Under the God: The Best David Bowie Covers


Among the late, incredibly great David Bowie’s many career achievements was his 1973 covers album Pin Ups, but there are enough remakes of Bowie’s own iconic material out there to fill an entire library of covers compilations. There will no doubt be many more Bowie covers to add to this list, as the artists mourning his shocking death pay homage to him onstage in the coming weeks. But here are some of the best Bowie tributes of the past (golden) years.

27. The Shins, “Ashes to Ashes”

The revamped lineup of the Garden State-approved indie band debuted this earnest cover of Bowie’s Scary Monsters classic back in 2011, with frontman James Mercer’s high, plaintive voice – a drastic contrast to Bowie’s colder, more detached delivery – adding even more pathos and ennui to the sad-clown 1980 hit. This cover might change your life.

26. Barbra Streisand, “Life on Mars”

Yes, this actually happened, back in 1974 at the height of Bowie’s glam-rock fame. It’s every bit as ostentatious and blustering and over-the-top as you might expect, but it actually works. At the very least, it’s way better than Susan Boyle’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”

25. Marilyn Manson, “Golden Years”

Obvious Bowie disciple Brian Warner did this proper tribute during Manson’s obviously Bowie-inspired Mechanical Animals late-‘90s era. (This cover actually appeared on the Dead Man on Campus soundtrack in 1998.) Infusing the song with just the right amount of industrial edge and Goth-rock attitude, Manson definitely made it his own.

24. Jessica Lange, “Life on Mars”

Elsa Mars, the faded-glamorous, Dietrichian grand dame of American Horror Story: Freak Show, gave glorious cabaret performances of both this song and “Heroes” during her AHS run. It was the freak-i-est show-oh-oh-oh, indeed. Lange won an Emmy for her AHS work, but she deserved a Grammy, too.

23. Morrissey, “Drive-In Saturday”

This 1973 Aladdin Sane track got the cover treatment from a lad possibly slightly insane, Mr. Steven Morrissey, on a 2008 B-side. His version is full of so much preening, heart-on-sleeve melodrama, it makes Bowie’s original seem like something by John Denver.

22. The Dandy Warhols, “The Jean Genie”

The Portland psych-rockers released this rough-hewn, pleasingly ramshackle remake in 2004, as part of the hard-to-find covers compilation Come on Feel the Dandy Warhols. Its ragged, acoustic sound in no way resembled the synth-pop vibe of the band’s Welcome to the Monkey House album released a year earlier, which was actually co-produced by longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti – but it certainly showed what huge Bowie fans the Dandys were.

21. Tegan and Sara, “Rebel Rebel”

A highlight of the brilliantly titled 2003 compilation Spiders from Venus: Indie Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie, the Quin sisters used their twin powers and sugar-sweet harmonies to transform Bowie’s glam anthem into something downright adorable.

20. My Chemical Romance & The Used, “Under Pressure”

David Bowie’s epic Queen duet got the tribute treatment from two of emo’s finest for this 2005 tsunami relief benefit single, and the collaboration brought out the best in both bands. A year later, MCR’s Bowie fixation was evident on their artistic breakthrough album, The Black Parade.

19. TV on the Radio, “Heroes”

Bowie sang backup vocals on TVOTR’s 2006 song “Province,” and three years later the band returned the favor by hauntingly covering his power ballad “Heroes” for a War Child charity compilation.

18. A Place to Bury Strangers, “Suffragette City”

The NYC noise-rockers contributed this menacing, abrasive, oozing-with-cool cover to Manimal Vinyl’s all-around excellent two-disc compilation We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie in 2010.

17. Duran Duran, “Boys Keep Swinging”

Also off We Were So Turned On, the swinging Boys on Film from Birmingham paid homage to the glam man that inspired them (and the U.K.’s entire New Romantic movement) with this slick, stylish Eurodisco remake.

16. The Last Shadow Puppets, “In the Heat of the Morning”

The side-project of the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane brought their supercool, Morricone-esque, spaghetti-western flair to this 1960s Bowie rarity.

15. Smashing Pumpkins, “Space Oddity”

We still miss James Iha in the Smashing Pumpkins’ lineup, but when the current Pumpkins incarnation tackled Bowie’s somber interstellar classic at South by Southwest 2013, it was a fine Aeroplane Flies High-esque return to form for Corgan and company.

14. Stone Temple Pilots, “Andy Warhol”

Bizarrely, STP’s fantastic cover of this Hunky Dory classic wasn’t televised as part of their 1993 MTV Unplugged special; thankfully, audio of the performance exists online. Bowie’s influence would definitely dominate later STP albums and especially Scott Weiland’s solo work.

