Saturday Deluxe / 21 July 2018

David Bowie wasn’t at his best in the 1980s, but that was my decade

Much excitement this week with the news that Parlophone will issue the fourth in their series of David Bowie box sets. Loving The Alien (1983-1988) follows on from last year’s A New Career In A New Town and deals with Bowie in the 1980s.

Naturally, there has been plenty of debate (nearly 30o comments already) amongst SDE readers, about not only the merits of this box set, but also the merits of this entire era, as far as David Bowie is concerned. Let’s be honest, after a near-faultless 1970s, his form suddenly took an alarming dip and he proceeded to follow up the excellent Let’s Dance with a ‘bad’ album (Tonight) and then delivered another below par long-player with 1987’s Never Let Me Down. While both have their defenders (a record with both Loving The Alien and Blue Jean can’t be that bad, can it?) for much of the older Bowie faithful, who had bought his records and watched him perform in the 1970s, this output felt insubstantial and very average, at times. Even loyal comrade Tony Visconti remarked in an interview at the time that David had ‘sold out’.

So if we accept this wasn’t Bowie at his best, why am I more excited about this box set that any of the others? The answer is in my age. I’m in my late forties and therefore all my teenage years were in the 1980s. In short, I started buying Bowie’s music for the first time in the mid-eighties. I was at the beginning of my life as a music consumer – spending hard earned cash (from my saturday job) on 12-inch vinyl, cassette singles, picture discs, seven-inch poster sleeves, et al. This was freedom. Freedom from the constraints of my Dad’s one-dimensional record collection (Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, ELO and ABBA), freedom from having to only listen to what they played on the radio and freedom to boast about what you owned and what you were listening to with your pals.

I hadn’t come to appreciate just how good Bowie was in the 1970s at this point (more on that in this article), and maybe that was a good thing, but I’m not sure it would have mattered, because there is just something about being there when an album and its attendant singles are released. Buying it on the day of release, discussing it with like-minded friends, suggesting what future singles might be, searching out limited edition formats (and there were many!).

Yes, Hunky Dory is a better album that Let’s Dance; Yes, Station To Station gets played more often than Tonight in our house; and Yes, Never Let Me Down is a bit of a Diamond Dogs wannabe… but so what?  I’m sure it was thrilling to buy and hear those seminal albums at the time, but that isn’t what happened to me. I learnt about them from other people. I heard Low in the knowledge that he then made Heroes, then Lodger, then Scary Monsters etc. There were loads of spoilers.

With the eighties albums I was witnessing a LIVE EVENT, and was part of it. It was exciting. New music. Bowie rollerskating in a video (take that, 1970s!). Trips down to HMV or the Virgin Megastore, carefully timed to coincide with the new single. Scanning the TV schedules for possible video premieres, looking at track listings for remix 12-inch singles and wondering if it would be better or worse than the standard remix.

So while I wasn’t at Hammersmith for that Ziggy gig, and I didn’t wait at Victoria Station to be rewarded by that wave, I had my own moments in 1985-1987 which bonded me to the artist with permanent adhesive. Not long afterwards, that enthusiasm took me on a journey of discovery into the past and I forever remained interested in Bowie’s future, but you can’t beat the buzz of the here-and-now.

Read about the new box set, Loving The Alien (1983-1988) 

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Phillip Fogel

Paul, I had to write after reading this. I have to admit I was not a huge Bowie fan growing up, but Never Let Me Down is the only Bowie album I’ve ever owned. I turned 50 this past year and the 80’s was my era too. My best buddy Andrew and I were huge Duran Duran fans but unlike me he was also a big Bowie fan. When they announced their show at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1987 it was a no brainer that we immediately got tickets. I knew Lets’s Dance and the singles from that album but I remember Andrew’s shock at finding out I knew very little Bowie from the 70’s. I did not want to go to a show not knowing a lot of the music so he made me a cassette to listen to a few songs and I bought the album Never Let Me Down, I don’t think I’ve listened to the vinyl in decades but it’s still in my collection. To this day when I tell people I saw Bowie live they freak out, but it’s always followed with the comment “One of he worst concerts ever”. I’m not slagging Bowie. The Montreal Olympic Stadium was just not built for sound or a show. For one thing the venue is way too big, I remember sitting miles away from the stage, watching a big video screen, but the sound and images were not synced up properly and we would hear the words seconds after he was singing them, we found it all very frustrating. I only saw one other concert at the stadium again, that was George Michael’s Faith tour. Luckily from then on most artist chose the reasonable Montreal Forum for shows. I can’t believe that show is part of this package. I really hope they release this on CD maybe hearing that show properly or just having it for nostalgia would be nice. Thanks for writing a great blog.


