Album Poll, Day 1: One-Votes to 30-20

If the song poll was a cavalry battle, the “readers’ favorite Bowie albums” poll was trench warfare.

The song poll’s results came after many sweeps and shifts, with a wide range of songs jockeying for position during the vote tallying. The album poll, by contrast, quickly settled into a long slog between two LPs for the top slot, while three albums slugged it out in the middle of the top 10. The rest of the list soon sorted itself out, position-wise. The top 15 was cemented by the time I’d compiled 100 ballots (out of roughly 350 cast).

So, at least within the confines of this poll, there’s a substantial consensus on what the top Bowie albums are. You’ll find out soon enough.

But first, as in the song poll, here are the single-vote picks: those albums loved by one single voter. Mainly a list of bootlegs and compilations:

R-3662407-1339353221-9333.jpeg

Blackstar (one clairvoyant, or optimistic, voter). ChangesTwoBowie. Christiane F. (soundtrack). Images: 1966-1967. iSelect. Nothing Has Changed. Peter and the Wolf. A Reality Tour. Live Santa Monica ’72. A Portrait in Flesh (bootleg: Los Angeles, 5 September 1974). 50th Birthday Bash (bootleg: New York, 8 January 1997). Heaven’s In Here (bootleg: Tin Machine, Chicago, 7 December 1991). Sound + Vision (voter specified the original 1989 set).

Then the handful-favorites:

Lust for Life; Glass Spider (2 points/votes each); All Saints; Ziggy Stardust: the Motion Picture (soundtrack) (3 points/votes); Labyrinth (soundtrack), Bowie at the Beeb (4 points/votes); Baal (5 points/votes); Deram Anthology (5 points, 1 vote—its sole vote was a #1); Tin Machine II (6 points/votes); ChangesOneBowie (6 points, 2 votes, 1 #1 vote).

Now, we reach the outer regions. The top 30-20 Bowie albums, starting with the last “underrated” Bowie LP?:

R-218806-1189191713.jpeg

30. ‘hours…’ (7 points/votes).

I’ve watched [friends] flounder a little over the last 10 years, when they’re reaching that stage where it’s very, very hard to start a new life. Some of them are affected with resignation and some of them, a certain bitterness maybe…they found themselves in relationships that aren’t what they had expected to be in when they were younger.

Bowie, 1999.

‘Hours . . .’ wafts into the room, breezily delivers its angsty arabesques and afterlife lullabies, and then luminously bows out in a succinct 45:42… an album that improves with each new hearing…further confirmation of Richard Pryor’s observation that they call them old wise men because all them young wise men are dead.

Greg Tate, Rolling Stone, 1999.

THREE WAY TIE, 29-27, among albums that have little to do with each other:

R-3462598-1379584073-9632.jpeg

Stage (10 points/votes).

This particular package, extravagant yet minimal, arrives hard on the heels of a critically and commercially successful world tour: to capitalise on the thousands thirsting for vinyl souvenirs – love me, love my records – and to conveniently fill the contract quota. Spanning four sides and six years, it’s an obvious complement to the earlier, more fraught ‘David Live’ – there being no reduplication of any songs therein – and serves as a suitably ‘weighty’ and timely summary to the latest (and to many, the most interesting) stage.

Jon Savage, Sounds, 1978.

David Bowie

Leon (10 points, 6 votes, 1 #1 vote).

(For new readers asking ‘wait, what the hell is Leon?’ A not-quite-album, Leon is a bootleg collection of three 20-minute mood/song suites that were later cut up and diced into Outside.)

Our conceptual parameters are not that dissimilar. Brian would often set tasks which would define the movements of the day and then we would work according to that plan, which he would redefine in the studio. This is a great way to start because, as Brian often says, “When you ask musicians to jam, the common ground will always be the bloody blues.” So you always end up with these endless, boring bloody blues pieces. Brian’s thing is to break the structure from the beginning of the day and enter into a feeling of improvisation from new places.

Bowie, 1994.

Never Let Me Down (10 points, 6 votes, 1 #1 vote).

My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it’s in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it’s a failure artistically, it doesn’t bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it. [laughs] In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes.

Bowie, 1995.

Never Let Me Down is an inspired and brilliantly crafted work. It’s charged with a spirit that makes art soul food; imbued with the contagious energy that gives ideas a leg to stand on.

