100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #21 David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes

Released : 1980

The 1970’s had been a decade of profound musical upheaval by the time they concluded, but only one artist was the connective tissue between the glam, punk and new wave movements that had turned it on it’s head; that was David Bowie, a visual and sonic icon whose regenerative powers seemed almost otherwordly.

Having spent the latter part of it recording what had come to be universally known as the Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno, Bowie again sought out Tony Visconti as producer for his next chapter, but the resulting work Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) marked a return towards the more commonly understood former vision of Bowie the pop star, even if as ever he would do so distinctly on his own terms.

Ashes to Ashes revived an old relationship with Major Tom, the anti-hero of Space Oddity. The years had not been kind to him however, and the astronaut, presumably scoring from some celestial dealer, had become a drug addict, floating in both a desolate inner and outer cosmos. The song itself – despite it’s clear lyrical references in an era where the BBC had banned The Specials for even mentioning the word contraception – evaded censure and would become Bowie’s second number one. It’s popularity was aided by an avant garde video directed by David Mallet, in which the singer was pierrot, starship commander and asylum inmate, a master of disguise and detatchment.

Few Top Of The Pops staples in this decade would be as innovative or subersively bold. Ashes To Ashes had a chorus for the school yard, but at the same time was rigged with paranoia and little twists, never allowing the listener to settle. Bowie’s voice was brittle but melancholy, the instruments tense and each telling their own odd stories. It seemed that the man who’d sold the world had finally come back down to it, waving his doppelgänger off into the endless night.