David Bowie is an English rock musician who has also worked as an actor, record producer and arranger. A major figure for five decades in the world of popular music, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s, and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.
Although he released an album (David Bowie) and several singles earlier, Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in July 1969, when the song "Space Oddity" reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart. After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single "Starman" and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie's impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, "challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day" and "created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture." The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved merely one facet of a career marked by continual reinvention, musical innovation and striking visual presentation.
In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single "Fame", co-written with John Lennon, and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer characterised as "plastic soul". The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees. He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low (1977)—the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno over the next two years. The so-called "Berlin Trilogy" albums all reached the UK top five and garnered lasting critical praise.
After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes" and its parent album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). He paired with Queen for the 1981 UK chart-topping single "Under Pressure", then reached a new commercial peak in 1983 with the album Let's Dance, which yielded the hit singles "Let's Dance", "China Girl", and "Modern Love". Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. His last recorded album was Reality (2003), which was supported by the 2003–2004 Reality Tour.
Biographer David Buckley says of Bowie: "His influence has been unique in popular culture—he has permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure." In the BBC's 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, Bowie was placed at number 29. Throughout his career, he has sold an estimated 136 million albums. In the United Kingdom, he has been awarded 9 Platinum album certifications, 11 Gold and 8 Silver, and in the United States, 5 Platinum and 7 Gold certifications. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all-time.