Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bowie by Russman

This is something I’ve thought about doing for quite awhile, listen to every David Bowie album start to finish, in order, in one day. I’m sure it is possible to do within a 24 hour period, the count is 26 albums. But it was apparent that this was going to have to happen over a few days. So then it turns out, the day after I got back from vacation was January 8th, 2012, a Sunday and David Bowie’s 65th birthday. Sounded like as good a time as any to get started.
Work got in the way during the week. But for 5 days, mostly nights actually, with an average of 6 albums per night, I listened to 33 years of Bowie albums. I have them all on vinyl except “Buddha Of Suburbia” and “Reality” which weren’t printed on vinyl. Also, for “Outside” and “Black Tie, White Noise” they're both missing songs from the original release to fit on one record. I stuck with CD for those two, to keep with the original release.
I’m not a negative guy, there’s not a lot of that. But I am honest and (for the most part) this is what was going through my head when the songs came on. I also stuck mainly to the music, plus my memory and the album cover for details. I think I found some details that may have gotten overlooked or some songs that may have been forgotten. There were plenty of songs that I forgot about and re-discovered. Also didn't want to re-state all the facts that are already there, kept that to a minimum. And each album summary is as brief as I could make it with as many details as possible. David Bowie, album by album, 1967 to 2003, by me.
 David Bowie 1967
I still haven’t heard Anthony Newly, but apparently he sounds a lot like this album. Tubas, horns, strings and 60’s poppy songs. The voice is there and the song writing is unique, but a little silly, he was still pretty young. His producer definitely had more to do with the recording than David, like the German soldier in “We Are Hungry Men”. A definite sign of things to come with the song writing, “Silly Boy Blue” and “Love You Till Tuesday” are actually pretty cool. And I’ve always wished we heard the sound of a shovel thump, then a body drop at the end of “Please Mr. Gravedigger”, it would totally make the song.
 Man Of Words, Man Of Music (Space Oddity) 1969
This was, “Man Of Words, Man Of Music” when it first came out, then re-released as “Space Oddity” in 1972. He’s mainly in his “folk phase” here and the acoustic guitars jingle-jangle all through this album. The storytelling is really starting to take shape, although still quite naïve. There’s a song about a shoplifting grandmother after all, “God Knows I’m Good”. “Janine” is a cool song with a good melody. Plus the mysterious “Cygnet Committee”, the great riff in “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” and epic sing along at the end of “Memory Of A Free Festival” are hints at what was to come.
 The Man Who Sold The World 1970
I can’t imagine being a 15 year old fan in 1970 and buying this record when it first came out. It all starts with the crazy cover, the gun toting guy with nothing to say is a liiiiittle creepy. Bowie’s admitted he didn’t have much to do with the recording of this album, he had a hit single and was living in swinging London baby! Producer Tony Visconti handled the bass guitar duties and put together the band that would eventually become the Spiders From Mars, starting with Mick Ronson and Mick Woodmansy on guitar and drums. I’ve always been annoyed by the bass heavy, soft drums-with-reverb and pretty dry sound overall. But the song writing is kicking into gear! “After All” is delightfully wicked…...“Ohhhh by jingo”. “Black Country Rock” and “She Shook Me Cold” are about as bluesy as he’s ever got. “All The Madmen” is cool and creepy, “day after day, they send my friends away”. For some reason, I always think I don’t want to sit through “Width Of A Circle’, but I get hooked in every time. 
 Hunky Dory 1971
Things are definitely starting to fall into place here. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who would soon join Yes, figures quite prominently on this album as several of the songs feature plenty of piano. It’s the one thing that bugs me about this record, I’ve always wished the piano wasn’t so….much piano. It’s like you’re listening to the album and someone is playing along on piano in the room with you. However, the production is sounding more vibrant and the songs are mostly fantastic, some of his best. There’s also a more positive vibe, from the album title to songs like “Kooks”, a silly little ditty for his new son Zowie. He also wears his heart and influences on his sleeve, “Andy Warhol”, “Song For Bob Dylan” and Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground with “Queen Bitch”. Then “Quicksand”, “Life On Mars” and “The Bewlay Brothers” are Bowie at his best and most epic. The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars 1972
There isn’t much that can be said that hasn’t already been said about this one. It’s regarded as a great album and deservedly so. I even like, “It Ain’t Easy”. For some reason, that song has always been derided as a poor choice (it’s a cover song) and Bowie’s never played it live. But it’s always been one of my favourites and I think it fits in quite well with the sound and concept of the record.
