David Bowie, the British rock star who reshaped pop music with his changing, gender bending persona, created such a vast body of work in a career that it’s difficult to narrow his best and most noteworthy albums down to five (or even ten).
And though they’re not making the list, it needs to be noted that the last two albums Bowie released in his lifetime, The Next Day, which came out in 2012, and Blackstar which was released just last Friday, on the singer’s 69th birthday, was working on an exceedingly high, restlessly creative level.
So here goes:
Station to Station (1975)
Recorded in Los Angeles at the height of mid-1970s decadence, this cocaine-fueled masterwork included two big FM radio hits in “Golden Years” and “TVC 15” and introduced Bowie’s creepily detached “Thin White Duke” persona. Brian Eno, who would work with Bowie on the “Berlin trilogy” of albums that Station to Station pointed ahead to, called it “one of the great records of all time.”
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
A concept album about a bisexual alien superstar, it built on the the success of the previous year’s Hunky Dory, which gave the world “Changes,” the anthem to reinvention which clued rock fans in that with Bowie, they should always expect the unexpected. Ziggy was Bowie and his most audaciously glam, and it produced more than its share of classic rock staples in “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Starman.”
The middle child of the Berlin trilogy - and only one recorded entirely in the then divided German capitol - “Heroes” finds Bowie and Eno’s collaboration going full throttle. The album combines the dark, experimentalism of Low with a more commercial sensibility, producing one of Bowie’s most enduring hits with the title track.
Young Americans (1975)
One of the classic reinventions of Bowie’s career, Young Americans found the glam rocker ditching his high heels and setting up shop at Sigma Sound Studio on 12th Street in Philadelphia to indulge his obsession with American soul music. He co-wrote “Fame” with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar and hired a young singer named Luther Vandross as one of his back up vocalists.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
Produced by longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, Scary Monsters repositioned Bowie as a 1980s pop superstar. With King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on board, it’s a benchmark release whose sci-fi smash hit, “Ashes To Ashes” re-introduced Major Tom, the alienated spaceman from the 1969 hit “Space Oddity,” who would frequently reappear in songs from throughout Bowie’s career.