How Iggy Pop and David Bowie Wrote a Classic on Ukulele

By Greg Olwell

Long before its massive drum beat and sing-along chorus started to show up in ads for Carnival cruise lines and movies like Trainspotting, Iggy Pop’s anthem “Lust for Life” was one of the best-loved results of his ongoing work with David Bowie.

Would you be surprised to learn that this hard-pounding song began on ukulele? Well, according to Iggy Pop, who spoke to the New York Times shortly after Bowie’s death in January 2016, the signature song’s hammer-pounding riff and title were born into the world on a ukulele while sitting on the floor of Bowie’s apartment in Berlin.


“Mr. Pop and Mr. Bowie, seated on the floor — they had decided chairs were not natural — were waiting for the Armed Forces Network telecast of Starsky & Hutch. The network started shows with a call signal that, Mr. Pop said, went ‘beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep,’ the rhythm, which is also like a Motown beat, that was the foundation for ‘Lust for Life.’ Mr. Pop recalled, ‘He wrote the [chord] progression on ukulele, and he said, ‘Call it “Lust for Life,” write something up.’”

At the time, the duo’s working method mostly consisted of Pop writing lyrics and melodies to Bowie’s titles or chord progressions, often very quickly. Once they got into the studio, the song quickly turned into something completely different, with the ukulele parts giving way to guitars that were nearly buried in the mix behind the a drum and bass beat very similar to several Motown records, like Martha and the Vandella’s “I’m Ready For Love” and the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

Still, the ukulele remains the original engine for the creative spark that’s behind Iggy Pop’s iconic “Lust for Life.”