This past January marked five years since the untimely death of David Bowie, one of the most iconic and innovative musicians to ever live. Bowie’s career spanned many decades and was marked by reinvention and unearthly visual presentation. As his legacy lives on through his music, take a look at his 10 best albums.
10. Diamond Dogs
Originally planned as a musical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, Diamond Dogs took on a life of its own due to Orwell’s widow denying Bowie rights to the novel. This caused him to create a post-apocalyptic world in which his newest persona, Halloween Jack, rules the “diamond dogs,” a gang of vicious punk hoods. However, Halloween Jack is hardly present after the opening track, as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s most iconic persona, takes center stage once again. Musically, it mostly operated in the glam rock genre, although some songs like “Candidate” and “1984” were inspired by funk and soul sounds, which would serve as a precursor to his later work. While it is not quite as highly regarded as some of his other work, Diamond Dogs engulfs the listener into a nihilistic world of urban decay that is impossible to ignore.
Released two days before his death due to liver cancer, Blackstar was intended as Bowie’s swan song and a parting gift to his fans. Recorded entirely in secret, the album features a dynamic, industrial sound that experiments with many different genres. Bowie’s lyrics are cryptic yet emotional as he makes references to his impending death. He tries to accept his own mortality and deal with the emotional despair of knowing his time is running out on standout tracks “Lazarus” and “Girl Loves Me.” Following his death, Blackstar only resonated more with fans as they mourned the loss of such an iconic figure.
8. Hunky Dory
Following the hard rock sound of The Man Who Sold The World, Bowie opted for a warmer, more melodic sound on Hunky Dory. The album is more episodic in nature compared to some of his other popular work. Subject matter ranges from the invincible feeling of youth on “Changes” to an eerie tale of schizophrenia on “The Bewlay Brothers.” A trip across the US also inspired Bowie to write songs about three American icons: Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. Hunky Dory has a euphoric, dreamlike aura, and is cited by many as the album that Bowie truly became Bowie.
7. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
With Scary Monsters, Bowie attempted to create something more direct and grounded following a stretch of more adventurous projects. Despite this, Scary Monsters sees Bowie as chaotic and frenetic as ever with a body of work that demands to be consumed in its entirety. “Up The Hill Backwards” features Bowie reflecting on the dark side of his massive fame while “Ashes to Ashes” describes the unhinged mind of a drug addict. Scary Monsters proved once again that Bowie’s constant-evolving sound is unable to be put in a box. The album also happens to be a personal favorite of Greenville University student and Bowie fan Garrett Johnson. Johnson explained, “I love Scary Monsters because he’s kind of taking an introspective look at his career up to that point. There’s lots of references to previous albums, and it feels like a summary of everything he’d done up to this point.”
6. Young Americans
While Bowie had experimented with soul and R&B sounds here and there, Young Americans was his first album to fully embrace them for an entire body of work. Recorded in Philadelphia, the album featured contributions from a wide array of well-known musicians, from John Lennon to Luther Vandross. The latter’s crooning background vocals can be heard on “Fascination.” The album’s centerpiece, “Fame,” is a lush dance storm that sees Bowie reflecting on the personal cost of success. It was his first No. 1 song in the US and remains one of his most popular songs to this day.
Each of these albums show how Bowie is perhaps the most off-the-wall and unique artist ever. Be sure to check out the conclusion of this list in Part 2, coming soon!