This is hardly a revelatory statement, but David Bowie had a very good 1970s. Fueled by a heroic intake of drugs, the man worked like a machine and churned out masterpiece after masterpiece, pausing only to tour, produce amazing albums for other people and to ingest yet more drugs. This didn't do much for his physical or mental health (at one point he thought his TV was talking to him), but it did produce some of the greatest albums in rock history. We asked our readers to vote on their favorite Bowie albums, and the top 10 were all released between 1970 and 1980. Only Lodger failed to make the cut. Click through to see the results.
The Man Who Sold The World arrived on store shelves during a bizarre time in Bowie's career. After years of failed efforts, he'd finally scored a hit the previous year with "Space Oddity." His subsequent singles, however, failed to generate any heat, and it seemed like he might be a One Hit Wonder. Always one to know how to get attention, Bowie decided to wear a dress on the cover of his third album, The Man Who Sold The World. This was long, long before the days of Boy George, back when such a move was still shocking. He wore the gown to his first interview with Rolling Stone in early 1971. "I refuse to be thought of as mediocre," Bowie said. "If I am mediocre, I'll get out of the business. There's enough fog around. That's why the idea of performance-as-spectacle is so important to me . . . Tell your readers that they can make up their minds about me when I begin getting adverse publicity: when I'm found in bed with Raquel Welch's husband." The entire interview was conducted in the gown.
Despite his best efforts, the LP didn't make much of a commercial impact. When his career exploded about three years later with Ziggy Stardust, fans went back and discovered this album, and now "The Man Who Sold the World," "The Width of a Circle" and "The Supermen" are all classics.
It would have been very easy for David Bowie to squeeze out glam albums like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane for years and years, but he knew to be a truly great artist he had to challenge his fans and move into different areas. With that in mind, he put all of his past music aside and started work on a Philly R&B style album. A young soul singer named Luther Vandross was taped for background vocals, and his new friend John Lennon helped Bowie write "Fame." The result was Young Americans. Some old fans were turned off, but the huge radio hits "Fame" and "Young Americans" introduced him to a whole new audience.
Heroes is the second album of Bowie's so-called "Berlin Trilogy," but it's actually the only album totally recorded at Hansa Studio in Berlin. After taking the experimentation pretty far with Low, Bowie decided it was time for a slightly more traditional pop record. Recorded almost within spitting distance of the Berlin Wall, the LP fuses Krautrock with the ambient sounds he'd been perfecting over the past couple of years. The title track, about lovers on different sides of the Berlin Wall, became one of the biggest hits of Bowie's career and helped the LP climb the charts all across the planet.
Bowie's 1980 album Scary Monsters is so incredible that for the next 20 years countless rock critics said that whatever new album he put out was "his best since Scary Monsters." In some small ways, this is the fourth album of the "Berlin Trilogy," even though it was recorded entirely in New York and London. Once again, Bowie was working with Tony Visconti on music that was both commercial and highly artistic. This time he leaned more on the former, and scored hits with "Fashion" and the "Space Oddity" sequel "Ashes to Ashes." There really isn't a weak track on the album, proving that Bowie was almost unique among Seventies rock icons in his ability to stay relevant after the punk revolution. He made many great songs after this, but never again was any album this satisfying from start to finish.
The pressure was truly on David Bowie when he went into the studio in late 1972 to begin recording Aladdin Sane. Kids all across American has played Ziggy Stardust until the vinyl was worn down, and they wanted something new. Written during his first American tour, Bow labeled this album "Ziggy Goes to America." It was a worthy follow-up, and "The Jean Genie," "Panic in Detroit" and "Cracked Actor" all became instant Bowie classics. More important, it proved Bowie wasn't a One-Album Wonder.
