The fifteen best David Bowie covers

The artists who most imaginatively covered The Dame understood the tumult in his quiet songs (Dinosaur Jr) and the ghostly disquiet of the faster ones (Warpaint; M. Ward; Nirvana, of course) My favorite today is British Electric Foundation and The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie, who turn “The Secret Life of Arabia” into a prolonged workout for kick drum, hand claps, slap bass, and a ghoulish vocal that repeat the original’s outro chant. That cover and Beck’s of “Sound and Vision” go the furthest on this list. Just don’t mention the Wallflowers’ “‘Heroes'” around me, thanks.

1. Billy Mackenzie/B.E.F-The Secret Life Of Arabia
2. Lulu – Watch That Man
3. Tegan and Sara – Rebel Rebel
4. Morrissey – Drive-In Saturday
5. Dinosaur Jr – Quicksand
6. Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust
7. Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
8. Chairlift – Always Crashing in the Same Car
9. Barbra Streisand – Life on Mars…?
10. Warpaint – Ashes to Ashes
11. The Dandy Warhols – The Jean Genie
12. Susannah Hoffs – Boys Keep Swinging
13. Beck – Sound and Vision
14. Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World
15. M. Ward – Let’s Dance

6 thoughts on “The fifteen best David Bowie covers

  1. postpunkmonk

    Booyah! That MacKenzie/B.E.F. cover is IT. My favorite Bowie cover ever of a consistent Top 5 favorite Bowie song and…I say they smoke the man for breakfast. MacKenzie just builds the hysteria in a way that Bowie would shy away from, I think. And that song was just waiting for the Linn Drum Computer to fulfill its destiny. I remember when I got a copy of “Heroes” in 1981 how the album ended with a song that sounded utterly contemporary to my tastes. I always felt that “Arabia” should have been a club staple for eons. But next year the B.E.F. “Music Of Quality + Distinction Vol. 1” dropped and changed the whole ball game. I also say Bauhaus came out on top.

  2. billysmart

    The only omission from your list immediately apparent to me would be (Birmingham feminist collective) The Au Pairs’ post-punk version of ‘Repetition’. That song has a bit more fury and a bit less distance when sung by a woman.

    Recorded soon after the release of ‘Lodger’, as was The Associates version of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

  3. postpunkmonk

    billysmart was right to point out Au Pairs cover of “Repetition” as a highlight! I fell down on the job there, possibly because I don’t have a copy, but that’s no real excuse. The Associates covered “Boys Keep Swinging” as soon as it could be in that earlier time. 4-6 Weeks after the original release. And they did it without getting publishing permission to see what they could shake up. What they shook up was Bowie’s early publisher Sparta Florida! They liked their B-side and asked if they had any more like that in their songbook. They then signed the band to a publishing deal with Sparta Florida carrying the band’s first three albums [on Fiction and WEA]. I’ve never heard Bowie mention The Associates. Their take on “Boys Keep Swinging” was tentative but at the end of the day when I want to hear “The Secret Life Of Arabia” and “Wild Is The Wind,” I want to hear MacKenzie singing them.


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