Tidal Catalog #1: David Bowie

For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)

Entrance point: I was very familiar with all of David Bowie’s singles and all of his albums from 1980 through at least the mid-90s.

Not included: Christiane F. soundtrack (previously released material), Labyrinth soundtrack (half score, half Bowie tunes), Lazarus cast recording (songs from David’s musical)

David Bowie had released ten studio albums before I was born, so I had a bit of catching up to do here. The first memory of Bowie for me was the Let’s Dance album. I was 7. I don’t know that the nuances of him creating a record with Nile Rodgers really hit me at time but I am pretty sure that “Let’s Dance” was a call for me to get my butt moving in my Dad’s house.

I listened to Bowie with my Dad through the 80s and then kept up the listening through 1997’s Earthling, then sort of drifted away. But the reason I made this catalog #1 is because I loved Blackstar and wondered what I had been missing for years. So let’s rank the catalog.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

  • Station to Station (10)

Weirdly enough, my favorite Bowie record was released three weeks before I was born. Maybe my mom was listening to this one while I was in the womb or something. I’ll have to ask her if she was a Bowie fan at all. A mixture of funk and krautrock, to me this is the pinnacle of Bowie’s output in his most significant and creative period (and even though he was wasted all the time, it seems). It’s a short album with only six tracks but one of those is the fantastic title track, which is David’s longest studio recording at 10:15. “Golden Years” was the second track on the record and is still one of David’s funkiest singles. But the highlight for me is “TVC 15” and the story behind it. Bowie was with his buddy Iggy Pop, when Iggy hallucinated and thought the TV was swallowing his girlfriend. “TVC 15” then became the story of a holographic TV that you can crawl in-and-out of. Drugs, man.

  • Young Americans (10)
  • Black Tie White Noise (9.5)

So, Black Tie White Noise is all the way up here with a 9.5/10 ranking ahead of many of his traditionally classic records. I’m sure there aren’t many people in the world that agree with me on this one but that’s okay. After growing up with Bowie in the 80’s and struggling with Tonight, Never Let Me Down and the first Tin Machine album, this release was gold for me in 1993. It helps that I have listened to this album more than any other record in Bowie’s catalog but it’s not just nostalgia that makes me believe this is by far the most underrated record in his arsenal. It came out in 1993 right around the time that Duran Duran got their second life with their self-titled record. I link those two together because it a way, they kind of have the same vibe. Sure, Bowie’s record is a bit more experimental and avant-garde even, with David playing the saxophone all over this record, even though he’s not really a sax player. His playing style is more free-form jazz than structured and it really works great here. He brought back Nile Rodgers again which added a lot of funkiness to the tunes. Mix in some electronics and lots of rock and you have what boils down to a really great listen, consistent and yet still adventurous. And yes, that is Al B. Sure on the title track.

  • The Next Day (9.5)
  • The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (9.5)
  • Let’s Dance (9)
  • Blackstar (9)

I probably should have paused to chat about Let’s Dance since I brought it up earlier but I really want to talk about the his last record. There’s not too many artists that can create one of their best records 39-years after their first release, but here we are. There’s always going to be the interesting history behind it – an album recorded in secret, released without much warning, on Bowie’s 69th birthday and two days before his death due to liver cancer, which the public wasn’t even aware he had.

It’s hard to even describe the sound on Blackstar, it’s simply so unique. I suppose it’s art rock but that can mean so much. It’s free form jazz, drum & bass, electronic, hip hop and trippy as hell at points. Bowie was supposedly listening to Kendrick Lamar before making this record and it shows in how he created the beats. Listen to this record and then Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly or Damn and then tell me you can’t hear similarities in some of the tunes.

I listened to this the day it came out, twice. Then Bowie passed and I listened to it again and the lyrics about looking to heaven and the sad horns in “Lazarus” took on new meaning. I’m listening to this track again just writing this and it’s really is quite emotional.

It’s simply an amazing record and a remarkable ending to a great career.

