From Syd Barrett to The Velvet Underground: David Bowie once named his top 25 favourite albums of all time
“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 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.
In doing so, Bowie managed to name his top 25 records of all time. Among the list, there are shout outs for the likes for 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.
“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 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. 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 Spotify’s‘ 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