“I wanted to do something artistically valid.” – David Bowie
Looking back at David Bowie’s career, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that he was as commercially successful as other mainstream acts such as Madonna or The Rolling Stones. One of the most appealing aspects of the chameleonic starman is that he existed on the fringes of the music industry.
“I have nothing to do with the music industry,” he would say in the 2000s. Having said that, Bowie did occasionally enjoy commercial success, but he gave up on trying to crack that code earlier on in his career.
“Adapting to the idea of being mainstream I found very difficult indeed. I was beaten by the whole three-ring circus about it,” he said. Adding, “I tried to reach a wider and wider audience without actual feelings of artistic passion.”
By the time he released Diamond Dogs at the tail end of his glam-rock phase, he was huge in his homeland of Britain and while he was fairly successful in the States, he still hadn’t landed any U.S number ones. At the time, he desperately wanted to reach the upper echelons of pop stardom, not because he wanted to sell out, but because he was always looking for his next conquest.
Another outstanding quality of Bowie’s is that he wasn’t chasing the financial incentive — he mostly followed his ever-evolving artistic voice. So in 1974, while in Philadelphia, he was taken by the Philly soul scene; it was time for the old starman to officially kill off his space glam alien character and all the different iterations of it (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack) and create a new musical vision and with it, once again pioneering a new mutation of an existing genre. This time, he would create a strange amalgamation of American soul, rekindle his love for American beat literature, and become a film star.
His 1975 album Young Americans would present the world with the first-ever ‘plastic soul’ record – an ironic take or the raw product but disguised with a mask – which was something that Bowie always did even with; glam rock was just an ironic take on classic rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, John Lennon once told Bowie that glam rock was just “rock ‘n’ roll with lipstick.”
“I’m really knocked out that people actually dance to my records, though. But let’s be honest; my rhythm and blues are thoroughly plastic,” Bowie told Playboy in a 1976 interview. “Young Americans, the album ‘Fame’ is from, is, I would say, the definitive plastic soul record. It’s the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey.”
Bowie would get his first American number-one single in 1975 with the aforementioned ‘Fame’, co-written and recorded with John Lennon. Besides the title track of his ’75 record, Young Americans, ‘Fame’ is the quintessential representation of Bowie’s ‘plastic soul’. He called it such because it was the closest he could get to playing Black music while being authentic and not a wannabee Black artist.
It’s no surprise that the only other number one hit that Bowie got in the States would be another dance number – a sequel to his Young Americans: Let’s Dance. So how many number ones did Bowie have in total?
How many number ones did David Bowie have?
In the States, Bowie only ever had two number one charting singles and it wouldn’t be until his last record, Blackstar, when he finally scored a number one album in the country that became his home.
Bowie was always very successful in the UK and British audiences identified a considerable more amount with Bowie’s quintessential ‘British’ streak. The British glam-rock phase which Bowie helped pioneer along with other artists such as T-Rex, Roxy Music, The Sweet, and Slade, was heavily mixed with androgyny and sexual innuendo. While Bowie may not have been the absolute first glam rocker, his brand of glam was very unique in that it combined Japanese Kabuki theatre, science fiction, and cabaret.
As a result, his albums performed very well; he achieved a total of 11 UK number one albums – starting with Aladdin Sane.
David Bowie’s U.S number-one singles:
- 1975 – ‘Fame’ – Young Americans
- 1983 – ‘Let’s Dance’ – Let’s Dance
How many UK number-one singles did David Bowie have?
David Bowie was always huge in the UK.
While his glam-rock persona, Ziggy Stardust, didn’t have the same kind of influence in the States, the UK was a different story.
However, despite this, Bowie wouldn’t get a number-one single until the re-release of 1969’s ‘Space Oddity’, which stayed at number one for two weeks, and remained in the charts for a total of ten weeks.
David Bowie’s number-one UK singles:
- ‘Space Oddity’ – 1975 (re-released)
- ‘Ashes to Ashes’ – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) – 1980
- ‘Under Pressure’ w/ Queen – 1981
- ‘Let’s Dance’ – Let’s Dance – 1983
- ‘Dancing in the Street’ w/ Mick Jagger – 1985
How many number-one UK albums did David Bowie have?
David Bowie had nine number one UK albums plus another two when counting his compilation albums.
- Aladdin Sane (1973)
- Pin-Ups (1973
- Diamond Dogs (1974)
- Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
- Let’s Dance (1983)
- Tonight (1984)
- ChangesBowie (1990)
- Black Tie White Noise (1993)
- Best Of Bowie (2002)
- The Next Day (2013)
- Blackstar (2016)