David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie, left us on 10 January 2016, five years ago now. The singer had just turned 69 two days earlier, and had said goodbye to everyone with one of the best albums of his career, Blackstar. Since then the world has gone into a tailspin and, although his death is not responsible for all the ills that have struck us, it did make the Earth a little less attractive and, of course, much less talented. From Guitars Exchange we want to pay tribute to the great musical chameleon by talking about our 10 favourite albums of his career but, as this man is so incredible, at the end we will add another five that shouldn't be missing in your collection either.
David Bowie (Space Oddity) (1969)
This is an album that doesn't seem to get much credit, but which I personally love. After recording a debut that was close to music hall, Bowie began a career of change by transforming himself into a galactic hippie singer-songwriter who, contradictorily, sings about things that don't leave the hippies looking too good. It's clear that Bowie is still in search of a sound of his own, something he would find on his next album, The Man Who Sold The World, but the songs were already there, from the prodigious Space Oddity that opens it (and which would give it its title after its re-release in 1972) to the extensive Cygnet Committee, a progressive folk song that once again provides proof of the great composer behind it. All of this without forgetting the delicate Letter To Hermione, about his breakup with his girlfriend up to that moment Hermione Farthingale, the exquisite Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud, where he approaches baroque pop with a 50 member orchestra, or the fabulous closing with the crushing chorus of Memory of a Free Festival, which, like Bowie himself, found its sound a year later with Mick Ronson's Les Paul.
Hunky Dory (1971)
In January 1971 David Bowie had just turned 24 and had three studio albums and a seven-year career behind him (counting from the release date of his first single) that seemed to be getting him nowhere. He had tasted the sweetness of success in 1969 with Space Oddity, but after the failure of The Prettiest Star, he was back at square one. To top it off, his friend Marc Bolan, who had started at the same time as him, was becoming the country's biggest rock star with T. Rex. Bowie knew he had talent but having started out in R&B, having been a Mod, a hippie singer-songwriter and a cabaret mime artist, he was not quite sure who he really was. It was the right moment to look at himself in the mirror and see what he saw reflected. What he saw was a revelation, Bowie saw that he was the sum of his changes, he was not an R&B singer, nor a folk singer, he was all of them at the same time, as he would say later his true style was an amalgam: "Jacques Brel leading the Velvet Underground". The change was his personality and he would know how to reflect it perfectly: "Changes (turn and face the strange)". Hunky Dory meant the creation of the Bowie myth as a chameleon, of the artist as we understand him. It was in these songs that he discovered himself definitively and given 'cum laude' as an exquisite composer. The first side of this album is one of the absolute summits of 20th century pop music, from the unstoppable beginning with Changes to the devastating Quicksand, through the unquestionable chorus of Oh You Pretty Things, the playful lullaby of Kooks or the most beautiful song of his career (and that is to say a lot), Life On Mars? The world would discover him a year later disguised as Ziggy, but Bowie had already found himself in Hunky Dory, his first masterpiece and one of the most beautiful albums in the history of pop music.
The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (1972)
Bowie had always longed to be a rock star and in 1972 he was more than ready to be one. For this reason he created the ultimate star, an alien in which several of his influences were mixed, from Iggy Pop (not for nothing did he call him Ziggy Stardust) to Jimi Hendrix ("Ziggy played guitar (...) He played left hand"), through Lou Reed or Vince Taylor. Around him he put together an imaginary band captained by the extraordinary Mick Ronson, the Spiders from Mars, and gave Ziggy 11 of the best songs of his career (actually several more, because the discards and B-sides of that album like John, I'm Only Dancing, Velvet Goldmine and Sweet Head, are also among the best of his career). The album opened melodramatically with Five Years and closed with the immortal Rock'n'Roll Suicide, amidst rock 'n' roll perfection such as Moonage Daydream, the title track or Sufragette City, signature ballads such as Lady Stardust and irresistible choruses such as Starman, Bowie perfectly combined the incredible ballads of Hunky Dory with the guitaristic strength of The Man Who Sold The World and delivered the album through which he will go down in history, his absolute pinnacle.
Aladdin Sane (1973)
A record that was composed and recorded in the middle of the American tour in which Ziggy Stardust was presented, Bowie subtitled it "Ziggy goes to America" and it has something of that, a kind of cabaret rock in which the Spiders from Mars are joined by Mike Garson's piano and Ziggy goes wild with redder hair, bigger platforms, screaming outfits and more makeup than a 5th Avenue whore. The album opens in style with Watch That Man, one of the best glam songs of his career, with Ronson unleashed on his Les Paul, a guitarist who once again shines on Panic In Detroit, The Jean Genie and the theatrical Time, where he delivers one of the best solos of his career. Bowie has been transformed into Ziggy and it is already difficult to distinguish the person from the character.
