Okay, so I'm all about Bowie, yeah?
But push comes to shove, I'll make a top 5. It was pretty hard, but I've done it, and I think the results are pretty groovy.
I mean, as far as I'd use that word. They're all good, though. I mean, duh, it's Bowie.
And I'm pretty nutty about Bowie. I actually purchased the Tin Machine albums!
I didn't buy Never Let Me Down, though. I'm not that nutty.
Anyways, here's the list... in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER:
1. Conversation Piece (from the Prettiest Star single from 1970, later released on the Rykodisc reissue of the Space Oddity album, and even later re-recorded for the unreleased Toy album. But this is the original.)
This is one of the Bowie songs I'm lucky to hear. The Rykodisc reissues are out of print now, and a lot of them had some killer choice bonus tracks, this one included. This song I like though for more than just being a deep cut. It doesn't ever force itself on you, it's quiet, but still intense in it's own way. But it doesn't need to be loud, if anything, that would contradict everything the song is about. As for that, it's a wonderful case of one of Bowie's "character" songs, songs he wrote while inhabiting a role. Of course his best known role is Ziggy, but as a character, Ziggy is pretty boring and undescribed. Bowie's earlier characters (pre Space Oddity) were pretty silly and too goofy to really take seriously for more than a laugh, which isn't to say they didn't show any creativity, they just weren't really gelling completely yet. Conversation Piece, I believe, is the first really great character song. The character is still quirky, but isn't from another planet. If anything, he's more human than almost any other character Bowie got into (until Hours, when the character became Bowie himself). This man's story is told so simply and directly that you can't help but be friends with him. Also, this song has the least-irritating key change in recent memory.
2. Candidate (Original Demo, released with the Diamond Dogs anniversary release)
While most of the bonus tracks on the Diamond Dogs reissue were pretty lame, Candidate makes the whole set worth buying (also, the phat picture of Bowie and Bourroughs). This demo sounds nothing at all like the Candidate that ended up on Diamond Dogs, but from the first deep drum hits, you know it's destined to be even more epic. It surely doesn't disappoint. What's really puzzling is how Bowie took two lines "i'll make you a deal" and "we'll pretend we're walking home," and made them into the album version of Candidate. Also, rather than ruining it, Bowie's semi off-key vocals make the song even more unnerving.
3. Can You Hear Me? (released on Young Americans, 1975)
This song has a number of nostalgic reasons for being on the list. For one, it was one of the first Bowie songs I heard, because it was on one of my Mom's killer cassette mixes she used to make (they had great titles, too, like "Olive View" and "Harry Woo's Bar Mitzvah" and "Isn't We.") The other reason it's important is because it's on Young Americans, which is the first Bowie album I consciously heard. Let me tell you the story:
It was 8th grade, and I was totally bored with everything I had to listen to. I would puke if I listened to anymore Peter Gabriel, I just wasn't in the mood for any more Pumpkins, and I was so bummed I couldn't even listen to the Beatles. So I went to my parent's CD shelf, which was pretty monstrous. After perusing it for a while, I saw Bowie, and I thought "Ohhh, that Bowie guy. I've heard his name, I think he did that Fill Your Heart song I like." At this point, I didn't even know Bowie wrote Space Oddity or China Girl (yeah, I know Iggy Pop wrote it, too. Wah, wah.) So I grabbed the three CDs they had: Hunky Dory, Station to Station, and Young Americans.
So I put them in my three-disc changer in random order and hit play. And with that first drum fill into Young Americans, I was never the same. Seriously.
Anyways, Can You Hear Me? is probably Bowie's best attempt at the Soul he was going for at the time. It's got the most feeling, and doesn't sound too coked out. It takes it's time, and by the end, you're hammered with feeling.
4. Teenage Wildlife (Released on Scary Monsters, 1980).
My biggest pet-peeve with Bowie releasing new albums is that every time it happens, people say "his best since Scary Monsters." That hasn't been true since Buddha of Suburbia, and it's unfair to every album. Shit, even Let's Dance is a good album, it's just been tainted by popularity. And, I must admit, I don't agree with all the hype Scary Monsters has. While it's got some of his best songs, it's also got some total yawnsville-throwaways.
Not so this. This song is a spiritual sequel to "Heroes," but takes the lyrics from mythical to more down-to-earth. It's pretty bleak on the lyric side, but the music is absolutely soaring and hopeful. Which makes the lyrics lifted out of just being a total bummer dirge. There's a great moment when Bowie riffs on the bands starting to copy his glam-phase, even including a great bit of dialogue with himself. The song is long, but uses it to the greatest. By the time it gets to the end, with Bowie screaming "Wiiiiiiiiild!," you're so fucking into the song you might as well cry. Or kill yourself. I mean, seriously, it's that good. If this list was made by order of how much i'm into it, this song might have been number one.
5. Untitled No. 1 (from Buddha of Suburbia, 1993).
This one comes from Bowie's most horrifically unknown album. It was released in 1993, when Bowie was still riding high from Black Tie, White Noise. But it was marketed as a soundtrack (which it isn't), and then got totally fucked by Bowie's label folding. This is really sad, because Buddha is seriously one of Bowie's best albums. It's a great precursor to Outside (even containing an early version of Strangers When We Meet), but mixes the wild experimentation of the later album with the beautifully tunesmithing of the earlier. And right in the middle of it, wedged between beautiful instrumentals and off-kilter but still gorgeous pop songs is Untitled No. 1, the best of the bunch. The song exists in such a different world than ours that I don't even feel qualified to discuss it fully, I'd really just rather have you hear it and travel wherever it takes you. I guarantee you'll enjoy yourself.
Okay, so there's the list. I promise that sometime, I'll return to Bowie again, and go in to other reasons he's awesome. Reasons that you don't already know. So stop making out with your photos of Ziggy and join the front lines in praying that he'll record just one. more. album...