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:
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?:
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.
‘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:
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.
Leon (10 points, 6 votes, 1 #1 vote).
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
In those days [the 1960s] I was an audience, but I never dressed like anybody that was in the rock business.
Next: Bowie albums, 19-11 (I think—unless I find enough time to put it all together tomorrow. but most likely 19-11).