like “Fashion” this song is also from Bowie's “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” album, and Bowie said the song draws upon childhood fairytales. On a good audio system, this song will sound big and airy with lots of space.

“Ziggy Stardust” — Looking back at the production of this song, which came out in 1972 it pioneered the use of multitracked guitars to make the guitars sound bigger and fuller within a mix. Bowie recorded “Ziggy Startdust” with the influential Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders band. One of the coolest parts of “Ziggy Stardust” is Bowie's doubled vocals during the chorus, which can be clearly heard on the far left and right of the image. 

“Fame” — Released in the summer of 1975, “Fame” was one of Bowie's most famous collaborations. Working with John Lennon this song was recorded in a day at Electric Ladyland Studios with musicians that included David Sanborn and Luther Vandross. This features a slow tempo funk bass/drum rhythm section working in tandem an array of electric and acoustic guitars and horns. 

“China Girl” — From 1983's “Let's Dance” album, “China Girl” was originally co-written with Iggy Pop and released by Iggy Pop. The song didn't achieve acclaim until Bowie released with what was then an unknown guitar player from Austin, Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vaughn along with the album's producer Nile Rodgers would add their signature Fender Stratocaster tones to the record that introduced Bowie to the teenage generation of the 1980s. This song features nice bass and drum microdynamics and of course Stevie Ray Vaughn's tasty blues guitar playing. 

One last important note about David Bowie's catalog. For the most part his recordings are pretty dynamic. Checking the Dynamic Range (DR) Database website, Bowie's catalog, especially his vinyl records stand up well. Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of his records is that his new record “Blackstar,” which was just released is dynamically limited (including the high-resolution version) on HDTracks. 

About the Author

Robert Archer
Robert Archer:

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob has also served as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In his personal time beyond his family, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons and Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Binda Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.