Thursday, October 6, 2016

Amoeba Music Report: What's in My Bag?

Last week I visited Amoeba Music Hollywood and put the legendary store's reputation as the greatest record in the land to the test. I visited the store twice over two days for about 90 - 100 minutes combined. To be fair, to truly test a store of its size I would have liked to have spent double that time, but an hour and a half would be more than enough for most people and it's what I had to work with so it will have to be enough. The metric I applied was to see how many records I could find on a list of things I was looking for, most fairly obscure, some I had been seeking for a while - personal holy grails. In some ways this was a challenge of how ridiculous my tastes have become as much as how well the store could satisfy those tastes.

So what did I find out? Amoeba is a great store. If I lived in L.A. and visited it a couple times a month I'd eventually find some of those holy grails. As it was, I didn't end up finding any of those records. I did find and buy seven things from my list that were less obscure, but which still speak to the quality of the collection. I also picked up four other spontaneous finds which also is a good measure of a record store. A really good record store should surprise you and inspire you to buy things you didn't necessarily intend.

Before I get into what I bought, I want to go over what they didn't have.

The record I most hoped to find, in any format, was one I've been trying to find for 25 years. Until recently, I didn't know who performed it. In 1990 I saw a skateboard video which I think was called Off the Richter. It documented the Resurrection Pro skate tour of Australia at the end of the 80s and featured Christian Hosoi, Chris Miller, and Tony Magnusson, among others. The soundtrack was filled with Australian punk songs, including one called "Car Crash." For years, I'd buy any punk record if it contained a song called "Car Crash" on it. There are more than you might imagine. That's how I first heard The Avengers. Even after the dawn of the internet I couldn't track this song down. Then earlier this summer I tried Googling the lyrics I could remember (I had tried this in the past to no avail) and ended up finding out the song was by a band called Ratcat from 1987. Some generous soul had even posted the video on YouTube.

Now in the years that I've looked for this song, my tastes have broadened and my music knowledge has expanded to include the groups that clearly influenced this band. They don't do anything that countless other pop punk band did just as well throughout the 80s. The reason this song has such pull for me is mainly nostalgia for the time of my life that I encountered it, and the mystery behind the identity of the band. There are a few CD compilations of the band, but they're hard to come by domestically or without paying quite a bit. The hunt continues.

Another record I didn't find was Das Letzte Einhorn, America's soundtrack to The Last Unicorn, so named because it was only original pressed in Germany. There was a bin card in both the LP and the CD soundtrack sections so at least I found out there was a CD pressing and that the store had it in stock at some point. Again, it probably seems like a silly trifle to seek out, but it is hands down the best moment of that band, and the songs were written by Jimmy Webb. It came out in 1982, the same year as their great hit "Magic."

Other things I hoped to find included John Cale's Helen of Troy or his Animal Instincts EP (with the original "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores"), Kate Bush's The Kick Inside (with the original UK kite cover), Aynsley Dunbar Rataliation's To Mum from Aynsley and the Boys, Graham Bond's Holy Magick, The Walker Brother's Nite Flights, Josephine Foster's I'm A Dreamer, Justin Hinds & the Dominos' Jezebel (on any format besides cassette, which I have), the Watership Down soundtrack, Magma's Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh on vinyl (I have the CD), Vincent Price's Witchcraft Magic: An Adventure In Demonology, something with Nolan Porter's "Keep On Keeping On" on it, Cockney Rebel's Psychomodo (UK cover) on vinyl and their Human Menagerie on CD, anything by on vinyl by Popol Vuh, Fad Gadget, or any of Dagmar Krause's projects (Art Bears, Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, News from Babel, etc.). There were some close calls: Josephine Foster had bin cards in both CD and LP, there was a nice selection of Northern Soul collections but no Nolan Porter, they had a lot of Magma reissues on vinyl but no M.D.K., they had a pretty cool Vintage Violence t-shirt, and they had Psychomodo on CD and Human Menagerie on wax (which I already have in those formats).

The idea that I might just happen to find all or even some of these records on one random visit is pretty unrealistic. However, the fact that I didn't get any of them was a little disappointing. Any one of those records  or some others would have validated the reputation of the store outright for me. On the other hand, if I was given the chance to raid the employee hold piles, my chances might have increased.

There were a lot of other things I couldn't find, even some that I didn't have time to check for, entire sections I didn't have time to explore, including the 7-inch singles because the section was packed with shoppers. I made it upstairs to the DVD section only for a quick glance. It looked great, but since I didn't have time to fully shop it I didn't want to waste non-music shopping time by checking it out. The book section wasn't huge, but it was filled with interesting things. I had hoped to snag a copy of Julian Cope's book, Krautrocksampler, but no dice.

There were some interesting decisions about how the store what organized in terms of genre that makes me think I might have been looking in the wrong section for some things. There were sub-sections for metal, punk, and the silliest non-genre "oldies." I looked in each for a couple of things, but I didn't dig in each sufficiently to get a bead on what kind of gatekeeping was done for each one. For instance, I think I saw Black Flag in punk, but I don't know if The Ramones or Sex Pistols would have been filed there (Wire were in rock).

So, what did I actually end up buying? Between two trips I bought eleven pieces, four LPs and seven CDs, all for $130 or just under $12 a piece. Here's the full list broken into which night and the order I found them, the format, and a brief description of why I wanted each.

Night the First

Hatfield and the North
- Hatfield and the North used LP: I started with this album not because I wanted it more than anything else, but because I wanted to used it as a litmus test and I thought there was a fairly good chance of them having it. Even though I could probably track a copy down online pretty easily I wanted to build some buying momentum. I've seen it around occasionally, but not recently. For the uninitiated this is a self-aware, light debut by a group of Canterbury proggers out of Caravan, Matching Mole, and Gong featuring great back-up vocals by Robert Wyatt. This copy was a clean, DJ promo copy, so it was a no brainer.

Manuel Gottsching - E2-E4 CD reissue: This disc was just recently reissued, but the album goes back to 1981 (released in 1984). Gottsching was the leader of Krautrockers, Ash Ra Tempel. He recorded this album one night as a live, home demo after coming off tour with fellow Ash Ra founder, Klaus Schulze. This extemporaneous, hour-long piece of music was picked up by American house and techno DJs and was a major building block in what became modern electronic dance music. The title comes from a confluence as a tribute to both R2-D2 and nomenclature of BASIC programming subroutines, and is a reference for the algebraic notation for the most popular opening chess move as well as a guitar tuning Gottsching employed. I just got into this so this was really a new disc for me.

