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David Bowie albums ranked

david bowie albums ranked

David Bowie was one of the great musical innovators of the past century, an avant-garde-obsessed pop star. On the sixth anniversary of his passing, I look back at his marvelous body of work.

I’ve ranked David Bowie’s albums in order of brilliance, from worst to best. It was no easy task to assemble such a list. This is due partly to the density of releases and, especially, because of the quality of nearly everyone one of them.

I’ve avoided live albums and compilations. Also, I made an exception and added the two albums Bowie recorded with the short-lived group Tin Machine.

Here is David Bowie’s discography ranked.

29. “Toy” (2022)

“Toy” may have been a posthumous release. Still, it was supposed to be out a long time ago, and indeed many of the songs here had been available on bootlegs.

The tunes were recorded around 2000, with Bowie leading his backing band into renditions of some of the very first songs he’d ever written.

It’s interesting to hear this highly modern, art-rock band take on folk-rock and R&B numbers. It’s a charming release and one that proves that Bowie was not just an artist but a diligent content creator as well.

“Can’t Help Thinking About Me” will be familiar to most fans and is a highlight of the record.

28. “David Bowie” (1967)

This is the debut album. The cliche about it, of course, is that this is a record where Bowie is still finding himself.

Yes, there are a lot of David Bowies on this record. All of them are fighting for a chance to make a mark on pop culture in 1967, the fabled Summer of Love.

“David Bowie” may not be instantly pleasing, but it proves one thing. He could already write very well and do so about numerous topics.

Highlights include the murder ballad of “Please Mr. Gravedigger” and the poppy “Love You Till Tuesday.”

27. “Never Let Me Down” (1987)

“Never Let Me Down” is the last of the Pop-star-trilogy. It’s acquired the reputation as Bowie’s worst 80s records. This is not entirely untrue, but it also presents it as a catastrophic failure.

It is not, but rather a rather band, uninspired effort.

The one highlight might be “Time Will Crawl.” While Bowie remained an outstanding global pop star, the artistic failure of this record made him determined to step out on the brink again.

26. “Pin Ups” (1973)

Bowie and his numerous backing bands can never be accused of doing too little or not being ambitious. Quite the opposite.

“Pin Ups” is meant to show that they could rock n roll and that they had great affection for their predecessors.

However, it’s a bit of a jumbled affair. Like Bowie’s first releases, it tries to do a lot. It attempts to show the myriad of musical influences.

On “See Emily Play,” the plan works, as does when covering The Who. Fans bought it, of course, not knowing that this was the end of one era. However, it’s not all it could have been.

25. “The Buddha of Suburbia” (1993)

David Bowie no longer needed a hit. He did, however, need to be intellectually stimulated by his projects.

“The Buddha of Suburbia” is a companion to the novel by Hanif Kureishi. The film adaption was set to have Bowie soundtrack it.

Freed from needing to write typical pop songs or avant-garde explorations, Bowie shines.

The title track and “Strangers When We Meet” are highlights, but overall this works well as a cohesive piece.

24. “Black Tie White Noise” (1993)

David Bowie always liked to make grand statements but liked to test the waters first. He’d done so with Iggy Pop’s record and since the late 1980s with Tin Machine.

Comfortable with his status art-pop star, Bowie begins a series of albums mixing pop trends, smooth jazz, and his roots in rock. “Black Tie White Noise” begins, in many ways, a new series of records.

Guitarist Mick Ronson returns to the fold, and so does producer Nile Rodgers. Furthermore, Bowie seems more comfortable with his role in pop culture than ever and arguably happier following his marriage to model Iman.

Still, the songs are simply not as sharp as they used to be. “Jump They Say” is a great tune that distills the extremes of the record, comfort, and madness.

Bowie covers Scott Walker on “Nite Flights” and Cream on “I Feel Free,” giving a glimpse into his influences. However, overall, while the sound is interesting, the tunes are simply not quite here to make a stronger impression.

23. “Tin Machine II” (1991)

The first Tin Machine record proved Bowie could work within a band and create art-rock. While the second offering must’ve surely felt like make or break, it offers fewer highlights.

This is not to say that the sound is still not intriguing. It’s still noisy at times. But elements of jazz and a dreamy variation of avant-garde music enter the picture.

