“I am a DJ, I am what I play,” David Bowie sang on his 1979 single, “DJ,” and just a few weeks prior to its release, he was putting that philosophy into action. At the time, Bowie was on the verge of releasing Lodger, the final instalment of the “Berlin trilogy” that saw him drift away from guitar-based rock into futurist, synth-smeared pop and abstract electronica. But when invited by the BBC to play disc jockey for a couple of hours, Bowie treated listeners to a This Is Your Life-scaled journey through his many phases and obsessions, with a set list that effectively doubled as a brain map.
Much as Bowie’s own records pushed rock audiences to explore more esoteric sounds, his BBC broadcast began on familiar turf (The Doors, John Lennon, and, in a nod to his theatrical roots, an old Danny Kaye showtune) before thrusting listeners into the avant-classical of Philip Glass and the caterwauling no wave of Mars. Over time, many of these selections have become familiar to even the most casual record collectors, but they’re emblematic of Bowie’s rarefied position at the time as a conduit between the rock establishment (Springsteen, Jeff Beck, Bob Seger) and post-punk’s new wave (Blondie, Talking Heads, Mekons).
After Bowie’s death in January 2016, YouTube rips of his BBC stint began circulating in tribute posts, but they appear to have fallen victim to copyright claims. So, in honor of the ultimate musical curator, we’ve reconstructed his set in playlist form so that, in a world without Bowie, he can still be what he played.
* A couple of Bowie’s selections—Little Richard’s “He’s My Star” and The Staple Singers’ “Lies”—aren’t available on Spotify. The original version of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” also isn’t available, so we’ve subbed in a live take instead.