Bruce Lawson's personal site

The four tiers of David Bowie

After extensive scientific research, I can reveal the four tiers of David Bowie.


I realised I own no Bowie except an old 45 rpm single of “Sound and Vision” which I can’t play as I have no record player, went to the web to buy The Platinum Collection and listened to it a few times.

Rating system

– 20% is awarded for a catchy chorus
– 20% for having a good verse as well (often why some songs are relegated to Tier 2 or below – great choruses but weak verse)
– 20% for weird lyrics, sexual ambivalence
– 10% for singing in a funny voice (machismo of “Boys Keep Swinging”, mockney sneering)
– 10% for odd instrumentation (“Heroes”)
– 10% for a blistering guitar part (whether medlodic like Starman or just nasty like “Boys Keep Swinging”)
– 10% for being seminal (“Ziggy Stardust”)


1 bottle of Toro Loco Tempranillo wine, stereo cranked up so loud your partner wakes up and comes downstairs to give you a bollocking before stomping off to bed and waking early to turn on some bullshit Kerrang radio in revenge.


Tier 1 (80% or more): Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s dance, Boys Keep Swinging, All the Young Dudes (but Mott The Hoople’s version is still better at 100%; Bowie’s suffers from too much sax)

Tier 2: (65% – 79%) Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Diamond Dogs, The Prettiest Star

Tier 3: (50% – 64%) China Girl, Changes (great choruses, weak verse) Rebel Rebel, Oh You Pretty Things

Tier 4: the rest

Tier 67: Laughing Gnome, Tin Machine stuff, execrable covers of Let’s Spend The Night Together, The Alabama Song


Bowie’s best is sublime, and had hardly dated at all. There is a perception of a quality drop-off in the 80s, but some great songs came about during that time, although there was a lot of mediocre funk nonsense too. In a career spanning four decades, there is a good deal of filler but that’s both unsurprising and forgiveable, given the brilliance of his Tiers 1-3 work.

If Bowie came round to my house, I’d share a bottle of red with him and we could have a jam, and I’d even let him use my 12 string elecro-acoustic guitar.

Buy "Calling For The Moon", my debut album of songs I wrote while living in Thailand, India, Turkey. (Only £2, on Bandcamp.)

5 Responses to “ The four tiers of David Bowie ”

Comment by Jeremy Keith

I demand a recount. Using your system, I’m pretty sure that Ashes to Ashes should be 100% (perhaps 90%, but only because it has a blistering keyboard part instead of a blistering guitar part, but apart from that, it definitely fulfils all the criteria, no?)

Comment by Bruce

Jeremy, I dug out the original score sheet. Ashes to Ashes scored full 40% for catchy chorus and verse. It got 10 out of a possible 20 for weird lyrics, but I detected no sexual ambiguity so it didn’t get the full 20. It certainly merited the full 10% each for funny singing voice and weird instrumentation, and got 5% for being seminal – it relaunched his career, but couldn’t be fully seminal as it is, in fact, trading on the lyrics of “Space Oddity”. So at 75%, it’s a solid tier 2, but not in the tier 1 territory.

John, Life on Mars got the full 40% for catchy verse and chorus, 15% for lyrics (some of his weirdest but no sexual references). The instrumentation is standard, the guitar line hardly blistering, no funny voice, but a full 10% for seminality – it’s referenced in The Undertone’s “Mars Bar” song, the BBC TV drama “Life on Mars” and namechecked in Dr Who. But at 65%, it just scraped into tier 2.

“Sound and Vision” got the full 40% for music (which, considering there isn’t a separate verse and chorus, could be seen as giving it too many points). I gave it 10 for weird lyrics (they’re at odds with the cheery music), 10% for guitar (it’s not a blistering solo, but some really good spartan funky chords, and the bass is great), and 10% for funny voice vocals. So it got 70%

Comment by John Foliot

Missing from “Above Tier 4” is definitely “Loving the Alien”, “TVC15″*, “Black Tie, White Noise” (and, FWIW, *I* like “The Wedding / The Wedding Song” from the same album, for being quirky – how many rock artists employ an oboe in their music?).

(* I have a great bootleg of Bowie doing TVC15 with Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar – rehearsals for the Let’s Dance tour that SRV never did. Some tasty SRV licks there…)

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