 Aladdin Sane 1973
The Ziggy in America album and Bowie’s best sounding to date. More bright, crisp and livelier sounding than the previous 3. “Time” is probably the best pure ‘Bowie’ song and has one of the most underrated guitar solo’s ever. It’s simple but it’s fantastic. The song writing is hitting new peaks with new sources of inspiration, mainly America. Although, I’ve never been really fond of the cover of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and “Watch That Man”. Almost like they’re attempting something but not quite getting it. Solid effort, but when you’ve got “Jean Genie”, “Cracked Actor” and “Aladdin Sane”, it evens out pretty good.
 Pin-Ups 1973
The covers album and Ziggy cash in. Bowie’s always worn his influences on his sleeve and at the height of Ziggy mania, they released a ‘tribute’ album of songs from some of his favourite artists and main inspirations. A decent album, with some good songs, but not one I listen to often. “Sorrow” is a highlight, featuring the soon to be ever present saxophone, one of David’s first instruments. “I Can’t Explain” is a pretty good version too.
 Diamond Dogs 1974
This was the one for me, like a lot of people, “Diamond Dogs” will always be a favourite. It’s just so good! Production and song writing of the finest quality. I’ve always felt Bowie’s guitar gets under rated on this album. He plays it for most of the record, except Earl Slick on “Rock n’ Roll With Me” and Alan Parker’s wah-wah guitar on “1984”. The sound of the guitar is integral to this album and he plays great, really solidifying the futuristic, desperate, lonely feeling. The guttural moans in “We Are The Dead” and the desperate dance of “Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family” the guitar really helps paint the picture. And then there’s “Sweet Thing”, check out the wicked guitar solo! He hits the crescendo, then wials and fades away into the background like an icy winter wind. The sax is a perfect compliment as well, adding the human element and sounding like lost souls in a desolate world. Bowie at his best.
 Young Americans 1975
There’s a scene in “Cracked Actor” which shows David in the studio with the backup singers working out the call and response part in “Right”. During the scene, he clears his nostrils with a big coke snort. Cocaine was a big presence on this album and contributes heavily to up and down, jarring atmosphere. Just listen to “Fame”….that has got to be the druggiest song ever! I can just picture Bowie and Lennon amongst piles of cocaine singing “fame…..fame…..fame…..fame” back and forth. He called it “plastic soul”. More to the point, catchy, groovy and smooth R & B tinged music, but very dry and with a cold soul. Still some great songs though, “Win”, “Fascination” and the title track are stellar.
 Station To Station 1976
An extention of “Young Americans” and the “plastic soul” period. Another record that was fueled by piles of Colombian Gold, David says he doesn’t even remember the recording of it. Cocaine, it’s a hell of a drug. In spite of all that, this album is regarded as one of his finest. Some more great songs, but the flat, dry sound bogs it down. Still hard to beat “TVC 15” and “Golden Years” though and the title track is a trip on a funky, runaway train. “Stay” has some great guitar work, but the chorus has always sounded out of place to me. I blame the drugs.
 Low 1977
“Low” was recorded mostly in Paris and in Berlin after he escaped from L.A. and it’s no surprise that this is a great hang-over record, it’s called “Low” for a reason.  However, the snappy, bright drums are back and the musical experimentation is uplifting. It’s an almost cheery vibe with songs like “Sound And Vision”, “Be My Wife” and “What In The World?” and there’s a lot more warmth behind the voice. “Always Crashing In The Car” is a humbling, beautiful song. Then side 2 is the real “come down” part of the trip. Four stark, haunting and beautiful instrumentals perfect for watching the river flow by in Paris on a cloudy Sunday. Listening to this record makes you feel glad to be alive.
