David Bowie was a true genius, and arguably the greatest artist of our time. As good as he was, though, he didn’t do it all by himself. He had an array of fantastic producers helping him, and they each deserve a special mention in their own right.
I thought it would be fun to rank all of Bowie’s producer-collaborators based on how well I think they nailed the assignment. As a disclaimer – this is all obviously subjective, and since it’s hard to tell how much they contributed to an album I’ll just assume they helped a lot with each one.
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10 – Mike Vernon
- David Bowie (1967)
Mike Vernon has the unfortunate accolade of being producer on Bowie’s worst album, and one of the worst albums of all time.
Nothing about the production here is good, and it’s purely Bowie’s creativity that drags Vernon up with him on some tracks. I imagine he just didn’t understand what this peculiar lad from Brixton was going for.
9 – Reeves Gabrels
- Hours …
Reeves Gabrels is more known for his guitar work on Bowie’s later albums, but he gave production a go on “Hours …”.
Widely known as one of the Bowie’s most boring / forgettable outings, the production throughout is lacklustre and uninspired. I get that they were going for an easy-listening experience, but it isn’t for me.
8 – David Richards
- Never Let Me Down
- Buddha of Suburbia
A case of two extremes, “Never Let Me Down” is one of the worst-produced Bowie albums and “Buddha of Suburbia” is a breath of fresh air.
Fair play to Bowie for hiring Richards again after that disastrous first outing, and he got the chance to redeem himself with some quite lovely instrumental tracks.
7 – Derek Bramble / Hugh Padgham
“Tonight” is an overly hated album in Bowie’s discography, as I think a lot of the tracks ooze charm and fun. As much as I love it, though, the production is admittedly lacking.
Tracks like “Loving the Alien” and “Blue Jean” are the perfect blend of world sounds, but a lot of the others boast some of the 80’s worst clichés. Not bad at all, but I think a top producer could have made “Tonight” a classic.
6 – David Bowie
- Diamond Dogs (with Visconti)
I bet you weren’t expecting to see the man himself on this list, were you?
Bowie has two self-producing credits to his name, but to be honest I’m almost certain “Diamond Dogs” was a Visconti album. “Earthling” is all about Bowie, though, and I think he did a decent job picking the synth sounds and making it all gel together.
5 – Nile Rodgers
- Let’s Dance
- Black Tie White Noise
Nile Rodgers is a legend in his own right, so it blew me away the first time I learnt he produced not one but two Bowie albums.
“Let’s Dance” is arguably Bowie at his most iconic, and “Black Tie White Noise” is one of his most underrated. If I’m being brutally honest, though, I don’t think it’s the production on either that makes them stand out.
4 – Harry Maslin
- Young Americans (with Visconti)
- Station to Station
“Station to Station” is my favourite Bowie album of them all, and I just assumed it was the regular producer Tony Visconti. After I found out it was Harry Maslin, I just had to bump him up a tier.
He also worked on “Young Americans”, a beautifully soulful album with some wonderful arrangements and brass sounds.
3 – Ken Scott
- Hunky Dory
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
- Aladdin Sane
If Bowie had retired after the 70’s, Ken Scott would have easily been the best producer he worked with. I would have loved to see him produce more of Bowie’s work, but unfortunately it ended in 1973 with “Aladdin Sane”.
Ken Scott effectively oversaw Bowie’s rise to prominence, as from “Hunky Dory” to “Aladdin Sane” Bowie went from artistic gem to worldwide sensation. Other than “PinUps”, all of the albums he produced were some of the best in music history.
2 – Brian Eno
- 1. Outside
Brian Eno only has two albums to his name with Bowie, and yet they are two of the best-produced albums I’ve ever heard.
Both “Low” and “1.Outside” boast Bowie at his most creative and artful, and he has Eno to thank for it. They pioneered new techniques in studio recording, and that free-flowing display of talent is why both of the albums sound so unique.
1 – Tony Visconti
- Space Oddity
- The Man Who Sold the World
- Diamond Dogs (with Bowie)
- Young Americans (with Maslin)
- Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
- The Next Day
With a quite frankly ridiculous 11 credits to his name, it would have been blasphemous to put any other producer at the top spot.
Visconti worked closely with Bowie across 50 years, only pausing during the 80’s and 90’s due to a little dispute. Every album on the list above (apart from “Reality”, maybe) is a record I’d gladly listen to, and with a success rate like that it’s no wonder Bowie kept coming back to him.
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