FEATURE: The Departed Icon at Seventy-Two: Ten Essential David Bowie Albums




The Departed Icon at Seventy-Two


IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie captured whilst filming The Man Who Fell to Earth/PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Schapiro 

Ten Essential David Bowie Albums


DAVID Bowie turns seventy-two on Tuesday...


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and, on Thursday, it will have been three years since we lost him. It is still strange to think he is no longer with us and it has been a whole three years. I remember the day the news came through and that sense of surprise. Few knew he was ill and it was amazing to think that his final album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday. Many were unaware of what was to come and we just thought it was Bowie releasing another classic record – a great birthday treat for him and the world. I remember listening to Bowie’s final album the day it came out and having heard nothing like it before. I had been a fan of his since the 1990s – when I was aware of his music – but I love all of his work. Maybe it took a few years before his career took off and we got to know the chameleon David Bowie. He went through alter egos and phases; new looks and sounds that meant he was impossible to predict and pin down. It is hard to hone down his vast array of work into the very finest albums but there are those records from David Bowie that you cannot be without. I hope people celebrate his birthday and, when we mark his passing, his best work is played far and wide. 2016 was a terrible year regarding losing musicians – Prince and George Michael died in the same year – but Bowie’s death hit extra-hard. To celebrate the master and present his very best work; I have collated his ten finest albums – those that new fans and die-hards should have in their collection! There will be nobody like David Bowie but his influence will last forever. Whilst it is strange he is not in the world and producing music, we have his incredible catalogue to pick from and take heart. Here are ten golden David Bowie albums that...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

DISPLAY his genius in full bloom.



Hunky Dory (1971)


Release Date: 17th December, 1971

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Ken Scott/David Bowie


The theme of shifting sexual identity became the core of Bowie's next album, 1971's scattered but splendid Hunky Dory: "Gotta make way for the Homo Superior," he squeals on the gay-bar singalong "Oh! You Pretty Things", simultaneously nodding to Nietzsche and to X-Men. He'd also made huge leaps as a songwriter, and his new songs demonstrated the breadth of his power: the epic Jacques Brel-gone-Dada torch song "Life on Mars?" is immediately followed by "Kooks", an adorable lullaby for his infant son. The band (with Trevor Bolder replacing Visconti on bass) mostly keeps its power in check—"Changes" is effectively Bowie explaining his aesthetic to fans of the Carpenters. Still, they cut loose on the album's most brilliant jewel, "Queen Bitch", a furiously rocking theatrical miniature (Bowie-the-character-actor has rarely chewed the scenery harder) that out-Velvet Undergrounds the Velvet Underground” – Pitchfork

Standout Tracks: Changes/Oh! You Pretty Things/Kooks

Key Cut: Life on Mars?

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)


Release Date: 6th June, 1972

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Ken Scott/David Bowie


Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie's fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like "Suffragette City," "Moonage Daydream," and "Hang Onto Yourself," while "Lady Stardust," "Five Years," and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust -- familiar in structure, but alien in performance -- is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion” – AllMusic

Standout Tracks: Five Years/Moonage Daydream/Suffragette City

Key Cut: Starman

Aladdin Sane (1973)


Release Date: 13th April, 1973

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Ken Scott/David Bowie


Bowie abandons his futuristic obsessions to concentrate on the detached cool of New York and London hipsters, as on the compressed rockers "Watch That Man," "Cracked Actor," and "The Jean Genie." Bowie follows the hard stuff with the jazzy, dissonant sprawls of "Lady Grinning Soul," "Aladdin Sane," and "Time," all of which manage to be both campy and avant-garde simultaneously, while the sweepingly cinematic "Drive-In Saturday" is a soaring fusion of sci-fi doo wop and melodramatic teenage glam. He lets his paranoia slip through in the clenched rhythms of "Panic in Detroit," as well as on his oddly clueless cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together." For all the pleasures on Aladdin Sane, there's no distinctive sound or theme to make the album cohesive; it's Bowie riding the wake of Ziggy Stardust, which means there's a wealth of classic material here, but not enough focus to make the album itself a classic” – AllMusic  

Standout Tracks: Aladdin Sane/Panic in Detroit/Cracked Actor

Key Cut: The Jean Genie

Diamond Dogs (1974)

Release Date: 24th May, 1974

Label: RCA Records

Producer: David Bowie


All this hopelessness and annihilation would be suffocating if it weren’t for Bowie’s exuberance. He throws himself into Orwell’s draconian hell as if strutting around in Kansai Yamamoto’s Aladdin Sane-era bodysuit; it fits his skeletal contours. Determined to reaffirm his relevance in spite of his setbacks, the singer sparkled so brightly that he offset the darkness of his material. Just as Watergate was coming to a boil, singer-songwriters and prog-rockers were glutting the charts, and '60s resistance was morphing into '70s complacency, this sweet rebel (rebel) made revolution strangely sexy again. Glaring at you from Dogs cover with canine hindquarters and emaciated features like the circus sideshow Freaks he footnotes in the title cut, he served notice that rock’s outsiders remained more compelling than the softies who increasingly occupied its center, even as his ever-growing popularity chipped away at it” – Pitchfork   

