David Bowie: An artist who wouldn't let himself be penned in

1973
ALADDIN SANE
Bowie's most iconic look: Ziggy Stardust goes to America
The song you know:
"The Jean Genie"
1974
REBEL REBEL
Bowie gets ever more glam
The song you know:
"Diamond Dogs"
1980
PIERROT
Bowie foreshadows the New Romantics
The song you know:
"Ashes to Ashes"
2016
DEATH FORETOLD
Haunting final video released days before death
The song you know:
"Lazarus"
1976-1979
THIN WHITE DUKE
Bowie strips away the makeup
The song you know:
"Golden Years"
1997
EARTHLING
Bowie dabbles with drum'n'bass
The song you know:
"I'm Afraid of Americans"
1983
POP STAR
Bowie embraces dance music and has his biggest hit
The song you know:
"Let's Dance"
1986
GOBLIN KING
Bowie teases and torments Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth
The song you know:
"Magic Dance"
David Bowie reinvented himself over and over through his career. Click to see more.
Illustration by Anastasia Beltyukova/CNN

Story highlights

  • David Bowie was one of the first rockers to introduce theatricality to performance
  • John Covach: The key to Bowie's career success was his constant reinvention

John Covach is director of the University of Rochester's Institute for Popular Music and professor of music at both Rochester and the Eastman School of Music. He is the author of "What's That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and Its History" and maintains an active career as a performing and recording musician. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Music historians will remember David Bowie as among the first rockers to introduce theatricality to rock performance. He was not alone in doing this in the early 1970s; Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel were also donning makeup and costumes as a part of the live act, and Jim Morrison and even Screaming Lord Sutch had adopted stage personas in the 1960s, not to mention Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Bowie devised the distinctive character of Ziggy Stardust from a combination of "A Clockwork Orange" and Kabuki theater. Bowie's 1972 album, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust," presented the character, which the singer then portrayed live and often maintained the persona even in interviews.
At a time when concept albums were common enough, it wasn't so much that the idea drove the album, it was how far Bowie was willing to take it.