Chris Spedding - Hurt used LP: I already have this on CD, but I only have his self-titled on vinyl. It's his best album and the opening "Wild in the Streets" is the best version of that song. As I picked it out of the section a guy asked if he could quickly take a picture of the cover. He was a graphic designer and liked the look.

Michael Nyman - The Draughtsman’s Contract OST used CD: I only recently discovered Michael Nyman's music. I found him while combing through Dagmar Krause's discography online. She guested on Nyman's The Kiss and Other Movements. While I like that record, this soundtrack to the film of the same name by frequent collaborator, Peter Greenaway, really did it for me. I would have been happy to find this in any format. The CD is great for listening in the car. For those not in the know (like myself, recently), Nyman is a modern classical composer/pianist who occasionally slums it with 70s prog/art-jazz characters. He also did the soundtrack for The Piano. This might be the whitest music ever made. It's a cross between BBC bumper music and a Grey Poupon commercial. It also radiates joy. The opening track rips off Henry Purcell and has been sampled by the Pet Shop Boys. Highly recommended.

Robert Palmer - Pride used LP: A lot of people think back on Robert Palmer - if at all - as a kind of overbearing, British, yuppie Boz Scaggs. While not entirely inaccurate, there were two great records Palmer tucked in between his 70s FM success ("Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)") and his 80s mega-hits of Power Station and solo chartbusters ("Addicted to Love," "Simply Irresistible"). Clues and Pride were comparatively sleek Ultravox-styled new wave records of restrained power. I would have bought both if they had them, but only Pride was in the racks. The best song on this is the dark "Want You More." The ghost of his white reggae-funk still haunts the album, but it doesn't grate here like it does on his other records. Palmer was the only artist that the Uber driver who took me to the airport knew when she asked what records I bought.

Francois Hardy - Mon Amie la Rose new CD: One of my unfound holy grails is the "rock & roll version" of Hardy's "Et Meme." It still is. The version on this album is not the one I've been searching for. I was pretty sure that it wasn't, but it was a risk I was willing to take as any version is rare. This version is still great; it just doesn't have the punch of the other. Luckily the rest of the record is top shelf.

Night the Second

Planningtorock - Have It All used LP: I grabbed this out of the recent arrivals towards the front of the store. This was an unplanned pick, but I've never seen it anywhere in any format so I scooped it up. Planningtorock is often associated with The Knife and this debut came out the same year as that group's Deep Cuts. It's not as good as W or All Love's Legal, but it has it's own slinky cabaret charm. At $15, this was the most expensive thing I bought. One side-note: Amoeba's record bins (front-to-back) are a little too deep for those of us who aren't tall and long-armed. I found Have It All at the back of the stack and it was hard to flip that far while on my toes.

Zola Jesus - Stridulum used CD; Valusia used CD: I never picked up either of these EPs when they came out although I've been meaning to for awhile. They were cheap and they're a perfect dosage size for this dramatic, vamp-y singer. I happened upon them in the rock section which made me wonder if there wasn't a goth section. Not that these would have necessarily been included in that section, but it made me second-guess if I wasn't overlooking a bunch of things.

Scott Walker - Scott 4 used CD: I found Scott Walker in the oldies section while looking for the Walker Brothers' Nite Flights. Both group and solo artist were filed under this dubious category which means that Amoeba houses The Drift and Bish Bosch in the same section as Elvis Presley and The Drifters. There's not a good reason why I don't own this already, so I bought it. They had multiple copies and it had been price-reduced.

Coil - Backwards new CD: This was released last year and I've wanted to pick it up since then. This was the unreleased follow-up to Love's Secret Domain. The album came out in recent years in an altered form, but this is the real document of that time. This was the only purchase I made on the second night that was premeditated. It too was found in the rock section, which confirmed that there wasn't a separate spooky section - at least not a good one. I got the feeling that the separate sections were a product of passionate staff members making a case for distinct curation.

Even now there are things I realized should have been on my list. I neglected to check for Penguin Cafe Magic Orchestra while I was back in the new age section. I didn't get a chance to check for Kevin Coyne. I didn't explore the International sections beyond the well-stocked French section, and I missed the Hip Hop and R&B sections entirely. There just wasn't enough time. I could have spent a good hour in the disco section alone. Here's a pic to give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

Is Amoeba Hollywood the best record store I've ever been in? Probably. It reminded me of different qualities of all the different great record stores in Minneapolis around 2000 combined. It benefits from having a huge pool of local record nerds as well as tourists like me to take chance with what they bring in. I wasn't overwhelmed and found it pretty intuitive to navigate through, but then again, I spent 12 years as a record store clerk. I'd recommend it to anyone making a trip to L.A. Hopefully you'll have the time to shop at your leisure instead of running around the place like a maniac.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Amoeba Music... I'm Coming For You

I haven't bought any music since David Bowie died. Blackstar on CD and LP are the only things I've bought all year. While I could chalk it up to the grief, this was largely due to me buying a new house, moving, and carrying two mortgages for three months until we sold our old house. Money's been too tight to mention. Times have changed though and a new opportunity has presented itself.

Work is sending me to L.A. for a conference which means I will finally get the chance to visit Amoeba Music. Amoeba Hollywood is not the first location of this Californian chain, but it is the largest outlet and has become known as the Taj Mahal of record stores. It's not just big, but deep and well-curated. I've known people who have been there, worked there, and I've followed their excellent web series, "What's In My Bag." It's reputation is well-established.

As someone who's spent 12 years of their adult life working in music retail, visiting this store will be a little like making a pilgrimage. I figure I should go at least once in my life. And yet, I'm not looking forward to going there just to venerate the place like some temple which stands as a testament to an era long since past. I'm on a mission. It's been forever since I've bought records and I'm ready to pop. I'm treating this like a challenge. Come on, Amoeba. Let's see what you got. Let's see how good of a record store you really are.

I recently asked someone I know about their experience going to Amoeba a year ago. They told me they were overwhelmed and left after five or ten minutes without buying anything. This is someone who works at a record store. I'm worried that I will suffer the same fate. Nothing will depress me more than wasting the trip by being quelled under the pressure. This is a chance for me to find some of my holy grails, in person.