Standout Tracks: Diamond Dogs/Sweet Thing/1984

Key Cut: Rebel Rebel

Young Americans (1975)

Release Date: 7th March, 1975

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Tony Visconti/Harry Maslin/David Bowie


Surrounding himself with first-rate sessionmen, Bowie comes up with a set of songs that approximate the sound of Philly soul and disco, yet remain detached from their inspirations; even at his most passionate, Bowie sounds like a commentator, as if the entire album was a genre exercise. Nevertheless, the distance doesn't hurt the album -- it gives the record its own distinctive flavor, and its plastic, robotic soul helped inform generations of synthetic British soul. What does hurt the record is a lack of strong songwriting. "Young Americans" is a masterpiece, and "Fame" has a beat funky enough that James Brown ripped it off, but only a handful of cuts ("Win," "Fascination," "Somebody Up There Likes Me") comes close to matching their quality. As a result, Young Americans is more enjoyable as a stylistic adventure than as a substantive record” – AllMusic    

Standout Tracks: Fascination/Someone Up There Likes Me/Fame

Key Cut: Young Americans

Station to Station (1976)


Release Date: 23rd January, 1976

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Harry Maslin/David Bowie


Taking the detached plastic soul of Young Americans to an elegant, robotic extreme, Station to Station is a transitional album that creates its own distinctive style. Abandoning any pretense of being a soulman, yet keeping rhythmic elements of soul, David Bowie positions himself as a cold, clinical crooner and explores a variety of styles. Everything from epic ballads and disco to synthesized avant pop is present on Station to Station, but what ties it together is Bowie's cocaine-induced paranoia and detached musical persona. At its heart, Station to Station is an avant-garde art-rock album, most explicitly on "TVC 15" and the epic sprawl of the title track, but also on the cool crooning of "Wild Is the Wind" and "Word on a Wing," as well as the disco stylings of "Golden Years." It's not an easy album to warm to, but its epic structure and clinical sound were an impressive, individualistic achievement, as well as a style that would prove enormously influential on post-punk” – AllMusic     

Standout Tracks: Station to Station/Word on a Wing/Stay

Key Cut: Golden Years

Low (1977)


Release Date: 14th January, 1977

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Tony Visconti/David Bowie


The ensuing 'Low' advocates the merging of man and machine, and then depicts the resulting sense of loss. Drawing inspiration from JG Ballard on 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' and evoking an almost unbearable sadness with symphonic electronics on 'Warszawa', half of the songs were instrumentals that mined a deep seam of alienation” – NME      

Standout Tracks: Breaking Glass/Warszawa/Art Decade

Key Cut: Sound and Vision

“Heroes” (1977)


Release Date: 14th October, 1977

Label: RCA Records

Producers: Tony Visconti/David Bowie


In the late ’70s, following apocalyptic science fiction and a sojourn in soul, David Bowie set his sights on art-rock. Working with former Roxy Musician Brian Eno, he made three groundbreaking albums Low, ”Heroes,” and Lodger) that have now been reissued with illuminating bonus tracks. Refining Low‘s achievements, ”Heroes” balances cinematic instrumentals, steeped in a chilly European techno-style, with thickly layered songs that subtly reflect the rise of punk’s existential angst” – Entertainment Weekly       

Standout Tracks: Beauty and the Beast/Blackout/Sense of Doubt

Key Cut: “Heroes”

Let’s Dance (1983)


Release Date: 14th April, 1983

Label: EMI

Producers: Nile Rodgers/David Bowie


After summing up his maverick tendencies on Scary MonstersDavid Bowie aimed for the mainstream with Let's Dance. Hiring Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers as a co-producer, Bowie created a stylish, synthesized post-disco dance music that was equally informed by classic soul and the emerging new romantic subgenre of new wave, which was ironically heavily inspired by Bowie himself. Let's Dance comes tearing out of the gate, propulsed by the skittering "Modern Love," the seductively menacing "China Girl," and the brittle funk of the title track. All three songs became international hits, and for good reason -- they're catchy, accessible pop songs that have just enough of an alien edge to make them distinctive” – AllMusic

Standout Tracks: Modern Love/China Girl/Without You

Key Cut: Let’s Dance                               

Blackstar (2016)


Release Date: 8th January, 2016

Labels: ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony

Producers: Tony Visconti/David Bowie


What can it all mean? The man himself gives no interviews and apparently remains firm in his insistence that he will not tour again. Looking for clues in his music, we are confronted with inscrutability. A new Bowie co-scripted musical, Lazarus, opened off-Broadway last week, and is reportedly as impenetrable as it is lovely to look at.

Baffling is a word that comes up a lot in reviews. But Bowie is a rare act who is at his best when he is at his least accessible.

Lazarus is currently the hottest theatre ticket in New York. How wonderful if all of this actually represents an entirely new phase in Bowie’s extraordinary career. How fantastic to have an album as rich and strange as Blackstar that refuses to yield in a few listens.

It suggests that, like a modern day Lazarus of pop, Bowie is well and truly back from beyond” – The Telegraph

Standout Tracks: Blackstar/’Tis Pity She’s a Whore/Dollar Days

Key Cut: Lazarus