Like a lot of people, I grew up with the music of David Bowie providing a soundtrack for my life. The first song of his I heard was Starman.
Appositely enough, I heard it leaning back on my radio, in the early hours of the morning, not knowing what time it was. Anne Nightingale played it and I loved it immediately. There was something about Bowie’s voice, the catchy melody and the single string guitar solo that combined so compellingly that I became an instant Bowie fan – and have been one ever since.
When a new album came out, I bought it. Ziggy Stardust (1972) was my first Bowie album.
It was followed by Aladdin Sane – still one of my favourite Bowie albums.
This was followed by Station to Station,
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps),
and 1: Outside.
When Aladdin Sane came out, I bought it, loving the music – although Watch That Man had been mixed strangely and always sounded muddy to me – and liking Bowie’s eye-patch/pantomime image change.
Pin Ups was okay.
It contained one or two good covers, but I thought Sorrow, the single, was the weakest track.
The next album, the brilliant Diamond Dogs, was excellent, especially Big Brother, When You Rock and Roll With Me, Rebel Rebel and Candidate.
Then came Young Americans. Strangely, I liked Across the Universe the most, and the title track next.
David Live, despite adverse criticism regarding its sound quality, is a wonderful, powerful live album. During this phase of Bowie’s career, I bought Hunky Dory (1971)
and David Bowie.
On the former, my favourite tracks were (and still are): Oh You Pretty Things, Kooks, The Bewlay Brothers, and Queen Bitch, particularly its opening guitar riff.
Then I bought Space Oddity, and thought that the title track was the weakest track on it.
The best track on it is Cygnet Committee, which is one of Bowie’s best songs.
After those came Station to Station, and if there’s a better Bowie album, then I’m not sure which one it is. It rocks. It’s Young Americans 2. It’s so powerful, it’s amazing. Six long tracks, two singles: Golden Years and TVC15, but it’s the title track, Wild is the Wind, Stay and Word on a Wing that make Station to Station so compelling.
And then there was Low and then Heroes
which are parts one and two of the so-called Berlin Trilogy, produced by Tony Visconti and not (according to urban myth) by Eno. Low is excellent, especially the instrumentals. Heroes, the title track, is Bowie’s epic.
The instrumentals on Low and Heroes are excellent too. The only thing that spoils Heroes is the last track, which is in the wrong place. It should be put just before the instrumental tracks. Try it. It improves the album no end.
Lodger wasn’t like Low or Heroes. The songs are good, but I didn’t – and still don’t – understand what it was or what it was trying to do. I like Look Back in Anger, but that’s about it.
Stage was a superb live album,
but Scary Monsters was so amazing that Stage got overshadowed.
Up the Hill Backwards, Ashes to Ashes, the title track and Fashion, are all brilliant.
As the World Falls Down, Underground, Magic Dance, and Within You from Labyrinth (1986) are all excellent,
as is: This Is Not America,
When the Wind Blows,
Absolute Beginners, That’s Motivation,
and Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.
Then there’s David Bowie’s flirtation with classical music; his role as the narrator of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,
And then there’s Let’s Dance.
It’s an amazing Bowie album. The title track, China Girl, Modern Love and Cat People are the best tracks, although the slower version of Cat People from the film soundtrack album is a much better song.
I like Loving the Alien, Blue Jean, Tonight and God Only Knows from Tonight, but it’s not Bowie’s best album.
It’s not his worst either. That dubious honour goes to Never Let Me Down, the Bowie album that let everyone down.
Of its tracks, Bang Bang is okay. Day In Day Out is not as good as everyone says. Never Let Me Down is the one Bowie album to avoid. It’s not good.
The three Tin Machine albums are – contrary to popular opinion – very good.
The first album is great; the second has some great tracks on it, particularly a souped-up cover of Roxy Music’s If There is Something.
The Live Oy Vey Baby is a good live album that showcases a good live band.
It works for me.
Then there was Black Tie White Noise.
It got great reviews and deservedly so. Miracle Goodnight is brilliant, as are I know it’s Gonna Happen Some Day, and the cover of Scott Walker’s Nite Flights.
One of Bowie’s best albums is The Buddha of Suburbia.
A mix of songs and instrumentals, it’s lovely. It was followed by 1: Outside,
another excellent album, with classic tracks such as Heart’s Filthy Lesson and Strangers When We Meet.
Earthling was the next album,
but I only like Little Wonder and The Letter from it.
Hours is a soft and gentle album, and the last to feature guitarist Reeves Gabrels.
There are heavy moments on it, none more so than on The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell, a brilliant track.
All Saints is a collection of previously-released instrumentals,
and is a very good album.
Heathen is okay, but apart from a great cover of the Pixie’s Cactus, it’s just Bowie being pretty good, but not amazing.
He’s a bit better on Reality,
It’s not a bad album. Reality is fairly reasonable Bowie, but that’s all.
Finally, a few I’ve missed mentioning are Bowie at the Beeb,
which is an excellent, wonderfully comprehensive live collection from a man at the height of his musical powers. If you’re lucky you’ll get the bonus CD with a fairly recent live performance at the BBC Radio Theatre.
I’ve also skipped Live Santa Monica 72,
and The Man Who Sold the World, which are all superb.
The title track of The Man Who Sold the World was covered by Nirvana on their excellent Unplugged album.
And then, in 2013, there was The Next Day.
It was Bowie’s 23rd studio album and it got great reviews.
The Stars Are Out Tonight, The Next Day, and Where Are We Now are really good songs. Bowie’s voice is strong. It is a return to form. It is also Bowie’s 24th studio album.
On his 69th birthday, Bowie released a new album, Blackstar.
It is strange, unusual, interesting and experimental. Once more David Bowie had produced an album that would take the world a little time to catch up. Two singles from it were the title track and Lazarus:
Two days later, David Bowie died.
I was hoping David Bowie would bring out more albums as great as Station to Station, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, David Live, Young Americans, Scary Monsters, 1: Outside, The Buddha of Suburbia, Hours, or Blackstar, but sadly, that’s not going to happen.
Okay, that’s my round-up of the music of David Bowie. I grew up with it and I’m still growing up with it and still listening to it.
Apart from a few possibly interesting posthumous record company cash-ins, I think the most significant of Bowie’s best music has already been recorded and released. David Bowie has contributed hugely to his culture, and his music has made many people happy.
8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016
Written June 17th, 2008/Revised January 11th, 2016.
© R J Dent (2008 & 2016)