5 “Heroes”, 1977
Best Tracks: “Beauty and the Beast,” “Joe the Lion,” “Heroes,” “The Secret Life of Arabia” Of course, “Heroes” has to rank below Low, because it more or less refined the template that Low created. Understand that’s not necessarily a dig. For one thing, “Heroes” is never a jarring listen — you really have to pay attention to what’s going on to realize how revolutionary this album is. Otherwise, the first half will play out as a standard synthpop. But songs like “Beauty and the Beast” incorporate such bizarre (yet oddly beautiful) harmonies that you could teach an entire choral class about them. His first album with significant contributions from Brian Eno, ambient songs comprise a large portion of the second half of the album. This time, though, they flow majestically into one another, creating a hypnotic and illusory tapestry.
4 Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), 1980
Best Tracks: “It’s No Game (Part 1),” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Fashion,” “It’s No Game (Part 2)” The last time David Bowie was able to bottle lighting throughout an entire album is in many ways a culmination of his most successful attributes: never before had he poured his Berlin trilogy sonics into such musical, pop-oriented material. In other words, the songs still sound weird and the singing is still off-kilter, but the backbeats are strong, funky, and danceable. Some of Bowie’s best know classics are here: “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion” play back to back. Those will reel you in. But you’ll find yourself sticking around for the deep cuts. Dig the vocal-chord-shredding of “It’s No Game (Part 1)” or the graveyard-meets-carnival romance of “Because You’re Young.”
3 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972
Best Tracks: “Moonage Daydream,” “Lady Stardust,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Rock and Roll Suicide” Oh, man, what a great record! Hokey, tongue-in-cheek fun with all the trimmings and trappings! Naturally, this is the most well known Bowie album and where most people start. A concept album (vaguely), the album chronicles the rise and fall of… yeah, guess it’s pointless to explain it any further. Mick Ronson’s guitar dominates this album, but it’s always tempered with Bowie’s ability to concoct brilliant vocals and unbearably catchy hooks. Check out “Moonage Daydream,” with equal doses of shark’s tooth guitar tones and super smooth space-freak crooning. “Ziggy Stardust” is one of the most brilliant songs ever written, and flows perfectly into the hard-as-diamond “Suffragette City.” And who could ask for a better album closer than “Rock and Roll Suicide?” Moving and haunting at once.
2 Low, 1977
Best Tracks: “Breaking Glass,” “Sound and Vision,” “Always Crashing in the Same Car,” “Warszawa,” “The Subterraneans” I know, I know… Some of you spiders are going to be bitching about another album that I’m about to get to, and how it should be number two. Here’s my reasoning: Ziggy didn’t make too many musical advancements that its predecessor hadn’t already. Low, however, created it’s own genre. David Bowie conceived Low with the intention of writing pop songs dealing with unpopular feelings and ideas. The songs alternately encompass pain, infatuation, humiliation, and confusion. Or, as Bowie himself explains in “Breaking Glass”: “You’re such a wonderful person, but you’ve got problems.” Texturally, the songs bubble like molten beneath their serene and calm surfaces. The instrumentals that comprise the second half of the album foreshadowed the post-punk and new wave movements by about five years. Truly proof of David Bowie’s ability to see into the future of musical trends.
1 Hunky Dory, 1971
Best Tracks: “Changes,” “Oh, You Pretty Things,” “Quicksand,” “Queen Bitch,” “Bewlay Brothers” David Bowie’s first thoroughly solid album is also his best. The first time Bowie reached out to weirdos, “Changes” speaks to me on a personal level — it convinced me that I would be all right in my darkest hour (boo, hoo, hoo!) From there, things get weirder, with other classics like “Oh, You Pretty Things” and “Life On Mars” leading the maniacal charge. Of course, it’s not all dark; even when it’s catchy, though, it’s weird. Take for example “Queen Bitch,” a straight-ahead rocker about breaking up with a drag queen. The record comes to a bizarre end with collapsing folk of “Bewlay Brothers.” This album both established (and contorted) Bowie’s reputation as a songwriter and hit maker, and is a testament to both personal expression and pop perfection. And that’s why it wins out.
There you have it, you freaks and weirdos — the five most classic albums your leader ever released. Quite a wide range of material that spans across Bowie’s most productive decade. And, of course, this list was flawlessly compiled by yours truly. However, there may be some of you young American’s out there who think you can top my list with one of your own. Well, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am—I say, bring it on! I know my choices are the best! But before you go trying to ch-ch-change this list, let me add a few honorable mentions. Because, when it comes to Bowie, you can never have enough. I’m sure we can at least agree on that.
Lodger — A step toward the catchier material that dominates Scary Monsters, but still plenty weird.
Aladdin Sane — Bowie’s last great glam record. Features the awesomely noisy cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
Station to Station — You got to love every freaky album that Bowie created. This one presaged themes he would explore further on the Berlin trilogy albums.