13. Adam Lambert, “Life on Mars”/“Fame”/“Let’s Dance” medley

The Glamerican Idol never got to cover Bowie on American Idol itself, but he unleashed his inner freak flag and Bowie fanboy every night onstage during the American Idols Live 2009 summer tour. This epic, rave-like medley was a nightly tour highlight, and it let the flamboyant singer express himself in a way that just wasn’t possible on a conservative show like Idol.

12. Tina Turner, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”

Tina spat pure fire during this astounding 1982 performance of Bowie’s Giorgio Moroder-produced movie theme. Meow!

11. Arcade Fire, “Five Years”

One of Bowie’s final collaborators, the Canadian collective stunned with a joint Bowie performance on 2005’s Fashion Rocks special. But even when they did “Five Years” on their own, it was pretty epic.

10. Eurythmics, “Fame”

A gender-bending iconoclast descended directly from Bowie, Annie Lennox definitely had the pipes and the panache to pull off this funky cover in 1983. Nine years later, Lennox took on the Freddie Mercury vocals for a history-making Bowie duet of “Under Pressure” at Wembley Stadium’s Mercury tribute concert, and it was clear that Bowie had met his match.

9. Pete Yorn, “China Girl”

Technically, “China Girl” is an Iggy Pop song, though it was a big hit off Bowie’s commercial breakthrough album, Let’s Dance. Yorn’s cover, a bonus track off his debut LP, sounds neither Bowie- nor Iggy-esque. Instead, Yorn transforms the sardonic post-punk love song into a twangy coffeehouse singalong. And it totally works.

8. M. Ward, “Let’s Dance”

Another singer-songwriter total-180 cover from the Let’s Dance era, Zooey Deschanel’s She + Him better half somehow turns Bowie’s Nile Rodgers-produced funkfest into a gentle acoustic weeper. Ward actually does sound like he is trembling like a flower.

7. Peter Gabriel, “Heroes”

Gabriel’s 2010 covers album Scratch My Back featured gorgeous remakes of Elbow, Talking Heads, Bon Iver, Lou Reed, and Arcade Fire songs, but none were quite as magical or grandiose as his album-opening orchestral version of Bowie’s perhaps most grandiose ballad. It didn’t seem possible for “Heroes” to get any more magnificent or lavish, but Gabriel pulled it off.

6. The Cure, “Young Americans”

One of the greatest British artists to follow in Bowie’s wake, the Cure’s Robert Smith added alt-pop playfulness to Bowie’s funky blue-eyed-soul classic back in 1995. For more Smith/Bowie awesomeness, check out the icons’ Madison Square Garden duet from Bowie’s 50th birthday celebration here.

5. Seu Jorge, “Life on Mars”

Brazilian musician/actor Jorge’s soundtrack to 2005’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, featuring all Portuguese-language acoustic Bowie covers, is a delight from start to finish; really, almost any of its tracks could have made this list. But “Life on Mars” is especially magical. Bowie himself once praised Jorge’s lovely interpretations, saying, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”

4. Beck, “Sound and Vision”

In 2013, Beck Hansen – a modern-day, genre-hopping, risk-taking chameleon a la Bowie himself – performed “Sound and Vision” with a 157-piece orchestra and choir on a rotating stage on the 20th Century Fox studio lot in Los Angeles. Just because he could. Just because he’s Beck. And that’s where it’s at.

3. Chris Hadfield, “Space Oddity”

What more fitting tribute to the ultimate Starman than this Canadian astronaut’s cover – literally the first musical recording in space? Commander Hatfield’s stunning video, recorded on board the International Space Station in 2013, has been viewed almost 29 million times on YouTube, and will no doubt be getting a bunch of new views this week. Bowie actually once called Hadfield’s cover “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.”

2. Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World”

In possibly the most famous and beloved MTV Unplugged performance of all time, Kurt Cobain introduced a whole new generation to Bowie’s genius with this raw, brooding cover. Some people even said Nirvana’s version improved upon the original. We wouldn’t go that far, but this was definitely a special moment for both Cobain and Bowie’s careers. It’s heartbreaking to realize they’re both gone now.

1. Bauhaus, “Ziggy Stardust”

What Nirvana’s stripped “The Man Who Sold the World” did for ‘90s Bowie awareness, Bauhaus’s fangs-bared, amped-up “Ziggy” did in the ‘80s (a year before “Let’s Dance” would make Bowie an MTV superstar). Bloodless-complexioned, shirtless, cage-dwelling 'Haus frontman Peter Murphy, with his incredible, dangerous charisma and spooky vocals, almost seemed like The New Bowie at the time – except, of course, there can only be and will only ever be one Bowie. Later, Murphy (still in a cage) and Bowie teamed up for the opening sequence of the sexy vampire thriller The Hunger and totally blew new wave kids’ minds.

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