David Bowie: The Essential Discography
One of Rock and music biggest legends, David Bowie left us a deeply rich and eclectic legacy. A career that spanned for over more than 5 decades where he meet every musical style always elegantly and always avoiding bad taste, even on (what are considered) his weaker albums. He gathered music and visuals together (sound and vision), he was during most of his career always one step ahead of the next trend, that makes Bowie an enduring influence for artists from every genre and will certainly continue to influence many others, it’s one of music’s strong legacy, and this is Pop Expresso’s (tough and impossible task) picks of his 10 most breakthrough, influential and essential studio albums with additional companion compilations.
“Hunky Dory”, 1971
Bowie’s 4th studio album, a record that lifts the curtain of what was to come next, as it is the one that gave Bowie the recognition as a singer and songwriter. After the sales flop of 1970 “The Man Who Sold The World”, right after he had charted with the single “Space Oddity”, Bowie tried a different approach on songwriting, for the first time we can hear the much loved by Bowie Velvet Underground influence on songs such as “Queen Bitch”, aside of it, also features a string of Bowie’s classics such as “Changes”, Life On Mars?”, “Kooks” and “Oh!You Pretty Things”. Though snippets of Bowie’s music fingerprints were already left in songs such as “Space Oddity”, “The Man Who Sold The World” or “The Width Of A Circle”, “Hunky Dory” was the first album that actually featured a whole selection of Bowie’s traditional songwriting style.
“The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, 1972
Bowie’s ticket to stardom and the birth of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, this is David Bowie in all his essence, a fine and crafted songwriting coming a long way since his baroque/psych Pop 1967 debut .A strong reference in music and pop culture, this album earned it’s place in Rock history and hasn’t aged a second since it’s release in 1972. Filled with some of Bowie’s finest compositions, it influenced and continues to influence generations of musicians, There isn’t a bad song on the whole album, and almost all became classics, “Five Years”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Moonage Daydream”, “Starman”, “Suffragette City” and “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” among others.
“Aladdin Sane”, 1973
The beginning of Bowie’s departure to explore new different sounds, released at the height of Ziggy Stardust’s popularity, was described by himself as “Ziggy goes to America”. Fearing getting musically limited, Bowie splits unexpectedly from his band The Spiders From Mars in 1973, but before that while on tour in the U.S he writes most of the material for “Aladdin Sane” and still records it with the Spiders. Far more complex and audacious than the previous album, mirrors Bowie’s own doubts about the path to follow next, as we can hear in songs like “Time”, but the Glam Rock remains in songs such as “Panic In Detroit” and “Jean Genie”, the experimentation and darkness of “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)”, the nostalgic Doo-Wop of “Drive-In Saturday” and the modern rough Rock of “Cracked Actor”. Also included is a cover of The Rolling Stones 1967 hit “Let’s Spend The Night Together” which Bowie re-made through his own molds (it’s one of the two “flirts” with Mick Jagger in the album, being one part of the lyrics in “Drive-In Saturday” where he sings “When Jagger stared in people’s eyes and scored”). This track was a predecessor of Bowie’s 60’s covers album that would come up next, “Pin Ups”. The album closes with “Lady Grinning Soul” , a flamenco style ballad reminiscent of 007 themes. In sum, “Aladdin Sane” it’s a point of departure to new sounds, a trend that would follow Bowie through out the 70’s and essentially for the rest of his career.
“Diamond Dogs”, 1974
Originally composed for a musical based on the George Orwell’s book “1984”, “Diamond Dogs” brought Bowie further away from the (only) 2 years before release of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”. Now completely separated from his band and with a new group of musicians backing him up, these 2 prolific years in Bowie’s career, would equal maybe 10 in other artist’s career. Although still slightly linked to Ziggy Stardust’s image, this album introduced the character Halloween Jack, which borrowed similar physical features to Ziggy. A darker album than “Aladdin Sane” and with less commercial potential but highly influential. Starting with opening track, the rocking “Diamond Dogs” that takes the listener into a journey based on the “1984” novel. “Sweet Thing/Candidate”, the Funk/Pre-Disco feeling of “1984” and the roll-back Glam of “Rebel Rebel” mixed in with “Big Brother” and “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” turns this into a breakthrough Bowie album and a new boost to his growing career and stardom back then. The iconic art work on the album cover that shows the Ziggy red haired Halloween Jack, half man, half dog and remains a reference to pop culture to this day,
“Station To Station”, 1976
The literal “side effects of the cocaine” were to be heard in “Station To Station”, an album that was made during Bowie’s highly problematic period of cocaine and every other substance abuse while living in Los Angeles. After the much successful incursion into soul music with the album “Young Americans”, Bowie needed again to explore new musical paths, always fearing getting stuck, at the same time, he was also playing the lead role on the movie “The Man Who Fell The Earth”. By then it had became usual for Bowie to use a link of connection between his albums,each connecting to the previous one through a song or just a riff. In this case, the epic opening and title track “Station To Station” hints at Bowie’s next phase to come. A short album, featuring only 6 tracks but not a single weak one. “Stay”, “Golden Years” (made for Elvis Presley), “Word On A Wing”, “TVC-5” and the soulful Johnny Mathis “Wild Is The Wind” complete what some consider to be the unofficially first Berlin Trilogy album.