I recently turned 50 and I know exactly what you mean: I have a sentimentality to this era, even though it is often dismissed.
Enjoy this website, look forward to looking it up every day. Thanks.

Mark S

I don’t think it matters what decade you grow up in , if you’re a music fan you will discover Bowie and you will love Bowie. I grew up in the 70s , so I heard all that stuff first and it’s all great. 80s maybe not as much, but there is good stuff on both NLMD(Beat of your drum) and Tonight. Didn’t anyone like Neighborhood Threat? And I love his version of God only Knows; prime example of the amazing voice of the great, one and only Mr Bowie!


“Didn’t anyone like Neighborhood Threat?”

I preferred the original by Iggy Pop. Likewise, Tonight and China Girl. The other Pop cover, Don’t Look Down, sounds nothing like the original and is actually OK. The fabulous Loving the Alien aside, Tonight is a lazy quick cash in on the back of the success of Let’s Dance and Never Let Me Down is just an all round poor album. The three big hits aside, I don’t have much time for Let’s Dance either. Too much lightweight filler. As for God Only Knows, it’s one of those songs that shouldn’t be covered.


I, too, was an all eighties teenager, having been 13 in 1981. Was a great era, even if some sneering hipsters look back on it as being a bit naff.

I think probably the best bit was that we had remixes that (for the most part) still sounded like the song that had been remixed. There were a few 12″ singles in the 70s, but a lot of those just showcased longer versions that were available on the parent album anyway. Some in the 80s did the same (Let’s Dance is THE perfect example here!), but, barring a few unusual exceptions, all the greatest remixes are from the decade of my teens…


Lovely and thoughtful article Paul. 80’s Bowie was a launching point for many into Bowie’s – excuse me I’m gonna’ have to do this – “Golden Years”. The Ziggy soundtrack was released and RCA repressed his back catalogue under the “Lifetimes” banner – two albums for a fiver at my local HMV where I eagerly snapped up “Man Who Sold The World” and “Low” … talk about contrast. “Tonight” is a pretty lazy effort in my opinion but it still has “Loving The Alien” on it and although “Never Let Me Down” is overblown and rather weak, I enjoyed the live shows despite its’ English summer time failings. It’s the Dame in a gold lame jacket with winged boots singing ‘Time” perched above Wembley Stadium – I’ll take it! Sure it was a little Spinal Tap, but still memorable. I am going to be very interested to hear what the reimagined “Never Let Me Down” sounds like” – “Zeroes”, “Time Will Crawl” and “Shining Star” are worth the price of admission for me.


I was first introduced to the music of David Bowie by way of “Let’s Dance” in 1983 so I am anxiously looking forward to this box set.


Im a bit older than you Paul and my first Bowie experiences where listening to Lets Dance.
I loved it that the great Bowie was getting videos on MTV along with the New Wavers and he fit right in. It seemed most 1970’s rockers, other than a few like ZZ Top and Springsteen, were lost when it came to videos and competing with the new wave. He was one of the few older rockers we talked about in high school. It took me awhile but I would finally catch up on his back catalog. It surprised me as to how many of his older songs I actually knew. Ill buy each Bowie box that comes out- I’m sure theres music that will seem new to me.


I’m not the target audience for this set, I like Bowie but I don’t need to own everything so this is way out my price range, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Tonight. The 20 minute Jazzin For Blue Jean film is probably my favourite music video ever. Do the buyers of these Bowie box sets wish there was a video element too?


I remember Jazzin for Blue Jean being shown on The Tube. Amazing. Then he even references The Tube in his dialogue. Bowie as always being populist and cutting edge at the same time.

Adam Shaw

Hi Paul .
That was very good read .
I’m older than you . I was in first year of senior school when Ziggy arrived and like you I mixed with like minded people who where all blown away by him and Bolan ect . The thing with my relationship with DB was that as his music changed I was changing as well . When he moved into his plastic soul I just started going out to discos and as my taste changed by listening to anything around at the time from older friends or Whistle Test I got into Kraftwerk as DB was putting out Station to Station . But I also like Let’s Dance and Tonight . In fact I like most music , I like sound so any genre could appeal to me . But I didn’t liked Never Let Me Down . I saw the Glass Spider Tour at Wembley stadium, the sound was poor the crowd were very out of it and there was a uneasy feeling in the audience, well I thought so . After that I I enjoyed his later albums but NLMD just grates on me .