I've never been much of an online music shopper. There's something about buying something sight unseen (no matter how good the pictures are) that makes me nervous. It also feels like cheating. I realize I'm in the minority, but for me, there's no substitute to flipping through the stacks and coming across that record you've been looking for over the past 25 years. People also wrongly assume that if you want it badly enough you can just buy it or stream it online. While recent years have made thousands of rarities available online, there are plenty of records that are still inaccessible that way. These are the records I'm going to be looking for. And I'm bringing a list.

When I explain this to people they naturally ask me, "Well, what's on your list?" Lots of things, some things are truly obscure, some are just unpopular titles by popular artists that no one else cares about. I'm a little cagey about revealing the full list, partly because I'm superstitious that sharing it will somehow mean somebody else will check it out and find it before me. I'm also shy about exposing just how nerdy I am. To give you a taste of the specificity of my hunt, I'm looking for a particular version of Francoise Hardy's "Et Meme." One version was issued as a 45 with string arrangements that are a little syrup-y. The one I'm looking for has more of a rock & roll, Wrecking Crew vibe. I think it's on her album, Mon amie la rose, from '64, but I'm not sure if that's the right one. I first heard it on a one-off compilation released 15 years ago on a fly-by-night import label. I didn't buy it quickly enough and the store I worked at was never able to get it back in. I'd be happy finding it on any format. With my luck though it will only be found on a $70 box set. Even then, I'm not sure if the packaging will tell me what I need to know to differentiate between the two versions.

My list spans genres and formats which means I'll be running around the store like a chicken with my head cut off, panicked that I won't have enough time. I could probably spend three hours just shopping the 7" section alone. I'll have to be focused and efficient if I am to prevail. Ultimately, I'd love to find a handful of my holy grail records, discover some things I never knew existed, and pass on some of the more common titles out of satisfaction for the ones I did find. That would be the perfect scenario. As I mentioned, I don't want to get overwhelmed and walk out of there empty-handed. I also don't want to get distracted by cool new records, and not have enough time to look for the older things on my list.

The worst scenario might be for me to "win," for me to beat Amoeba by having a list they couldn't fill. What if the greatest record store in the world still isn't good enough for me? I'll be depressed if they don't have any of my holy grails or if the more common records I'm looking for are grossly overpriced (over $30). I don't want to buy a record in L.A. for $50 that I could probably find at a VFW record show for half the price. If I can't find the real goodies on the list, there are still a half-dozen new records I want to get. I just don't want to resign myself to the realization that my tastes might be so specific and arcane for me to ever satisfyingly collect records anymore.

There's one record on my list that will make the trip worth it even if it's the only thing I find. It's a song that I've been looking for since I first heard it on an obscure late-80s skate video. I only discovered who did it three months ago. Amoeba is my best shot at getting it. Is the song really that good? At this point the question is moot. The hope inherent in the hunt is what it's really about.

Stay tuned for my post-Amoeba report.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture

Originality in art is always a tricky topic to nail down. Everyone has influences; almost nobody can claim to create in an absolute void. Originality is perhaps best understood through Harold Bloom's idea of creative misreading. You may not be able to escape Shakespeare (or The Beatles), but how you interpret that influence through your own personal prism leads to new avenues not envisioned or projected by the original artist.

Which brings us to the new eponymous, debut album by Ghost Culture. The cynic in me would say that this is a nice record to listen to while waiting for the next Matthew Dear comes out. Moody, house-influenced, post punk-derived synth pop is what's offered up here and it's done very well. Dear is only one of the more recent examples of a someone working in this vein. You could go back 10 years to Mount Sims' excellent Wild Light to find a similar sound. Or Colder's Again from 2003. Really it's a sound that's the embodiment of a post-techno/house nostalgia for New Order/Depeche Mode/Cabaret Voltaire's continuation of Joy Division, or Iggy's The Idiot, or Kraftwerk, or Nico, or hell, go back to Lotte Lenya. You see where I'm going with this? Thinking of James Greenwood (who is Ghost Culture) as a poor man's Matthew Dear isn't exactly fair, but nonetheless it's what I thought when I heard this album.

Ghost Culture is definitely in the same arena, but it doesn't move with the same funkiness that Dear's records do. You can hear Laid Back's "White Horse," Newcleus' "Jam On It," or Eddy Grant's "Time Warp" in Dear. Not so much in Ghost Culture. This gets to the critical standard of success for all dark, synth-driven dance music: how close (or far) does the music fall from the combination of European and African American music? Whether it's Africa Baambaataa's use of Kraftwerk for "Planet Rock," Detroit techno or Chicago House's appropriation of the same thing, Donna Summer's soul vocals over Moroder's robo-funk, or Can's Teutonic take on James Brown and the Velvet Underground - there needs to be a solid foundation in both musics for it to truly work. It's what separates Depeche Mode from someone like Covenant. David Gahan is by no means a soul singer, but he's practically Al Green compared to Eskil Simonsson.

One unique aspect of Ghost Culture is the singing. Although Greenwood uses the same monotone vocal style that this style requires, his delivery is breathier, and more approachable than many of the practitioners. Matthew Dear has a great vocal delivery, but it doesn't let you in as a listener. There's a distance in his blank intoning, which, although "cool," doesn't display very much vulnerability. Greenwood's voice, intentionally or not, sounds knowable and possible of doubt. The emotional range still doesn't extend much beyond wistful melancholy and wry rumination, but it's still a huge improvement over anything on Metropolis records. He even sounds a bit like a stoned Ray Davies on "Glaciers."

Despite the fact that it's not terribly original, this will likely make my top ten of the year. It's a good record and it grows on me with each listen. I'm interested to hear more from Greenwood, particularly his voice. I hope he broadens the palette a bit, maybe bring in some saxophones, steel drums, actual piano, back-up singers, etc. He mostly needs to trust himself a bit more wherever that takes him, whether someone like me agrees or not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

RIP David Bowie

Incidentally, the day David Bowie died I talked to my four-year-old daughter about cancer for the first time. She asked me what had happened to our cat, Oscar, who died before she was born. I explained that he got sick with cancer which I said was something that her grandparents had been sick with in the past. I told her cancer didn’t always make people or cats die, sometimes they got better. Later that Sunday night I sat and listened to the new album, Blackstar, all the way through in one sitting for the first time. I’m glad I got a chance to first hear the whole record free from the knowledge of his death. It allowed me to appreciate the work for it is without the context of grief threatening to swallow it.