“Baby Universal” is a highlight was is the Hunt Sales sung “Stateside.”

The record’s release, however, passed without much fanfare. This may have been the reason for Bowie returning to work as a solo artist.

22. “David Bowie [Space Oddity]” (1969)

The second Bowie album is the first to provide a bonafide hit, “Space Oddity.” Its success was in no due small part owed to Bowie’s ability to craft a song about the times, in this case, about the premier moon landing.

Otherwise, Bowie had chased fame ardently. He’d learned to write good songs and tailor them to specific tastes. He’d not yet presented himself in quite the theatrical fashion he would alter.

“Space Oddity” is one of the great songs of the 1960s. The rest of the tunes display Bowie’s growth as a folk-rock singer-songwriter. He’s not yet sure whether to try and become a British Bob Dylan, a bonafide mod, or a raging rocker.

He’d soon find a way to blend all these interests, package them in a more convincing fashion.

21. “Tonight” (1984)

There was no walking away from the success of “Let’s Dance.” Rather than resist it, Bowie attempted to see just how far he could take it.

Having turned “China Girl” into a colossal hit, Bowie generously turned to Iggy Pop-penned tunes once again. Five of the songs on the record are co-written by Mr. Osterberg.

While not a bad record, there are no standout pop singles. The one exception might be the flimsy but satisfying “Blue Jean.”

Sure, Bowie made for a good pop star with a strong singing voice, but he, at this stage running low on innovative ideas.

20. “Tin Machine” (1989)

Bowie had heard all the criticism. Supposedly, he’d lost his edge and had become a control freak.

The Tin Machine band is designed to disassemble those notions.

This is noisy Avant-rock, for the most part. It’s not bound to satisfy his pop fans. Even the mix of blues and rock on songs like “Heaven’s In Here” aren’t likely to do that.

And it’s a fully collaborative effort with guitarist Reeves Gabriel, as well as Tony Fox and Hunt Sales, who had previously worked with old pal Iggy Pop.

It’s not a bad record. Bowie is still a great singer. And it’s fun to hear him on zany material, such as the title track.

The rest of the band, to their credit, seem impassive about their reputation of Bowie. “Under the God” or “I Can’t Read” truly sound like collaborative efforts.

Also, sonically it builds on metallic post-punk of Public Image but also predates the industrial and grunge trends of the 1990s.

Still, it’s not quite the revolutionary sound some may have expected. It’s not a large, imposing record as had been almost all in Bowie’s catalog since “Honky Dory.”

Despite all of this, “Tin Machine” is an intriguing offering and deserves reevaluation.

19. “Hours” (1999)

David Bowie had little to prove to anyone anymore. The 1990s had once and for all left him labeled as a musical chameleon.

With the war won, Bowie set about pleasing himself. In 1999 this meant writing pretty pop-rock tunes, not unlike those he had designed pre-Ziggy Stardust.

“Thursday’s Child” and “Seven” are lovely song. There’s an air of ease to them. It was almost as if Bowie had no reason to run the race any longer.

18. “Heathen” (2002)

“Heathen” was a strong latter-day David Bowie album, but one that zoomed through the public’s attention quickly.

Here, Bowie is back with Tony Visconti handling production. The glam-rock stomp of their earlier work is present here.

This time, the highlights might just be the songs Bowie chooses to cover. Besides Pixies and Neil Young, the cover of Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Ship” allow Bowie to curate some of his influences.

17. “Reality” (2003)

Bowie had once again found a nice balance between intellectual ideas and pleasing pop-rock, and there was no need to disturb that equilibrium.

“Reality,” his last album for nearly a decade, is a great collection of bizarre pop rock tunes such as “New Killer Star,” atmospheric numbers such as “Bring Me the Head of the Disco King,” and curated punk-weirdness such as the cover of “Pablo Picasso” by The Modern Lovers.

16. “1.Outside” (1995)

This is easily David Bowie’s most ambitious record post-“Scary Monsters.”

Here, the singer reunites with Brian Eno in an attempt to get back to the pretentious but powerful work they’d started in the 1980s.

The music here is based on a number of Bowie short crime stories. The album is presented as a diary, with an entire group of characters coming in and out of the narrative.

It’s a fascinating concept. It has some glorious, albeit short moments. Most importantly, it’s dense with musical and narrative information.

