Music Discoveries: David Bowie, 1967-1974

Although I only began posting “Music Discoveries” a few months ago, I came up with the idea a few years back inspired by the fact that I needed to listen to more David Bowie. True confession: I have not always appreciated David Bowie’s music. I first became aware of Bowie as a child perhaps during his most commercially accessible period when he had hits like “Modern Love,” “Jazzing for Bluejean,” and a strange duet with Mick Jagger covering “Dancing in the Streets.” I remember my sister and I seeing a tv spot about Ziggy Stardust and marveling about how Bowie was really strange long ago (it was only about 10 years, but it seemed like lifetimes). Of course, it’s a credit to Bowie’s influence in that he made many of the New Wave/postpunk musicians of the early 1980s seem not so “weird” to begin with. Over the years I knew people who were devotees of Bowie but while I enjoyed a handful of songs I never paid much attention. The tipping point oddly enough came from watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 where at one point they played Bowie’s song “Starman.” It was a song I was not familiar with and for some reason it resonated me and lead to me reevaluating my indifference to Bowie. And so, after all this time, I’m going to listen to David Bowie’s recordings from beginning to end.

Album: David Bowie
Date: 1 June 1967
Thoughts: This early recording is more of a curiosity of what Bowie sounded like in his earliest recordings than something  I’d want to put on to listen to for fun.  It’s baroque pop with that music hall style that was briefly popular in English rock music circa 1966-1968, with Bowie crooning out a few tunes.  The lyrics are slice of life with just a bit of weird (which means they were probably a lot weird in ’67).
Rating: **

Album: David Bowie (a.k.a. Man of Words/Man of Music, a.k.a. Space Oddity)
Date:14 November 1969
Favorite Tracks: “Space Oddity” and “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed”
Thoughts: Bowie reinvents himself for the first time with his second debut album.  “Space Oddity” is a classic opening track, but not representative of the album as a whole.  Music roams around genres from the gentle folk and cabaret of his earlier album to electric folk rock and blues and orchestrated, theatrical pieces.  The latter include “Cygnet Committee” and “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” which seem to point to where Bowie is going in his later work, but also feel bloated and directionless.
Rating: **1/2

Album: The Man Who Sold the World
Date: 4 November 1970
Favorite Tracks: “The Man Who Sold the World”
Thoughts:  Bowie builds on the folk and cabaret styles of previous recordings and adds the edge of a psychedelic blues rock sound.  While I didn’t single out many tracks, I have to note that the quality is consistent from top to bottom, and I expect this is the first of many great Bowie albums.
Rating: ****

Album: Hunky Dory
Date: 17 December 1971
Favorite Tracks: “Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” and “Life on Mars?”
Thoughts: Everything that came before culminates in Hunky Dory.  I want to say this is the first album with the real David Bowie sound, but that’s nonsensical since his sound is forever changing.  Nevertheless, a classic.
Rating: ****1/2

Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Date: 16 June 1972
Favorite Tracks: “Five Years,” “Starman,” “Lady Stardust,” “Ziggy Stardust”
Thoughts: The concept album offers a lot to chew on regarding  aliens, fictional rock stars, and impeding doom.  Musically it’s a compilation of rock and roll styles bridging rockabilly to punk rock.  Another classic.
Rating: ****

Album: Aladdin Sane
Date: 13 April 1973
Favorite Tracks:  “Panic in Detroit,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” and “The Jean Genie.”
Thoughts: First, I love the pun in the title.  Second, I was surprised that I was not familiar with really any of the songs from this “classic period” album except for “The Jean Genie,” and it was nice to come to it “fresh.”  It reminds me of The Man Who Sold the World for having a hard rock edge (a Rolling Stones’ influence that includes a Stones’ cover) with Ziggy Stardust’s free movement among rock and roll genres, and theatricality one comes to expect of a David Bowie album.
Rating: ***1/2

Album: Pin Ups
Date: 19 October 1973
Favorite Tracks: “Friday on My Mind” and  “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”
Thoughts: Another revelation to me is David Bowie as an interpreter of other people’s music, but here is an album entirely of cover songs.  The collection of rock and roll tracks from the mid-60s betrays a nostalgic side of Bowie previously seen in his songs about Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan,  as well as his cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”  The presentation is interesting as the songs run together sounding a bit like a garage band concert recording.
Rating: **1/2

Album: Diamond Dogs
Date: 24 May 1974
Favorite Tracks: “Diamond Dogs,” “Rebel, Rebel,”
Thoughts: Dystopian visions and gritty guitars mark this album that draws on George Orwell and the Rolling Stones and presages the transition from glam to punk. Brilliant, but also difficult to listen to.

Next week:  the rest of ’70s and all of the ’80s with David Bowie.