David Bowie's Most Groundbreaking Moments

Malcolm Goy/REX Shutterstock
David Bowie was many things to many people. He inspired with his music. He inspired with his style. He inspired with his persona and celebration of eccentricity and originality. He captivated audiences with his performances, both musical and cinematic, both live and via video.

With the world reeling from the news of Bowie's death yesterday, millions of people are turning to their favorite Bowie songs, performances, and film clips. It's an exhaustive list, because his body of work -- and its influence -- was simply staggering. You could count his hit songs on each finger and toe and still run out.

To quote Carrie Brownstein, "it feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone." Let this slideshow serve as a reminder that Bowie will never quite be gone. Pop culture needs him too much.
1 of 11
"Space Oddity" and the space program (1969)

Bowie's breakthrough hit was all zeitgest, released in the weeks before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It's also one of Bowie's first uses of a recurring character in his lyrics, as Major Tom would go on to appear in songs throughout his career. In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performed the song on the International Space Station, making the first music video shot in space.
Advertisement
2 of 11
The Man Who Sold The World... a dress (1971)

Bowie paired the darker, heavier music on his third album with a softer image: On the cover (and during media appearances to promote the album), he wore a floral dress by Micheal Fish, a London shirtmaker who designed flamboyant fashions for men.

While most critics considered it a calculation designed to provoke publicity, Bowie's early experiments with androgyny and crossdressing was tremendously influential, leading to more varied gender expressions in pop music. Though it wouldn't be perfected until later, this is when glam rock was born. Nirvana famously covered the title track during their MTV Unplugged performance.
3 of 11
Video: Courtesy YouTube.
Thin white lines, the Thin White Duke, and The Man Who Fell To Earth (1974-76)

In 1975, Bowie was also one of the first white musicians to perform on Soul Train. It was a transitional period, as he moved from the sizzling glam-rock of the early '70s into a slicker, funkier sound he called "plastic soul" with his first US #1 hit, "Fame," a duet with John Lennon.
4 of 11
Video: Courtesy British Lion Films.
Thin white lines, the Thin White Duke, and The Man Who Fell To Earth (continued)

During this time, Bowie was dealing with legal disputes and had fired his manager. Apocryphal stories tell of Bowie overdosing multiple times, subsisting on nothing more than cocaine and hot peppers during this period, a diet that many said explained his wafer-thin body and paper-white skin.

However, flirtations with fascist imagery marred this period in Bowie's career, which includes the masterful albums Young Americans and Station to Station, as well as his first starring role (as an alien, of course) in the science fiction film, The Man Who Fell To Earth.
5 of 11
Video: Courtesy VH1.
The Berlin era and The Little Drummer Boy (1977)

Bowie closed out the '70s with a triptych of complex, foreboding albums (Low, Heroes, and Lodger) that were written and recorded in the German city, but it's his version of "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" with grandpa crooner Bing Crosby that is perhaps most remembered by mainstream audiences from this period. A feel-good holiday moment both you and Grandma can enjoy.
6 of 11
Saturday Night Live (1979)

SNL had its share of odd musical performance in its first decade, but none match the sheer weirdness when Bowie -- thanks to some inventive use of green screen -- appeared with a giant head and puppet body. Bonus points for featuring drag artists Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias as backup singers.
Advertisement
7 of 11
Video: Courtesy VEVO.
"Ashes to Ashes" (1980)

Done with the '70s, Bowie basically invented New Wave with this video, which not only brought back the character of Major Tom, but also introduced the look of the New Romantic movement to the mainstream. Bowie also continued acting during this period, starring in The Elephant Man on Broadway.
8 of 11
The Hunger (1983)

Bowie starred as the vampire lover of the eternal Catherine Denevue and the human Susan Sarandon in this erotic, glamourous horror film that pioneered the idea of the sexy supernatural love triangle that's omnipresent in film and TV today. There'd be no Buffy/Spike/Angel or Bella/Edward/Jacob without it. That's a good thing, right?
9 of 11
Video: Courtesy YouTube.
"Let's Dance" (1983)

Bowie prefigured the MTV era, but at age 36, he found a way to make himself relevant to a younger audience with a new album co-produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers (who would bestow his same funk-magic on Daft Punk 30 years later with "Get Lucky"). Though a tremendous hit -- it's his best-selling album -- the surprise success stymied Bowie, who struggled to break free of its stylistic limitations throughout the rest of the '80s, with much of his musical output of the period considered abysmally sub-par by both critics and the artist himself.
10 of 11
Video: Courtesy VEVO.
"Dancing in the Street" (1985)

Bowie's duet with Mick Jagger was a huge event, not just because of the rumored relationship between the two men (this alleged liaison introduced many to the concept of bisexuality), but Bowie used his omnipresence on MTV to take the network to task on its refusal to air videos by black artists, telling VJ Mark Goodman on air, "there seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV."
11 of 11
Video: Courtesy TriStar Pictures.
The Goblin King from Labyrinth (1986)

What's better than David Bowie acting in a crazy wig? David Bowie acting in a crazy wig with Muppets. As Jareth the Goblin King, Bowie kidnaps Sarah Williams' (Jennifer Connelly) younger brother and forces her to solve the titular Labyrinth or he'll turn young Toby into a goblin. Though now considered a cult classic, the film was a box office disappointment and is mainly influential for Bowie's costume, which was copied as stagewear by just about every hard rock act of the late '80s.
Advertisement