Mark Armstrong

Absolutely superb article Paul. Articulates so much of what loving music and buying records was about at the time.


It’s also worth remembering that the Ziggy soundtrack album was released around the time of Let’s Dance so Those of us who shared a house with a Bowie-head brother were being exposed to this stuff for the first time. So for years, Bowie for me was early 80s and the Ziggy era.

Kevin M

Yeah that Ziggy TMP album was a big thing in 1983 wasn’t it Jim. I clearly remember staring in awe at a huge poster for it in Smiths or Menzies or whatever, as a kid, with its burning cigarette photo. It was heavily promoted in shops as far as I recall.


I became a fan in 83. Not through Lets Dance but through a friend playing a load of his 70s singles for me and me being amazed with how many I knew.

From August 83 for about a year I bought everything I could, I had all the albums, most of the non LP tracks, the live albums etc.
My first NEW Bowie album was Tonight. It was OK, I wasn’t overly blown away, but I felt that Bowie owed me nothing, he had made all his ground breaking albums in the 70s and now was his time to relax and just make music when he wanted and if he made money of it, good for him.
85 and 86 passed with some really good singles from movies released, then there was rumours of a new album, one he was really excited about and was going to tour. I had made a pact with myself that I would make sure I saw him live the next time he toured (he was almost 40, how much longer would he go before retiring?). He played Cardiff in June 87 on my 21st birthday, how could I NOT go to that? It was amazing, blew me away. Loved that concert so much, even if half of it was in daylight so we didn’t get the full effect. In 88 he released the concert on DVD and although some of the songs he sang didn’t make the video, it was still great to be able to see it again. Tin Machine was the second attempt at getting back to a more guitar based sound (he said the same thing in 87 for NLMD).

The 80s may not have been Bowie’s best decade, but they were the decade I lived in Bowie’s shadow and for that they will always be special.


I was born near the end of 1979 and some of my earliest memories were sitting with the record of the Let’s Dance LP (along with my parents old frightening fold out Diamond Dogs and Alladin Sane covers! yikes!) This too was my first Bowie, even though I was not a teen during this era… but I got to rediscover him as a teen too with Outside, in a whole new way.


You missed his best stuff Paul imo, the 80s were ok with a few brilliant bands, but on the whole it was nothing compared to the 70s.

Martyn Alner

Great article, I came to Bowie in the 80s from seeing Ashes to Ashes on ToTP. And I still rate ‘Loving the Alien’ as a great single (even if it sounds like the Theme to ‘Red Dwarf’ in parts!). I remember the video on the BBC ‘Video Jukebox’ marathon.


I’m about the same age not but I didn’t actually get into Bowie until the Sound and Vision lp 1990. I was aware of him and knew a few songs but not to a great degree.

I’ve loved each of the box sets even though they don’t have the extras that the 90s cds had. But I’ve bought a couple of those cds too anyway.

These sets give you a chance to reacquiant and reassess.
I’m looking forward to getting this one and hearing NLMD18 and the mixes and all of it actually.
Then I can’t wait for the next 2? boxes.

Curt Selak

What I remember about that era is Let’s Dance being something of a one-off. Everyone’s entire frame of reference was the records he’d made earlier and no one who first heard it the year it was released had any idea what he would record in future. My impression looking back is that Cat People (Putting Out Fire) was recorded for cinema, and Let’s Dance produced, at a time when he had lost a significant disincentive to earning money from his efforts inasmuch as a very substantial part of his financial obligations to his former management had been met once and for all. Which reality, inevitable though it was, could well have overwhelmed him; and which seems to me a possible explanation for subsequent recordings like Tonight (which following on Let’s Dance really didn’t take very long to appear) not coming across as attesting utterly much where creativity was concerned.

Paul Wren

How many more Bowie reissues are we going to get? I’m guessing that all the original 1980’s vinyl releases are still readily available on a used basis.


You can buy lots of copies of Tonight used, but I do not see the others much… but if you like old used records, go for it.


Some people don’t want 30-odd year old used records. They want new records. Nothing wrong with that.


