My favorite Bowie album varies depending on when you ask me. For a while it was Ziggy Stardust, then Hunky Dory took its place. Then I got hooked on Low, like everyone does, though my secret confession is that I admire the instrumentals more than I love them, and would happily stitch side 1 of Low to side 1 of “Heroes” and ride away with that (especially if I could sneak in “Secret Life of Arabia”). And lately I find myself looking forward to almost all of Scary Monsters (and, if we must, Super Creeps) when it comes up in my iTunes shuffle.
Somewhere in there I discovered Station to Station. It has none of my favorite Bowie songs on it, but every now and then I come back to it and marvel. Just six tracks, and every one knocks it out of the park. The title track is an album unto itself, moving through so many different phases that you almost forget anything else is going to happen. I always liked the Spider from Mars better than the Thin White Duke, but this makes a very good case for his return. So “Golden Years” comes as a surprise, waking us from the dream, sliding from the impossibly epic into effortless disco, and it sounds so smooth, but try to sing along, I dare you. I first heard it as the theme song to the Stephen King TV series to which it lent its title, and just like the protagonist of that series, it seems to get younger with time. “Word on a Wing” is back to almost messianic transport, “TVC 15” back to unabashed disco, and then the ecstatic despair of “Stay” and “Wild is the Wind.” It’s almost too powerful to listen to on a casual basis. He was reportedly just about out of his mind — all sorts of personal and professional crises, and of course drugs — and I think you’d have to be, to be this self-assured and self-negating at the same time.
Beyond my inadequate praise for what this record actually is, let’s look at what it represents. Bowie is the primary source, the origin point, the prototype for just about everything I love in the music that came after him. It’s not just the music, but also the style, the experimental spirit, the mix of classic and avant-garde, the personas. Some artists influence other artists with their bodies of work; Bowie seemed to spawn whole genres with each record. I don’t think it’s true to say Bowie invented the rock star as I grew up with the concept, but it’s probably fair to say he perfected it. Roxy Music and the Velvet Underground probably contributed some genes to my favorite music, and certainly Bowie himself was passing on some core DNA (the Beatles and Bob Dylan, at the very least), but if I had to pick one artist to explain the rest of this list, he’s the one. I wasn’t old enough to hear this record when it came out, but the splash it made rippled through all the music that reached my ears afterward. Thirty-eight years later, we’ll see that it’s rippling still.
Heart, Dreamboat Annie
As much as I admire Station to Station, I have to admit I enjoy this album more. Way more fun to listen to casually, and if it sounds just a little too much like Led Zeppelin, really, if you could sound like Led Zeppelin at all, wouldn’t you? It’s hard to complain about their devotion to the title track (three separate variations) when they’re also writing instant classics like “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You.”
It’s hard to hear a lyric like “you had to admit you wanted the love of a sex offender” in 2014 without assuming it’s about something more sordid than, say, a hooker who lets a cop bust her because he’s so fine. Like every Blondie record, this is pure fun, and this one happens to include not only the hilarious bitch-queen anthem “Rip Her to Shreds” but also one of my favorites, “In the Flesh.”