David Bowie was a musician, but he was also a lifelong lover of music and amassed quite a collection of LPs. In November 2013, he shared with Vanity Fair a collection of his 25 greatest record store discoveries, and this list has now resurfaced on the blog of web designer Sam Allemang. Bowie begins his survey of favorite records with a disclaimer: “There is no way to do a list of my favorite albums with any rationality.” With apologies to The Beatles and Nirvana, he rules out any albums that are “too obvious.” What’s the fun in telling people about records they already know and likely own? The goal of Bowie’s list is to recommend some cherished albums to readers so that they, too, might share in his audio adventures. “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,” he writes with his characteristic dry wit, “although one or two choices will lead some of your old pals to think you completely barmy.” He also laments that a few of his selections were proving difficult or impossible to find on CD.
So what does David Bowie include on his list? Considering Bowie’s deep and freely acknowledged debt to African-American music, the article contains a gratifying number of selections by the legendary artists of blues and classic R&B (James Brown, Little Richard, John Lee Hooker). And there are some expected nods to art-rockers of Bowie’s own generation (The Velvet Underground, Syd Barrett), plus a few titles from the world of classical music and opera (Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps, Gundula Janowitz’ recording of Strauss’ Four Last Songs). But Bowie being Bowie, there are plenty of wild card selections here, too, like The Glory (????) Of The Human Voice, a novelty LP by the melodically challenged and apparently naive Florence Foster Jenkins. (“Be afraid,” Bowie warns. “Be very afraid.”)
What makes this article a keeper is that it is highly autobiographical and intimate. Bowie not only describes these records and explains why he loves them, he also describes what was happening in his life when he heard these records and how they affected him. A Charles Mingus album, for instance, brings to mind Bowie’s memories of a particular department store in his hometown of Bromley. And when it comes time to describe the cast album of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, Bowie begins this way: “In the mid ’60s, I was having an on-again, off-again thing with a wonderful singer-songwriter who had previously been the girlfriend of Scott Walker. Much to my chagrin, Walker’s music played in her apartment night and day.” But it was through Walker’s music that Bowie discovered the songs of Jacques Brel.