Bowie Albums Ranked by Lyrics

A few weeks ago, I picked my favourite lyric on every Bowie song. You can find that list here. But that got me thinking – how would I rank the albums based on their lyrical quality?

Just to clarify, this is purely looking at the lyrics across the board, and has nothing to do with the musical quality. Consistency is key for this ranking!

Before we begin, you can check out some of my related blog posts below:


26 – PinUps

“PinUps” is easily one of my least favourite Bowie albums, mainly because it’s a collection of boring covers. That also means none of the lyrics are original!

Some of them are decent, with songs like “Sorrow” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” being good fun, but if it’s not Bowie penning the words I can’t appreciate them. Couldn’t be anything other than last place.

25 – David Bowie (1967)

My least favourite Bowie album, and one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard. I hate the songwriting and the production, but the lyrics are the really disappointing aspect.

He’s trying way too hard to be Vaudevillian and different, so the lyrics and stories come across as tacky and outdated. There’s a fun line here or there, but that’s about it.


24 – Never Let Me Down

Bowie’s “jumping the shark” album, “Never Let Me Down” was a critical and commercial disaster. When you analyse the music and lyrics, it’s not hard to see why.

Tracks like “Time Will Crawl” and maybe “Day-In Day-Out” have a certain charm, but otherwise it’s all soulless pop that dribbles out of his mouth.


23 – Buddha of Suburbia

It’s a testament to Bowie’s talent and consistency that 23 out of his 26 albums have, at the very least, a decent lyrical quality.

“Buddha of Suburbia” has a lot of instrumental tracks that hurt its case on this list, and most of the other songs are quite generic. The clear stand-out is the title track, a fantastic song that weaves a fascinating story.

22 – Tonight

Bowie’s record label forced him to churn out a new album shortly after the success of “Let’s Dance”, and it shows.

“Tonight” isn’t bad lyrically, but you can tell it’s rushed. “Loving The Alien” is a great one, but otherwise it’s quite generic.

21 – Earthling

In the defence of “Earthling”, I don’t think Bowie was aiming for lyrical brilliance. It’s more of a showcase of jungle / techno sounds, where the production takes centre stage.

That being said, there are some really good lyrics on here – “I’m Afraid of Americans”, “Little Wonder” and “Seven Years in Tibet” all come to mind. Unfortunately, the others are quite bare-bones.


20 – Low

“Low” is my second-favourite Bowie album, and on a good day it might even come in first place. It’s many things, but a lyrical masterclass it is not.

Bowie and producer Brian Eno focussed more on textures than on lyrics, and as a result the tracklist is made up of either instrumentals like “Art Decade” or songs with no real meaning like “Sound and Vision”. Amazing from start to finish, but not an album I play for the lyrics.

19 – Reality

Some Bowie fans hold a soft spot for “Reality” and point to it as one of his most underrated efforts, but I still haven’t fully bought into it.

Songs like “Days” and “Bring Me The Disco King” have fabulous lyrical stories, but the rest are just kinda generic rock lyrics.

18 – Black Tie White Noise

Mostly made up of covers and instrumentals, but when the true Bowie songs on “Black Tie White Noise” come through they shine.

The title track is a great stance on racial tensions, “The Wedding Song” is a beautiful ode to his new wife, and “Jump They Say” is a moving homage to his brother’s untimely death.

17 – Let’s Dance

Bowie “sold out” in the 80’s, and his lyrics were hit hard from “Let’s Dance” onwards. Luckily, the songs here still have a creative flair.

“Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance” are pure, commercial fun, and tracks like “China Girl” and “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” give Bowie the chance to flex his lyrical muscles.

16 – Young Americans

Bowie self-labelled “Young Americans” as “plastic soul”, and nowhere does that sentiment come across better than in the lyrics.

Some songs like the title track, “Fame” and “Win” nail the assignment, while others like “Fascination” and “Right” feel bare-bones and broad. I still like those songs, but I listen to them for the music rather than the words.

15 – “Heroes”

Instrumental tracks not included, “Heroes” could have made the top 5. The title track is rousing, “Sons of the Silent Age” is bitter, and “Blackout” contains all of that post-war intensity that the album is famous for.

Unfortunately, a large chunk of the tracklist is made up of instrumental tracks – and not particularly good ones at that. As such, it has to settle for a bottom-half finish.

14 – The Next Day

Bowie’s 2013 comeback, and there’s a newfound sense of maturity in the set of lyrics too.

“Where Are We Now?” is Bowie at his most vulnerable, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” has a great intensity, and “I’d Rather Be High” is a brilliant critique of war. The album drags in places, but the high points have some fantastic lyrics attached to them.

13 – The Man Who Sold the World

Bowie was still finding his groove on these early albums, but even so “The Man Who Sold the World” feels like a step down compared to the previous year’s “Space Oddity”.