I was a teen in the 70s and 80s the late 70s was wayyyyy cooler lol

Was just so lucky to be in London with the punk explosion and still there for the evolution into what was called by some the New Romantic..electronic era..great time to be a teenager..

Paul Fraser

I remember telling my granddad that Ashes To Ashes was my favourite song when it was No1, and the unapproving look he gave me. I was 9. The next time I was truly aware of Bowie was when Dave Lee Travis played 3 songs in a row. I think it was something like Starman, Golden Years and Sound & Vision. I was staggered that they were all by the same artist. Musically they were so very different. And I had loved them all at the time and not made the connection. That was when I thought I better check out this David Bowie. This was 1984. The Fame & Fashion compilation was my in. I ignored Tonight and went to the back catalogue: Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs were my first buys. NLMD was the first contemporary Bowie release and Glass Spider my first time being in the same space as David. So I learned to love it, and i’ve never looked back. Like Paul, I will always have fondness for this era, despite being able to critically appraise it less favourably against his 70s output. But this was MY Bowie. And Screaming Lord Bryon looks cooler than Ziggy ever did. And Absolute Beginners is one of the most romantic and heart-lifting songs he has ever written. There is gold at the end of every Bowie rainbow, but sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper to find it. I am privileged to become a fan at this time when I was more willing to dig as deep as it took. And I am very excited about the reimagining of NLMD.

Stevie B

Mmmm! The age thing again… First McCartney now Bowie ;)… So… A teenager in the 80’s…. A bit like growing up with the taste of Saccharin in your mouth only later to discover Sugar?
I’m sure all today’s ‘Millennials’ will hanker after ‘bike rack’ spaced Toblerone too one day… in the meantime FYI all Bowie’s 80’s albums were cr@p! One or two classic singles do not an album make! Call me ‘old’-fashioned.


More like grumpy old man :). My friend, the music always sounds better in your youth, no matter what it is. No amount of remastering or re packaging will make up for that.


Basically, if Never Let Me Down and Tonight were as bad as it got with Bowie, it never really got all that bad, did it?


Often when I think about the 80s, the music and video for China Girl comes instantly to mind. I’m 52 and the 80s were certainly the decade of teens and early 20s. At the same time, by the time Never Let Me Down was released I had already become a huge fan of his entire catalog and it was quite clear that NLMD and Tonight were very inferior to everything that came before. The only saving grace was the Glass Spider tour…

poo poo pants

The 70’s bowie snobs can bite me! Bowie wanted to keep his commercial roll going and indeed, he did exactly that. There are lots of things to admire about his 80’s music and although it may not hold the reverence of his 70’s output, he absolutely became an icon despite of it. Let’s Dance put forth some great music, sick dance jams and some of his most interesting videos. Admittedly, Tonight and Never Let Me Down maybe a little clunky and don’t hold together quite as well, but there’s still some great moments to be found on both. Long Live 80’s Bowie!


The 80s (and I define them as 82 to 88) are also the decade I formed my musical taste and as a consequence are special to me. My favorite albums and bands are mostly from that time and I am more likely to buy a new remaster of an album from that time that I did not previously own than a truly new release.

I am not a huge Bowie fan, I agree that the albums in this set are a mixed bag of some good songs and some mediocre songs, but I feel that way about all Bowie albums.
I look forward to all the other stuff in this box more than to the albums themselves, and it helps that this box has more extras than any of the others.


….So, basically what you are saying is don’t buy this tired old trip down memory lane, and, instead, spend the money on new artists.
Couldn’t agree more.


Hey Paul! What a great and honest comment! I also grew up in the mid-eigthies, and although being sort of radical (if it’s not from the 60’s and 70’s) I fully understand your point. It is a very different feeling rediscovering those albums, the ones that WE were actually able to witness ourselves coming out at the time. All my other heroes from Traffic, Doors to Humble Pie, Stones, Hendrix and King Crimson to Gram Parsons and Queen have always that “unreal taste” and that is something you have to come to terms with. I am definitely going for this box too. Just a matter of spending more for the vinyl, or keeping it “lower” with the CD’s. Any advice on that? Greetings from Hamburg and all the best!


Yes, being 53, my high school and college years were the 80’s and that’s why I love the era so much. In fact, some were smirking recently when I was so excited to see ABC and Tom Bailey sounding so good on their current US tours. Those were the formative years!