I found out the next morning from the heartfelt post of a friend, which is the way I would have wanted to hear it rather than some blog post (although I did check immediately to confirm the horrible news). The verbs in the past tense tipped me off. It was shocking, but not altogether surprising. Most knew that his health had been poor in recent years. I didn’t cry and I didn’t post anything either. I didn’t have time to process or articulate my emotions. Real life and its responsibilities gave me an excuse to build a protective callus. I understood the need for most people to post tributes and videos on social media. It’s a way to console one another in the face of a shared loss. I didn’t partake myself because I wasn’t ready to face it and because David Bowie was too personal for me to feel comfortable grieving in such a public forum.

When people talk about denial being the first stage of the grieving process it sometimes gets confused as meaning a simple rejection of the fact of death. I think it more often manifests itself as a refusal to acknowledge the emotional impact of death. It’s denying oneself the chance to accept and register the pain. I actually joked to a few friends, “I guess this means there won’t be a tour for the new record.”

It’s easy to distance yourself from the death of one of your idols. You tell yourself that this is someone you’ve never met; it wasn’t the person themselves that meant something to you but their work; you’ve got real problems that take priority; people die every day, why is this one person so important; etc. All of these reasons are smokescreens to keep the hurt at bay. Whether we know our idols personally or not, we personalize the influence their work had on us. Their death is personal not because they knew us but because they allowed us to know ourselves better.

I made it most of the day before I cracked. I had avoided listening to any Bowie while at work, but since the Current were running an all-day marathon I turned it on in the car on the way home. They had made it to the Young Americans era. The music sounded great and it didn’t trigger anything other than happiness. Then, at the break, Mary Lucia came on to talk about the day and the news. She was gamely doing her best to keep it together for the sake of professionalism, but she was also open about how tough it had been all day. The hurt was just under the surface of her voice, occasionally breaking through. The raw honesty and courageous vulnerability of it got to me and I started to tear up. I recognized my own voice in hers and I couldn’t hide it from myself any more. It bothered me to admit that the death of Bowie the person grieved me as much as the death of the man as an artist. I didn’t mourn David Bowie, the actual person whom I never met. I mourned my own conception of an artist who had been a personal symbol and inspiration to me since adolescence. It didn’t matter that my David Bowie wasn’t the real person. Without the real person and his work, I would have never had my personal version.

I’m not going to claim I’m the biggest David Bowie fan in the world. I know I’m not. There are people who like far less or a far smaller range of music than me, making room for a more intense obsession than I have. That said, he is my favorite artist and he always will be. It’s no accident that one of the first pieces of writing on this blog is on Bowie. No one’s music has meant more to me than his and finding it in adolescence I can track my pathway to adulthood with his songs as my milestones. Everyone has their Bowie discovery story. Mine goes like this.

I had been aware of David Bowie as a kid starting with the singles off Let’s Dance, then later as the Goblin King in Labyrinth. I rented the video of the Glass Spider tour from Blockbuster and heard a few of his older songs. I casually thought he was cool at that pointI mean; he was a rock star that looked like a Sindar elf. The breakthrough for me was hearing “Changes” on the classic rock station in the kitchen of my dad’s restaurant where I was a dishwasher. I went out and bought Changesbowie on cassette the next day, took it home, brought it upstairs, and listened to it behind closed doors. I formed an immediate connection with what I heard, the first three tracks pulling me further and further in. I couldn’t believe I had never heard this music before. How had such incredible music remained a secret? Why hadn’t everyone told me about it? As the piano and saxophone outro of “Changes” faded, I was about to hit rewind to listen to that song again when the opening G and Dsus4 chord progression that opens “Ziggy Stardust” rang out from my little boombox. Something about the combination of Mick Ronson’s Les Paul and Bowie’s acoustic 12-string cut to the heart of me; and I’ve never been the same since.

I understand that reads as overdramatic, but the number of tributes across social media the week after his death indicates I’m not alone in my experience. After that first compilation I began to explore a catalog that seemed inexhaustible. I took my time collecting his albums, giving myself a chance to absorb and obsess over each one before moving on to the next. I started with Ziggy, then Hunky Dory, then Man Who Sold the World, and so on – exploring each album based on how well I liked the hit or hits I knew. From there I went on to read as much as I could about him and sought out all archived footage (pre-YouTube). It was during this time that I constructed my own Bowie with personalized signifiers that were particular to me. Interestingly I discovered Bowie in the middle of his work with Tin Machine which means I’m one of the few people you’ll meet you doesn’t make apologies for those records.

Reading the remembrances from celebrities and friends who knew him personally has painted a picture of a warm, friendly, creative storm of a person who seemed genuinely interested in supporting new talent. He was a role model to many, and an incredibly generous one, at that. Tony Visconti has called Blackstar Bowie’s gift to his fans. He spent the last months of his life not only fighting cancer, but working furiously in order to accomplish as much as he could with the time he had left. The videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” must have been utterly exhausting for him. And yet, it must have been important to him to communicate what he needed to say to his audience. As I saw a friend comment, Bowie art directed his own death. He remained an artist to the last.

The tales of Bowie’s frantic work ethic at the end of his life are inspiring and speak to the integrity he had. Yet, it also made me wonder what it meant in terms of how much time he spent away from his 15-year-old daughter as well as his wife of more than 20 years in the last few months of his life. Of all the people rending their garments the past couple of weeks, I doubt anyone will miss him more than Iman, their daughter, Lexi, and Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones.

Speaking of Duncan, his mother Angela Bowie had her own strange experience hearing of Bowie’s death. She was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother when she found out. Angela Bowie is a controversial figure for Bowie fans. She strikes a very shrill, opportunistic, and overly dramatic profile. Her tell-all book, Backstage Passes, is seen as crassly exploitative and trashy gossip by many Bowie fans. And yet, she was there during Bowie’s ascendancy, supporting his art and his genius. When first told the news, she put on a brave face, trying not to make a big deal out of the death of a man who wanted nothing to do with her for more than 35 years. She couldn’t hold in her sorrow though and broke down with grief. To have known him so intimately at the beginning, there’s no way it couldn’t have profoundly affected her. I saw my own reaction a bit in hers and it humanized her for me.