Glenn O’Brien, Spin review, 1987.

yugotin

26. Tin Machine (11 points/votes).

We were sick of turning on the radio and hearing disco and dance music and drum machines, which I think in the business they call “crap.”

Tony Sales, 1989.

I’ve never been worried about losing fans. I just haven’t bothered to put that into practice recently. My strength has always been that I never gave a shit about what people thought of what I was doing. I’d be prepared to completely change from album to album and ostracize everybody that may have been pulled in to the last album. That didn’t ever bother me one iota. I’m sort of back to that again…

Bowie, 1989.

iggy77

25. The Idiot (13 points, 9 votes, 1 #1 vote).

Iggy is in great shape – he’s not the drug-crazed lunatic of yore. Iggy is very together…he’s still got mischief forever. And it’s a great album. David plays saxophone on it. Everybody’s gonna find out where all the punk bands that are making it did their homework. I mean, Iggy’s so far ahead of everybody…

RCA official, to Wesley Strick, Circus, 1977.

I was happy to be a guinea pig if [Bowie] had a new idea. The more obscure and weird the idea, that’s what I wanted.

Iggy Pop.

CAREER SPANNING TWO-WAY TIE for 24-23: young man; rich man:

David Bowie (1967) (14 points, 10 votes, 1 #1 vote).

It was such a weird album. I can’t believe it got released.

Gus Dudgeon, 1993.

Oh, that thing… that was on a very semi-professional basis. I was still working as a commercial artist then, and I made that kind of in my spare time, taking days off work and all that. I never followed it up, did any stage work or anything. I just did an album, ’cause I’d been writing, y’know, sent my tape into Decca and they said they’d make an album. Thought it was original.

Bowie, to Lenny Kaye, 1973.

Tonight (14 points, 10 votes, 1 #1 vote).

It was rushed. The process wasn’t rushed; we actually took our time recording the thing; Let’s Dance was done in three weeks, Tonight took five weeks or something, which for me is a really long time. I like to work fast in the studio. There wasn’t much of my writing on it ’cause I can’t write on tour and I hadn’t assembled anything to put out. But I thought it a kind of violent effort at a kind of Pin Ups.

Bowie, 1987.

Tonight is not a great album. It is, however, a good album, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a much better album than you think it is, or may have been led to believe. Bowie’s made some subpar records, but this isn’t one of them—and frankly, even its failures aren’t boring, because, well, it’s an ‘80s Bowie album, from a decade in which he was wildly inconsistent, but also never dull. And remember: your family is a football team.

Thomas Inskeep, 2005.

dl

22. David Live (17 points, 9 votes, 2 #1 votes).

The artiste at his laryngeal nadir, mired in bullshit pessimism and arena-rock pandering–and the soul frills just make it worse.

Robert Christgau.

The first track, “1984” burst into the room, and again Bowie settled back in a chair to listen. While the album was playing, several of the musicians traveling with him and some of the MainMan staff came into the room to hear it. Bowie was very much a musician, not a “personality” in the manner of so many rock stars when they listen to their own music. He was like a fan pointing out special touches – some crisp guitar lick or a particularly hot saxophone solo – that delighted him. There were, quite justifiably, many reasons for his delight. Though it is a bit dangerous making such judgements on the basis of a single listening, David Live is quite possibly the best live rock album I’ve ever heard – an urgent, highly accessible, brilliantly performed collection.

Robert Hilburn, Melody Maker, 1974.

WE END ON ONE LAST TIE, 21-20:

Black Tie White Noise (19 points/votes).

I knew what people would think when they heard I was going back in to work with Nile. But I was thinking, ‘I hope this doesn’t turn into another ‘Let’s Dance’,’ and that probably drove me even harder. It is a very personal album.

Bowie, 1993.

Black Tie is a very straight album. The skills which were once Bowie’s by default have been irretrievably passed on to the kind of talents he used to eat for breakfast, and he is left flapping alone, a mudskipper when the mud’s dried up. Welcome to the middle-aged disco, welcome to the dehydrated dance and, once past the hopeful roar of the instrumental opening ‘Wedding’, welcome to the disinherited second cousin of Let’s Dance again (like we did last summer).

Dave Thompson, The Rocket, 1993.

