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The 15 best David Bowie covers from the last year

Andrea Warner

“Something happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside,
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried,
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a star's star, I’m a blackstar).”

David Bowie, “Blackstar”

In the year since David Bowie’s passing, the world has definitely felt like a darker place. Duller stars, paler moons, planets swallowed into black holes.

But his music — well, his music is still everything, isn’t it? Weird, stylish and avant-garde, or clever and wild, a tight fist opening and closing, letting the chaos slip in and out of his grip in deliberate and specific measures and beats. Bowie was a hustler and a changeling, someone whose creativity was so vivid and whose intellect so vast, he couldn’t contain his own multitudes. In his efforts to understand and extrapolate his personas from his personhood, he mapped his influences in songs and sketched whole worlds in between lyrical phrases.

It’s no wonder that so many people have attempted to pay their respects to Bowie's genius since his death. From big names like Arcade Fire, Sleater-Kinney and Lorde to emerging artists like the East Pointers, Calvin Love and Car Seat Headrest, here are CBC Music’s 15 favourite Bowie tributes and covers from the last year.

1. Arcade Fire, David Bowie tribute parade

Arcade Fire upped the ante with an entire tribute parade to the band's mentor, collaborator and friend. It radiates love, celebration and joy — all things that feel so very intangible after a loss like this one.

2. Calvin Love, ‘Ashes to Ashes’

The Edmonton-based musician’s tribute is just a little bit dreamier, his vocals monotone and rhythmic, like a hypnotist’s love letter to his inspiration.


3. Sarah Blasko, ‘Life on Mars’

The Australian singer-songwriter’s haunting cover of Bowie’s great “Life on Mars” is a brilliant beam of sun refracting off the frozen tundra. She unravels and deepens the song’s beautiful weirdo themes of alienation and wonderment with every breath, building to the epic and fraught ending that will likely undo even the hardest of hearts

4. Sleater-Kinney feat. Britt Daniel and the Thermals, ‘Rebel Rebel’

The chaos of a bootleg recording at a live show is kind of the perfect setting for this great, rollicking cover of Bowie’s blistering “Rebel Rebel.”

5. Postmodern Jukebox feat. Nicole Atkins, ‘Heroes’

Nicole Atkins is an extraordinary talent, and this arrangement with Postmodern Jukebox is an owl taking flight: still and wise and seemingly small, and then suddenly its wings unfurl, eclipsing the moon as it soars, majestic and massive overhead.

6. Emel Mathlouthi, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’

The Tunisian singer-songwriter rose to prominence writing and performing political songs, some of which became anthems of the Tunisian uprising that predated the Arab Spring. Mathlouthi turns the song inside out with her mournful, incisive treatment and delivers one of the song’s most subversive, thought-provoking and nuanced performances ever.

7. Lorde, ‘Life on Mars’ (10:56-minute mark)

The Brit Awards invited New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde to pay tribute to Bowie at the 2016 show and she brought her trademark intensity to the performance, backed by Bowie’s wonderful band.

8. Trey Songz, ‘Life on Mars’

The American singer-songwriter/actor is utterly captivating here on this Bowie cover, which was actually recorded for the now defunct HBO show Vinyl. His soulful piano ballad is urgent, loving and broken in all the best ways.

9. Bloc Party, ‘Heroes’

Kele Okereke’s vocal delivery is the shining star of Bloc Party’s stellar tribute to the band's fellow countryman. Okereke’s wry and earnest, playful and heartfelt in equal measure, never hitting the word “heroes” the same way twice. It’s brilliant.

10. Car Seat Headrest, ‘Blackstar’

The American indie rock band’s psychedelic treatment of Bowie’s titular single from his final album is utterly intoxicating, right down to lead singer Will Toledo’s droning, broken delivery of the line, “At the centre of it all.”

11. Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower with Simi Stone, ‘Changes’

I’m a sucker for woodwinds, and I also love the concept of this album in general. Let All the Children Boogie: A Tribute to David Bowie invited a variety of kid-friendly covers but by no means saps Bowie’s songs of their power. This is one of the best tracks on the album, and it’s a delightful treatment of “Changes” that could easily be at home on Sesame Street or a twee indie film.

12. Gabrielle Aplin, ‘Space Oddity’

The English singer-songwriter’s lilting, aching tribute soars and swells, her voice like raw silk drifting over the creaking floorboards of her acoustic guitar.

13. Young@Heart, ‘Let’s Dance’

Norm Moreau, the soloist for this song by the Young@Heart choir, is owning his cover with utter faithfulness, and I love, love, love everything about the ways in which this group celebrates the song’s total joyful abandon without sacrificing its hint of danger.

14. The East Pointers, ‘Heroes’

The Charlottetown-based band brings banjo, guitar and fiddle to its harmony-rich, rootsy cover, and it’s a wonderfully charming interpretation of this Bowie classic, a lovely way to pay tribute while making it the East Pointers' very own at the same time.

15. Leslie Wai, ‘Modern Love’

The U.K. filmmaker and music producer’s high-octane tribute is relentless and frenetic, but it’s also really fun and clever and will have you dancing up a storm no matter where you are when you press play.

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

More to explore

David Bowie: 30 things you need to know about the late rock icon

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