Every David Bowie Album, Ranked


I’m doing this. I’m ranking every David Bowie album.

This list is not ranked by historical importance or designed to guide a new listener through his vast discography. This is simply a list of every major album David Bowie released in order from worst to best. While I don’t believe he made any truly bad albums, he certainly had a range of quality to his recordings. I’m skipping the covers album, the soundtracks, and the Tin Machine stuff. This is pure Bowie, no filler.

I’ve seen other lists out there and I almost always disagree with their top picks. They’re always too safe, too obvious, compromised by committee. This list is an unvarnished look at one passionate fan’s embrace of the entire catalogue and will probably bring some surprise. If you’re curious to learn more about Bowie’s impact on my life, check out David Bowie Is Dead // This Is What He Means To Me.

I know that no two David Bowie fans are the same and that most people will disagree with my rankings. That’s part of his magic. In that spirit, I welcome all comments and suggestions, so share away. I had fun making this, and I hope you have fun reading it.

Let’s get on with the list:

24. Tonight


It’s not irredeemably bad, but it feels inexcusably lazy. This came hot on the heels of David Bowie’s biggest hit, 1983’s Let’s Dance. It had neither the pop chops or the instrumental power of that album, slathering a blandly likable production over a set of indistinct tracks. He should and could have done better.

•  •  •

23. Never Let Me Down


This album came a couple years after Tonight, and continued Bowie’s half-hearted pop era. It tries slightly harder than Tonight, which is why it’s not rated lower. There’s a hint of personality buried underneath this mess, but it’s not enough to rescue it. Not as listenable as background music, but that’s only because some of the awkward corners bring a sense of mild surprise.

•  •  •

22. David Bowie


The biggest fault of this album is that it simply lacks the very essence of what makes a Bowie album so singularly his own. It’s a competent, completely indistinct set of tunes that barely hints at the genius to come, much less the artist’s distinctive personality.

•  •  •

21. Hours


This was part soundtrack to a cyberpunk video game starring Bowie as a god-like entity, and part adult contemporary narcotic. It’s got interesting production, but the songs go nowhere. I listen and find myself enjoying it, but hours later I’m unable to recall any specific melodies, only a fleeting glimpse of a mood. It’s still not as interesting as that description makes it sound. However, the game, Omikron, was an impressively weird and ambitious romp for the late 1990s and is worth a try for the hardcore Bowie fan or the gamer with a lot of curiosity and patience.

•  •  •

20. Space Oddity


This album nearly suffers the same fate as its predecessor, which is fitting since it was originally titled David Bowie as well. However, it was reissued a few years later, named after the best tune on the album by a country mile. Space Oddity is the quintessential Bowie song, a ballad about an astronaut set adrift in space, unable to hear earth calling. It’s just a shame that nothing else on the album measures up.

•  •  •

19. Black Tie White Noise


This album found Bowie re-embracing the idea of dance after his grunge-infused Tin Machine band project, which resulted in a pair of albums that I’m not counting here. It also found him finally trying to experiment again, breaking free of the diminishing returns of his two albums after Let’s Dance. It centers on a loose concept built around his recent marriage to Iman, which means that it feels uncharacteristically romantic at times. Still, there’s nothing super memorable here.

•  •  •

18. Earthling


After 1995’s wildly exploratory Outside didn’t connect commercially, Bowie abandoned the planned trilogy of noirish cyberpunk experimentalism that it began. Instead, he jumped right into hard-edged jungle and drum ‘n bass, making a dense, driven album of abrasive, beat-centric music that consciously evokes the acidic fun of Scary Monsters. Unlike that landmark album, Earthling mostly stews in its own angst, never rising with inspiration. The standout is his duet with Trent Reznor, I’m Afraid of Americans. The industrial dance track was a staple on MTV and conjured the dark energy of pre-millennial tension in operatic fashion. Nothing else here will stick in your ears as well.

