January 10, 2016 the world lost a true music icon in David Bowie. For over four decades Bowie pushed the envelope and delivered an eclectic body of work that will live on forever.
The last eighteen months of his life, Bowie was fighting an aggressive form of liver cancer. While Bowie knew his time was limited, he continued to work and deliver one last record Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday, just two days prior to his death.
It's pretty tough to sum up what David Bowie's legacy will be as he was a chameleon and meant so much to a wide variety of people. I'm guessing Bowie would like to be remembered as a true artist because his musical library is truly a work of art.
I decided the best way to work through the sadness of losing such a great visionary would be to put some records on the turntable and enjoy what he gave to the world. Below you will find a list of five of my favorite records from David Bowie and ones that I think scratch the surface of telling his musical history. I did not include The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars because I felt like that is an album that everyone already owns and knows back and forth. It is essential, no question, but so are these.......
Hunky Dory (1971)
Technically Bowie's fourth studio release but for a lot of reasons it feels like a new beginning and a debut. Bowie had signed a new deal with RCA for this record and also brought in producer Ken Scott to oversee the record in place of Tony Visconti, who had produced Bowie's two previous records, Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World. Visconti had also been Bowie's bass player but was replaced by Trevor Bolder. With Bolder on board Bowie had found the last piece of the puzzle for his band known as The Spiders From Mars for the next couple of years.
With all these new beginnings it seems rather fitting that the albums opening track is "Changes". The lyrics for "Changes" seem to echo David's thoughts on how everything around you is in a constant state of change and this is something that would ring true for his entire career. Although not a Top 40 smash for Bowie, "Changes" would prove to be one of his most enduring songs and the last song he would perform live before retiring from the stage in 2006. Other highlights on Hunky Dory include "Oh, You Pretty Things", "Kooks", "Andy Warhol", "Queen Bitch" and "Life On Mars". Hunky Dory set the tone for Bowie's next few albums and a period of great success. Bowie himself felt that Hunky Dory was the album that gave him an audience and considered it one of the most important albums of his career.
The Lodger (1979)
The Lodger is the third album in the "Berlin Trilogy". The trilogy began with 1977's Low and Heroes. Bowie worked closely with Brian Eno on all three records in the "Berlin Trilogy" and they are considered some of his most experimental music of his entire career.
Many unusual recording techniques were used during the "Berlin Trilogy". In the case of The Lodger, guitarist Adrian Belew cut many of his guitar parts to backing tracks that he had no prior exposure to and sometimes didn't know what key the song was in. In other instances musicians were asked to play instruments that they were not familiar with.
While The Lodger was still continuing in Bowie's "experimental" stage, it didn't push boundaries quite as much as the previous two records. The Lodger had more of a pop sensibility and tighter song structures. I think all three "Berlin" records are important but The Lodger reigns as my favorite. "DJ", "Look Back In Anger" and "Boys Keep Swinging" are all classic tracks.
Scary Monsters (1980)
After Bowie's highly experimental and artistic venture of the "Berlin Trilogy", there was an effort to make a commercial mark with his next album, Scary Monsters.
It was a new decade and Bowie was ready for the next chapter. The birth of the MTV generation was still a year away, but Bowie had already embraced the new visual medium like no other. Two classic videos were made for the Scary Monsters record, "Ashes to Ashes" and "Fashion". Both videos garnered heavy rotation when MTV hit the airwaves in August of 1981. At the time "Ashes to Ashes" was the most expensive music video ever made. It is no surprise that Bowie was ahead of the curve when it came to making music videos.
Scary Monsters was a commercial success and brought Bowie his first UK No' 1 since 1974's Diamond Dogs and his highest chart position in America since 1977's Low.
Promo posters for the new Bowie album stated "Often Copied, Never Equaled" - can't argue with that statement at all.
Scary Monsters remains one of my all time favorite Bowie records. It would be his last record for RCA, who had been his label since Hunky Dory. Bowie signed with EMI in 1983 for his Let's Dance album which would continue his commercial renaissance.
Tin Machine (1989)
The unexpected success of 1983's Let's Dance album led to a creative slump for Bowie. Let's Dance had become the biggest selling album of his career and he felt like he needed to follow up it's success with more of the same. In the end the two records that followed Let's Dance were not as well received and Bowie has jokingly referred to that time period as his "Phil Collins Years".
In an attempt to refuel his creative energy Bowie formed the band Tin Machine. Unlike his previous band The Spiders From Mars, Tin Machine a true democratic venture with creative input from the whole band. Bowie wanted a stripped down rock sound for this record and felt like this was a good way to regain his vision as an artist. The album was recorded quickly and with very few overdubs.
The Tin Machine record has many great songs on it including "Under the God", "Crack City", "Bus Stop", "Prisoner of Love" and a fantastic cover of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero".
Some suggest the work that Bowie did with Tin Machine as a precursor to grunge. I have included it on the list of albums because it was the vehicle that enabled Bowie to continue making amazing records for another two decades. If Tin Machine had not happened Bowie may have very well packed it in. For that reason, I see this as one of his most important records. Check it out.
Released on his 69th birthday and just two days prior to his death, Blackstar shows Bowie determined to be creative right to the end.
Bowie began work on Blackstar shortly after his last album, The Next Day, was released in 2013. Bowie knew it was going to be his last record and wanted to finish it for his fans and say goodbye with a gift of music.
I have not spent a lot of time with this record yet but from my initial spins I feel it's as important as any record he has made in the last 49 years..
Two videos were released from the record prior to his passing, "Blackstar" and "Lazarus". Bowie had no interest in repeating his past, even in his last days he was still reinventing his music and his artistic visions. Blackstar may not click immediately with some but in time it will all make sense.
Many heartfelt tribute have popped up over the past few days but Bowie's longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti said it best with this quote...
"He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life—a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."
RIP David Bowie
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps andReturning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.