Let’s Dance (1983). After a three year break between albums, Bowie reinvented himself as a pop star with this, one of his most successful releases. The album is anchored by its strong first three songs, “Modern Love,” “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance,” and I’m going to say the title track is both the strongest and probably song that had the greatest legacy (Bowie, reportedly, wouldn’t include the song, “Lucy Can’t Dance” on Black Tie White Noise for fear of seeming to try to capitalize on his past success. The weakest song is the final one, “Shake It.” Bowie is usually the master of knowing how to close an album, but Let’s Dance ends with a whimper. “Shake It” is not unpleasant, it just isn’t especially distinguished.
Tonight (1984). Reviled among some fans, I think Tonight gets a bad rap and actually has some decent songs. In fact, I’m having a hard time singling out a truly terrible one to select as the worst. For me, the best is easy, and that’s “Blue Jean,” though I also find the song itself inseparable from its innovative video, the full-length version of which is really a short movie. Many fans detest Bowie’s cover of “God Only Knows,” but I kind of like it. So I’m going to say the worst song on the album is the closer, “Dancing with the Big Boys.” It isn’t a strong song, and for the second album in a row there’s nothing about it that wraps up the rest of the album.
Labyrinth soundtrack (1986). Usually not considered a true Bowie album because there are several instrumental tracks by Trevor Jones that were used in the movie. But Bowie wrote or co-wrote six of the songs— the same number on all of Station to Station— and he sang five of them. “Underground,” “Within You” and “As the World Falls Down” hold up on their own as songs, outside the context of the movie, and the second version of “Underground” is the album’s best— actually a pretty good song. It would be too easy to select one of the Jones songs for the worst, but that’s unfair, so instead I’ll say “Chilly Down” is the worst. Bowie certainly wrote it, and there’s a demo floating around out there with him singing it, but the song is so bad that his version doesn’t appear on the album— instead its like a muppet song. Aside from that, it makes no sense outside the context of the film, and even then it makes (very) little sense at all.
Never Let Me Down (1987). Another album disliked by many fans, I recently went back to it and listened several times. I never hated it, and the more I hear it, the more I like it. Sure, this is far from Bowie’s best, but the totality of the album has plenty of redeeming values and several good songs. For me, the best is “Time Will Crawl,” which I think would be more widely well regarded if it was on a different album. There are several so-so songs here, too, and I’ll say the worst is “Shining Star (Making My Love)” which is rightfully infamous for its rap-interlude featuring actor Mickey Rourke.