Well my first Bowie albums were Outside and Earthling. I was really into this sound in 1999 were i bought the albums on cassette. I was really really dissapointed when i heard albums from the 80s. For me Tonight was a disaster and Never let me down was even worse. But after all these years 80s period isn’t that disaster anymore. Frankly i listened to Tonight and Never let me down lately and i changed my mind about this new Loving the alien box. These 2 live albums are something which is worth getting.

Tippy W

You’re absolutely right, Paul. There is ‘something’ about those three albums / that series of stand-alone singles that is special to those of us who were ‘there’ at ‘the right age’ for it to be an exciting experience… But as I’ve got older, the bigger part of the pleasure I take from this particular era is in seeing it within the wider context of Bowie’s career. Tin Machine (and I believe the first TM album is one of Bowie’s best) wouldn’t have happened without the creative dip of Tonight and NLMD. Where there is a seeming lack of quality control, I forgive it ALL – because time has revealed that the bigger picture is a masterpiece.


I feel you, Paul! Spot on essay, let me tell you. As a “Child of the 80’s” myself, I’ve come to admit I’m in “that phase” now and in and even worse “been there, done that” state of mind. I feel the same about Bowie, the Stones, Depeche Mode, U2, KISS, George Michael, Michael Jackson and the rest of the list of my all time Music Gods. By now I hardly am interested in new bands and not because i don’t want to, but because I don’t honestly get anything that rocks my world like all the rest in my “memory palace” do. Simple as that.

Paul Spurgeon

As a 44 yr old (I Know!) this resonates with me. Every man and his dog has his 70s LP’s but I must admit I dont have much of his 80s and 90s material so these future box sets will be great.

Good article Paul.


I’m in my late forties also – and your article made my eyes well up.
The 80’s were fantastic times for teens.
The video (face paint) for Blue Jean astonished me, and one of Bowie’s more overlooked – looks.

Paul I salute you

Matthew Jessee

Couldn’t have said it better myself- from another 80’s teen! 1983 was an incredible year in particular!


I was born in 1972, Never Let Me Down was my first Bowie-Album. “Tin Machine” came second. I started listening to music in 1986, I remember that every music listener in school had two options, you can listen to a-ha or you can listen to Queen. I decided to be a Queen fan (still Queen is my favorite band)
And listening to David Bowie was just a small step.
In my opinion every record David made leads to another. I think without The Tonight album every consecutive album would not be released. Tin Machine was a bigband neccessary step. Even the “Lord’s Prayer” at the Freddie Mercury tribute show was important. (I believe that thaf day marks the end of Tin Machine as a band).
So everybody comlaining about a “bad Never Let Me Down” or a “even worse Tonight” : If these albums would not exist there would be no Blackstar, no Outside, no Next Day… And David and his record company earned quite a lot of money with the 80’s albums….

Kevin Galliford

Wise words Paul. I too got into him in the 80’s,”Lets Dance” was & is still brilliant. NLMD might be the biggest dud of his career but it still had “Time will crawl” on & let’s not forget “When the wind blows” & “This is not America” so it’s not like he totally lost his Mojo! Having said that, being of the age where you can afford to buy a Bowie album on day of release & that album was NLMD was pretty poor BUT, the 1st big gig I ever saw was the “Glass Spider” tour & that was pretty impressive for a 17 year old & I was close enough to see the bags under his eyes!


I get where you are coming from Paul. I’m same era (approaching my 51st birthday) and my first encounters with Bowie were from the Lodger period. My record buying from the late 70s to mid 80s was pretty much exclusively 12″singles due to budget constraints and the fact that unless I really liked an artist (Madness were my favourites at the time) my attention span wouldn’t see me through a whole album. Things are very different these days. I spend most of my “music” money on albums i missed first time around. I don’t always get to listen to them (partly due to extra curricular activities with my 10 year old daughter). I will have plenty of time to catch up during the rainy days of retirement and that includes Bowies back catalogue.

phil Burford

Nice article Paul and great memories from you . The 1980s were completely the opposite for me and I did not really reconnect with David Bowie until the mid 1990s . Probably my age (I’m now 62) and my taste has always been left field and more experimental musics. Great to read a differing point of view .Vive la difference !