“The Heart’s Filthy Lessons” and “Hallo Spaceboy” are highlights and were minor hits.

The title, “1.Outside” suggests that a sequel was on the cards. However, by the end of the process, both Eno and Bowie had moved on to other projects.

15. “Earthling” (1997)

Bowie was always a man with fine taste. He was someone known to hitch his wagon to a winning horse, an instinct that never left him.

On the surface, “Earthling” is Bowie’s attempt to capture the menacing essence of jungle, drum n bass, and industrial rock. The singer had even become friends with Trent Reznor or Nine Inch Nails and with Goldie.

However, the underlying songwriting is stronger than on most previous releases.

“Seven Years in Tibet” and “Dead Man Walking” are brilliantly bizarre pop-rock tunes at heart. “I’m Afraid of Americans” is humorous and sinister. “Little Wonder” shows Bowie could adapt most trends to suit his style.

14. “The Next Day” (2013)

Davie Bowie seemed all but retired by the time that “The Next Day” was released. With little communication on his part and unexpected musical excursions, it felt almost as if a time capsule had finally been delivered.

Part of the record is, of course, the artist dismantling the Bowie Myth. The artwork is a defacing of the “Heroes” cover, and “Where Are We Now?” recalls his time in Berlin.

“Valentine’s Day” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” are tense glam-rock singalongs. “Heat” acts as the moody, ethereal closer.

13. “Diamond Dogs” (1974)

While David Bowie may have been presented to audiences as a reckless rock n’ roll star, he was, first and foremost, a workaholic. “Diamond Dogs” was meant to begin a foreboding new era.

Gone were The Spiders from Mars. Bowie was also smart to detach himself from the glam-rock bandwagon.

Sure, there were still costumes being used. However, the theatricality was meant to showcase a dystopian future needing a rockstar savior like Bowie.

The best songs are the most straightforward ones. The Rolling Stones-inspired “Rebel, Rebel” and “Diamond Dogs” are the highlights.

Famously, Bowie meant this album to be another rock n’ roll opera covering George Orwell’s “1984”. He failed to secure the rights. Without this context, this is a satisfying collection of tunes. However, they do not gel as well as the ones on “Ziggy Stardust.”

12. “The Man Who Sold The World” (1970)

This is the third Bowie release and, arguably, his first truly great one. It showcases not only his knack for glittery folk-rock tunes.

It’s also the first testament to Bowie’s ability to leave the past behind in a hurry. Just a year earlier, he had lived out his teenage dream of having a major hit, “Space Oddity.”

The songs here are still folk troubadour material. However, like his earlier hit, they leave room for the unusual and esoteric.

The artwork also alludes to the fact that Bowie was no longer keen to be viewed merely as a hippie or a folkie.

The song “The Man Who Sold The World” is the high-watermark for this period. It would be covered often by the likes of Nirvana,Midge Ure and, arguably best, by Lulu.

Other highlights include the ambitious “Black Country Rock,” “The Width of a Circle,” and the Nitzschenian “The Supermen.”

11. “Alladin Sane” (1973)

Bowie now had to follow up “Ziggy Stardust” and give a demanding audience more of what they wanted.

While he would do so, he’d also show that staying too long in one spot was never going to interest him.

“Alladin Sane” is still a glam-rock album. Soundwise it mimics its predecessor yet adds a bit more darkness.

“Drive-In Saturday,” “The Prettiest Star,” and the bluesy “The Jean Genie” are in line with what the previous year had promised.

Yet, “Time,” with its New Orleans groove and lyrics about death and masturbation, set Bowie way apart from the glam-rock pack.

“Alladin Sane [1913-1938-197?]” and “Cracked Actor” reveal more of Bowie’s fragile psyche. Regardless, it’s a release that continued to help grow Bowie’s brand.

10. “Blackstar” (2016)

David Bowie had carefully constructed his own myth. At the heart of it were great songs and an equally great mastery of manipulating the public’s expectations.

“Blackstar” was released shortly before his passing. In light of that, it sounds like a carefully planned goodbye letter, whether or not intended in that way.

However, more importantly, this is an excellent Bowie album. Once more, he finds a way to balance his interest in highly cerebral topics, unusual sounds, and beautiful melodies.

