Friday, 17 April 2015

Bowie Albums Rated - Part 2

Three of Dave's best known and best loved records earmarked the beginning of a legend. No one could have predicted it, but something very, very special was being unleashed.

Hunky Dory (1971)

There were hints of greatness on Bowie's first three records, but the first true sign that someone remarkable was in our midst came in 1971. A far cry from the ominous heavy rock of its predecessor, 'Hunky Dory' really could be regarded as Bowie's first proper triumph.

Opening with Changes, replete with strings, piano and horns, it must have come as something of a shock to those who had discovered Bowie through 'The Man Who Sold The World'. It's a remarkable song and never fails to thrill whenever I hear it; it has one of the best choruses of all time. The great thing about 'Hunky Dory' is how it maintains the standard through an array of contrasting styles. Oh! You Pretty Things - a tale of aliens visiting Earth to rid the world of humans save for its youth - is a moment of unashamed pop; Eight Line Poem is essentially a blues song; and Life On Mars?, another of Bowie's everlasting, spine-tingling marvels, revels in its lush orchestral arrangement. It also boasts one of his very best vocals.

The recurring science-fiction theme not only harked back to Space Oddity, but also looked forward to Bowie's first peak period that was to follow. In fact, 'Hunky Dory' was the first album to feature the band that would become known as the Spiders From Mars. There were, however, other nods to both the past and near future. Kooks, a song for his newly first-born son, could have nestled nicely on either of his first two albums and been one of their best tracks; while Andy Warhol and Queen Bitch were real glam rock stompers, albeit in very different ways - the former being almost entirely acoustic, and the latter sounding like a lost Velvet Underground classic. It's not perfect though. The Tiny Tim cover Fill Your Heart was a last-minute inclusion, but really wouldn't be missed, while the country-rock stylings of Song For Bob Dylan are decent enough, but sound out of place here.

It would take another year or so for the record-buying public to wake up en-masse, but there's no doubt 'Hunky Dory' was the alarm that rang just before that last little snooze...



The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Bowie fell to Earth, fully realised, in 1972 with what is his first true classic album. 'Ziggy Stardust' cannot be left off any best records of the 70s list, or any best records of all time list for that matter. Not only is it full to bursting of extraordinary material, it was a record that made a real impact on the scene of the time. Glam rock was beginning to take shape and this album, I've no doubt, brought it right to the forefront of British youth culture.

Releasing a concept album about an alien rock star would perhaps normally be seen as an off-the-wall vanity project, but for Bowie it was the natural follow-on from his previous records. Far from off-the-wall, Bowie was staking his claim as the leading pioneer of pop music, and he did it under the guise of his new invention; Bowie was Ziggy and Ziggy was Bowie.

'Ziggy' doesn't have a weak track on it, or anything close to one. Sure, there are varying degrees of brilliance, but brilliance nonetheless. Five Years is the anthemic yet doom-laden opener which fades with Ziggy's desperate screams before giving way to Soul Love, a warning of worshipping false idols. Starman rates alongside Changes as one of Bowie's outstanding early tracks, while Lady Stardust is a wonderfully soulful diversion among the glitzy glam guitars.

The very best however comes at the end, the astonishing triumvirate of Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Rock & Roll Suicide. The adoration Ziggy enjoyed on Earth is eradicated by his masters and his time is over - a comment on the music industry perhaps? Suffragette City has long been one of my fave Bowie songs, but Rock & Roll Suicide is sensational and gives me goosebumps.



Aladdin Sane (1973)

Although Ziggy Stardust was killed off, Bowie described his next record as "Ziggy in America". During his last tour, Bowie experienced all the highs and lows of the States and condensed them into songs for his sixth album. This was no concept album like its predecessor though, and sadly, 'Aladdin Sane' suffers from a lack of focus and cohesion.

There were the familiar sounds of rock in Watch That Man, The Jean Genie and the outstanding Cracked Actor (one of my all-time fave Bowie tunes), but there was also doo-wop (Drive-In Saturday), cabaret (Time), flamenco (Lady Grinning Soul) and avant-garde jazz (Mike Garson's famous piano solo in the title track). Individually, they are all fascinating snapshots of Bowie's creative mind and the range and quality of the people he worked with. As a whole though it all sounds a little disjointed.

It has grown on me over time, but I still have trouble putting it all together. It seems to me as if Bowie was beginning to tire of the glam rock sound he had practically invented and was trying to step out into pastures new. Aladdin Sane wasn't Ziggy; he seemed as mixed up as his name suggested.




  1. Seldom,if ever, has anyone produced three albums as good as this and in such quick succession

  2. Agreed.
    Swiss adam

  3. 'Hunky Dory' was my first Bowie LP and would still get the nod if I had to choose just one. I agree with your comment about 'Fill Your Heart' though, and the inclusion of 'Bombers' wouldn't have added anything to the record either. 'Ziggy' is of course a masterpiece, though sonically I feel that it hasn't aged as well as its predecessor. 'Aladdin Sane' certainly lacks cohesion, though it does include some cracking songs. 'Drive-In Saturday', if push came to shove, might well be my favourite Bowie single of this period and the title track is a stone cold masterpiece.

  4. I'm with The Swede - Hunky Dory is the one for me