OMG Paul, your story could as well as been written about me – as it it mirrors my teenage years exactly (except I am in Australia). I anxiously awaited the release dates of each album, single/12″ etc & was always there the day of release to purchase them. It was amongst all the hype of Let’s Dance that I really started to explore Bowie’s back catalog (at that stage I only owned ChangesOne and Scary Monsters), and became hooked for life. The news of this box set has excited me more that any of the previous three – as it was my Era, and I can’t wait to relive those amazing memories again!

Al Rearick

I’m 48 as well and vividly remember this era well because it introduced me to Bowie for better and worse. I loved “Let’s Dance” as a song but was never keen on the other singles from this album (and this album’s version of “Cat People” pales in comparison to the movie version, IMO) and I agree with whoever said earlier that the rest of the album is just plain boring. Then TONIGHT came out which I’ve always preferred to LD simply because there are more songs on that album I absolutely loved and still do to this day: “Loving the Alien,” “Don’t Look Down,” and of course “Blue Jean.” Then there was the brilliant collaboration with Pat Metheny on “This is Not America.” But then came NEVER LET ME DOWN and these singles sounded awful so I never bothered. Then came “Absolute Beginners,” an absolutely gorgeous single which reminded me why I wanted to love Bowie in the first place! In other words, the introduction to one who would later become one of my favorite artists was all very hit and miss for me when it was happening.

Make no mistake: Bowie has become one of my favorite artists since then with much of his music getting repeated and regular listens now. But it was a long time coming after the initial discovery.


As usual a very well crafted and perfectly executed commentary Paul on the hot topic of the day. Having been born in Wisconsin in late 1975, I was turned onto the likes of many heroes of the 70s thru their 2nd coming, if you will in the age of MTV. Elton, Bowie, Genesis and Yes were each brought to my attention for the first time and were welcomed with wonder and amazement as I explored their current output which gave way to a deeper back catalog exploration once I could afford to buy my own music. Sure their 80s outputs often pale in comparison to the music that brought them their rise to fame. But that is not the point here, it is the personal connection, the kinetic ownership of what was current at the time that cements each individual fan to that artist.

Like Steve Wilson claimed in a recent exclusive article for SDE, it is often that first album that a future fan will hear that is the one that will always be the benchmark for all others, regardless of its stature when later compared to previous or even future works. It is often this gateway album that will always have a special place in the heart of the listener. So for someone to stack a certain album against another or even moresover an entire era versus another is impossible, because to each of us it is often a matter more of when we figuritively met the artist vs. what was actually released.

Besides music is art and art is subjective and furthermore its only rock n roll, but…. you know the rest.

All The Best – Jeff


So well written Paul, it’s like you extracted the article from my mind. Your story took me right back to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where I grew up. I could almost taste it, reading your article.
I too came of age in the 80’s and loved the Let’s Dance and China Girl singles. After China Girl came out I bought the album and soon loved every track of it. My first Bowie record. From there on I dove into his 70’s catalogue and the rest is history.

In the very early 80’s I started discovering music. First Roll Over Lay Down & Down Down from Status Quo (just bought some Quo deluxe editions in the German 3 for 25 promo) then I discovered Donna Summer and then Chic. When I found out Let’s Dance was produced by the guy from Chic, Nile Rodgers, I knew I was on to something. I also became a giant Duran fan to which Nile Rodgers is obviously also linked.

For 3 years I have been looking forward to the 80’s Bowie box. Not the albums, because I already have those of course but I was wondering what kind of extra’s we would get in the box. Im disappointed that not all remixes were included but was afraid that was going to happen so it’s not unexpected. At least we get some so I’m halfway satisfied. In the Netherlands you could actually listen in the record stores to the vinyls you were interested in buying so listening to the remixes and trying to pick the best ones was all part of my 80’s experience. All of this of course with my weekend job money.

Anyway, thanks Paul. Really enjoyed this trip back in memory lane.

Gianluca Morelli

I completely agree with you Paul, in fact my first Bowie album, bought on cassette, when I was 15, was Never Let Me Down, and after so many years I still consider it to be quite good even if I possess all Bowie’s albums (on cds, vinyls, boxsets and the like) and it’s hard to not make a comparison with Hunky Dory or Heroes etc


Pretty much sums up my love of Bowie’s music too, being an 80s teenager. As I got his music mainly after Scary Monsters was released, everything thereafter was a release day purchase with great anticipation and excitement, during that decade.


I have always had an affection for the 80s albums. Many of us, who were buying in realtime from an earlier point, still bought and enjoyed these albums, while acknowledging they weren’t like the 70s albums, there was still much to love about them. Perhaps, living in Oz by that time, I was away from the influence of some of the cutting criticism back in the UK.