While he had done so to little praise since the late 1980s, it’s rarely worked better than here.

Sure, it’s difficult to disconnect some of these songs from the harsh reality of Bowie’s passing. “Blackstar,” “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” and “Lazarus” seem to deal with mortality and transcendence.

Still, the unusual mix of rock, jazz, and hip-hop on songs like “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” is simply excellent, adventurous work.

So, as seemed most appropriate, Bowie delivered a powerful stage exit.

9. “Young Americans” (1975)

This is the album on which Bowie takes on soul and proves he has the pipes and the vision to do it justice.

Bowie worked at a tremendous pace during the 1970s. This helped the public take on his many guises and stylistic changes.

While a great singer, songwriter, and performer, it was around this time that Bowie also began being labeled a fashion icon. Each album came with a change in wardrobe. On “Young Americans,” Bowie had adopted slick Puerto Rican-style suits.

His so-called plastic-soul periods yield very good results on the loose, funky title track and on “Fame,” a collaboration with John Lennon.

This is a short, tight dance-rock record. It shows that Bowie had learned to take the elements that place him in the best possible light. Fans were invited to enjoy it while it lasted because more changes were on the horizon.

8. “Lodger” (1979)

In theory, “Lodger” concludes the Berlin trilogy. While sonically, it’s similar to the previous or even three releases, there are some notable differences here.

First of all, Bowie, together with Visconti and Eno, recorded this in the much swankier Swiss mountains. Secondly, the singer looks fit and ready to take on the guise of pop star once more. But he’ll only do it on his own terms.

While “Lodger” contains fewer songs destined for the Best Of collections, it certainly has its moments.

Highlights include the straightforward singles “Boys Keep Swinging,” “Look Back in Anger,” and “D.J.”

The Turkish folk motifs of “Yassassin” are used brilliantly here. And the album opener, “Fantastic Voyage,” is almost dreamlike.

Bowie would move to other avenues of expression soon. Still, in the brief period between 1976 and 1979, he had reinvented the parameters of what a rock star could become.

7. “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” (1980)

To some of the more cynical observers, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is Bowie’s last truly great album.

While this is not entirely true, what is factual is that this is the last art-rock album that finds him in his prime.

Musically, this is, in many ways, a bridge between the experimental Berlin period and the pop stars years that would follow.

Never has David Bowie been more capable of marrying experimental ideas with pop hooks and a great presentation.

“Ashes to Ashes” does a nice job of enforcing the self-styled myth around Major Tom of “Space Oddity” fame. “Fashion” and “Scary Monsters” sound both metallic and sexy.

Furthermore, Bowie embraces a new generation of artists, from the Blitz Kids to the post-punk groups. In turn, he is welcomed by them.

6. “Let’s Dance” (1983)

What else could happen to David Bowie’s career that hadn’t already? Why not become a global pop superstar?

Having freed himself fully from the trappings that had made him retreat to Berlin and experimental music in the first place, a blond and tanned Bowie was reminded of his love of pure pop.

Nile Rodgers steps in as co-producer and helps helm the record. This is the best of Bowie’s 80s pop records by some distance.

It’s Bowie at his most accessible, yes. Yet there’s depth to all of the songs that became hits. “China Girl” is the best example. The Iggy Pop co-written tune is turned into a hooky pop gem, complete with a large-scale video.

“Modern Love,” “Cat People (Putting out Fire),” and “Let’s Dance” are other examples of Bowie and Rodgers’ instincts being on the mark.

This record would put Bowie in living rooms across the world and would make him an even bigger star than before, able to tour the world and play to audience made of tens of thousands.

5. “Station to Station” (1976)

This is the pre-Berlin trilogy album and arguably one that does the best job of the sound of that period. It’s menacing, efficient, and stylish.

“Station to Station” takes the warmth completely out of Bowie’s well-known glam period. Instead, he presents himself as a soulless, unfeeling rockstar. He would alter brand this character “The Thin White Duke.”

While fascinating, this is partly the result of Bowie’s lifestyle. The rigors of hard work had made the artist take a penchant for cocaine and distance himself from most friends.

His fascination with the white powder, Europe, and the occult is shown on the excellent title track.

“Golden Years” sounds like a song rescued from the plastic-soul era. “Stay” and the cover of “Wild is The Wind” are highly dramatic.

