"Hang on to Yourself" is an awesome song from Ziggy Stardust. It just so bad-ass, really glam, really fast. "If you think you’re going to make it, you better hang on to yourself." What does it mean? I mean, I know what it means, but it sounds so cool. I love the whole idea of it and I guess when our band was at the height of its fame, you could see the things he was singing about and compare it to what was going on at that time. I could identify with that song in some ways.
"Boys Keep Swinging" from Lodger"
A slightly deeper cut from Lodger, one of those Berlin records. It’s a weird sound. I remember hearing it when I was 14 and thinking, "What does this mean?" And I watched the video: It’s just a performance video, but he looks rockabilly and New Wave at the same time. He’s rocking the mic really crazy and there’s a homoerotic vibe going on. It just seemed really dangerous to me. I was like, "What is this music?"
"Sound and Vision" from Low
That’s another cool New Wave pop song. There’s a funk element to it: The bass is funky and the vocals don’t even start until a minute and a half. What kind of song doesn’t have vocals for a minute and a half? You go through this whole thing and then these vocals come in and they’re so cryptic and cool. It also has an island, Caribbean feeling. It’s sunny but cold, too. And he’s like, "Don’t you wonder sometimes?" It’s sublime and hard to express why it’s good. I was just reading an article in Mojo about Low. It was a weird time for him and the way they put it together was very experimental. But it has a lasting power. Things just lined up right.
"Ashes to Ashes" from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
"Ashes to Ashes" is great because it sounds very modern. It has that cold, New Wave funk in it. And it has that slap-bass, which is crazy. It’s really ethereal and his vocals sound Gothic. It’s a great, well-written song. The lyrical content is really trippy, too, about a drug addict in outer space. How did he come up with that?
"Drive In Saturday" from Aladdin Sane
I don’t even know what it's about, but it's like this rock 'n roll glamorous life. And the music is cool because it has this '50s, old-timey rock ballad feel. But also the weird synth stuff. And because Bowie sings on it, this song just sounds otherworldly.
"Rock 'n' Roll With Me" from Diamond Dogs
It's very 50s-styled rock, a throwback kind of song. It sounds like an anthem. Will you rock and roll with me? Add the lyrics and weird, too. That’s a great album—all those albums are cool for different reasons. The way he sings it is glamorous and cool and weird. He exudes all that and it comes off in the vocals and lyrics.
For our full James Iha interview, including his thoughts on procrastination and why he might be "doomed to make a certain kind of record," head right here.