Bowie played with some of the best musicians of the past 45 years. Most of them wrote tributes to him in the days after his death. Brian Eno’s was particularly touching – the details of a personal and emotional goodbye. Adrian Belew’s memory of Bowie filching him from Frank Zappa’s band is both illuminating and hilarious. Bowie tried to be civil about it, but Frank was apparently none too happy. I guess he was still sore from Bowie stealing Aynsley Dunbar.

I’m glad I can say that I saw Bowie live before either of us died. It was on his Reality tour in 2004. He had a great band and was playing both big hits and more obscure album cuts (“Fantastic Voyage”!). His duet with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey on “Under Pressure” made me tear up. Within six months of that show, Bowie would suffer from a blocked coronary artery on stage and then never tour from that point forward.

We will never see the like of him, or others of his generation again. All of the giants are dying off and the industry that facilitated their greatness is no longer in place. The music business that subsidized such creativity has been replaced with a star-making machine built to create disposable, temporal pop stars, not career artists. Society, too, has changed. As Joe Boyd pointed out in his book, White Bicycles, the cultural and social infrastructure that existed in the 60s is no longer around to support emerging talent. Funding for music and arts education has been decimated in the last 30 years. The emergency of the internet has both created amazing opportunities for young artists, but also worked as a great leveler by making every voice with no talent as equally loud as those voices that are gifted. There are no gatekeepers in this Wild West and very possibly the true visionaries of our time are currently being drowned out by the millions of mediocre voices around them.

I had planned on writing a review of Blackstar, but his death has given me an additional opportunity to re-assess his back catalog and give a glimpse what each record means to me. Listening to all of them again in the wake of his death I’ve noticed some common trends throughout the oeuvre: his predilection for cover songs, his frequent use of death as a theme, and his tendency to close his albums on strong songs. The list follows chronologically although I’ve just stuck to the studio albums. With roughly one album per year during the 70s there was more than enough to analyze without getting into the soundtracks (except one) and live albums. That said, Stage is his best live record. My preference is for the Rykodisc reissues with the bonus tracks. Those were the ones I bought when I was younger and sound, packaging, and extra tracks make them still the best buy if you can find them. I’ve rated each album a score out of 10 which is something I don’t do often, but since this is such a comparative study of one artist I thought it might be useful. Considering I’m such a fan, some of my ratings might seem oddly low. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible. Not everything Bowie touched turned gold. On the other hand, few artists have released such a rich body of work that I would grace with so many 8s, 9s, or 10s. At the end, of course, is the newest (last) album. You can skip to it directly by clicking here.

David Bowie (1967): I don’t care what anyone says. This is the worst David Bowie album. I think people like the idea of a ‘67 mod Bowie album, but in reality this is just rote Sixties pop with little distinction other than being incredibly influenced by Anthony Newley. This is a Bowie album in name only. He had yet to develop the voice that we all know. Only “Please Mr. Gravedigger” shows the way forward. It was also the first of many strong, album-closing tracks. (Score: 1)

Space Oddity (1969): Even without the hit title track, this is a huge improvement on his debut. It adds Tyrannosaurus Rex as an influence, but there’s also a new, unique voice that begins to break through the hippie space-folk utopian-isms. The Gus Dudgeon production gives this album a cinematic sweep and a grandeur that elevates it above a lot of similar cosmic folk of the time. In some ways this album is a bit forgotten in the shadow of its hit single. “Janine” is a great rocker that points to the formation of the Spiders. (Score: 6)

The Man Who Sold the World (1970): Thanks to the Nirvana cover of the title track this album has gotten more exposure. It’s a strange hard rock entry featuring a proto-Spiders band (no Trevor Bolder yet) coming between the folky Space Oddity and the high camp of Hunky Dory. This one still has some patchouli stench on it as shown in the eastern mysticism of “Width of a Circle,” which has one of Mick Ronson’s best riffs. The aforementioned title track, “All the Madmen,” and “After All” round out the highlights for me. (Score: 7)

Hunky Dory (1971): Hunky Dory is the first time Bowie displayed real greatness in the album format, a nearly front-to-back masterpiece. It was also the first album with all the Spiders on it, although only “Queen Bitch” hints at the sonic blueprint of the type of glam rock Bowie was moving towards. Hunky Dory is a more of a singer songwriter record, with songs built around Bowie’s acoustic and piano. Speaking of piano, Rick Wakemen plays on this one. Lyrically, this is some of Bowie’s best work: “Changes,” “Life on Mars,” “Quicksand,” and “The Bewlay Brothers” all describe the disaffection of youth better as well as any other pop songs you could bring to mind. (Score: 9)

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972): Whether or not this is the best Bowie album is up for debate. However, it is my favorite album of all time, Bowie or otherwise. It was the first full album of his I bought after the Changesbowie, my first taste of Bowie in an album format. There’s really not a weak song here. I harbor only two small quibbles with the record, one being “Starman”’s dated Bolan-isms (“hey, that’s far-out” and “let all the children boogie”) which still doesn’t kill the track. The rest of the song is magical and serves as maybe the most narrative-driven, story element of this concept record. The other tiny complaint is the inclusion of “It Ain’t Easy,” the only song on the album not penned by Bowie. “It Ain’t Easy” isn’t a bad song in and of itself; in fact, it has a nice dark, heavy vibe to it. However, considering the caliber of songs recorded during those sessions which could have taken it’s place – Bowie’s own version of “All the Young Dudes,” “Velvet Goldmine,” or the re-recording of “Holy Holy” – it’s strange that Bowie chose to close Side One of the album with a song already covered by Three Dog Night and Long John Baldry. Maybe it’s for the best. Any of those aforementioned songs would have made the album too stunning for its own good. At least it’s better than “Sweet Head.” The concept and story of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star who falls to earth to warn the Earth of its imminent demise and save its disenfranchised youth in the wake of his self-immolation, is really David Bowie’s greatest and most original contribution to culture. Everything about the postmodern romance and redemption of rock and roll is contained within it. Musically it’s not his most ambitious, experimental, or progressive record. Lyrically and style-wise, it is very much of its time (though to some degree, outside of time). And yet, it is some of the most expertly written, performed, arranged, and produced rock and roll of any era. It is a symbol of everything alluring about rock and roll – it’s fast and young, sexy and fatalistic, and romantically charging towards oblivion to keep from the internal death of adult compromise. (Score: 10)