Pin Ups (19 points/votes).

This flashy tribute to the English scene, ca. 1966, remains Bowie’s quirky triumph–not that he’d come up with any other kind of triumph. I mean, who else could sing ‘Here Comes the Night’ as a raging queen and make it sound right?

Greil Marcus.

In those days [the 1960s] I was an audience, but I never dressed like anybody that was in the rock business.

Bowie, 1973.

Next: Bowie albums, 19-11 (I think—unless I find enough time to put it all together tomorrow. but most likely 19-11).

49 Responses to Album Poll, Day 1: One-Votes to 30-20

  1. Ramzi says:

    Sad to see Hours rank so low. No-one’s favourite, but not a bad album by any means

    • Vinnie says:

      Thinking about it, ‘hours…’ really is my least favorite Bowie. I can find better things to say about the Tin Machine records! e.g., “Tin Machine? At least it isn’t ‘hours…’

    • ecsongbysong says:

      I agree with you. I might even go you one better and say I think it’s a very good album. In retrospect, in fact, and having seen some “strategic voting” in the song list, I wish I’d put “Hours” at #1 just to push it up higher.

      It is, I found myself thinking, the sole case of Chris’s very astute criticism in this blog leading me to disagree with him: in almost every other case, his dislike or like for something that I liked or disliked would lead me to reassess, but when he would dismiss or quibble with or even slag something from “Hours” I would grow defensive, even a little angry. “Back off!” I think I thought, more than once. The record is like a misunderstood kid on the playground, or a little baby bird fallen out of its nest who needs sheltering in a twig-stuffed shoebox. It’s weird, and sad, and its experiments work or don’t work but are always interesting, and despite being assembled from scraps or pilfered from Reeves’s solo album or lifted whole from pieces of a seemingly-unplayable video game, it feels like maybe the most nakedly personal thing Bowie ever made — which itself is probably a trick he was pulling on us, but good on him for thinking to pull it. “Hours” always gives me joy: it’s a record I truly love.

      That said, with the exception of “Tonight” — hats off, whoever put that one at #1 — I can’t honestly argue that any of the other records here doesn’t deserve its place. As always, readers, you’ve demonstrated superb taste — and as always, Chris, thanks for so much great reading!

      • col1234 says:

        did i slag that much of it? I don’t like “The Dreamers” which got a lot of commenter pushback, and “Thursday’s Child” is a song I’ll never play willingly, but the rest of it was alright to good, i think i wrote.

      • ecsongbysong says:

        There was precious little outright slagging. But, as they say, no one talks that way about my little brother except me.

      • My top 10 was already done, when on an impulse I decided to take Ziggy Stardust out in favlr of Hours. It has a special place in my heart since it was the first Bowie album I ever got, so I’m not sure if the clouds my judgement, but I find it to be one of his most emotionally affecting albums. I never expected it to oand in the top10, but I’m a little shocked to see it is the lowest-ranked studio album. However, it’s comforting to see that people thar love it are passionate about it. I almost wish I had given it a strategic #1 vote. I probably would have if I hadn’t expected my #1 pick to have a real but tough shot at the top spot.

      • ecsongbysong says:

        You took out “Ziggy Stardust” for it? Wow. You are a true “Hours” fan, and I take my hat off to you.

      • President Joan says:

        Ah, yeah, “hours …”.

        In this 30-21 section, I especially dearly remember that lovely album which felt like a gift to us, released a short time before our first child was born. We played the album on repeat.

        Our son was expected on a Thursday, and the song Thursday’s child was instantly and forever connected to him, even before his birth. (Of course, he wasn’t born on that expected day, but being seven days late, he was (is) still a Thursday’s child.🙂

    • fluxkit says:

      Surely the album is better than NLMD and Tonight. I think it is better than the Tin Machine albums, for consistency, but it’s less interesting and nothing much stands out usually from it for me. On the Tin Machine albums and those ’80s records, there are more things that stand out and give them character, at least.

    • Brian Busby says:

      Confirms my long held opinion that hours… is Bowie’s most underrated album (writes the man who didn’t vote for it).

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        To borrow an observation – something linked to by Chris on Tumblr, as it happens – about the Star Wars prequels (which, perhaps uniquely, I mostly like), Bowie’s worst records may have been artistic failures, but at least they were authentic failures. They do have character.