  • Aladdin Sane (9)
  • The Man Who Sold the World (9)
  • Reality (9)
  • Low (9)
  • Diamond Dogs (9)
  • Heathen (8.5)
  • Scary Monsters (8.5)
  • Dance (8.5)
  • Pin Ups (8)
  • Hunky Dory (8)
  • Glass Spider Live (8)
  • No Plan (8)
  • Serious Moonlight Live (8)
  • Tin Machine (8)
  • The Buddha of Suburbia (8)

The Buddha of Suburbia might be ranked a little too low on my list to be honest. It’s a pretty great record for one that many people didn’t even hear at least until the 2007 reissue. In 1993 it was released as the soundtrack a four-part BBC drama but only the title track was used in the show. David wrote other tunes that really represent the soundtrack more accurately and this really turned out to be a new ten song album by him instead. There are three ambient instrumental pieces in here, mixed with experimental electronic jazz and rock tunes, so I have it ranked down here because the flow of the record isn’t the best overall but some of the tunes on this record are simply remarkable.

  • Live Santa Monica ’72 (7.5)
  • Hours (7.5)
  • Space Oddity (7.5)
  • Cracked Actor (7)
  • Glastonbury 2000 Live (7)
  • Welcome to the Blackout (7)
  • Outside (7)
  • “Heroes” (7)

There’s a lot of people that aren’t going to agree with me on having “Heroes” this low on the list but I simply don’t think the album as a whole stands up as well as many others do, in retrospect. After David released Low in early ’77, he followed up in Q4 of that year with “Heroes” (album) which was a return to loud, upbeat music after his previous melancholy turn. He recorded the disc in Germany and was influenced again by bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!. This was the second of three records where he collaborated with Brian Eno (considered the “Berlin Trilogy”). The title track is of course one of his most memorable hits but some of the other tunes like “Sons of the Silent Age” are a little offputting, horns in the first verse, cheesy chorus, 60’s psychedelia in the second verse etc… and while I applaud him for trying something different, “V-2 Schneider” ends up being a bit of an odd, mostly instrumental track with Bowie playing his saxophone off the beat. Interesting but a little weird in the end. And then he follows it up with three more instrumentals, two of them being ambient tunes with Eno. In the end, the first and second sides of the LP sound like two totally different EPs simply released together and that’s really the reason this one is so low on my list.

  • Live Nassau Colosseum ’76 (6.5)
  • A Reality Tour (6.5)
  • Tonight (6)
  • Lodger (6)
  • Tin Machine II (6)
  • Never Let Me Down (6)
  • Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (6)
  • VH1 Storytellers (5)
  • Spying Through a Keyhole (5)
  • David Bowie (5)
  • Stage (5)
  • Earthling (5)

For my final stop on the list, we go to Earthling, his industrial drum-n-bass record. I also listened to this album a ton in my junior year of college, not right away but after Nine Inch Nails came out with “The Perfect Drug” in May of ’97. I then heard Trent Reznor had recorded “I’m Afraid of Americans” with Bowie and that was on Earthling, released a few month s before. Since I was a huge NIN fan, I listened and I fell in love with this record. Bowie was really into The Prodigy at this time and there’s plenty of influence from them in this album and lots and lots of quirkiness. One of my favorite tunes is “Looking for Satellites” which David made Reeves Gabrels play only one guitar string at a time, leading to a very unique sounding song. At the time of original listening, I didn’t even care that the version of “I’m Afraid of Americans” wasn’t even the one with Trent Reznor on it (that’s V1, which is a remix and better than the album cut). (Fun note: “I’m Afraid of Americans” original chorus was “I’m Afraid of the Animals” and appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Showgirls! Yes, Showgirls. You’re a real Bowie fan if you knew that one.) Anyway, I listened to the hell out of this record and loved it for many years but what’s nice about these catalogs is that I’m essentially starting over. I went from the beginning and heard so much great music before this album came out and saw how poorly this aged, which really put the lack of quality material on this one in perspective.

  • David Live (4)
  • Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby (3)

Summary: 44 total albums. Average rating: 7.4

Adjusted summary after Update #1, #2 and #3: 47 total albums, Average 7.4

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