Aladdin Sane (1973): This is a pretty great record, but it doesn’t have Ziggy’s thematic drama (which one might see as a plus). I’ve never been a fan of “Jean Genie,” the album’s big hit. It’s the epitome of a boot-stomping glam rock track, but it feels a bit like Bowie’s artistically treading water on it. As if he were merely proving he could write a straight-ahead rock song like T. Rex, Slade, Sweet, or Gary Glitter. It’s low-hanging fruit in my book when he could (and did) aim so much higher, even on the same album. Now, “Panic in Detroit” and “Cracked Actor” are really where it’s at. One thing you can say for “Jean Genie” is that at least it’s better than the insanely over-the-top cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” (Score: 8)

Pin Ups (1973): Frankly, this record is not very good, which is a shame since this was the last record to feature most of the Spiders from Mars (Aynsley Dunbar replacing Woody Woodmansey). Bowie has always done great covers so a covers album where none of the versions are particularly memorable seems like a wasted opportunity. The album cover’s nice to look at, but none of these tracks come close to the originals. (Score: 2)

Diamond Dogs (1974): This is an odd record for all kinds of reasons. With some songs that began life as a musical adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 (he never got the rights to do it), Bowie developed a post-apocalyptic sci-fi opera influenced by both Orwell and Burroughs. The lyrics are full of amazing freak show details of mutant grotesques out on the edge. The music has a woozy, drunken quality to it that feels like drugged-out circus music – the title track lurches around like an inebriated pony. Part of this can probably be explained by the fact that Bowie played nearly all the lead guitar himself. I wish Bowie had played more guitar on his own records. Plenty of people have commented how amateurish his playing sounds, but I always thought he sounded great with a completely distinct style. The album had a hit in “Rebel Rebel,” and “1984” hinted at his next move towards soul/funk, but the album’s true highlight is the “Sweet Thing/Candidate” suite filled with suicidal desperation strung out from some gamma-ray afterburn. (Score: 7)

Young Americans (1975): I’ll be honest and say that it took me a while to get into this record as I’m sure it must have for so many Ziggy-philes at the time. However, Bowie was once again a step ahead of the game anticipating the rise of disco by assimilating the Philadelphia sound and exposing it to a new white audience. Rob Sheffield thinks “Young American” is Bowie’s greatest moment, but I don’t even think it’s my favorite song on this album. The following three songs on the first side, “Win,” “Fascination,” and “Right,” all sound fresher to me. They don’t have as big of moments as the singles, but they’re tougher and funkier, deeper. (Score: 7)

Station to Station (1976): It’s pretty amazing that Bowie was able to create a record as great as this one while he was under the sway of a seriously debilitating cocaine addiction and filming The Man Who Fell to Earth. This is the Thin White Duke record, a character of elegant decadence that really stands as an artist on the precipice, crying out for help. This album began a run of great albums that is almost unprecedented in rock. The Beatles, Stones, and Prince have all had such runs, but it’s interesting to note that Bowie’s album sales during the late 70s were not, by even his own standards, very robust. Station to Station was commercially solid on the back of the single “Golden Years.” A lot of this album feels introspective, soul searching even. This probably shouldn’t be surprising for an artist who had built a career wearing not just one, but a series of masks. “Word On A Wing” is maybe one of best “secular” pop songs about coming to terms with god ever written. Why Al Green has never covered this is anyone’s guess. (Score: 9)

Low (1977): Objectively speaking, this is probably Bowie’s most perfect record. There are no missteps and it still sounds ahead of its time today. Conceptually bold, the album presents two opposite sides: one futuristic avant rock, one mournful electronic soundscapes. Part of the credit can go to Eno who challenged Bowie to create something truly new and encouraged the album in a distinctly electronic direction. Another more unheralded part of this album’s success is its fantastic rhythm section of Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, George Murray, and Ricky Gardiner, most of whom played on Bowie and Iggy Pop’s records of the time. They provide a perfect futuristic funk template which bolsters the record up from being such a heavy downer. Visconti’s production on this is a big part of its influence. The big, distorted drum sound on “Sound and Vision” (Visconti used an Eventide Harmonizer) could be said to have made the way for the gated 80s drums that Hugh Padgham developed on Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins records. And yet, Low is truly Bowie’s. It’s the sound of an artist spiritually rejuvenating himself, fighting for his life, after nearly destroying himself with chemicals. In short, it’s the sound of Bowie kicking cocaine while living in Berlin. As I said, objectively it is a more perfect record than Ziggy Stardust, but subjectively it doesn’t feature Bowie the songwriter to the same degree. It has very little in the way of traditional songs. Only five of its eleven tracks have vocals with discernible lyrics. Sometimes flawless doesn’t always mean the best. (Score: 10)

“Heroes” (1977): At least half of Low was recorded in France, but “Heroes” was all Berlin. The heaviness of the Berlin Wall is baked into this album, emotionally cold like a Minnesota winter, and spiritually hollow like the meat locker in Slaughterhouse 5. It’s a beautiful downer though. “Beauty and the Beat,” “Joe the Lion,” and “Blackout” are great rockers built on the funk rhythm section of Alomar, Davis, and Murray, with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp blasting sonic mercury over the top. The title track is Bowie’s great romantic epic, two chords and a dream of love against impossible odds. The instrumentals on the second side are sparer than Low’s doomed electronic ambience, but they have their own futuristic weight. The album ends with the faux-exoticisms of “The Secret Life of Arabia” which sounds like Bowie slapping himself awake from his melancholic slumber, off to a distant land in search of new adventures. (Score: 9)

Lodger (1979): This is in some ways the hidden corner of Bowie’s career. The last of the Eno-trilogy, it doesn’t have the same songs/instrumental structure as its predecessors. Side One takes up where “Heroes”’s “Secret Life” left off, with a series of travelogue songs. Side Two deconstructs and critiques modern culture. A lot of the experimentalism of this record came from a more academic approach (everybody in the band switching instruments, for instance). The result is like a cross between cubism and abstract expressionism. “Look Back in Anger” and “Boys Keep Swinging” are pretty straightforward “hits,” but they seem a bit off and tortured (in a good way). “Red Money” ends the record by recycling Iggy Pop’s “Sister Midnight” riff which he wrote with Bowie only two years before. Lodger still sounds fresh and undiscovered in a way that his other, more iconic records do not.  (Score: 8)

