David Bowie’s career was one crammed full of extreme highlights. However, one of the most significant is undoubtedly the 1972 single ‘Starman’, a track that propelled Bowie and his band, The Spiders from Mars, into the stratosphere, and it was a height that Bowie would never return from.
Every so often, an artist comes around that changes the mood of music, steering it down a new path and creating nuances where there had previously been none before. This is exactly what Bowie achieved with the release of ‘Starman’. It wasn’t just the music that he changed either, it was culture at large, and he arrived like a breath of fresh air, slowly blowing away the cobwebs and outdated social mores that had long needed to be blown away.
Although he released ‘Starman’ in April 1972, it was his performance of the song on Top of the Pops in early July that really thrust Bowie into the hearts and minds of all those watching. Not only did he dazzle the audience with one of the greatest songs ever written, but with his new incarnation, the flame-haired Ziggy Stardust, he managed to convey that identity is whatever you want it to be, a highly pertinent point.
As he performed the song, the country stood still. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before. It was as if they were receiving a transmission from outer space, beckoning them into the future, and they followed it. The future was glamorous, and after the performance, the zeitgeist had shifted into a glittering tidal wave.
Given that ‘Starman’ is such an iconic track, and one that has an important place in musical and cultural history, we’ve listed the five best covers of it. Expect to see some familiar faces, and to be blown away.
The five best covers of David Bowie song ‘Starman’
Sharon Van Etten
There are many reasons to love New Jersey singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten. She’s released numerous modern classics over her relatively short career, and her voice is one of the most instantly recognisable out there.
Remarkably, she delivered this short but sweet cover of ‘Starman’ earlier this month for the new Netflix Elon Musk documentary Return to Space, and it does not disappoint. Electronic and celestial, it makes you wonder if this is the kind of style that Van Etten will be experimenting with on her upcoming record, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong.
There’s no surprise that Boy George and Culture Club are massive fans of Bowie, as, without him, their brand of introspective and fluid pop would not have been given the room it needed to flourish.
“I first saw David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust performing at Lewisham Odeon in 1973 just before my twelfth birthday,” George recalled. “It was for me a life-changing and life-affirming event. I had no idea that he would retire Ziggy Stardust the following night but I feel blessed to have been there and I went on to see him perform in his many incarnations.”
This cover is lovely and is a marvellous tribute from one icon to another.
This cut from the alternative rock legends Garbage is an underrated cover. It has one eye on the original whilst marrying it with the expansive creative prowess of the band who created one of the most atmospheric James Bond theme tunes of all times. Garbage’s powerhouse, frontwoman Shirley Manson, has been an avid fan of Bowie since she saw him perform as Ziggy Stardust on TV.
She recalled: “This was a person that I was being told was male, but he was wearing makeup and high heels and just presented himself in an entirely different way to the way I had learnt that men were supposed to present themselves. I found it perplexing, and he seemed like an alien, and I’ve loved him ever since.”
Another stellar cover, be prepared to have this one on repeat.
This is without a doubt the most heartbreaking version of ‘Starman’ on the list. By the late ukelele prodigy Killian Mansfield, his optimistic and youth-oriented cover was released as part of his only album, 2009’s Somewhere Else, which featured the likes of Todd Rundgren and Levon Helm.
Given that the 16-year-old succumbed to his aggressive form of cancer not long after completing the record, this entry will have you in pieces. Make sure to have the tissues ready.
These Grey Men
This is a bit of a surprise entry, given who it is. These Grey Men is the supergroup formed by System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan and actor/guitarist James Hazley. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that SOAD frontman, Serj Tankian, helms the frenetic vocals on this cover.
An unhinged and hard-rocking redux of the original, you’re bound to have your head rocking as Dolmayan delivers some dynamic rhythms. It’s a stark departure from the original, but a totally refreshing one.