“I don’t see any boundaries between any of the art forms. I think they all inter-relate completely.”—David Bowie.
It will come as little surprise that the great David Bowie had a vastly eclectic record collection. The kind of catalogue of discs that would make radio DJs from the golden era of pop, feel embarrassed. The singer, who was long famed for his eclectic styles and complete commitment to his role as an artist, was always quick to point out his contemporaries who challenged him to complete his best work.
Way back in 2003 the Thin White Duke decided to rake through his 2,500 vinyl record collection to pick out some of his favourite numbers while in conversation with Vanity Fair. It provided a ream of eclectic titles that put Bowie up there as one of the most authentic lovers and creators of music ever known.
In going through all his records, Bowie managed to name his top 25 records of all time. Among the list, there are shout outs for the likes of Robert Wyatt, John Lee Hooker, Toots & The Maytals, The Fugs and many more. “There is really no way to do a list of my favourite albums with any rationality. I do only have about 2,500 vinyl,” Bowie said a the time of naming his list. It’s a fair assumption. Musos like Bowie can never stick to one set of albums or songs as their definitive, unmovable list of favourites. That list would change with the seasons and the ticking of a clock.
“I’ll look through the albums and pull together a list of those I have re-bought or am in the process of re-buying on CD. I have little time, and there are just too many to sort through. So, I’ll keep pulling stuff out blindly, and if it’s too obvious (Sgt. Pepper, Nirvana) I’ll put it back again till I find something more interesting,” he mused.
The Starman added: “No rules then. I’ll just make ’em up as I go along. If you can possibly get your hands on any of these, I guarantee you evenings of listening pleasure, and you will encourage a new high-minded circle of friends, although one or two choices will lead some of your old pals to think you completely barmy. So, without chronology, genre, or reason, herewith, in no particular order, 25 albums that could change your reputation.”
When discussing his decision to include The Velvet Underground, Bowie said: “Brought back from New York by a former manager of mine, Ken Pitt. Pitt had done some kind of work as a P.R. man that had brought him into contact with the Factory. Warhol had given him this coverless test pressing (I still have it, no label, just a small sticker with Warhol’s name on it) and said, ‘You like weird stuff—see what you think of this’. What I ‘thought of this’ was that here was the best band in the world. In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ as one of the encore songs at our last gig.”
The singer makes a noteworthy point as he claims to be the first act to cover the iconic New York City band: “Amusingly, not only was I to cover Velvet’s song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that’s the essence of Mod.”
With many of Bowie’s selections comes a detailed story of how, quite often by pure chance, he ended up getting his hands on the records he kept close to him for the remainder of his life.
Take, for example, John Lee Hooker’s iconic record Tupelo Blues: “By 1963, I was working as a junior commercial artist at an advertising agency in London,” Bowie explained. “My immediate boss, Ian, a groovy modernist with Gerry Mulligan—style short crop haircut and Chelsea boots, was very encouraging about my passion for music, something he and I both shared, and used to send me on errands to Dobell’s Jazz record shop on Charing Cross Road knowing I’d be there for most of the morning till well after lunch break.
“It was there, in the ‘bins’, that I found Bob Dylan’s first album. Ian had sent me there to get him a John Lee Hooker release and advised me to pick up a copy for myself, as it was so wonderful. Within weeks my pal George Underwood and I had changed the name of our little R&B outfit to the Hooker Brothers and had included both Hooker’s ‘Tupelo’ and Dylan’s version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in our set.”
So here it is, Bowie’s full list available to stream in a playlist below. Note that due to ‘ limitations a there’s a couple missing from the playlist.
David Bowie’s 25 favourite albums:
- The Last Poets — The Last Poets
- Shipbuilding — Robert Wyatt
- The Fabulous Little Richard — Little Richard
- Music for 18 Musicians — Steve Reich
- The Velvet Underground & Nico — The Velvet Underground
- Tupelo Blues — John Lee Hooker
- Blues, Rags and Hollers — Koerner, Ray and Glover
- The Apollo Theatre Presents: In Person! The James Brown Show — James Brown
- Forces of Victory — Linton Kwesi Johnson
- The Red Flower of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere: Music Played on National Instruments — Various Artists
- Banana Moon — Daevid Allen
- Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris — Cast Album
- The Electrosoniks: Electronic Music — Tom Dissevelt
- The 5000 Spirits of the Layers of the Onion — The Incredible String Band
- Ten Songs by Tucker Zimmerman — Tucker Zimmerman
- Four Last Songs (Strauss) — Gundula Janowitz
- The Ascension — Glenn Branca
- The Madcap Laughs — Syd Barrett
- Black Angels — George Crumb
- Funky Kingston — Toots & The Maytals
- Delusion of the Fury — Harry Partch
- Oh Yeah — Charles Mingus
- Le Sacre du Printemps — Igor Stravinsky
- The Fugs — The Fugs
- The Glory of the Human Voice — Florence Foster Jenkins
Stream the playlist, below.