 Heroes 1978
This is the most Berlin sounding of the “Berlin trilogy”. It’s sonically similar, but while “Low” is a lush sounding record, “Heroes” reflects a decadent and desperate feeling of (Bowie in?) turmoil. When friends ask me to play them some Bowie, I often put side 1 on. Instantly familiar, incredibly catchy, a little confusing, somewhat strange and oh-so fantastic. Then there’s side 2. The saxophone in “V-2 Schneider” is great and on the most Berlin album, this is the most German song. It’s like a love letter to his adopted home. The 3 instrumentals are even more ethereal, shining and lonely than the previous album. The come down is complete and the wailing saxophone at the end of “Neukoln” sounds like he’s screaming, “demons be gone!” Again with the saxophone, it always seems to be his favourite way to really let it out. Then back on his feet again with, “The Secret Life Of Arabia”. Time to move on.
 Lodger 1979
This is Bowie at his most experimental and neither a Paris or Berlin sounding record, but all over the map… literally. The walls were torn down with the previous two records and they’re starting to be built back up here. A song like “African Night Flight” will actually make people say, “What…..are you listening to?” In fact, most of side 1 with songs like, "Red Sails", “Move On” and “Yassassin” will probably get much of the same reaction. Being a DJ, I naturally like the first song on side 2. “Look Back and Anger” and “Boys Keep Swinging are great tunes and I’ve always loved the last song, “Red Money”. An old riff redone with some enigmatic lyrics and a delightfully mysterious vibe.
 Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps 1980
Along with “Diamond Dogs” this is the album I listen to the most and along with “Heroes”, will play side 1 when friends request Bowie. It doesn’t sound like he’s experimenting so much as letting things happen and having a good time with it. Plus Robert Fripp tears it up on guitar! He buzzes along to the frantic acoustic on “Up The Hill Backwards’, screams behind the barking vocals in “Scary Monsters and check out the wicked guitar solos on “Teenage Wildlife”. It’s a powerful sounding record on songs like “Fashion”, “Ashes To Ashes” and the Japanese vocals on “It’s No Game pt. 1”. A much gentler "It's No Game pt. 2" closes out the album it's like he’s reassuring us that everything’s going to be OK. Right?
This is where I come in. All the previous albums I discovered long after they were released, the only perspective I have on them is musically. I was born the year Ziggy was released (1972), so there’s no way I would know how the music related to life at the time. I enjoy them all, but would definitely have a different (bigger?) emotional attachment to them if I was there when it happened. I say this because it’s a big reason I relate to the following albums differently. I was there and this was my music.
 Let’s Dance 1983
Although, it would take a few years for me to actually DISCOVER Bowie, I was introduced to him along with millions of others through those 3 songs/videos. Those 3 songs/videos, “Modern Love”, “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” are without question, perfect songs. Great lyrics, music, and production and some killer guitar work, just solid gold. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s licks sound like they’re from another world but totally belong in this one. And “Modern Love” is still my ringtone. There are 5 other songs on this album and aside from “Cat People” they’ve never caught on with me. “Ricochet” is pleasantly quirky and “Criminal World” is a little catchy with a wicked Steve Ray solo, but “Shake It” is just silly.
 Tonight 1984
Widely regarded as one of Bowie’s worst and I’m not going to say it’s a great album by any means, but I’ve always liked “Tonight”. Especially side 1, it has an atmosphere and feel that I really enjoy. The cool sway of “Don’t Look Down”, the sober, pleading version of the Beach Boys “God Only Knows” and the ‘last dance of the night on the balcony’ feel of “Tonight” with Tina Turner. The two major drawbacks to the album are the production and side 2. It’s a typical, slick, 80’s produced record. “Loving The Alien” is a great song, but far too smooth. The whole record is just too slick and at times sounds like a cheesy reggae/south-pacific pop music hybrid. But side 1 is a great listen for a chill evening.
 Never Let Me Down 1987
This was the first album that came out after I became a fan and even though it’s one of his weaker efforts, I’ll always have a soft spot for it. There are some bright moments, especially “Time Will Crawl”, one of his best. Plus “Day-In Day-Out” and the title track are pretty good tunes. The fact that those 3 were the singles from the album is a fair indication of the rest of the material, just some unfocused and uninspired songs. Listening now, I honestly don’t mind “New York’s In Love”. But there are some embarrassing moments, “Zeroes”, “Too Dizzy”. Mickey Rourke on “Shining Star” is just baffling. The production is also to blame, typical 80’s, glossy and poppy with no warmth or personality. However, when I didn’t know any better, I listened to this album plenty. It’s still a guilty pleasure and brings back a lot of great memories. I used to write out the lyrics to “The Glass Spider” on my notebooks at school.