The first album of the famous “Berlin Trilogy”, “Low” was at the date the most experimental and “avant garde” of all Bowie’s album. Featuring a full instrumental side, filled with dark ambiance synthesizers, it was a reflection of his state of mind at the time. Having escaped Los Angeles back to Europe, he exiled in cold and gray Berlin with friend Iggy Pop for both to overcome their increasing and uncontrolled drug habit. The result was 3 perfect synchronized albums, symbolizing Bowie’s most creative period. This was also his first experiment with electronic music, the fusion between Rock and Electronic produced songs such as “Speed Of Life”, “Sound And Vision” or “Be My Wife”. The Side B of the record is fully instrumental with memorable cuts such as “Warszawa” , “Art Decade”, and the electronic ambient track of “Subterraneans”.
“Heroes” followed the same style of Rock/Electronic fusion that was made in “Low”, this was a new Bowie created genre, and just like the RCA marketing for the album publicized back then “There’s Old Wave. There’s New Wave. And There’s David Bowie”. From the Berlin Trilogy this was the only album to be completely recorded in Berlin. Like “Low”, “Heroes” had a full instrumental B-side (except by the closing track “The Secret Life Of Arabia”. This is was a less commercial album than the previous though, again, more complex and even experimental, it also features a more prevalent distorted and guitar driven sound by guitarists Robert Fripp and Carlos Lomar,. The A-Side featured cuts such as “Blackout” or “Joe The Lion” and the album’s biggest hit and most memorable song, “Heroes”, a guitar driven track that became one of Rock’s absolute classics. The B-Side mostly remembered instrumentals were “V-12 Schneider” and “Sense Of Doubt”, a lot of the tracks from this album were used on the soundtrack of the German movie about teenage heroin addicts in Berlin “Christiane F.”, as well as a big chunk of the other Berlin trilogy albums “Low” and “Lodger” and some cuts from “Station To Station”.
“Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” 1980
The 1980’s Bowie debut couldn’t be better than this album, with the New Romantic trend in full steam, he put aside the electronic music (as he already had begun to in 1979 “Lodger”) and created a essentially modern guitar Rock album that would set the basis for the Alternative Rock sound of the 1980’s decade, audible in songs such as “It’s No Game”, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” and together with the New Romantic feeling of bands like Duran Duran or Visage to it (bands that had actually been influenced by him) in tracks like “Ashes To Ashes”, “Because You’re Young”” and “Fashion”.
“Let’s Dance” 1982
“Let’s Dance” was produced with the intention to become a commercial album at Bowie request. He wanted a hit and to separate himself for the time being from the experimental music grounds he had been exploring since the mid 70’s, so he asked Nile Rodgers (Chic) to produce it. It’s one of Bowie’s best sellers to date, featuring the pop music classics “Let’s Dance”, “Modern Love”, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by the famed 70’/80’s Dance/Disco hit maker Giorgio Moroder and the reprise of Iggy Pop’s co-written “China Girl” during their Berlin period. Not a groundbreaking album but the definitive Bowie Pop album.
The last completed studio album from Bowie, a sweet and sour taste of goodbye with this final masterpiece. Released in 2016 just 2 days before his death, this album brings back the classic Bowie signature of trend creator and innovator, not trend follower as it accidentally happened during the 80’s on 1984 “Tonight”, 1987 “Never Let Me Down” and in the 90’s with the Drum N’Bass 1997 “Earthling”. Sadly it was also a goodbye gift from “master” Bowie, an album filled with complex and dark songs such as the Electronica fusion in “Blackstar”(returning to a structure similar to what he had done in songs like “Station To Station”), the soft slow “Lazarus”, the experimental free jazz on “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”, the matured “I Can’t Give Everything Away” and “Dollar Days”.
