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But his songs still sounded great on the radio, encoding mystery, futuristic alienation and sex.
From Space Oddity in 1969 to the chic-sounding Let's Dance in 1983, Bowie's songwriting stands at the nexus of pop with the avant garde, matching his shapeshifting visual image stride for stride.
Tales of thwarted sexual longing wrapped in enigmatic literary references are carried on reverberating waves of sound.
That indefinable something takes in kitchen-sink romanticism and a camp disregard for the everyday ('There's more to life than books, you know,/ But not much more'), but it always points back to true north, as in the classic How Soon is Now?
That the musicians who took the journey with him all the way to his eventual suicide would go on to reinvent themselves in New Order as among the brightest, most engaging songwriters of the era was an extraordinary achievement.
Classic lyric: 'Existence well what does it matter?
The combination of Strummer's fiery idealism and hard-to-catch lyrics, and Jones's gift for tunes and high harmonies, created a series of passionate bursts of energy that capture something unique and inspiring. It could be true, but the glory of Strummer and Jones's songwriting is that it's not even possible to say that it's the greatest Clash song.
Martin Scorsese described Janie Jones, the first track on their debut album, as the greatest British rock? Classic couplet: 'All over people changing their votes,/ Along with their overcoats,/ If Adolf Hitler flew in today,/ They'd send a limousine anyway.' ((White Man) in Hammersmith Palais, 1978) 11 David Bowie For a decade at least, being a Bowie fan was shorthand for being arty, alternative, make-up loving and weird.
He wrote his first song, Forbidden Fruit, at the age of 16 and went on to make his name as the author of sparkling comedies, incorporating his light, complex and elegant musical confections.'When Paul felt like it, he would come in with about 20 songs and say, "We're recording." And I suddenly had to write a f---ing stack of songs."Sgt Pepper" was like that.' It can't have been easy being in a band with a songwriter as gifted as Paul Mc Cartney, but during their time together Lennon would write many of the Beatles' greatest songs, including Day Tripper, All You Need is Love and Strawberry Fields Forever.Classic lyric: 'Love, love me do./ You know I love you' (Love Me Do, 1962) 5 Elton John/Bernie Taupin The partnership between a Lincolnshire farmer's boy and a musical prodigy from Pinner, Middlesex, is one of the more unlikely associations in the history of rock and pop, but Elton's warm tenor and gospel-tinged piano-playing seem to fit perfectly with Taupin's references to rural life.Their collaboration began by post in 1967, after both replied to a press ad.