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David Bowie’s 5 Best Albums

David Bowie is more than a rock and roll archetype. By now, he’s shifted around and mastered enough forms of musical experimentation to serve as a human representation of our changing times. His first album in ten years, The Next Day, is aptly named for a musician whose spent his entire career bringing tomorrow into the present. He’s spent years re-inventing himself at every turn, and some of those incarnations were more authentic than others. For example, Bowie outed himself as a bisexual in 1976 and then recanted seven years later, saying he had only been trying to shock the mainstream. He called it “the biggest mistake I ever made.”

If his career could be said to have a trajectory, that would be a good example of it: transitioning from an artist determined to be bizarre to one determined to be authentic. But for all the man’s fleeting quirks, his music has always centered around things that are hard to nail down. “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing,” he said in 2005. “Because I am not quite an atheist. And that bothers me.”

So, his latest incarnation releases today, and we’ll soon see what answers and questions he’s mined for the public. But for now, let’s take a look into yesterday to understand why its always a good thing to look forward to a new David Bowie release. Here are our picks for the five best Bowie albums

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

It’s hard to imagine for a millennial—since the outlandish has become mainstream—but in 1972, Bowie’s androgynous, shocking and multicolored “Ziggy” persona was the first ultimate confirmation that counterculture had made it from a whisper to a scream. Mick Ronson’s crunchy lead guitar counterpoints Bowie’s garish madness perfectly. Bowie starts out this album with the impending apocalypse of “Five Years” and lets the curtain fall over the character’s own “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.” For all the album’s destructive themes though, Bowie ended up being the best proof you can answer the perennial Neil Young/Kurt Cobain query “Is it better to burn out or fade away?” with “Why does it have to be either?”

Station to Station (1976)

Bowie sure knows how to name his records. Station to Station is just that: a voyage from one artistic period to another, caught in transit. By ’76, Ziggy had been shelved for the personality of the gaunt and trimly dressed Thin White Duke. The album has a dance-as-the-world-collapses quality, teetering all perennial between ecstasy and emotional disrepair. It was at this minimalist discotheque Bowie first struck out as a lost human being in the world he hoped to avoid as a spaceman. After years of wanting to escape his problems, Bowie here turned to face them head on.

Low (1977)

The Berlin trilogy (Low, “Heroes,” Lodger) is rightly acclaimed as Bowie’s ultimate masterpiece. After voyaging to Germany with Brian Eno, Bowie penned Low, an album mimicked and borrowed from by nearly every arthouse, post-punk or alternative band to come after. The thumping drumbeats, deep-voiced vocals and curious synthesizers are all here in prototype form for bands like New Order, Depeche Mode or Siouxsie & the Banshees to expand upon in the next decade. “I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.”

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“Heroes” (1977)

Released the same year, this is Low’s mirror image. Its a bit more pop accessible and which of the two is better is really up to personal preference. Both records have a Side A of musical mania and a Side B peopled with moody instrumentals. What Low and every other Bowie album don’t have though is this album’s eponymous song “Heroes.” For all the Ziggy era’s emphasis on coming from another world, it was here Bowie really made it sound like he’d tapped into something heaven sent. “Heroes” is one of the most moving compositions rock music has ever given us: an anthem for those who resolve to making the most of their brief time on earth. “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

Let’s Dance (1983)

Though the more elitist among Bowie afficionados will say 1980’s Scary Monsters was the last great record, Let’s Dance is probably the most fun you’ll have listening to him. It’s still shot through in soundbites with the iconoclasm and depression of his earlier work but its also the sound of Bowie settling down into a more optimistic frame of mind. It’s Station to Station with the disco ball up and running. “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” and “Let’s Dance” are all here. Bowie always knew how to get people up and moving if he wanted to. Here he used that skill to full effect. “Let’s sway, under the moonlight, this serious moonlight.”

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