“The Width of a Circle” and the title track are some of Bowie’s best-ever lyrics, and the rest of the album isn’t half bad, but I guess I just wanted more.


12 – hours …

I don’t like “hours …” that much as a Bowie album, as it’s far too tame and forgettable for my liking. The lyrics, however, are Bowie on top form.

The stripped-back approach to the songwriting gives the lyrics the chance to shine, and tracks like “Thursday’s Child”, “Seven” and “What’s Really Happening?” are wonderfully mellow and introspective.

11 – Aladdin Sane

Bowie’s follow-up to Ziggy Stardust, “Aladdin Sane” feels like Ziggy’s younger, friskier, more American little brother.

There are some really fascinating stories here, like on the title track and “Drive-In Saturday”, but I really love the tenderness displayed on the closer – “Lady Grinning Soul”. Consistently great across the board.

10 – Station to Station

My favourite Bowie album, but it only just makes the top ten best lyrics. That’s partly because of the limited tracklist, but also just that I think the stories painted on the rest of the albums are slightly better.

Every song here has some great lyrics, with “TVC-15”, “Stay” and “Golden Years” providing the fun, but it’s the title track, “Wild is the Wind” and especially “Word on a Wing” that I love for their lyrics.

9 – Lodger

The weakest entry of the Berlin Trilogy, and yet “Lodger” is the best when it comes to the lyrics.

Bowie travelled the world to build up this album’s tracklist, and that really comes across in both the music and the stories he weaves. I really love songs like “Fantastic Voyage” and “Repetition” for how they don’t shy away from harsh topics.

8 – Heathen

Bowie needed to do something drastic to win back critics and fans after the disappointment of “hours …”, and “Heathen” was the perfect return to Bowie brilliance.

He and Visconti do a great job with production, but the lyrics are what makes this such a dark and fun listen. “Sunday” and “Slip Away” are extremely sombre, and the title track always gets me close to tears.

7 – Space Oddity

David Jones transformed into David Bowie on “Space Oddity”, and this was when the true brilliance of the man was unveiled to the world.

This is Bowie at his most singer-songwriter, and he puts his heart and soul into each song’s vivid story. Any new songwriters should read these lyrics to see what the standard is.


6 – Blackstar

I think it’s fitting that “Blackstar” places over “Space Oddity” – Bowie’s lyrics remained on top form across his fifty year career, and if anything he got better as he went along.

It’s a limited tracklist like on “Station to Station”, but the self-reflective look on life and whether it was all worth it makes this the most sombre Bowie album by far. “Lazarus”, “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are heart-breaking.

5 – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Moving into a new decade, Bowie needed to make a statement. He couldn’t have done much better than he did on “Scary Monsters”.

“Ashes to Ashes” has always been a favourite, “It’s No Game” is a brilliant book-end to the album, and “Teenage Wildlife” may just be the best lyrical showcase he ever did.

4 – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The classic concept album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” is chalked full of fantastic storytelling and fun lyrical romps.

“Five Years” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” pack a lyrical punch, whilst “Starman”, “Moonage Daydream” and “Ziggy Stardust” are crowd-pleasers. There are a couple of boring ones, however – namely “Star” and “Lady Stardust” – that hold this back from a top three finish.

3 – Diamond Dogs

Maybe this is a controversial opinion, but I like the concept and overall story of “Diamond Dogs” better than “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”.

It helps that George Orwell’s 1984 served as inspiration, with songs like “We Are The Dead”, “Big Brother” and “1984” adding to the mythos.

It would be remiss of me to neglect the magnum opus of the album – the “Sweet Thing” trilogy is a phenomenal example of vivid storytelling, and it’s easily one of Bowie’s best ever lyrics.

All-Time Great

2 – 1. Outside

Bowie’s creative return to form in the 90’s came with the Brian Eno collaboration “1. Outside”, and the two of them used every trick in the book to make the album as unique as possible.

Musically and lyrically, this is Bowie’s most underrated album by far. Even the songs I’m not crazy about have fascinating lyrics, and the overall story it tells is his most in-depth and complex. If I had to pick favourites right at this moment, I’m really liking the self-depravity of “I’m Deranged” and the sincerity of “Strangers When We Meet”.

1 – Hunky Dory

His 1967 debut was naff, “Space Oddity” was a step in the right direction, “The Man Who Sold the World” handled serious topics, and then “Hunky Dory” was the culmination of his singer-songwriter mastery.

You won’t find a weak lyric on this album – “Changes” is one of my favourites ever, “Life on Mars?” is brilliant, “Quicksand” is haunting, and “The Bewley Brothers” is an amazing story to end the album. Perfection from start to finish.

Aaaand that’s my list! You can check out some of my latest blog posts below:

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