Friday, 24 July 2015

David Bowie album by album

This needs to be finished off......

David Bowie  is a popular singer and significant art and media figure of the late 20th century. Born David Robert Jones in England on  8 January 1947, Bowie has been a major figure in the world of popular music for over four decades, and is renowned as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He is known for his distinctive baritone voice as well as the intellectual depth and eclecticism of his work. His androgynous appearance,  combined with his claim to be bi-sexual, was an iconic element to his image, particularly in the 1970s.

Bowie first caught the attention of the public in July 1969 when his song "Space Oddity" reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart. After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single "Starman" and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie's impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, "challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day" and "created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture." The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved merely one facet of a career marked by continual reinvention, musical innovation and striking visual presentation.

In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single "Fame" and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer characterised as "plastic soul". The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees. He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low (1977)—the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno over the next two years. Low, "Heroes", and Lodger, the so-called "Berlin Trilogy" albums, all reached the UK top five and received lasting critical praise. After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes", its parent album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and "Under Pressure", a 1981 collaboration with Queen. He then reached a new commercial peak in 1983 with Let's Dance, which yielded several hit singles. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. He has not toured since the 2003–04 Reality Tour and has not performed live since 2006. Bowie's latest studio album The Next Day was released in March 2013.
David Buckley says of Bowie: "His influence has been unique in popular culture—he has permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure." In the BBC's 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, Bowie was placed at number 29. Throughout his career, he has sold an estimated 140 million albums. In the UK, he has been awarded nine Platinum album certifications, 11 Gold and eight Silver, and in the US, five Platinum and seven Gold certifications. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all time.


David Bowie  (1967)

This is fascinating. A quirky and very listenable and interesting album of songs. I've come to Bowie straight from looking at Elton John, and it's such a relief to encounter bold and clever lyrics playing around with a range of original themes and ideas. The oddity is the music hall style of the album. The voice is pure Anthony Newly, and the songs could come from either a playhouse or a theatre. This is not rock. Yet the lyrics have a rock sensibility, with a (perhaps at this stage purely coincidental) touch of Syd Barrett, and the delivery is knowing, arch and arty. Bowie was coming from a world of  Joe Brown, Tommy Steele, and Marty Wilde; but he also had an awareness of more rock orientated pop artist such as The Kinks and The Beatles, whose music hall influenced Sgt Peppers was recorded and released at the same time.

Back cover of US release

Other debut albums in the same year include Al Stewart's Bed Sitter Images; Van Morrison's Blowin' Your Mind; Captain Beefheart's Safe as Milk;  Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense & Peppermint; Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which indicate that Bowie's  album is very much of its time. Yet it is also the work of someone who will become one of the most important, influential and fascinating musical and media figures of the late 20th century. It wasn't successful - apparently the album wasn't promoted, and it would be two years and a different record company before his nest album.

I like the album. The quirky lyrics and somewhat daft 1967 approach combined with easy listening tunes make it an intriguing and listenable album. It's not a major album, and it's not on the same level as some of the other debut albums mentioned above, but it certainly beats almost every album that Elton John has released.

Rating: 5

David Bowie / Space Oddity  (1969)

More readily accepted by Bowie fans, critics and Bowie himself as the first "proper" Bowie" album, as he is using his own voice, and the music is more rock focused. However, the songs and lyrics are pretty much the same as the first album, just different production, voice, and approach. I find it rather messy and lacking the quirky charm, energy and easy listening appeal of the first album. There is a lack of direction about it all, with a different feel to each song, sometimes Al Stewart, sometimes so it all feels rather random and amateurish. The first track "Space Oddity" was a hit as a single, allowing Bowie to buy a flat, and to feel excited about his future as an artist. But the album itself sold poorly, and Bowie drifted for a while before hitting success again with the "Starman" single and the Ziggy Stardust tour. The album was re-released in 1972 under the name Space Oddity, but has recently been returned to its original name. Space Oddity and Memory of a Free Festival provide nice moments, but mostly the album is  boring and difficult to listen to all the way through without some impatience.
"Letter to Hermione" is one of Bowie's rare personal songs. It's about the break up of his relationship with Hermione Farthingale,  She is also the girl in "An Occasional Dream" and "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed". In the video accompanying "Where Are We Now?" he wore a t-shirt with the words "Song for Norway", a film for which she left him to act in. They appeared together in the film Love You Till Tuesday. She is the girl with mousy hair in "Life On Mars?"

