Five definitive David Bowie albums

Chris Duncan

After an 18-month battle with liver cancer, singer-songwriter David Bowie died on Jan. 10th, leaving behind a musical legacy few musicians could hope to match. From his array of personas and sounds to his status as a rock ‘n’ roll icon, Bowie exemplified what it meant to explore music as a whole. Although almost all of Bowie’s discography is worth a listen, here are five records that highlight Bowie’s pioneering spirit and innovative styles.

David Bowie (1969)

  • Most people know Bowie’s second self-titled album from its alternate title and hit single “Space Oddity,” a hypnotic combination of folk and psychedelic rock, but the album’s highlights don’t stop there.

As adventurous as it is expansive, the record covers a wide variety of different genres, from progressive folk-rock on Bowie’s “Cygnet Community” to his experimentation with art-rock in “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud.” In retrospect, David Bowie was more than just an album — it was a statement foreshadowing the future of his expansive career.


Hunky Dory (1971)

  • Hunky Dory is the beginning of David Bowie’s adventure into glam-rock and rise in popularity. Songs such as “Changes” and “Life on Mars” flow with ease but contain some of the most hard-hitting and poignant lyrics on the album.

In addition to being one of Bowie’s best records, Hunky Dory was a major turning point in Bowie’s career — the album provided Bowie with his first major record deal and a small dedicated audience, leading to his future success.


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (1972)

  • Bowie’s fifth studio album introduced his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, an otherworldly rock star who traveled to Earth to save the planet. The character not only made David Bowie an icon but also allowed him to sing about his pain and anxiety behind a guise.

Ziggy Stardust is a concept album, juxtaposing the artificial aspects of rock music with the reality of modern life. Many critics cite this album as Bowie’s most influential, not because of its exploration of genres but instead its intense and revolutionary sound.


Station to Station (1976)

  • After trial and error with several other characters and years of relentless touring, David Bowie turned to cocaine and a new persona to help cope with his exhaustion. The Thin White Duke was a hollow man who sang heart-wrenching tales yet felt almost none of the emotion his words conveyed — the perfect character to reflect Bowie’s personality at the time.

Station to Station ties off the loose ends of the Ziggy Stardust-era, forgoing glam-rock for a more avant-garde style, as he experimented with funk, soul and even krautrock. Bowie’s strange sense of irrational fear throughout the record gives the album a more ominous sound, a mark of his transition into the experimental rock of his next highly acclaimed record Low.


Blackstar (2016)

  • It may be early to call Bowie’s most recent album one of his best, but this record carries more weight than almost anything Bowie released in the past 30 years. Intentionally ignoring current trends, Blackstar opts for an avant-garde style blended with jazz and rock.

The album never deviates from its path, following a predictable trajectory, but carries an ominously dark and looming feeling on display in junction with Bowie’s art style in his recent music videos. With additional knowledge of Bowie’s fading health, Blackstar becomes a rarity in music — an album about death written by a dying man.