        And Hours deserves better than 30th place for sure.

      • Maj says:

        Out of the no. 30 – 20 albums (excluding Iggy’s) here, Hours is my favourite, but I still don’t like it enough for it to have scraped into my top 10. So I’m not surprised abt its placing.
        I wish it had a better reputation, but I can’t very well go around shouting “it’s better than Hunky Dory!”, that really wouldn’t help – plus I don’t think so.

        I do think the album suffers a) from the late 90’s production, b) from comparison to Bowie’s other work. It would have been a great album coming from most other rock/folk/pop people at that time, IMO.

  2. Claws-on says:

    Wow, who put NLMD as their #1? An arch-contrarian no doubt.

    • Bowietie Daddy says:

      I’m guilty, sir. But I’ll never let you down (again), oh oh oh. I’m on a mission. One day everyone will agree with me. Music critics included.

  3. Alon Shmuel says:

    Well, two of my entries got mentioned here, and I’m quite sure that the other 8 will be featured on the next list. I kind of regret that I decided against including K-Tel’s Best of Bowie 1980 album, which is surely better than ChangesTwo, but what’s done is done.
    Speaking of 80’s compilations, I seem to remember that ChangesTwoBowie boasted a different mix to Wild is the Wind. Was it true?

    • col1234 says:

      just a single edit? (“WitW” was issued as the single from ChangesTwo in ’81)

      • Alon Shmuel says:

        Probably, thanks! Things were different then, w/o internet… My friend had the C2B album and I remembered something different about it. Best of Bowie was packed with odd edits.

      • Matt says:

        There is no single edit of Wild Is The Wind, but the video produced for it to promote ChangesTwoBowie uses an edit, which is where the confusion most probably lies.

    • Jasmine says:

      For RSD 2016, Bowienet has announced AA Side: WitW (2010 Harry Maslin mix single edit). Does anyone here know what on earth this edit is? As far as I know, there is no single edit?

      • col1234 says:

        am guessing it’s a new edit of the Maslin mix from the StoS reissue in 2010 (which weirdly has a diff. vocal on it in places). whether this is of any value is another question.

      • Jasmine says:

        Thank you for your reply and yes, it seems likely. I’m disappointed, seems a missed opportunity – it would have been great to see the 1981 video edit get a vinyl release (any audio release!) which would be poignant.

  4. Abby says:

    I’m surprised the Ziggy soundtrack didn’t get more love. I didn’t submit a list, but I listen to that album at least once a week and it would definitely be in my top 10.

  5. Galdo says:

    I’m glad ‘Leon’ it’s on the list (maybe a bit low?). It’s one of the best things he’s done and it does deserve a bit of spreading. I would never listen to it if it wasn’t the ‘Leon’ entries. Thank you Chris for that!!!! And the person who leaked it to whoever it is.

  6. Mike says:

    What an odd assortment ChangesTwo was.

  7. MC says:

    So far, none of my 10 choices have made it on. Very curious to see how the list plays out. Not surprised that Hours was so low. I would definitely rank it above the mid-80’s nadir, and definitely Black Tie, White Noise as well. I think, whatever its failures, it’s an eminently listenable album, all the way through, unlike some of the others.

  8. Paul O says:

    Big love to my fellow #1 voter (and the seven other voters) for David Live, an album that changed my life as much as Hunky Dory had previously done.

    And thrilled to see The Idiot (my #9) in the Top 25 and Stage (my honorable mention) in the Top 30. I have a feeling most if not all of my other eight will make the consensus Top 10–here’s hoping that my DIShonorable mention isn’t up there as well.

  9. ush…thats a toxic judgement on BTWN….
    I dont think its the most exiting album of all times but I think that review was really unfair..

    • Paul O says:

      When it comes to Bowie’s collaborations with Nile Rodgers, Black Tie White Noise is my favorite, actually. By a wide margin. Still not Top 10 caliber, though.

  10. Also..why didnt David show more love for hes 1967 work..this and the Deram one is very special to a lot of fans, and some of it are good songwriting as well..
    BTW…I still want a proper release of Toy..am I the only one who hate bootlegs ?