Meanwhile, “TVC15” sounds loose and funky but covers more dystopian territory as it presents the story of a girl eaten up by her television set.

4. “Heroes” (1977)

“Heroes” continues the experimentation of “Low” but finds an even greater degree of balance between rock n’ roll and strange in Germany’s Kosmiche Musik.

The title track is one of Bowie’s best-known works, helped by the excellent guitar work provided by Robert Fripp. “Beauty and The Beast” is Avant-funk that somehow feels radio-friendly.

Meanwhile, highlights include the sonic exploration of the likes of “The Secret Life of Arabia” and “Neukoln.”

Bowie had already broken new ground with this direction and was now taking it as far as it would go.

3. “Hunky Dory” (1971)

On the surface, “Hunky Dory” doesn’t sound like a major stylistic transformation from Bowie’s first three albums. However, it’s the quality of the songs, the confidence, and the presentation that make this one of the best albums of the era.

Bowie had, unwillingly, missed out on becoming a superstar during the Hopeful 60s. He was not about to lose another trend.

In many ways, “Hunky Dory” is the album where Bowie learns how to steal like an artist. His interest in Andy Warhol’s factory, The Velvet Underground, and beatnik poetry all serve a purpose here.

Furthermore, on songs like “Changes,” “Queen Bitch” or “Oh! You Pretty Things,” he expertly loots glam-rock tropes for his own ambitions. It’s hard to forget the impression that first hearing those songs had on me. Sure, Mick Ronson’s classic-rock guitar parts help a good deal in this matter.

There are no weak songs on the record. Many are incredibly iconic, such as “Life on Mars?”

However, the album is also a satisfactory end to Bowie’s esoteric folk meanderings. On “Quicksand,” he muses about Aleister Crowley and Greta Garbo. On the excellent “Bewlay Brothers,” he contemplates madness.

2. “Low” (1977)

Here begins, arguably, Bowie’s most famous recording period. “Low” is the first of the so-called Berlin Trilogy.

While this was very fertile artistic ground, no doubt, it tells only part of the story.

First of all, this is the only record of that era to be fully made in Hansa Studios in Berlin. Secondly, Bowie had already experimented with these techniques on friend Iggy Pop’s excellent “The Idiot.”

“Low” is also the moment where Bowie begins his collaboration with former Roxy Music group member Brian Eno. Together with Tony Visconti, they create a strange art-rock hybrid.

I personally did my best to discover Bowie’s Berlin back in 2021. I found Thomas Jerome Seabrook‘s book on the topic to be a great source of inspiration.

While I was able to locate Hansa Studios or Schöneberg bars where Bowie and Iggy hung out, naturally, this is not the divided city that it still was back then. Museums, especially those housing German expressionist art, however, I decided, offered a greater clue into the done on “Low.”

The album is divided into the danceable, Krautrock-inspired “Sound and Vision” and “Always Crashing In The Same Car” and abstract pieces like “Warszawa” and “Subterraneans.”

It would soon become something of a mythical artifact. Bowie may have joyfully engaged in career suicide several times. But he was still the most daring pop artist to hold such influence.

1. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (1972)

This was David Bowie’s fifth album, one of the most important of the era and, arguably, his best-known release. It lives up to the hype.

When asked by Bowie years later about the merits of his work, John Lennon would remark that it was all just “rock n’ roll with lipstick.”

This may be correct. But, it’s perfect rock n’ roll with lipstick used for an excellent presentation.

“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is a loose concept record about an extraterrestrial rockstar. This androgynous being travels all from the prophetic “Five Years” to the inevitable demise of “Rock N’ Roll Suicide.”

Musically, Bowie fully adopts the glam-rock of the era. He brands his backup band, led by the excellent Mick Ronson, The Spiders from Mars. They play rock n’ roll while the singer shmoozes the audience.

If David Bowie had come off as a shy performer earlier in his career, there is none of that here. The poppy “Starman,” “Hang On To Yourself,” and, especially, “Ziggy Stardust” prove this.

“Suffragette City” is one of the era’s best rock numbers. Meanwhile, “Moonage Daydream” allows Ronson room to show off and Bowie to shock the nation and, inevitably, get the youth of it on his side.

“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is an iconic album for all the right reasons.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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