Scary Monsters (1980): This is the last great Bowie album. Everything else that would come later would forever be measured against it. During his post-Tin Machine artistic renaissance, every record review would begin with “his best since Scary Monsters.” It was a burden he would be saddled with for the rest of his career. Such is the price of greatness, I suppose. Despite that great weight, the album remains wonderful. Bookended by two versions of the same song, like a great Neil Young record, this album is a shaking off of all the cultural and psychic detritus of the previous decade. Bowie’s voice throughout is often at an atonal, histrionic wail. There’s a real feeling of personal desperation and emotional exhaustion here. The two singles, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion,” are classics – the former a song of choosing life over legacy, the latter a deadpan indictment of pop itself and Bowie’s own culpability for crimes of disposable culture. “Teenage Wildlife” and “Because You’re Young” show him taking on the role of the elder statesman. The cover on offer, Tom Verlaine’s “Kingdom Come” (only a year old at that point), is pure burned-out bliss. (Score: 9)

Let’s Dance (1983): Bowie became a global megastar with this album. You can reject this record on the basis of its open overture to mainstream commercial success, but it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a good album. At the very least it was his bestselling by a huge margin. Nile Rodgers would go on to make many non-Chic blockbusters throughout the 80s, but this was his first. Let’s Dance is the quintessential 80s album. It’s big on bluster and loud production, and makes no secret of its commercial ambitions. The track sequencing bears this out. The album opens with the three singles in an obvious effort to hook the listener. Opener “Modern Love” is the best song and uncharacteristically for Bowie the closer, “Shake It,” is the worst. “Without You” is the hidden gem, the cover of Metro’s “Criminal World” lends some (unneeded) new wave cred, and the version of “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is interesting, but inferior to the soundtrack version. Playing Bowie’s weirdest guitar-foil ever, a pre-Texas Flood Stevie Ray Vaughan shoots some blooze over the proceedings. This is the least Bowie-like album in his catalog which makes it the easiest to listen to without getting choked up in the wake of his death. The success of the album came at a steep price. With this record Bowie turned his back on his artistic instincts. It was the ax to break the ice and no matter how hard he tried to get it back later he never fully recovered his gift. (Score: 6)

Tonight (1984): This record almost feels like Bowie was on superstar autopilot after the gargantuan success of Let’s Dance. It feels rushed and lacking in original ideas. Five of the nine songs here are covers, no less than three of which are Iggy Pop tunes (one with a Tina Turner cameo). They’re not great cover versions either. The version of “God Only Knows” is pretty horrible. “Loving the Alien” and “Blue Jean” are terrific though and keep this one from being a complete waste. (Score: 4)

Never Let Me Down (1987): Most people consider this Bowie’s worst record. It does truly represent the worst aspects of his big 80s commercial era. And yet, it still contains a few quality songs even despite the terrible production. “Time Will Crawl,” “Never Let Me Down,” and “Zeroes” are all good, if not great. “Glass Spider” and the cover of Iggy’s “Bang Bang” aren’t bad. The single, “Day In Day Out,” is disappointing though, and “Shining Star (Making My Love)” – complete with a deadpan Mickey Rourke rap – is Bowie’s worst song ever. Bowie was more invested in his film career at this point, and it’s worth noting that Bowie’s soundtrack contributions were some of his best work of the decade. The Baal EP, “Absolute Beginners,” “This Is Not America,” “When the Wind Blows,” “Underground” and “As the World Falls Down” are easily as good or better as anything on Never Let Me Down. More than that, these songs showcase a singing style and melodic sense that marked a real change from his 70s work. The melodic structures of his 80s songs have the melancholic nostalgia of doo wop paired with a Sinatra croon. It was a style that he retained until the end. (Score: 3)

Tin Machine – Tin Machine (1989): I’m not going to convince most people of Tin Machine’s worth. People were frustrated with the idea of Bowie joining a group, but the truth is that Bowie may have never recovered artistically without Tin Machine. My biggest complaint with this album is that it has such a chip on its shoulder trying to prove how tough and rocking it is that it foregoes a lot of melody in favor of angular, bluesy noise. It’s worth noting that Bowie was a bit ahead of the curve playing angry, rock & roll at the same time grunge was at its pre-mainstream, underground zenith in the era of hair metal. A few tunes connect, “Tin Machine,” “Prisoner Of Love,” and “Under the God” among them, but most of this sounds like an exercise. “Working Class Hero” is the obligatory cover. What the group lacks in tunes they make up for it in chops. The Sales brothers were Iggy’s rhythm section on Lust for Life, after all. A lot of people dislike Tin Machine largely because it began Bowie’s long association with Reeves Gabrels (over ten years). Gabrels plays in a kind of hypertechnical, shred style that went out of vogue as soon as Nevermind dropped. Well, he plays with The Cure now, so that makes two rock geniuses who dig his licks, so who are we to judge. (Score: 5)

Tin Machine – Tin Machine II (1991): I actually rate this album higher than the group’s debut. Sure, Hunt Sales sings lead on a couple of the tracks, but the album as a whole is more diverse stylistically and has higher peaks. “Baby Universal” and “Amlapura” are high points that show real growth from the debut. It’s like they felt more comfortable being tuneful this time out. The cover of Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something” doesn’t match the original’s sense of drama, but it has a more frenetic rush, brimming with giddy enthusiasm. Bowie’s voice is great on it and Reeves Gabrels actualizes his playing in a way that he never did again, fitting somewhere between Phil Manzanera and Robert Fripp. “Goodbye Mr. Ed” is a great closer despite the silly title. It’s maybe the most Bowie track of all the Tin Machine songs. (Score: 6)

Black Tie White Noise (1993): Bowie’s effort to resuscitate his solo career began with the same producer that oversaw the advent of its artistic decline a decade earlier. Not as dynamically hit-driven as Let’s Dance, Black Tie nevertheless has more in the soul department. Like Scary Monsters, the album is bookended by two versions of the same song, “The Wedding” and “The Wedding Song,” written in tribute to his new bride who he would remain with for the remainder of his life. It’s a beautiful acid-jazz (in the early 90s club sense) ballad that begins and ends the record with a high point of unfettered romanticism. Black Tie marked the return of Bowie’s saxophone and jazz styles are evoked all over the record, not the least being the horn duet of “Looking for Lester,” featuring the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Lester Bowie. Bowie covers Cream, the Walker Brothers, and Morrissey on this album all to varying degrees of success. The singles are all decent: “Black Tie White Noise” (featuring Al B. Sure) sounds a little cheesy, “Jump They Say” – his tribute to his half-brother Terry who had recently committed suicide (Terry was the original Aladdin Sane) – fares better, and “Miracle Goodnight” the sweetheart standout. (Score: 6)