 Tin Machine 1989
I loved this one when it came out and still do. The killer riff to start, plus the nod to the past with the “Jean Genie”-esque (How Many More Times et al) bass run in “Heaven’s In Here”, I was all in. To me, this was ‘alternative’ music. The guy who recorded “Never Let Me Down” was singing songs like “Crack City” and “Video Crime” in a rock band! Reeves Gabrels guitar work on this record is stellar. He doesn’t really change the rules, he just stabs them in the eye with his whammy bar. Dig the Reeves sustain at the start of “I Can’t Read”, the ass kicking of “Under The God” and the beauty of “Amazing”. “Pretty Thing” is probably the coolest song you’ve never heard and “Bus Stop” punks in and pogo’s out before you know what the hell just happened. Hate all you want, Tin Machine is my band and this is a great record!
 Tin Machine 2 1991
By the time this came out I had seen Bowie twice on the Sound and Vision tour, where he “retired” his greatest hits. I was 19, had spent the last few years growing up with his music and he wasn’t just my favourite singer, he was like an old friend. When I first heard the “Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby…” intro to “Baby Universe” I thought “Alright, he’s back!” Tin Machine 2 is a little more refined, the band is tighter and it sounds a lot more Bowie-ish than the debut. “One Shot”, “You Belong In Rock and Roll”, “If There Is Something”, “You Can’t Talk”, all pretty good Bowie songs. Hunt Sales does get a couple of turns at lead vocals. The first, “Stateside” is another song that is often panned, but I happen to like. It’s a just a groovy slow blues and even if he’s just the back-up singer, you don’t get to hear Bowie do much blues. Plus he gets to wail a sax solo! If anything, it has too many songs and drags out a little too long, typical of the early CD era. But, it is an essential addition to the Bowie catalog that shouldn’t be overlooked.
 Black Tie, White Noise 1993
At first I only listened this album sporadically over the years, but re-discovered it when I picked up on vinyl a year or so ago. It sounds like what “Tonight” should have been and much more consistent. Although, I never really got into songs like, “Jump, They Say” and the title track, just too slick and silly for me. But “Nite Flights” is a great tune (a cover song at that) with a great sound that makes you feel like you’re driving down a highway by the moonlight. Plus, “Miracle Goodnight”, “You’ve Been Around”, “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” (another cover) and the chanting, mainly instrumental “Pallas Athena”. “God… on top of it!” It’s hard not to sing along when I’m walking to work, listening on headphones. There are 2 other instrumentals, one featuring his namesake and childhood inspiration, Lester Bowie, “Looking For Lester”. The opener “The Wedding”, reflects his new life with his new wife Iman. Along with the closer, “The Wedding Song” and church bells ringing. What “Tonight” fell short with, this album has, personality, vitality, good songs and lots of love.
 The Buddha Of Suburbia 1993
This one completely passed me by when it came out. It says it’s a soundtrack, but it’s not really and features mainly instrumentals and only 2 proper songs. Two different versions of the title track open and close the album and it’s a pretty cool song. The second version has Lenny Kravitz ripping it up on guitar and the nods to “Space Oddity”, “All The Madmen” and “Width Of A Circle” are great to hear. Then there’s “Strangers When We Meet” which would also show up on “Outside” an obvious connection between the two projects and the experimental mindset he was in. According to the liner notes, “Buddha” was written and recorded in 6 days and the intention was to expand on the idea of stabilized art. The instrumentals reflect that, they’re adventurous, experimental and improvisational. Mike Garson’s piano solo on “South Horizons” is so good, it’s singled out by Bowie on the liner notes. “Sex and The Church” is kinda funky and the synth-voice thing is cool. If anything, this disc should be sought out for the liner notes on the original release. A rare and revealing Bowie manifesto.