“Lodger” the last of the Berlin Trilogy albums, didn’t achieved the groundbreaking status as it’s two predecessors, and can be seen as an attempt of a Bowie return to commercial and less complex songs. Featuring tracks such as the now Bowie classics “Boys Keep Swinging”, “D.J” and “Look Back In Anger”, this was also the first time Bowie put an effort in doing promotion videos for it, as the 1980’s new video technologies and music marketing was changing. There are too quite a few World Music influences in “Lodger”, still one of Bowie’s best.
“The Next Day”, 2013
Bowie’s surprise comeback in 2013, without any prior announcement or publicity, is “The Next Day”, his first album in 10 years. Reminiscent of Bowie’s classic signature songwriting from the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was the best Bowie album in a few years, featuring songs such as “The Next Day”, “Love Is Lost”, “The Stars Are Out Tonight” or “Where Are We Now?”
Companion Compilation Albums
When skipping the first part of Bowie discography 1969-1976 to just selected songs, this is the best compilation to listen to. “Space Oddity” which came out in 1969 on the album that later was reissued as “Space Oddity”,opens this compilations (for Bowie beginners 1969 album will not satisfy their needs as “Space Oddity” might be the only track for them to find appealing) also featured is “John, I’m Only Dancing (Sax version” that was released as a single in 1972 during the Ziggy era. “Young Americans” and “Fame” from the Soul period album “Young Americans” are also carefully put in this compilation. Aside of those mentioned tracks you will find “Changes” from “Hunky Dory”, “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust” from “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, “Jean Genie” is the only cut from “Aladdin Sane” to make it, from “Diamond Dogs” the title track together with “Rebel Rebel”, and (the back then recent) “Station To Station” cut “Golden Years”. A short but essential compilation for 70’s Bowie beginners or curious.
“Nothing Has Changed”, 2014
Released in 2014 this compilation it’s an anthology of Bowie’s career on the 3 CD release and a fine compilation of his very best on the double vinyl release. The CD version features Bowie’s early 1960’s tracks such as “Liza Jane” ,”Can’t Help Thinking About Me” and of course “Space Oddity”. Also featured is the rarely included “The Man Who Sold The World” and “Oh! You Pretty Things”, the usual Ziggy’s era iconic songs (“Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” etc), “Drive In Saturday”, the Bowie version of “All The Young Dudes”, cuts from the Berlin Trilogy including “Boys Keep Swinging”, his 1980’s finest with cuts from “Scary Monsters” like “Ashes To Ashes”, Queen’s collaboration “Under Pressure” and “Let’s Dance” completed with 1984 “Tonight” on the songs “Loving The Alien” and “Blue Jean”, “Time Will Crawl” from 1987 “Never Let Me Down”, the singles “This Is Not America”, “Absolute Beginners” and the mythical Jagger duet of “Dancing In The Street”. 1990’s cuts are “Jump (They Say) from “Black Tie White Noise” , “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” and “Hallo Spaceboy” from 1995 “Outside”, “I’m Afraid Of Americans” and “Little Wonder from Drum N’Bass extravaganza 1997 “Earthling”, three cuts from “Hours” including the beautiful “Thursday’s Child”. The 2000’s Bowie songs featured are the wonderful “Slow Burn” (with Pete Townshend on guitar) from 2002 “Heaten”, “The Next Day” from 2013 is represented here on “Where Are We Now”, “The Stars Are Out Tonight” and “Love Is Lost”. In sum, although still missing some essential Bowie tracks (that could replace some of the ones that were put on instead), this compilation is the best for a complete Bowie career revision, eclectic and diverse. On the downside, the vinyl edition skips songs such as “Slow Burn” and “Thursdays Child” in favor to less relevant ones ,the exclusion of 1976’s “Station To Station” and 1986’s “Underground” on this compilation is unforgivable.
“Rare Bowie”, 1984
At first sight, a cash-in compilation released by Bowie’s former label RCA, this is actually a great document of Bowie’s B-Sides and more obscure songs, keep in perspective that this compilation was released in 1984, an era where most of these songs were hard to find on record stores or outside the fan circuits. The album features the Italian version of “Space Oddity” titled “Ragazzo Solo Ragazza Sola”, “Drive In Saturday” B-Side Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round”, Jacques Brel cover “Amsterdam”, “Diamond Dogs” B-Side “Holy Holy”, “Velvet Goldmine” from the “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” sessions and released as a B-Side to “Space Oddity” re-issue in 1975, “Moon of Alabama” that was released as a single in 1978 and the instrumental “Crystal Japan” made for a Japanese commercial. Also included is 1977 “Helden” a English/German version of “Heroes” released as a single in West Germany.
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