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David Bowie - Discography Hagiography Part One

  by Mark Rowland

published: 26 / 5 / 2023

David Bowie - Discography Hagiography Part One

‘Discography Hagiography’ The lives of music legends, one disc at a time #1. David Bowie – Part One It’s hard to believe that David Bowie hasn’t been with us for seven years now. His music is so much a part of many of our lives that it’s easy to forget that he’s gone. His body of work is mostly phenomenal, but not without its peaks and troughs. A perfect figure to start our new series on the disc-by-disc evolution of music’s greats. Some ground rules for the series: this will not include bootlegs, unreleased then later released albums, best of compilations and extended anniversary editions. One, because they don’t fit the artist’s original vision, and two, because we’ll be here all day. We can give them honourable mentions if they’re particularly great, however. Now let’s get started with Bromley’s favourite son: ‘David Bowie’ (1967) David Robert Jones knew he wanted to be a star from an early age. His artistic flair was apparent in his music and movement classes. His father brought home a bunch of American rock’n’roll 45s in the mid-50s, solidifying his interest in music. Forming his first band, the Konrads, in 1962, he soon shifted to the King Bees, which landed a management deal with Leslie Conn. Their first single, ‘Liza Jane’ did nothing. A few failures later, he had left Conn and joined with Ralph Horton, who paved the way for his solo career. He became David Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees. After a few more flop singles, he put out his debut album, ‘David Bowie’. Is it bad? Yes, kind of. It’s a sort of pound shop version of what Scott Walker and Pink Floyd were doing, but with some misjudged joke elements and lyrics that are very much of their time. The compositions aren’t bad, per se, but they are very forgettable and lack any edge whatsoever. There’s potential here, but Bowie needed some time to discover himself. ‘Space Oddity’ (1969) After the failure of his debut album, Bowie spent some time studying under Lindsay Kemp, learning everything from mime to commedia dell’arte. In 1969 came the perfectly timed ‘Space Oddity’, which became Bowie’s first hit. That song, the opener on the album that would eventually go by the same name, is a big improvement on its predecessor; a mix of folk, rock and folk rock that sets a foundation of what’s to come. The influence of Bob Dylan can be felt here on tracks such as ‘Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed’ (which slightly outstays its welcome after a strong start). It is, however, clearly a bit of a rush release. Outside of the title track, ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ is the track to take away from this. ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (1970) Bowie’s more rockin’ follow up in 1970 is where he really starts becoming the spaceman we know and love. The title track is the best song by a fair margin, but the loose, fuzzy vibe of the record sets a mood drenched in the occult, which would influence his next, and arguably first great work ‘Hunky Dory’ (1971) This is one of Bowie’s best, and a personal favourite. This takes elements of the previous two records, builds on them, and brings Bowe’s quirkiness further to the fore. You have ‘Changes’ and ‘Life on Mars’. You’ve got ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ and ‘Queen Bitch’, and you’ve also got deeper cuts such as ‘Quicksand’, ‘Andy Warhol’ and ‘The Bewlay Brothers’. What a work. One album like this would be enough for any artist, but Bowie’s about to enter a golden run. ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars’ (1972) While Bowie wasn’t the first to do glam rock, he pretty much defined it, producing the finest work that the genre had to offer. His version wasn’t throwaway bubblegum pop – it was a concept album with an identity so strong that its shadow followed Bowie many transformations later. It’s a wonderful, ambitious piece of work that takes you on a journey from beginning to end. It also set a formula that Bowie followed for the next few albums. ‘Aladdin Sane’ (1973) This is an Americanised version of Bowie’s glam, defined to an extent by Mike Garson’s piano work. It’s an album that personally took me some time to love, not hitting me as hard as the preceding two albums. But its opener ‘Watch That Man’ is great, raunchy bombast. Garson’s piano is often very dominant and showy, which takes some getting used to, but some great songs – its title track, ‘Drive-In Saturday’, ‘Cracked Actor’, ‘The Jean Genie’ – cement its place in the Bowie canon. Once you get used to its deliberately off-kilter approach to glam rock, it has much to offer. ‘Pinups’ (1973) One line on this: it’s an interesting look into Bowie’s influences, and contains some really great covers. But we must move on. ‘Diamond Dogs ‘ (1974) That Bowie has produced so much great work so early in the decade is astonishing. This record is something of a transition, as Bowie became increasingly frazzled and paranoid and started to enter what’s commonly known as his ‘peppers and cocaine’ phase. This album takes the glam sound grander, wider, but equally more claustrophobic. Orwell’s 1984 was an influence (sometimes a little too obviously), as is the work of William S Burroughs. Overall, it’s fascinating to listen to the sound of a man about to make or break himself. ‘Young Americans’ (1975) The first time a post-fame Bowie album received mixed reviews, it was a big left turn after defining himself as the king of glam. A huge hit in the US, it arguably cemented Bowie as the legend that he became. While Bowie doing soul seems on paper like an odd choice, it really works, in part due to the fantastic players that Bowie surrounded himself with, but also because the songs are good. While Bowie is no soul singer, the energy with which he delivers his vocals carries him through. ‘Win’, for example, is wonderful. The dark funk of ‘Fascination’ hints at things to come. ‘Station To Station’ (1976) An album made on this much cocaine has no business being this brilliant. It may be only six tracks, but it’s perfect, taking the funk of ‘Young Americans’ and stretching it into new art rock shapes. I’d say this is one of Bowle’s sleeper all-time best albums. ‘Low’ (1977) The start of Bowie’s recovery period after a turbulent few years. Having tested his ideas on Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’, he perfected them here. This is possibly Bowie’s finest work; the angular pop of side one giving way to the atmospheric instrumentals on side two. While the second half is not as immediate as the first, it’s ultimately what makes the record so brilliant. ‘Warszawa’ sets the tone and draws you in. It’s an album that you can live in. ‘Heroes’ (1978) The only of his Berlin trilogy to be actually recorded in Berlin, ‘Heroes’ is the most accessible of this period, but it’s still quite ahead of its time, essentially paving the way for swathes of post-punk bands. ‘Heroes’ is what everyone knows, but you also have ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Joe The Lion’ and another collection of atmospheric instrumentals. ‘Lodger’ (1979) This is often overlooked, and is probably the weakest of the three ‘Berlin’ albums, but that’s not to say that it’s a bad album. Far from it, in fact. It’s a continuation from the style of songwriting that you find on ‘Heroes’, but the instrumentals are sadly gone. In its place we have the quirky art pop of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ and ominous pieces such as ‘African Night Flight’. It’s not as coherent as ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’, but it’s still worthy of being considered a part of Bowie’s golden period. After this, we end up with a more turbulent period of Bowie's career, with some very high highs. and some serious lows. There's so much to say thatit warrants a second part -stay tuned.

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David Bowie - Discography Hagiography Part One

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In the first in our new series ‘Discography Hagiography’, in which we will be providing a disc-by-disc evolution of music’s greats, Mark Rowland begins by reflecting upon the 1960’s and 1970’s career of David Bowie,

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