Diamond Dogs (1974)
Overwhelmed by the fame of his character Bowie decided to cut with it all and finish him off. On July 3, 1973, in the last concert of the tour, Bowie killed Ziggy, fired the Spiders from Mars and began a new phase. Diamond Dogs is a transitional album between Ziggy (the image on the cover, the riff of Rebel Rebel and the title song still carry the aroma of the alien) and its next phase, that of plastic soul, with Bowie immersing himself in black music, as can be seen in 1984. It's another one of those albums that is often overlooked but is a real wonder. Bowie had been re-reading Orwell and constructed a futuristic dystopia in which undisputed classics such as Rebel, Rebel and Diamond Dogs appear, as well as ‘house brand artefacts’ such as Rock 'n' Roll with Me and Big brother. A luxurious transition.
Station to Station (1976)
Station To Station is another of the fundamental albums of Bowie's career, halfway between plastic soul and the Berlin stage, a Bowie up to his eyebrows in cocaine, mixes funk with krautrock and creates something unique, as can be seen in that great tittle track that presents another of his most iconic characters, the thin white Duke. In Golden Years he mixes funk and disco in a gem that sounds like Bowie distilled, Stay gives Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar, his new guitarists, the opportunity to perfectly mix the Strat solos of the former with the funk flavour of the latter, while with TVC 15 he puts a Huey 'Piano' Smith piano part (played by Roy Bittan of the E Street Band) into a ball of mirrors and creates another marvel. Additonally, he transforms Nina Simone's Wild Is The Wind into one of his most melodramatic and exquisite ballads.
Low is the most groundbreaking and experimental album of his career, it is also the beginning of the so-called 'Berlin trilogy' and of his collaboration with Brian Eno. The hand of the former Roxy Music member can be felt from the very first song, on the incredible Speed of Life, one of the many instrumental songs on the album. Divided into two parts, the first of shorter pop songs, the second of extensive instrumental passages - among which the devastating Warszawa, the song from which Joy Division would arise (and the entire post-punk scene) stands out. Few albums can boast so much new territory and, at the same time, contain such perfect songs as Sound and Vision, Breaking Glass (with an excellent Alomar) and Be My Wife. The enormous esteem in which the artist himself held this album can be seen in the fact that he decided to close the last album of his career, Blackstar, with a wink to one of his songs, A New Career In A New Town.
In 1977 David Bowie had already gone through many different phases, from young mod to cabaret singer, from hippie singer-songwriter to alien 'glam', from soul singer to skeletal cokehead, the year before he had gone to Berlin with Brian Eno and delivered one of the most revolutionary albums in history, Low. Now it was up to these new sounds, tremendously influenced by the former Roxy Music member and German Krautrock, to find the definitive song for which this era would be remembered. For this Bowie and Eno called Robert Fripp who with his Les Paul plugged into a Hiwatt with a fuzz pedal helped create the greatest anthem of Bowie's career, the title song. Heroes is the most German album of the 'Berlin trilogy', with Bowie showing the world his love for 'krautrock' bands, even naming one of his songs, V-2 Schneider, after Kraftwerk member Florian Schneider. As in Low, the two different sections return, the first more focused on more or less conventional songs (within Bowie's terms) and the second in which he gives free rein to his more innovative and exploratory side, with strange instrumental passages. However, at the end The Secret Life of Arabia appears, a song that points to other territories.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)
After the Berlin trilogy, it was time for a new reinvention, and so appeared Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), his fourteenth studio album, a work with which Bowie began the 1980s in full swing. The artist achieves one of the best balances of his career between his most artistic and most commercial side, between the explorer and the composer of wonderful pop songs. Bowie felt good, had overcome many of his addictions and had rejuvenated himself by seeing how he left his mark on the emerging New Wave. Fripp once again makes his mark on songs as rough and angular as It's No Game or the title song, and even Bowie can afford to have his beloved Pete Townshend on Because You're Young. To top it off, he ‘rescues’ Major Tom in another of his most memorable songs, Ashes To Ashes.
After a ten-year retreat Bowie arose again in 2013 with The Next Day, an album on which he made peace with his brilliant past, but after being diagnosed with cancer in 2014 he decided to look again at the place that had always fascinated him most, the future. Blackstar sees Bowie close his brilliant discography with a risky and wonderful album, in which his incredible melodies are caressed by a jazz quartet that gives him a new sound, between hip hop percussion and a nod at his own death. The title song and Lazarus are among the most important of his repertoire, but the end with Dollar Days and I Can't Give Everything Away is absolutely breathtaking, with Ben Monder shining on the guitar, recalling first Mick Ronson on th former and then Robert Fripp in the last - in the end the artist says goodbye to all of us with one of the great albums of his brilliant career.
Another five essential albums:
The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
Young Americans (1975)
Let's Dance (1982)
The Next Day (2013)