What I learned from re-listening to David Bowie’s entire discography

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock (100574s) David Bowie DAVID BOWIE AT THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL – 1983

I’ve done a more than a few Bowie lists on by blog, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely bloody love the man. He was a beautiful soul, with creativity and flair oozing out of every artistic endeavour, and hardly a day goes by where I feel saddened by his tragic passing a few years ago.

I’ve listened to his entire discography before, but I’ll be the first to admit I probably didn’t give most of the songs / albums the time of day it deserved. Looking back through some of my first Bowie lists (namely, the album ranking), I was astounded by some of my old opinions – I shall rectify my past mistakes, and give most of the albums the love they thoroughly deserve.

Here is the album ranking I mentioned, as well as a few other related lists:

David Bowie (1967)

Old Position / Verdict – 25th / Terrible
New Position / Verdict – 26th / Terrible

Quite impressively, this was the only Bowie album I hated even more on my re-listen.

Everything about this is just sacrilegious to the Bowie we know and love – the vocals / songwriting are tame, the production is bizarre at best and unlistenable at worst, and there’s only really one song from here that I’d ever choose to listen to again – “We Are Hungry Men”.

This one goes right down to the bottom of the list, where it belongs. Previously I had two other albums in “Terrible” (Buddha of Suburbia / Never Let Me Down), but now I can comfortably say this is the only outright awful album Bowie has ever released.

David Bowie (A.K.A Space Oddity)

Old Verdict – 13th / OK
New Verdict – 12th / Good

The official debut is where it’s at, and I absolutely adore some of the tracks on here. “Space Oddity” and “Memory of a Free Festival” remain my favourites, but others like “God Knows I’m Good” and “Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud” turn this from an OK outing to a really good one.

Even songs that I didn’t really care for previously like “Cygnet Committee” and “An Occasional Dream” get better each listen, and make for charming additions to this strong album.

The Man Who Sold The World

Old Verdict – 12th / OK
New Verdict – 18th / Good

When I first did the album rankings I only had 11/26 albums in “Good” or above, and now 19/26 are albums that I would gladly listen to again.

That being said, “The Man Who Sold The World” didn’t do that much for me on a re-listen. It’s still a good album, and tracks like “The Supermen” and especially “Width of a Circle” get better with each listen, but I found a lot of the other albums that I’d ranked lower previously to be more enjoyable listens.

Hunky Dory

Old Verdict – 7th / Great
New Verdict – 5th / Amazing

I have no idea what I was thinking when I did my original rankings all those months ago – this is clearly more than just a “Great” album, and fully deserves its place among the “Amazing” records in Bowie’s discography.

“Quicksand” is probably the most improved player of the bunch, I just love the daunting lyrics and mellow vibe it gives off. There are still a couple of tracks such as “Andy Warhol” and “Eight Line Poem” that prevent this from being among the true “All-Time Greats”, but this record is still nothing short of sensational.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust

Old Verdict – 2nd / All-Time Great
New Verdict – 3rd / All-Time Great

Still an all-timer through and through, and I’m pretty sure my love for this album will remain constant as I grow older. All the classics like “Ziggy Stardust” and “Moonage Daydream” still hit as hard as they ever do, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” still has a good shout at being the greatest album closer ever.

The more perceptive of you will have noticed that this album has been knocked down a place, from 2nd to 3rd in my rankings. That doesn’t mean I don’t love this any less, it’s just that there’s one album that has grown on me even more over time.

Aladdin Sane

Old Verdict – 14th / OK
New Verdict – 13th / Good

I think I was a little harsh on this album before (and you can argue even “Good” is lower than a lad who’s sane would put it), but nowadays this is definitely a record that I’d happily revisit.

The usual suspects “Jean Genie” and “Lady Grinning Soul” are as good as ever, and I’m even starting to warm to tracks I was unsure about before such as “Aladdin Sane” and “Drive-In Saturday”.

