In this week’s instalment of What’s Going On, we’re commemorating five years since David Bowie’s passing by looking at five brilliant Bowie covers. Bowie influenced countless artists over the course of his career which has led to his music being interpreted by performers across a variety of genres. While I’m sure we all know and love Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ or Bauhaus’ take on ‘Ziggy Stardust’, I wanted to shine some light on other interpretations that are just as great. Let us know, what are your favorite David Bowie covers?
Duran Duran – On what would have been David Bowie’s 74th birthday, Duran Duran released their cover of ‘Five Years’, the opening track from Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. This isn’t the first time Duran Duran has recorded a Bowie cover as they have previously done renditions of ‘Diamond Dogs’ and ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ in the past. A huge fan since he was a teenager, Duran Duran frontman Simon LeBon recently explained Bowie’s importance to him to People: “He is the reason why I started writing songs. I can’t begin to explain how honored I feel for Duran Duran to be given the opportunity to perform this icon and to place our name alongside Bowie’s for this commemoration of his music.”
Listen to Duran Duran’s cover of ‘Five Years’ below.
We Are KING – BBE Music recently announced their forthcoming David Bowie tribute album Modern Love, set to highlight the influence of Black music on Bowie’s work and featuring covers done by artists such as Khruangbin and Meshell Ndegeocello. The first single released from Modern Love is a cover of ‘Space Oddity’ by ethereal R&B duo We Are KING. The twin sisters, Amber and Paris Strother, took the Bowie hit and gave it the We Are KING treatment, infusing it with their trademark smooth electronic sound. Explaining why they chose to cover ‘Space Oddity’, the sisters said: “There were so many amazing Bowie compositions to choose from but Space Oddity has always been our favorite- it’s so visual; it has always felt like time travel in a song. It tells such a vivid and imaginative story of Major Tom’s trip through space and it was such a cool experience to reimagine what it’d be like on the voyage.”
Listen to We Are KING’s cover of ‘Space Oddity’ below.
Depeche Mode – Released in 2017 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the song, Depeche Mode’s cover of ‘Heroes’ has become a Depeche Mode fan favourite. Their cover of ‘Heroes’ was recorded as part of their Highline Sessions. The cover also was included as part of the setlist for Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit Tour that lasted throughout 2017 & 2018. Speaking personally, getting to see the band perform ‘Heroes’ live with everyone in the Air Canada Centre singing along was one of my coolest concert moments. On the decision to release their cover, Dave Gahan said to Rolling Stone: “‘Heroes’ is the most special song to me at the moment. Bowie is the one artist who I’ve stuck with since I was in my early teens.” Knowing that Dave Gahan has been a Bowie fan since his youth makes hearing him channel Bowie’s lyrics all the more special.
Listen to Depeche Mode’s cover of ‘Heroes’ below.
Trey Songz – While R&B superstar Trey Songz might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of artists covering David Bowie, I assure you he knocked it out of the park. Recorded for the since-canceled HBO show Vinyl, Trey Songz put his spin on ‘Life on Mars?’ from Bowie’s Hunky Dory album. Accompanied by just a piano, Trey earnestly croons Bowie’s lyrics, pouring his heart into every word. Speaking to Complex in 2016, Trey Songz explained how the cover came to be: “When I was approached last summer by the producers of Vinyl, the first thing I thought was, ‘Damn that’s a David Bowie song! I had to do what I do best, because Icons like David paved the way. After learning of his passing I knew that this was a special moment in time and this cover became my personal tribute to David.”
Listen to Trey Songz cover of ‘Life on Mars?’ below.
Warpaint – Manimal Vinyl’s 2010 tribute album We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie that benefitted the charity War Child UK featured a variety of Bowie covers from acts such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Carla Bruni, John Frusciante and others, but the standout for me was by the Los Angeles band Warpaint. Their cover of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ from 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) manages to infuse the band’s signature Warpaint sound while still staying pretty faithful to the Bowie classic. The vocal harmonies of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman add a unique touch. Years later, the band would go on to perform their cover of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ on the festival circuit with notable performances at Primavera Sound, Glastonbury and Boston Calling.
Listen to Warpaint’s cover of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ below.