So over the years, I've picked up my fair share of Bowieana on my path through North American culture. I've learned to play a few songs, sung along with maybe twenty, and watched "Labyrinth" too many times. I've even listened to about a dozen Bowie albums — and knew this was less than half of his total output.
This experiment's first result is that, compared to my social network, I know really rather a lot of album names. Out of 33 responses that contained at least one discernible album title, half cited six or fewer. I managed thirteen titles: only four of you named more than that. I am learning that I'm more of a Bowie fan than I knew.
But I was also curious about just how famous each of these albums was. That's why I asked you to list albums in the order you thought of them: something near the top of the list is going to be more famous than something near the bottom. I fear that a couple of respondents tried to help me out by sorting their lists, which might skew the data a bit, but on the other hand, if you're going to memorize twenty or more album names, you're going to need some kind of mnemonic. Time and the alphabet are tested and true. Maybe chronological order really is how you came up with them.
I was very liberal in album identification. If your title managed to point me toward a single unambiguous studio album, then I accepted it. However, I did not accept the titles of individual Bowie songs which happened to appear on a studio album, or live albums, or concert DVDs, or meta-personae: those went onto a separate "pseudo-albums" list, which I'll discuss a bit later. The boundary of acceptance was somewhere between The one that is New Day without the square (unambiguously "Heroes") and The weird noise one that a boy once had me listen to (nope).
For every entry, I assigned an average of 0.5 points to each the albums you mentioned. If you named just one album, it got 0.5 points. If you named two, they got 0.667 and 0.333 points. If you named three, they got 0.75, 0.5 and 0.25, in order. And so on. If you named more albums, you gave more points to your first few, but — in deference to the fact that your last few albums were probably pretty obscure — fewer points by the end of the list. Then I simply added up the points.
David Bowie's most famous album was unquestionably The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, also known as:
- Something about ziggy stardust
- Spiders from Mars
- the epic death/downfall of Ziggy Stardust
- The Rise And Fall of Ziggy etc.
- Ziggy Stardust
- Ziggy Stardust and something something about spiders
- Ziggy Stardust and the etc.
- Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- Ziggy Stardust something Mars something
After that, there's a peloton of four albums which jostled for position as each new vote came in:
- Hunky Dory
- Space Oddity
- Let's Dance
is the first of several examples of a Bowie album with annoying orthography or punctuation. It's commonly known as Blackstar
, and that's how most of you named it. And Space Oddity
is the first example of a Bowie album whose title changed over its own lifetime: it was originally released as David Bowie
— his second
self-titled album, which is confusing and maybe part of why his record company wanted to rename it — and then re-released as Man of Words / Man of Music
— and then re-re-released as Space Oddity
. We'll go with that last one, shall we?
This peloton fascinates me. It consists of Bowie's death-album, ★
, which is understandably big right now … Hunky Dory
, which in my personal opinion is his best
album … Space Oddity
, which is named after his most famous song … and Let's Dance
, which was his best-selling
album. And these four rank as far above the rest of the field as they rank below Ziggy Stardust something Mars something
After that, there's a steady decline in fame as we work through his back catalogue:
- Aladdin Sane
- EART HL IN G
- The Man Who Sold the World
- Labyrinth (soundtrack)
- Diamond Dogs
- Young Americans
- Station to Station
- Black Tie White Noise
- Never Let Me Down
- The Next Day
And then suddenly there's Major Tom
, the first distinctly Bowie-related response that's not actually a Bowie album. In fact it's not even a Bowie song (although there is a song of that name by Peter Schilling): it's his most famous character, the protagonist of half a dozen songs over the course of his career.
From this point forward, albums are intermixed with non-albums, and the strength of the data gets weaker. So here are the rest of his albums, before I come back and look at the "wrong" answers:
- Tin Machine
- David Bowie (his first self-titled album)
- Pin Ups
(At this point, "wrong" answers start to dominate the list. It's safe to call this the Line of Obscurity.)
- Scary Monsters……and Super Creeps
- Tin Machine II
- Toy (unreleased)
- The Buddha of Suburbia (soundtrack)
- Christiane F. (soundtrack)
According to Wikipedia's discography page, every Bowie studio album got mentioned at least once — even Toy
, which was apparently rejected by the studio in 2001 on the grounds that Bowie just didn't sell anymore. Which means that his most obscure album is probably
the soundtrack to Christiane F.
… unless y'all were deliberately sorting your lists to put soundtracks at the bottom, in which case it might be Tin Machine II
… unless you were deliberately sorting your lists to put "work within a band" at the bottom too, in which case it might be Scary Monsters……and Super Creeps
. Anyway, these are the obscure ones. If you want to become a Bowie hipster, this is where you should start.
Well, okay, nobody mentioned David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
, but I'm not sure whether that counts as a Bowie album or just a guest appearance.
The most obscure Bowie album I own is actually pretty obscure: The Buddha of Suburbia
. But the only reason I own it is because, one day, I thought, "I should listen to a Bowie album that isn't from the 1970s," and picked one from the iTunes store literally at random. I didn't actually realize it was a soundtrack until I read your responses this weekend.
So let's go back and look at those "wrong" answers. I put "wrong" in scare quotes because this wasn't really a survey to see who could name the most Bowie albums — in an age of Wikipedia, we all know how to find the "right" answers when we need them. It was a survey to measure people's cultural impressions of David Bowie. So this odd mixture of singles, live albums, guest appearances, and what I can only assume to be wild guesses that sound like they might have been Bowie albums, constitutes an interesting list in its own right.
The top "wrong" answer was Major Tom
, ranking way up between 'hours…'
and Tin Machine
. "Wrong" answers gradually become more frequent, and dominate the list affter Pin Ups
. Here's the full list:
- Major Tom (a character)
- Changes (a single from Hunky Dory)
- Glass Spider (a live album)
- Fame (a single from Young Americans)
- Modern Love (a single from Let's Dance)
- Serious Moonlight (a live concert DVD)
- All the Young Dudes (I totally thought you were kidding, or maybe mangling Young Americans, but this is actually an album by Mott the Hoople on which Bowie sang guest vocals, gosh that's obscure, well done entrant and thank you Wikipedia)
- Fruit in the Desert (I'm…not sure?)
- Suffragette City (a single from the compilation album Changesonebowie)
- American Flan (now you're just having me on)
- Lazarus (a single from ★, indeed the last single of Bowie's life)
- Under Pressure (a single from Queen's album Hot Space on which Bowie sang guest vocals)
- Circles (an album by Mike Doughty? am I missing something?)
- Under Even More Pressure (nice try)
- What Was That Song with the Yowling? (almost certainly a Bowie song, but I couldn't tell which one)
- Where Are We Now (a single from The Next Day)
- Something about Unicorns (but I couldn't tell what exactly)
- Go Dancing (I might have accepted this as a synonym for Let's Dance, except that Let's Dance was also on the same list)
- I'm Afraid of Americans (I totally thought you were kidding, but this is actually a single from EART HL IN G)
- Frank Zappa Can Kiss My Shoe (kidding?)
- Determinedly Flippant (yes you are)
- David's Danceteria (this should have been an album, I totally agree, but as far as I can tell it wasn't)
- The Bewlay Brothers (a song from Hunky Dory)
- Son of the Return of Lazarus (possibly an unreleased posthumous single?)
Thanks everyone for your responses. I'm going to go close comments on the survey post now.