(And for me, I came in on Pin Ups, an album not always rated well by others, sadly. It’s a great album. And then of course, I was blown away by Diamond Dogs which followed, and then David Live…)

Tony Sandell

Elton John Leather Jackets!
I have all his stuff but have not listened to that for a few years.
Not his finest hour but a couple of half decent songs on it,maybe it’s time to rediscover it.


Bowie’s melodic gifts may have been on the wane during the 1980s, but his theatrical performance skills were peaking, as was his charisma. The switch to a more relatable persona (no longer the sexual outlaw, the detached alien, nor the doomed decadent aristocrat), combined with fully developed stage presence and meticulous choreography, brought him mass acceptance and produced live shows of fantastic, joyful energy.

This was particularly true in the US, where he had not toured for five years prior to the 1983 US festival. It was one of the most electrifying shows I’ve seen in a lifetime of concert going. At the time, the dominance in the setlist of material from the late seventies was chalked up to his having not toured the albums, but the choice of songs for subsequent tours suggested that Bowie himself realized the weakness of his material from the eighties, and canny showman that he was, stuck to the catalog of great songs he had built up in the preceding decade.

Including the singles and remixes in this set will please many SDE readers, and shows how Bowie tried to fit himself into eighties commercial musical culture, but it may be the wealth of live material in the box that best represents his art during this period.


Well said Paul. Before anyone else complains about this era being liked please read Paul’s article again!
Personally my first live album was Scary Monsters and I’d bought all his back catalogue of albums by Let’s Dance. I didn’t enjoy Tonight and gave up entirely after Labyrinth until hours…
So LD aside despite this being my least favourite period I’m more excited about this box set than any of the others because I love the MM remix on i select and if the rest of NLMD 2018 is as good I’ve got a whole new Bowie album to look forward to.

Keith Brittain

I have long disagreed that “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down” (NLMD) were subpar albums. “NLMD” especially, is a stellar album. How can hear you “Time Will Crawl”, “Day In Day Out”, “Bang Bang”, “Beat of Your Drum” and the title track and not like them. And 12 inch versions were mostly improvements on the originals – especially NLMD (it’s a shame that the new box set is not using the original US mix). While “Tonight” wasn’t as “tight” as “Let’s Dance” it still has decent tracks beyond “Blue Jean” and “Tonight” – such as “Tumble and Twirl” and “Don’t Look Down. Final thought – why didn’t the new box use the excellent 12 inck mix of “Magic Dance”?


Now looking back I can say Tonight and NLMD are not great but also not as bad as some people say. The singles are outstanding. The rest is mediocre with some slight ups and downs, I think that is the reality. I remember thinking that Bowie was moving too far towards rock with NLMD. I wanted the Let’s Dance sound. Rock seemed his escape from the 80’s. After NLMD he went into even more rock with Tin Machine and I lost interest in Bowie untill Black Tie White Noise (BTWN) especially because that was produced by Nile Rodgers. I thought BTWN was mediocre as well, although I did buy the 2cd/dvd later on.

Mark S

I agree about NLMD and Tonight and I also liked Neighborhood Threat and thought his cover of God Only Knows was great and showcased his incredible voice! Also, I am 56 years old and do prefer everything up to Scary Monsters over the 80s(sorry)


It’s called “the nostalgia bump”, and we all suffer from it. If this was yours, then you’ll feel differently than others.

That said, I can’t think of any scenario where this music can be considered anywhere near the rest of the Bowie catalog. I too attended the Serious Moonlight, and the Glass Spider show, and it was clear even during the shows that you were watching a sub-par Bowie.

Let’s Dance, as a song, is excellent. Every other track on the album is horrendous. Tonight is almost beyond words. Never Let Me Down I actually enjoy, albeit there are clunkers on there.

I like to think that these box sets allow us to reappraise an era, but this being the Internet age you don’t have to wait for the box to do that. The other night I watched a Serious Moonlight performance on Youtube, I played Let’s Dance and a bit of Tonight. Seriously, it’s bloody awful. My memory didn’t fail me, Bowie was bereft of inspiration.

Still, don’t take it from me, even Bowie felt the same way. he felt he had lost his audience, that he hadn’t been involved enough in Never Let Me Down. He wasn’t wrong.