David Bowie was halfway through writing a concept album about George Orwell's classic novel 1984 when he ran into a tiny snag: Orwell's estate denied him the rights to the book. Rather than start from scratch, Bowie opted to put some of the songs on a more traditional glam rock album. Diamond Dogs is a farewell to the already fading glam scene. On the cover, Bowie still has his Ziggy hair, but he's already morphing into some other creature. This was his first album after parting ways with the Spiders from Mars backing band, and the beginning of his long association with Earl Slick. "Rebel Rebel" was the only real hit from the album, though it never went higher than number 64 in America.
Many Bowie fans didn't quite know what to make of Low when it first appeared in January of 1977. "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" were the only songs that even sounded somewhat like pop music, and the second side was filled with instrumentals. Clearly, Bowie wasn't aiming for the pop charts with this one. Instead, he took the experiments from Station to Station to a new level. The disc was produced by Tony Visconti, but Brian Eno played a large role in shaping the unique sound of the disc. While many of his peers were totally ignoring new music, Bowie was immersing himself in Krautrock and discovering entirely new ways to express himself. Low was underappreciated at the time, but now it's widely seen as a masterpiece.
It's possible to do so much cocaine over a long period of time that you enter into a state of "cocaine psychosis," meaning you suffer from intense paranoia and memory failure. That explains why David Bowie claims to have no memory of recording Station to Station. He was doing shocking amounts of the drug, and not sleeping for days at a time. This disc was recorded largely long after midnight in a Los Angeles studio. E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan was sober, but most everyone else in the studio was high as a spaceship. This usually leads to horrible music, but by some miracle it produced some of the greatest songs of Bowie's career. On the epic title track Bowie even sings about the "side effects of the cocaine." It's 10 minutes and 15 seconds of absolute madness. You can almost smell the drugs when you listen to it. The disc wraps with a cover of "Wild Is the Wind," featuring some of the greatest singing of Bowie's career. This is a deeply weird album that just gets better with age.
Note: don't try this at home. When Elton John and Oasis tried to record on this much cocaine, the results were absolutely dismal. Just listen to Leather Jackets and Be Here Now if you don't believe us.
David Bowie began writing the music on Hunky Dory on his first visit to America in 1971. "The whole Hunky Dory album reflected my newfound enthusiasm for this new continent that had been opened up to me," Bowie said in 1999. "That was the first time a real outside situation affected me so 100 percent that it changed my way of writing and the way I look at things."
Traveling by bus from Washington, D.C., to California, Bowie fell in love with the country and was inspired to pen tributes to some of its most iconic artists ("Andy Warhol," "Song for Bob Dylan" and the Lou Reed tribute "Queen Bitch"). Inspired by folk-rock acts that were dominating the charts, Bowie began composing pretty acoustic tunes with surreal lyrics like "Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow," from "Life on Mars?" "When we were rehearsing songs for Hunky Dory, David was playing by himself at folk clubs in London to, like, 50 people," says Hunky Dory bassist Trevor Bolder, who also played on Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. "He had long hair and looked like a folkie."
On "Changes," which kicks off the album, Bowie offers a challenge to pop's reigning stars, singing, "Look out, you rock & rollers." "I guess it was more being sort of arrogant," Bowie said in 2002. "It's sort of baiting an audience, saying, 'Look, I'm going to be so fast you're not going to keep up with me.'" The album found a small audience, but flew up the charts later that year after the huge success of the follow-up, Ziggy Stardust.
The world has just five years left and it seems like there is no hope, but suddenly an alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust enters the body of a man and offers us salvation in our dying days. Sadly, he "took it all too far" and wound up killing himself in a "Rock and Roll Suicide." It's a story that virtually nobody has ever bothered to follow, but that hardly matters. The songs on Ziggy Stardust represent the high point of the entire glam movement. Also, Bowie was reborn onstage as Ziggy Stardust, providing a much-needed rock star in an otherwise bleak music landscape. Even better, parents hated him. Bowie has had bigger hits and more acclaimed albums, but never in his career did he seem quite as important or refreshing. This is the Bowie album that will be in the history books.