The Buddha of Suburbia (1993): Although technically a soundtrack for the BBC show, this works as an album in and of itself, and it’s a good one. The title track, like Black Tie, both starts and ends the album although to a lesser effect (Lenny Kravitz solos on the end of the second version). The electronic production is slightly less dated than Black Tie, but there is plenty of the same dance beats that were already a couple of years past their prime time. Watching Bowie following trends instead of setting them is the most disappointing part of these records. This album does have a couple of really great tracks, “Dead Against It” and the original (and in my opinion, superior) “Strangers When We Meet.” (Score: 6)

1. Outside (1995): Rob Sheffield thinks this record stinks. He likes ‘Hours…’ better. I guess it shows what he knows. This is the last Bowie/Eno collaboration. It’s by no means a perfect record, but it’s cohesive in its style and structure. It’s a non-linear detective murder mystery set in an alterna- art world of the future. It’s maybe one of the only albums takes advantage of the compact disc format’s randomization feature as a method of telling a story. Sheffield, along with many critics, probably doesn’t care for the story or the in between-song spoken word monologues acted out by Bowie in character. Regardless Outside carries songs that sound new and original, twisted and dangerous even. (Score: 7)

Earthling (1997): This score will confuse people. This was a very popular record when released and was the first Bowie record some younger people heard via the Trent Reznor-staring video for “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Sorry, the industrial meets drum and bass arrangements are ridiculous and the songs are just okay. “Little Wonder” is cute but easy to tire of. “Seven Years in Tibet” is tolerable. “Dead Man Walking” is a good song with a terrible arrangement. The acoustic version he played on Conan O’Brien is far superior. “I’m Afraid of Americans” is the hit off of this one and I really don’t like it. This album is pretty unlistenable for me. I realize I’m in the minority, but this is nearly Bowie’s weakest record. (Score: 2)

‘Hours…’ (2000): I was severely disappointed with this record when it came out. “Thursday’s Child” is a terrible song. It sounds like a faceless Sting song. Too much of the album sounds like adult alternative.  I’ve warmed to this album a bit more over the years. There’s nothing great here, but “Something in the Air,” “Survive,” “If I’m Dreaming of My Life,” “Seven,” “New Angels of Promise,” and “The Dreamers” all have decent melodies worth remembering. The penultimate track, “Brilliant Adventure,” even recalls a “Heroes” Side Two cut. I still think the artwork is horrible though. (Score: 4)

Heathen (2002): This album was incredibly welcome after the two that had come before it. It has several really good songs, creative production that’s not trendy, and avoids any real embarrassments. There are three cover songs: the Pixies’ “Cactus” (the highlight of the record), Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting for You,” and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s “I Took a Trip on A Gemini Spaceship” (the worst song on the album). “Sunday,” “Slip Away,” “Slow Burn,” “Afraid,” “5:15 the Angels Have Gone,” “A Better Future,” and “Heathen (The Rays)” are all pretty great. Together with “Cactus” they would make the case for a really strong album. Like The Next Day a decade later this one has too many songs on it. Condensing it would have made for a stronger whole. For instance, “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” was a single and it’s not really necessary to be on the album at all. (Score: 7)

Reality (2003): This album feels a bit rushed, like Bowie was trying to capitalize on the artistic momentum of Heathen. The first song (“New Killer Star”) and the last (“Bring Me the Disco King”) – both singles – are the best tracks on the record. The rest is mostly forgettable if not terrible. The cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso” is totally unnecessary – just a retread of the John Cale cover. I saw Bowie on this tour. It was a great band. Bowie suffered a heart attack on the tour and he went into hiding, not releasing any music for a very silent decade. (Score: 5)

The Next Day (2013): You can read my thoughts on this record here. I still maintain that the record would have been better with the bonus tracks replacing the third of four quarters of the album. My reimagined version would have been a very good album. Although I’ve scored it equal to its follow-up, I would still sit it slightly below his last, which I would give the nod due to its concentrated brevity. (Score: 7)

Blackstar (2016): Even divorced of its role as a parting gift from its composer, this is a heavy and dark record. There are moments of light here and there, but ultimately this is an album about death, about the sensation of frantically trying to express yourself as an artist and a human being as you are being lowered into the grave. Much of Bowie’s career and work has dealt with death. It’s all over his work: “Please Mr. Gravedigger,” “Quicksand,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” “We Are the Dead,” etc.  It’s a jazzy record which surprised some people. However, Bowie has always had that element to his music. The musical tone of the album is somewhere between Man Who Sold the World’s erie mysticism, Low and “Heroes” second sides, Black Tie White Noise’s jazzy interplay, and 1. Outside’s doom. The nearly ten-minute “Blackstar” is a trippy psychedelic goodbye to his starman alter-ego, Major Tom. It is a ritual embrace of death, like “Width of a Circle” played by a jazz band. My favorite song on the record is the second track, “‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore,” a veteran’s sweet remembrance of a fleeting love that could have been more had fated decided otherwise. It sounds like Bowie is addressing his own pop muse here, laughing at the temporal nature of any man’s legacy in the face of death. It is a genuinely whimsical tune, the tinkling descending synth melody (around “for that was patrol”) mirrors the piano one in the chorus Labyrinth’s “Chilly Down.” There are other echoes of Bowie’s past: the sax lines on “Lazarus” remind of those on “Neuk├Âln” and the harmonica bit on “I Can’t Give Everything Away” recycles the harp licks from “Never Let Me Down.” As the last song (in many ways), “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” is Bowie’s final closing album cut and it’s beautiful. It’s a last defense of rock’s greatest chameleon. Although he shared so much of himself through his art throughout the years, Bowie remained essentially unknowable to his fans. Behind all of his personas was a man who wanted to protect a part of himself, for himself, to salvage some sense of privacy behind the icon he had created. In the end, the artist bowed out gracefully, waving goodbye while closing his inner door forever. (Score: 7)

After he died, many of David Bowie’s albums re-entered the charts, including the Best of Bowie collection. To illustrate how deep his body of work is, I’ve put together a playlist of my own that doesn’t include any of the tracks from the Best of. That an artist could put together such an equally great alternate collection is a testament to both the depth as well as the breadth of the work.