As I mentioned in the other Bowie thread, but main audience of this blog are people like Paul, so it goes without saying they’ll feel differently, and it’s all good. But I think believe that no box, no remaster, no new recording, will ever be able to bring this period up the standards we got both before, and after. This is where Bowie totally lost it. Thank goodness he recovered.


You’re cherry-picking Bowie’s self-criticism, though. While he did, indeed, admit that he felt he abandoned the NLMD songs by handing them to other producers, he also qualified that by saying he felt they were all very strong songs. That, in his opinion, was the tragedy of having “abandoned” them–they were great songs that he should have seen all the way through, in his opinion.

But, in all honesty, whether it’s Paul’s opinion or yours, they’re just opinions, and coming on again and again and harping about how YOUR opinion is the only correct one because Bowie somehow “sided” with you, gets really annoying. “Good,” “bad,” “sub-par,” “mediocre”: they’re all just judgement calls, and completely subjective. No, YOU’RE never going to understand how anyone could argue that the 80s era stands up to any era of Bowie, because you’re so firmly entrenched in your own opinion about that era, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for Christ’s sake, stop feeling the need to piss all over everyone else’s parade because they don’t agree with you. Let them get some joy out of having the opportunity to enjoy the reissuing of an era they greatly appreciate in a way that you will never understand. Coming in a being condescending by brushing off other people’s genuine appreciation of the work as be “nostalgia” in an oh-so-knowing, “aren’t-you-children-sweet” manner is just being contemptuous and self-important. I’m sure you have plenty of material that you cherish and think is amazing that I could just as easily dismiss as, “Oh-bless-your-heart-isn’t-it-sweet-you-think-that’s-actually-good.”


Great comment and very true. As a friend once told me there is no bad taste or good taste, taste is subjective. There are a significant amount of of people who know a handful of Bowie songs and of them many are from this period.
For me Tonight is highly enjoyable. Blue Jean and Loving the Alien are two of my favorite tracks from the eighties. This is Not America was also an amazing track released during this time.
I’ll be buying this set for sure even though I have the three albums and about 6 12″ singles from the era. The previous unreleased official material has me more excited than the last three which were great.
BTW my entry album was Lodger, I am 53 and heard it first when my brother let me borrow his cassette. Stage was my next album I went back to than the incredible Scary Monsters.


Thanks CJ, I agree on every word you wrote.


I have a same feeling but with a different era. I have now 36 and I discovered David Bowie as a consumer at my teen years. My first bought record was Earthling and I was amazed, then a school teacher who used to lend me books to read heard me talking about Bowie and the amazing music. Of course I’d already listened to modern love and lets dance and under pressure ( I live in Perú so that was the only Bowie you would get on the radio), then my teacher ( its always the literature teacher right?) Lend me the berlin trilogy and I bought the Ryko singles collection. I was amazed how was this the same artist, that I discovered by chance on a music video on MTV ( dead man walking)…… But my bowie ( or “our bowie” as I call it with some friends that I met later at college) is the one that I grew up to, in my case the late 90s bowie. And its a different feeling… Last but not least. Let’s dance is a top notch record. If I was a pop star, I would have sold my soul for been able to create such and amazing pop album.


as someone said “you are always chasing your first high…” or something to that effect :)

on a side note – I haven’t purchased the first two boxes yet and was looking around for some deals today. I see quite a few listings on eBay for them selling around $32-40, I have a feeling that these are not legitimate editions though. Hi Paul or any of the other SDE readers have any idea? Thank you in advance for any tips/suggestions.

Chris S

@Vishal – Yes, there are fake Bowie (& others) box sets out there. Have a search of the Steve Hoffman forum, plenty of discussion.


Yes there are many fake Bowie boxes listed on Ebay. Avoid any “too good to be true” items from countries like China and Russia. When in doubt, ask the seller if the discs are gold. The legitimate Bowie boxes all have slightly gold discs (as opposed to silver). That is the easiest way to differentiate a real box from a fake one.


Paul, being of a similar age the first album I bought with my own money was let’s dance. I recall the price as well $6.96 of my hard earned Canadian dollars. For me this era was fantastic as I was able to live it to. I remember the simulcast of the glass spider concert on TV, collecting the 12″ and the remix 12″ singles (and the cassingles) for the never let me down stuff. In hindsight the 70s output was much better, but as you say this stuff was my era – for good or bad. And I loved it.