David Bowie is the only artist I really know, so I'd like to share my "passion" for his music with you all. I tried to make that thread as short, clear and clean as possible, I hope you'll enjoy reading it and that it'll lead you to appreciate an incredible artist. Songs will be in italic and albums will be underlined. Every link leads to a YouTube video, except where noted. This guide will be presented like this:
I. Early Work (1964-1968)
II. The "Golden Years" (1969-1983)
III. The "Floppy Years" (1984-1988)
IV. The Come-Back (1989-present?)
V. More Information
VI. Further listening: my personal favourites
VII. More Bowie
David Bowie has released 25 studio albums in a five-decade long career. This is why I listen to him with a precise chronology in mind. It's only a way of listening and you don't have to follow it, but it seemed a good way to present him. I therefore gave many dates so you can see his evolution in time. He's experimented many genres, so it's difficult to choose a particular song to get a taste. After listening to many songs, I picked Changes from Hunky Dory (1971), which seemed appropriate.
I. Early Work
From 1964 to 1968, David Bowie was part of many bands such as The Konrads, The Manish Boys or The Feathers, but none of them really worked. He released a solo album in 1967 called David Bowie, and personally, I don't like it. Here is his first single, Liza Jane, released with The Manish Boys in 1964 (new version from 2004).
II. The "Golden Years"
David Bowie became famous thanks to his single Space Oddity in 1969, released for the first landing on the Moon. Between 1970 and 1983, he released thirteen very good albums in totally different genres. I'd be glad to tell you all I know about each and every of them, but I'm afraid I'd bore you after a while. So here is a small list of one song for each album which I found relevant. It's never my favourite one, but I picked it for the particular sound of the album.
The Man Who Sold The World from The Man Who Sold The World (1970).
Life On Mars? from Hunky Dory (1971).
Starman from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972).
Aladdin Sane from Aladdin Sane (1973).
Rebel Rebel from Diamond Dogs (1974).
Young Americans from Young Americans (1975).
Golden Years from Station To Station (1976).
Sound And Vision from Low (early 1977).
"Heroes" from "Heroes" (late 1977).
Boys Keep Swinging from Lodger (1979).
Ashes To Ashes from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980).
Let's Dance from Let's Dance (1983).
I didn't give anything from Pin Ups (1973), which is an album exclusively composed of covers.
III. The "Floppy Years"
After his amazing seventies and early eighties, Bowie had a time when inspiration was slow to come. He released his two must overrated albums, Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987), which are not VERY bad, but much worse than anything he'd done before. However, he did a couple of very good songs, including Loving The Alien (1984). That particular song has a lot of meaning in both the lyrics and the video, even though it's not his best music.
IV. The Come-Back
In 1989, David Bowie decided he was bored of releasing things he didn't like, so he created a band, Tin Machine, in order to be only one of the guys and find himself back. It didn't really work, because almost all the Tin Machine fans listened to the music only for Bowie, but he did find his way. After two studio albums, Tin Machine (1989) and Tin Machine II (1991), he went back to his solo career. Before going on, a few Tin Machine songs: Heaven's In Here (1989), You Belong In Rock 'N' Roll (1991).
Between 1993 and 2003, he released seven quite good albums:
Black Tie White Noise from Black Tie White Noise (1993).
Bleed Like A Craze, Dad from The Buddha of Suburbia (1993).
I Have Not Been To Oxford Town from Outside (1995).
I'm Afraid Of Americans from Earthling (1997).
Something In The Air from 'Hours...' (1999) (video really starts at 1:30).
Heathen (The Rays) from Heathen (2002).
Reality from Reality (2003).
This is sadly the end of his discography to this day. He's been in a semi-retirement from 2004 due to health problems and rumor has it that he won't come back.
V. More Information
If you'd like to have a little more information, you should read The Complete David Bowie (link to Amazon) by Nicholas Pegg. Maybe not complete, but still very relevant. You can also look up his Wikipedia page which is very good, or Tin Machine's.
Don't hesitate to ask me as many questions as you want or to point out some mistakes either on this topic or by message, I'd be glad to answer!
VI. Further Listening: my personal favourites
It is very difficult for any Bowie fan to find a favourite song or album, since they are all so different. However, I can advise you:
- The Berlin-Trilogy (Low, "Heroes" and Lodger), his most highly-regarded work.
- Hunky Dory.
- The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
- Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
I hate "Best Of"s and other compilations, however, these three live albums work as great compilations and give new versions of earlier songs:
- Bowie At The Beeb (1968-1972).
- David Live (1974).
- Stage (1978).
At the moment, I'm also a big fan of his plastic-soul era in his two albums Young Americans and Station To Station.
Here is my list of twelve favourites in chronological order, but it really breaks my heart to give so few songs. I hope you'll like them:
- The Width Of A Circle (1970).
- The Bewlay Brothers (1971).
- Rock 'N' Roll Suicide (1972).
- Soul Love (1972).
- Lady Grinning Soul (1973).
- Cracked Actor (1973).
- Big Brother (1974): this is my favourite version of this song ever. The sound is not really great since it's a bootleg, but the arrangement is simply amazing.
- Footstompin' (1975): it's not one of his songs and he only performed it live once, but I still love it. It's an early version of Fame, co-written with John Lennon.
- Stay (1976).
- Some Are (1977).
- Blackout (1977).
- Look Back In Anger (1979).
According to me, Ashes To Ashes is his best song ever. It is not my favourite, because I don't have one, but I've never heard an other song like this one. Have you ever heard a song almost entirely sang in falsetto, with backing singers like an army of ghost, and such eerie sounds?
My latest discovery: the Ziggy Satrdust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack version of Oh! You Pretty Things. It is quite different from the original 1971 version.
VII. More Bowie
David Bowie also worked as an actor. His first film, The Man Who Fell To Earth, was released in 1975. It's the only one I've seen, and it's amazing. But it's a very weird movie, very disturbing and not entertaining at all.
He is also linked to many artists such as Mott The Hoople, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Brian Eno, Mick Ronson, John Lennon... If you search, you might find him almost everywhere ;)
I hoped you enjoyed reading this Beginners guide (and its very scholar presentation) and loved Bowie as much as I do. I wish I could discover him again every day. Feel free to leave comments or ask any questions!