As Bowie albums go, I still stand by my original belief that this is a little underwhelming in the grand scheme of things. The album cover is obviously still an all-timer, but other than “Lady Grinning Soul” there aren’t any tracks on here that completely blow my socks off. Still, this is a more consistent outing from Bowie than I initially gave him credit for.

PinUps

Old Verdict – 21st / Bad
New Verdict – 23rd / Bad

Yep, “PinUps” is still bad. It arguably gets even worse the more you listen to it, and you can clearly tell that this was an album that Bowie didn’t even want to make in the first place.

About 80% of the covers on here are soooo booooring, and if it wasn’t for a couple of saving graces – “Sorrow” and “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” – this would have easily made it into the “Terrible” tier. I’m even considering ranking it lower still, but I’ll leave it to spare me the logistical nightmare of re-arranging the whole list again.

Diamond Dogs

Old Verdict – 5th / Amazing
New Verdict – 6th / Amazing

This was where Bowie went back to his scintillating best, and “Diamond Dogs” marked the start of Bowie’s most musically consistent period – 8 albums in a row from now on are some of my favourites.

I still really like this album, although I listen to it much less frequently than I used to do. There are still lots of banging tunes throughout, but I guess I’m just in a phase of listening to the other albums a little bit more.

There aren’t really any weak link tracks on this, as both the intro and outro (albeit a little weird) both serve as perfect introductions and conclusions respectively to the concept album’s story. The “Sweet Thing” medley is still the highlight of the record, and remains to this day one of Bowie’s crowning musical achievements.

Young Americans

Old Verdict – 8th / Great
New Verdict – 8th / Great

I still maintain that this album is a little underrated within the Bowie fandom – there’s an argument to be made that he doesn’t quite capitalise on the musical themes and concepts, but he still puts his unique spin on the Motown aesthetic, and that’s what makes “Young Americans” so great.

The title track and “Fame” are still two of my favourites, and the group of songs between “Win” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” are criminally under-appreciated. There are still two tracks – “Across The Universe” and “Can You Hear Me” – that stop this album from reaching the lofty heights of some of Bowie’s other works, but this is still an album that I love to put on from time to time.

Station to Station

Old Verdict – 1st / All-Time Great
New Verdict – 1st / All-Time Great

“Station to Station” is still as awesome as it ever was, and it may just be my 2nd favourite album of all time (behind the unbeatable “Abbey Road”). Every song on here is a cracker, and each individual track would be the stand-out song on any other album.

The title track and “Golden Years” is still a one-two combo to open an album that is only rivalled by “Come Together” / “Something” on Abbey Road, and even “Word On A Wing” is quickly becoming one of my favourite love(ish) songs of all time.

This album has Bowie’s best vocal performances, best songwriting, and best production of the lot, and it will never be topped for me as far as Bowie albums are concerned.

Low

Old Verdict – 3rd / All-Time Great
New Verdict – 2nd / All-Time Great

Still a banger, and I may even go as far as saying it’s better than “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” – blasphemy, I know.

The first half of the album is filled to the brim of underrated Bowie classics, such as “Breaking Glass” and “Be My Wife”, but the second half grows on me with every re-listen. That set of ambient songs is truly breath-taking, and “Subterraneans” never fails to give me goose-bumps. It’ll never beat “Station to Station”, but it’s close.

“Heroes”

Old Verdict – 6th / Amazing
New Verdict – 7th / Great

What a great album “Heroes” is, although in hindsight I think I gave it a little too much praise because of its title track.

“Heroes” itself is still my second favourite song ever (behind “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads), and the other tracks in general show off Bowie’s immense talent, but they aren’t that stand-out.

I find myself listening to the tracks on this less and less, especially because of the ambient half of the record – it’s nowhere near as good as on “Low”, and if it wasn’t for “The Secret Life of Arabia” coming in at the end to save the day, this album could have even been knocked down to “Good”.

Lodger

Old Verdict – 9th / Good
New Verdict – 10th / Great

“Lodger” actually got knocked down a place on my list due to the next entry, and yet I still hold it in much higher regard than I did half a year ago. There are so many great Bowie albums that I slept on, and this is one of them – there are some really fantastic tracks on this, like “Red Money” and “Look Back In Anger”, that hoist it into the “Great” tier.