 Outside 1994
I’m obviously a fan of theatric, conceptual pieces, because I love this album. It’s the ultimate road trip CD for me, an intense musical journey with peaks and valleys that never lets up until the end. I’ve driven many hours with this album cranked. The segues are weird, but that’s part of the appeal and suspense. You keep thinking, “What’s coming next?”. I’ve listened to it many times and I still get chills when the explosion kicks off “Halo Spaceboy”, gets me every time! Some more fantastic songs, “The Motel”, “We Prick You”, “The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction” (coolest song title ever), “I’m Deranged” and “Hearts Filthy Lesson”. “Wishful Beginnings” is like lying in bed listening to a dripping water tap you can’t turn off, it’s creepy and soothing at the same time. To finish up, “Strangers When We Meet” from the “Buddha” album is an odd choice, but it’s also necessary. If you make it that far, you need something promising and uplifting to pull you out of the psychotic hyper cycle of the Nathan Adler Diaries. I have the LP version, which edits out a couple songs and segues and is much better for home. But for the road, the CD is the way to go! Bowie at his best!
 Earthling 1997
A sonic evolution from the “Outside” album, this is the leaner, cleaner version. It’s the 90’s Ziggy with orange hair, Union Jack-ish jacket and space-rock wrapped in a digital blender. “Little Wonder” and “The Letter” are phenomenal! “Seven Years In Tibet” still sounds more Nine Inch Nials-ish than some NIN songs. It’s a great tune though and the spacey keyboards are a very nice touch. I’ve never been into “Dead Man Walking”, too techno for me, although the Mike Garson piano outro is cool. And “I’m Afraid Of Americans” is kind of boring and watered down, but the rock saves it somewhat. “Telllllling Lieeeeesss” is still great. “The Last Thing You Should Do” is a mainly instrumental like no other, with some vicious Reeves guitar work. “You little wonder you”
 Hours 1999
The first time I heard “Thursday’s Child”, I saw the video and didn't know what was happening, but I liked it. It was soft and melancholy, yet so strange and cool. I taped it the next time it came on because I had to watch it over and over. Still sounds great, every time. “Survive” is another cool song, nice melody, lyrics and guitar solo. Songs like “I’m Dreaming My Life”, “Seven”, “Brilliant Adventure” and “New Angels Of Promise” are all very reflective. He’s saying goodbye to or reminiscing about the past and the mood is toned down and mostly mellow. I still say the verse to “What’s Really Happening” sounds a lot like “You Keep Me Hanging On”. Try singing the words of the latter over the former and tell me what you think. “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” is a good rock song, but a little dry. Although, it doesn’t sound as out place now as it used to. The instrumental, “Brilliant Adventure” is very reminiscent of side 2 of “Low”. I really like the last song, “The Dreamers”. The ‘badump-bump’ bit at the beginning is great.
 Heathen 2002
I’ve always loved the fact that the drums don’t kick in on the first song, “Sunday” until near the end. It’s such a great dynamic and a perfect way to open the album. “Heathen” is a really good record, one that I prefer to listen to as a whole instead of the individual songs. I don’t mind “Slow Burn”, but I’ve never really connected with it. There’s something about that ‘harmonic-whammy’ guitar part I’m just not into. “I Would Be Your Slave”, “I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship”, “Everyone Says Hi”, and “5:15 The Angels Have Gone” are great tunes. Still enjoy listening to this one a lot, even with “Slow Burn”. “I demand a better future” indeed!
 Reality 2003
I never connected with this album for some reason at first. I liked, “Never Get Old” and “New Killer Star” but nothing else really stuck with me. Now, after listening to 25 Bowie albums, some great… some not, I’m enjoying number 26. “Pablo Picasso” is a cool song, great lyrics and melody. “Looking For Water” has a great funky spirit, you don’t know what’s going to happen when the drums kick it off, then everything falls into place. I don’t even remember this “Days” song, it’s pretty cool. ”Try Some, Buy Some” is a nice slow burner and “Reality” rocks! To close it out, “Bring Me The Disco King” is a fantastic little jazzy number and the first Bowie song where the drummer uses brushes. It’s fitting that after 33 years of music, he finishes with something he's never done before. And of course, the song finishes out with a tasty Mike Garson piano solo. If this indeed the last goodbye, well played Mr. Bowie, well played.
“Dead or alive, bring me the disco king, bring me the disco king”

A realization during Bowie-athon, even though there are plenty of similarities, almost every song is unique. Bowie is instantly recognizable but you rarely hear a Bowie song and think, “This sounds like that other song”. They just sound like Bowie songs from Bowie albums.

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