Rating: 2 1/2

The Man Who Sold The World  (1970)

This is the first album in which we get to hear the classic Bowie. The song structures are quite mature, and Bowie's voice is now fully developed so he uses it in those expansive styles that we recognise and value. We also have Mick Ronson on guitar, a significant part of early 70s Bowie. And Tony Visconti producing. The classic team has been assembled, and the sound on this album is focused so it feels like an album. How successful it is will be up to each listener, but it's certainly an album that intrigues, and encourages attention and repeat listening. Released shortly before Bowie and the team started recording were albums by Van der Graf GeneratorBlack Sabbath, and The Stooges.  Elements of these three areas of music - prog, heavy metal, and hard rock, are present in the album. A number of musicians at the time were playing around with blues rock and also with dark lyrics and themes, so there's nothing really innovative in this album, and at times the songs seem secondary to what is going on elsewhere - Saviour Machine and She Shook Me Cold for example; but the last two tracks on Side Two, the title track, and Supermen, are worth the price of entry and indicate that this Bowie chap might be a little bit interesting. Unfortunately for Bowie, as they are right at the end of the album, and the rest of the songs are nothing special, this album didn't sell, and he had to wait a little longer for his breakthrough. While the first two albums (especially the first) are mostly disregarded by Bowie listeners, this one does get a little attention - particularly as during Bowie's creative peak when everything he touched turned to gold, he gave this to Lulu and produced the recording. Later, Nirvana also recorded the song in a stunning Unplugged performance. The Width of a Circle tends to get attention; though it's not an achieved song such as The Man and Superman, it shows promise, and it both shows the way Bowie would go, and also, interestingly, what elements of prog rock he would leave behind.

Rating: 5 1/2

Hunky Dory  (1971)

This is an astonishing album. Possibly Bowie's best. It is crammed full of really, really good songs that stand alone as special, and when taken as a group make for a very satisfying and rewarding album to rival Lou Reed's Transformer, which, of course, Bowie produced during his creative peak when everything he touched turned to gold. It was not this album that broke Bowie, and that's chilling. That someone could make an album as good as this, with such catchy songs as Changes and O You Pretty Things, and someone who had already had a hit single, and yet despite favourable reviews it gets largely ignored by the public and unpromoted by the record company. How many other really great albums are there out there that are as yet undiscovered? If it hadn't been for "Starman", and for the critics picking up on the concept story of Ziggy Stardust and hyping Bowie, this album and Bowie's others would likely have been discontinued, and Bowie would have given up and become an art teacher or something.

When Bowie broke into the mainstream, this album was part of his back catalogue, and everyone was looking toward his future albums rather than toward his past, especially as his back catalogue was being confused with the release of his juvenalia, such as "The Laughing Gnome". However, over time people have gone back to this and found it exquisitely rewarding. Opinions are divided as to which is Bowie's greatest album, but for many this is it - an album unhyped, unpromoted, largely undeclared. An album that reveals itself uniquely and individually to each listener.

Rating: 9

Ziggy Stardust  (1972)

Rating: 7

Aladdin Sane  (1973)

A return to the Hunky Dory approach of an album of assorted songs. There's some very good songs here, some of my favourites, with at times great lyrical imagery, and occasional brilliant music. However, the album is a little uneven, and doesn't have both the consistency, variety, and charm of Hunky Dory.

Rating: 8

Pin Ups  (1973)

I really liked this when it was released. My friends and I would enthusiastically discuss his choices, and how close he was to the originals, or what he had done differently. It was a record of its time - an insight into the most fascinating pop figure of the time, and a re-stirring of some classic 60s music. Released at the same time as Brian Ferry's excellent ''These Foolish Things'', it was cool and interesting, and seemed the very thing that cool and interesting musicians should do. But today it is significantly less interesting. Some of the covers are embarrassing, especially when Bowie plays the sax. Only a few tracks have stood the test of time - "Sorrow" being the main one (with Ken Fordham playing the sax this time).

Rating: 3

Diamond Dogs  (1974)

A return to a rock orientated concept album. This one about a dystopian future. Savaged by the critics on release (mainly because it was seen as a step backward to Ziggy), this has been unfairly ignored since. The music, to me, is more adventurous and interesting than Ziggy - utilising some of the jazz ideas from Aladdin Sane to more vigorous effect. And "Rebel Rebel", though clearly a Rolling Stones copy, is one of Bowie's best rockers. I suppose it all comes down to which story appeals the most - a disturbing exploration of a disintegrating future society, or a story of an alien who forms a rock band. Most people prefer the Ziggy story. I quite like the Diamond Dogs story. Each to their own.

Rating: 7-8

David Live  (double live album 1974)

I'd forgotten this album, and listening to it again now, I remember why I had forgotten it. Though it may hold some historic curiosity as indicating Bowie's new interest in Philadelphia soul, which he would explore on his next album, it's really not worth the listen. It's truly dreadful. There may be some track on it worth hearing, but I haven't bothered listening to the whole thing to find out. The single from the album, "Knock on Wood", is good, but the rest deserves to be forgotten.