Even songs I wasn’t too fond of before like “D.J.” and “Fantastic Voyage” are now classics in my eyes, and its a shame “African Night Flight” and “Move On” make the first half a drag, otherwise this could have crept even higher up my ranking.

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Old Verdict – 20th / Bad
New Verdict – 9th / Great

This was the album that completely shook up my rankings – it’s sooooo much better than I first thought, and it quickly became one of my favourite Bowie albums. Heck, even 9th place might be too low as I’m writing this – but there’s no point changing it now, otherwise I’d get trapped in a loop of rearranging the albums forever.

A couple of what I thought were the worst offenders are actually classics, so I have no idea what I was smoking – “It’s No Game (Pt. 1)” is a phenomenal start to the record, I just couldn’t see it at the time, and “Teenage Wildlife” has skyrocketed into one of my favourite Bowie songs. Period.

There are still a couple of tracks like “Scream Like A Baby” and “Kingdom Come” that stop this from being in the “Amazing” tier, but I can still see myself coming back to this record for years to come.

Let’s Dance

Old Verdict – 10th / Good
New Verdict – 11th / Great

I still stand by this album, even though many Bowie fans think it represents the beginning of the end. I think it’s harsh to judge this album purely based on later works, as on its own it stands above many other albums in his discography.

Those opening three tracks are still a sensational start to any album, and “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” will always be a favourite of mine. Even tracks like “Criminal World” and “Without You” have a fun dance appeal, but “Ricochet” is the track that drags the whole things down.

This album is very much 4 banger tracks and 4 decent / good tracks, so if it was more consistent it could have ranked higher.

Tonight

Old Verdict – 18th / Meh
New Verdict – 20th / OK

Now, this is the REAL beginning of the end, and I’m not surprised many people despise this album. It feels so distant and manufactured, almost as if someone else had written it for Bowie, and it started a losing streak of albums.

That being said, I still find a decent amount of enjoyment from this record – opener “Loving The Alien” is amazing, “Blue Jean” is hella catchy, and a couple of tracks like “Tumble and Twirl” and “Don’t Look Down” make this album worth checking out, even if a lot of the other tracks sound like filler.

Never Let Me Down

Old Verdict – 24th / Terrible
New Verdict – 24th / Bad

Ah yes, “Never Let Me Down” – an album so mediocre and bland (and borderline cash-grab) that it effectively killed Bowie’s career for six whole years.

I still have a huge distaste for all but one of the tracks on here – the production on all of them makes them so unoriginal, and the only stand-out is “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)” – even if the production tries its hardest to kill that track.

Black Tie White Noise

Old Verdict – 19th / Meh
New Verdict – 15th / Good

One of the most improved players of the bunch, I just love the unique wedding vibes of this album.

It’s still not an overly adventurous album, and it nestles quite comfortably in the lower half of my rankings, but tracks like “The Wedding”, “Jump They Say” and “You’ve Been Around” more than earn its place as an underrated gem within Bowie’s discography.

Buddha of Suburbia

Old Verdict – 26th / Terrible
New Verdict – 25th / Bad

“Buddha of Suburbia” effectively switched places with Bowie’s 1967 debut in my rankings, and similarly to “Never Let Me Down” I think this album isn’t terrible, but rather only a bad Bowie outing.

I’ve definitely started to warm to some of the tracks since I first gave it a listen – “Bleed Like a Craze, Dad” is pretty decent, the title track gets better with each listen, and “Untitled No. 1” is a really underrated track and easily my favourite from the record.

The issues that I brought up before are still valid though – at the end of the day, this is just a TV soundtrack album, and most of the runtime of this record is dedicated to background music and generic, forgettable filler. This album isn’t as awful as I first thought, and in all fairness it may still creep up the rankings further, but I still don’t really like it.