•  •  •

17. The Man Who Sold The World


Everyone in my generation knows the title track, likely thanks to Nirvana’s soul-shaking cover on their iconic Unplugged in New York set. It’s a fine tune, one of early Bowie’s most passionate recordings. The rest of the album is just as solidly built, but still lacks the wildly distinctive persona of David Bowie, that larger than life presence that began with his next album.

•  •  •

24-17  |  16-9  |  8-1

14 thoughts on “Every David Bowie Album, Ranked

  1. All I have time for now, is that this is one of the most engaging articles about a musician that I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard maybe half of these albums but your writing has made me desire to listen to the other half. I’m sharing with a few, select musician friends. I’d go public but my aunts and uncles probably don’t give a crap. Actually, thinking about it, most of my friends are musician/theater friends that love Bowie. I will go public. Rolling Stone or Spin should purchase this from you. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so well written, your descriptions of the albums are absolutely excellent. Well done, you could be a music journalist of the highest order based on this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fantastic! Some of your rankings I would disagree with, but that’s mainly because his later career is what I grew up with and what I have the most connection with (Labyrinth soundtrack was my introduction to Bowie as a child.)

    I was so surprised to see Outside sitting at #1! Absolutely one of THE best albums made by any artist. Well done, sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! Labyrinth was also my introduction to Bowie, so maybe we’re close in age? I wrote a long tribute to him after he died last year and detailed how I went from Labyrinth to the earliest days and back again, growing up with his music. You might find the story familiar :) Anyway, I’m jazzed to find anyone else who loves Outside so much! It’s endlessly fascinating to me, an album I can return to any time and just live inside for a while.


  4. Dude, where is ‘Buddha’?!
    Other than that, agreed with number 1. It’s written on it anyway, isn’t it?
    I would like you to enlighten me about Reality’s progressive qualities, because I may have completely missed them. Apart from the breathtaking masterpiece called ‘Disco King’, I cannot find anything that stands out in that album. The fact that it made it before ‘Diamond Dogs’ in your otherwise rather realistic ranking (even if I would have come up with something different) is perplexing.
    Thanks for the labor of love for the genius ze miss so much. Appreciated :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the feedback! I actually decided to keep my list concise by skipping soundtracks and covers (so, Pin Ups) but I’ve heard from a lot of people who think it should be here. I kinda agree now, but oh well. As for Reality? It’s just got a lot of small, subtle details that add up to a more enjoyable listen than the albums I ranked behind it, no specific qualities really nail it. As I wrote, I really enjoy Diamond Dogs too, but I had to make some tough decisions here :) Seriously, thanks for the kind words. It’s still weird to me that Bowie is gone, so I keep writing about him. Always something more to say.


      • Thanks a lot for the answer :) Hmmm, I’m sure you know that Buddha is not a soundtrack, even if it was – very stupidly – promoted as such. If there ever was a diamond that fell into the cracks, it is surely this one, and sadly so.
        “It’s still weird to me that Bowie is gone”.
        You’re certainly not the only one, as you can guess. I’ve got some periods, like these days, when I cannot stop listening to his music and researching about, and that’s how I’ve discovered your very beautiful blog, a real silver lining :)
        To thank you, I hope you haven’t missed this and that.
        Cheers, bro’


  5. These are pretty great reviews David, and I share 4 of your top 5 (I would swap out Heroes for Station to Station). Like you, I have had Bowie in my life since I first started to get into music, since 1973 for me. His death, while obviously exquisitely executed, has left a hole that cannot ever be filled.

    I have owned all the Dude’s albums except Never Let Me Down, and have long tried to force Outside on people who only know the 70s work. In addition to the tracks you rightly pointed out, I was massively taken with I’m Deranged, such slinky and ominous song. And then there’s Through These Architects Eyes, where his vocal performance is so committed. One of his best vocals ever. I’m glad to see Outside so well represented on your list, in addition to Blackstar – his greatest accomplishment.

    Be interested to see your list of favourite Bowie songs! A taller order given his prodigious output…


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: David Bowie – Scary Monsters | Optimistic Underground

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s