Stream David Bowie’s Complete Discography in a 19-Hour Playlist: From His Very First Recordings to His Last

I wish a had a bet­ter answer to the ques­tion “where were you when David Bowie died?” than, “sit­ting at my desk, star­ing dumb­ly at the com­put­er screen.” While the ide­al place to read every instant online trib­ute and RIP, it was hard­ly a mem­o­rable loca­tion to get the news that one of our era’s most bril­liant cre­ative lights had gone out, leav­ing in his wake mil­lions of bro­ken-heart­ed fans and a discog­ra­phy unequaled in mod­ern music.

But, like mil­lions of oth­er Bowie lovers at their com­put­ers, I could med­i­tate on his music videos—from the painful­ly ill-con­ceived to the har­row­ing and pro­found; con­tem­plate his film work; and call up with a mouse click my favorite songs. It’s beyond cliché to point out Bowie’s exu­ber­ant embrace of change, but it bears repeat­ing that his embrace of tech­nol­o­gy was a key com­po­nent in the evo­lu­tion of his many per­son­ae.

Bowie was as adapt­able to the age of YouTube as he was to the ana­log days of glam. Sev­er­al less­er albums notwith­stand­ing, the major Bowie upgrades inspired ado­ra­tion from new gen­er­a­tions of fans in every decade of his career since the 70s. Always “will­ing to take risks and do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” writes Nicholas Pell at L.A. Week­ly, “what he was not will­ing to do is become an oldies act.”

Pell also advances an “unpop­u­lar opin­ion” sure to irri­tate many a Bowie fan. Bowie, he argues, “wasn’t an inno­va­tor,” but “an ear­ly adopter of what the real van­guard artists were doing.” Skip­ping the strange, unsuc­cess­ful late 60s record­ings and “stan­dard, psy­che­del­ic-tinged folk” cribbed large­ly from Dono­van, Pell begins by not­ing that Zig­gy Star­dust and Aladdin Sane were basi­cal­ly vari­a­tions on T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, “a pret­ty spe­cif­ic form of inspi­ra­tion, not exact­ly imi­ta­tion.”

The Thin White Duke peri­od was a take on Roxy Music’s Bryan Fer­ry, and Bowie record­ed his most laud­ed work—the Berlin Tril­o­gy—with Roxy Music’s key­boardist, Bri­an Eno, with­out whose sound and vision those albums could hard­ly have been made. In the nineties, he pulled from Nine Inch Nails and drum and bass; in his swan song Black Star, from Kendrick Lamar.

But so what? In each incar­na­tion, “influ­ence, not imi­ta­tion” is the least one can say about what he did with oth­ers’ styles. The prop­er word, per­haps, is trans­mu­ta­tion—Bowie turned glam rock into mes­mer­iz­ing musi­cal the­ater, com­bin­ing Bolan’s flam­boy­ant swag­ger with mime, dada, mod­ern dance, and sci-fi absur­di­ty.

He took Bryan Ferry’s art rock, smooth, roman­tic moves, and suits and turned them into dark, Teu­ton­ic, brood­ing sound­scapes and haunt­ing Cold War anthems like the utter­ly per­fect “Heroes.” Into the fre­net­ic clat­ter of drum and bass he inject­ed para­noia, alien­ation, and unset­tling nar­ra­tives of per­son­al frag­men­ta­tion. If these aren’t inno­va­tions, I don’t know what the word means. Every artist copies; Bowie was at his best when he stole from the best.

The more for­get­table albums show him in uncer­tain phas­es, lack­ing the right mus­es and col­lab­o­ra­tors to make him shine. But his cat­a­log is enor­mous and still full of sur­pris­es, even in records crit­ics pan or most­ly ignore. In the 19-hour playlist above, you can fol­low it all from start to fin­ish, “from glam to folk, dance to rock and roll,” as Stereogum’s Aaron Lar­iv­iere sums it up in his exhaus­tive rank­ing of Bowie albums from worst to best, “heavy met­al, musi­cal the­ater, art-rock, soul, elec­tron­i­ca, indus­tri­al, ambi­ent, all of it.”

Lean back in your desk chair, click play and “relive it all—album by album… turn by left-turn,” influ­ence by influ­ence. Bowie was a col­lec­tor of sounds new and old who nev­er let him­self become a muse­um piece.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

The Peri­od­ic Table of David Bowie: A Visu­al­iza­tion of the Sem­i­nal Artist’s Influ­ence and Influ­ences

In 1999, David Bowie Pre­dicts the Good and Bad of the Inter­net

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • larrysanders says:

    This is a lazy post, a spo­ti­fy playlist is an awful exam­ple of ‘Open Cul­ture’.

  • rusty egan says:

    The music indus­try of the last 70 years will be on Spo­ti­fy and the next David Bowie will be the own­er of his own future. tThe future is in the hands of the artist for the first time and GREED of the artist will be there down­fall, true artists are not moti­vat­ed by mon­ey they want to make music and trans­paren­cy will ensure they get every dime.

  • stacyohstacy says:

    “painful­ly ill-con­ceived” in regards to ‘Danc­ing in the Street’.….. that hurts my feel­ings.

  • Bingles says:

    It’s not an “unpop­u­lar” opinion—the point that Pell miss­es is that Bowie’s inno­va­tion lies in his so-called crib­bing. Hence his fas­ci­na­tion with (and per­haps, wari­ness of) Andy Warhol. And it’s inno­v­a­tive because his influ­ences aren’t just lim­it­ed to Pel­l’s lim­it­ed knowl­edge of pop­u­lar music–Bowie drew from lit­er­a­ture, art, film, fash­ion. But I’m not say­ing any­thing new (that’s the point), and nei­ther, I think, is this post.

  • Anthony says:

    Just look­ing at track 1 imme­di­ate­ly shows that this is not a com­plete dis­crog­ra­phy.

  • Jennifer says:

    You for­got that poignant clas­sic, “The Laugh­ing Gnome”

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