1. Outside

Old Verdict – 11th / Good
New Verdict – 14th / Good

Surprisingly, “1. Outside” has gone down in my estimations ever so slightly. It’s still a good album, but I just think there are quite a few other records in Bowie’s discography that feel more whole and complete.

The highs of this record are very high, and tracks like “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town”, “Hearts Filthy Lessons” and “Hallo Spaceboy” are some of my favourite pieces of hard-hitting Industrial Electronica ever. The problem lies in the random segues and interludes – they’re fine as far as the concept album goes, but they just pad the runtime and make the record feel bloated whenever I put it on.

Bonus points for improving “Strangers When We Meet” drastically from the previous album – it’s amazing what the right producer (Brian Eno) can do to a song, and it’s one of my favourite love songs ever as a result.

Earthling

Old Verdict – 16th / Meh
New Verdict – 16th / Good

If there was any album that showed how much I’ve grown to appreciate Bowie’s discography as a whole, it’s “Earthling” – it’s still my 16th favourite album, but I’ve gone from mostly disliking it to actually liking it quite a bit.

As I listen to the other Bowie albums from this era, I start to appreciate more and more what he’s going for here. “Little Wonder” is fantastic, “Seven Years in Tibet” has always been an underrated favourite of mine, and even “Law (Earthlings On Fire)” has grown on me considerably as an album closer.

I can’t imagine myself ever recommending this to anyone, but the uniqueness of it all really appeals to me.

Hours …

Old Verdict – 23rd / Bad
New Verdict – 22nd / Meh

The only “Meh” album of the lot, “Hours …” just teeters on the line between bad and passable – and ends up being possibly the most forgettable album of the lot.

In fairness, it was quite noble of Bowie to release an album that helps insomniacs get some sleep.

Heathen

Old Verdict – 15th / Meh
New Verdict – 17th / Good

It was so painful for me to move Heathen down to the 17th spot – it’s still a really good album that I listen to from time to time, but it doesn’t exactly hook me.

The more introspective and dark songs like “Sunday”, “Slip Away” and “Heathen (The Rays)” are some of Bowie’s best work late in his career, but there are just too many tracks on here that I’d rather skip. I’ve definitely grown to appreciate it more, but it’s still far from perfect.

Reality

Old Verdict – 22nd / Bad
New Verdict – 21st / OK

There are a few Bowie fans that claim this is a really underrated album in his discography, but I’d have to disagree. It’s not as awful as I made it out to be on first listen, but similarly to “Heathen” there are too many filler tracks on here.

Still, when this album peaks it peaks hard – “New Killer Star” is a fantastic opener, “Days” has grown on me more than I ever thought it would, and “Bring Me The Disco King” might just be my favourite Bowie song since the ’80s. Flawed, but fascinating.

The Next Day

Old Verdict – 17th / Meh
New Verdict – 19th / Good

Another album that went down in my rankings, yet I’ve grown to appreciate it a lot more – it’s actually quite remarkable that Bowie managed to make 19 of his 26 studio albums worthwhile listens.

I think the two classics “Where Are We Now?” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” are still my favourites, but other surprising tracks like the titular opener and closer “Heat” have grown on me.

As with a few of the other lower ranked “Good” albums, I hardly ever find myself re-listening to the entire album nowadays, so that’s why I’ve ranked it as low as 19th (there is a lot of competition after all).

Blackstar

Old Verdict – 4th / Amazing
New Verdict – 4th / All-Time Great

The more I listen to this album, the more comfortable I am putting it among the all-time greats. It’s Bowie’s most consistent record alongside “Station To Station”, and the similarities this has to my favourite album of his can only be a good thing.

Other than “Girl Loves Me” (which is a little weird), every song on here is absolutely fantastic – “Blackstar” is an epic opener rivalled only by “Station to Station”, “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” has grown on me a lot with every listen, “Lazarus” is as poignant as ever, “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” still slaps, and the final two tracks “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” never fail to stir up some emotions in me.

Aaaaaaaand that’s my list! I reckon I’ve still got a couple of Bowie lists in me, but until then you should check out my latest blog posts below:

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