  11. I was the one who ranked The Deram Anthology as the first one. Why? It is the one I have listened the most. I consider it a marvelous piece of music, joyful, naive, weird, imaginative. Of course I know Bowie has “better” albums that has left their traces in rock history… however, I used to play it A LOT.
    These are my reason, far from being a justification😀

  12. Paul O says:

    Next: Bowie albums, 19-11 (I think—unless I find enough time to put it all together tomorrow. but most likely 19-11).

    Take your time, Chris. Love the suspense.

  13. Deanna says:

    I’m pleased BTWN got more than like 2 votes (I had very low expectations) but I still wish a miracle could have pushed it up further. I love that album so much.

    My expectations for Reality and Heathen are also quite low but I’m hoping I will be surprised. Props to the person who thought to vote for A Reality Tour. I probably should have, too.

    • Bruised Passivity says:

      That was me, and I’m a bit surprised to be the only one. I figured if I was stranded on a desert island with only one album to listen then A Reality Tour it would be. I mean where else do you find Bowie performing Changes, Be My Wife, Life on Mars, Bring Me the Disco King, Fantastic Voyage, The Motel and Heathen (and so many more) in one shot. Plus this is likely the last live album the man will ever do so… 🙂

      • Peter says:

        I’m glad you did. I totally agree with you on the island and one album thing, but I completely forgot to include this album in my list.

      • Abby says:

        That’s a great album. I’m really surprised the live albums in general didn’t get more love. I love Bowie’s energy live; the live versions tend to have more warmth and emotion than the studio versions (for example, I think the Nassau Coliseum recording of “Station to Station” is much more fun to listen to than the studio version).

      • Paul O says:

        My feelings about David Live and Stage in a nutshell, Abby.

      • Abby says:

        It’s funny — I find David Live impossible to listen to all the way through, and I expected to love it given how much I like his other live stuff. I think it’s because he sounds so very, very ill. I have the same reaction to Young Americans (the album as a whole, not the song). I haven’t heard Stage yet; must put it on my list.

      • Paul O says:

        But DL and YA are both so ALIVE and funky. And Stage is great, especially if you love the Berlin albums…or want to learn to love them.

      • rob thomas says:

        I love the live albums (was surprised that Motion Picture was so low in the ranks), but REality Tour just wasn’t on my radar somehow. You’ve just changed that. CD is on the way…

  14. colincidence says:

    NMLD > Tonight. Tin Machine II > I. Hours > most of this page.

    …maybe I should’ve voted.

  15. Lux says:

    I apparently was the one vote for Images: 1966/1967. A friend of a friend had it in high school way back in 1973. I didn’t even remember the name of it until recently but those crazy comic strip illustrations were unforgettable. But it’s pretty much the same as #24, David Bowie (1967) with more songs and better liner notes – After Dark magazine rather than the ramblings of Kenneth (Judy Garland for the Rock Generation) Pitt.

  16. I love Stage although did not include live albums in my top 10.

  17. Just wondering, Chris: do you have your own list of top songs/albums? And if you do, will you share it at some point?

  18. Bruised Passivity says:

    I raise my glass high to those who voted for the Labryrinth OST and for Baal OST, can’t say that crossed my mind as serious contenders but they are deserving of love.🙂

    As for Hours placing lower than Tonight and NLMD I am really surprised, I would strongly argue that the song crafting is far superior on Hours than on these particular albums. That being said I didn’t choose Hours for my top 10 nor did I pick a single hours track for my songs so it’s definetly not an album that is easy to connect with. I would however place it in my top 15 albums and far and away above Pin Ups. I must be missing a nostalgia factor with regards to PU love. Anyone want to explain, please?🙂

    • wytchcroft says:

      i know, it’s odd since
      i) “Hours” is quite ‘buddha of suburbia’ actually.
      ii) then again if you resequence starting with ‘New Angels’ you can make a convincing Outside vol2 (if you squint)
      iii) ‘Thursdays Child’ gets so trashed yet everyone loves ‘Where are we now?’ which is the same song.
      (if people decide to take Lazarus over Slip Away i will…
      sulk.
      a bit.

  19. Maj says:

    Now lookie here. Turns out I’m a bit more underground when it comes to albums. no single votes from me, but Beeb & Baal were in my top 10.

    (I suspect my no. 1 will be no. 1 or no. 2 in the least, so not quite that underground, mind you.)

    No surprises for me in this lower placing portion of the results.

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