Rating: 2

Young Americans  (1975)

I really like this album. I like soul, and this is one of the albums that helped me to get into it. Though it wasn't the only one. Soul music was getting pretty big and pretty cool in the mid 70s, and disco was about to break huge. Other albums I was listening to around this time (and possibly Bowie also) were Halls & Oates Abandoned Luncheonette, Grover Washington, Jr.'s  Mister Magic, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions,  as well as hit singles like "Rock The Boat",  "Love Train",  "Hang In On There Baby", "Funky Stuff",  "Never Can Say Goodbye" (the album version, as that is what I rushed out to buy when I heard it on the radio - and I've just learned that this extended mix by  Tom Moulton is considered something of a first, giving Moulton the title of  "father of the disco mix"), "Rock Your Baby",  "Summer Breeze", and "Sad Sweet Dreamer".

The title track is one of Bowie's best songs. Perfect. Great music, great lyrics, and one of his best (possibly his greatest) vocal performances."Fame", another great song and hit single,  was co-written with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar. - the riff that Carlos developed was copied that same year by James Brown for "Hot (I Need To Be Loved". The rest of the album is a bit hit and miss, but the album is important as it really drove home that here was a person willing to explore music interests, and who enjoyed using a wide palate. Bowie has an ability to write fascinating lyrics - they may not always be spot on, but they are usually interesting, and are a step above the average "You broke my heart" love song, or the "Purple dwarves vomit on the highway" prog rock song. He also has an ability to write catchy melodies, simple rockers, and decent music.

Rating: 8-9

Low  (1977)

The first album in the three collaborations with Brian Eno that are termed the Berlin Trilogy. The trilogy wasn't popular, and sales of these albums were slow at the time, and even by 2009 with intense focus on the importance of the trilogy, sales are still at least 1 million (or a third) lower than contemporary regular releases by Bowie. The first half uses music and musicians that Bowie used on Station to Station - popular songs that utilise electronic instruments that were becoming increasingly popular, especially among bands in Germany. The songs include the very fine hit single "Sound and Vision",  the very decent "Be My Wife", and the excellent "Always Crashing in the Same Car". The second side is mainly instrumental music, some of it developed from the unused music Bowie created for the film The Man Who Fell to Earth", utilising ideas from Philip Glass, while the main piece, "Warszawa", was written by Brian Eno with "lyrics" added by Bowie. The music is typically Eno in the way it uses sound to create texture and ambiance. This side has challenged listeners since the album was first released, as it doesn't sit comfortably with the first side, and belongs more to the realm of electronic texture musicians, like Eno (1975), Glass (1974), Faust (1973), Pink Floyd (1971), Kraftwork (1974), Neu (1975), Popol Vuh (1971), and Tangerine Dream (1974), rather than the pop/rock star realm in which the first side and Bowie as a whole operated.  Most critics were initially not comfortable with it, but as electronic music has since became more mainstream, critics look back on the album and see it as something of a breakthrough in that it was introducing both electronic instrumentation, such as the synthesiser, and ambient music, to a wider audience, and thus assisting in the public acceptance of the electronic and synthpop bands that would dominate in the 1980s. But for all the retrospective debate on the importance of the album, the second side is dull, and the first side is patchy and while likeable is mainly superficial. The music which influenced Bowie is far more robust, interesting and attractive.


Rating: 6

"Heroes"  (1977)

It was with the release of this album that I lost interest in Bowie. Though some find the Berlin Trilogy Bowie's most interesting period, I find it's not really for me. Having been familiar with and grown up musically with much of the music that  influenced and informed Bowie during this period, I didn't at the time, and still don't find it better than the source material (listed above in Low). I like the way that James Brown informs this album, giving a little twist to the electronic texture music that is the heart of the trilogy, but it doesn't really save it for me. This album, though, does hold what is for me one of Bowie's most attractive and satisfying songs, the title track "Heroes". Nothing else comes close. Indeed, nothing else is music you want to listen to again - well, some of side two is stuff I can't abide listening to a first time!

Great title track, crap album.

Wikipedia; Pitchfork;   StylusAllMusicRolling Stone;

Rating: 1

Lodger  (1979)

I skipped this one when it came out. I had grown fed up with the trivial electronic doodling of the previous albums, and as no reviews I read were favourable, and nobody I knew had anything positive to say about it, there didn't seem any point buying it, and the single Boys Keep Swinging was really not my thing. However, listening to it now, I am really impressed. This is more in the style of his later albums, and is more comfortably in Bowie territory - songs, rather than music doodles. The music informs the songs rather than on the previous two albums where it seemed that most of the time the lyrics were more of a breathed instrument to fill out the musical attempts.


Scary Monsters  (1980)

For a number of major artists, the 1980s was not a good period artistically. There seemed a desire to turn commercial, and to use electronic or synthesised music rather than more organic instruments. It was the nature of the period. And Bowie was no different. His music turned very commercial - but it still retains enough of interest. This album comes after the difficult and non-commercial Berlin Trilogy, and for a good number of Bowie listeners, this was a blessed relief. Proper music again!


Let's Dance  (1983)

Tonight (1984)

Outside (1995)

Earthling (1997)

'Hours...' (1999)

Heathen (2002)

Reality (2003)

The Next Day (2013)









Star quality

Emotional appeal





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69 April 2019

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