Back in the Tower Records Golden Age of CDs, Rhino Records was the compilation king. They put out the best single & multiple-disc collections of artists, always striking a perfect balance between including all the chart hits (for the casual fans) & representing all the albums (for the completists). When appropriate, a killer B-side or deep album cut might be thrown in for good measure.
What made collecting albums in the '90s so amazing has now jaded me for the rest of my life. As the music store has given way to the music website, individual tracks have usurped the well-chosen collection. Rhino Records has since gone the other way, making extravagant box sets for increasingly specific periods of an artist's career or movements in rock & roll. The art of the compilation album is dead; Long live the art of the compilation album.
Through the magic of iTunes (& the drive of a lifelong obsession), I welcome the current predicament as a challenge to create my own best-of albums, with a nod to the Rhino style. Thus, with the recent passing of David Bowie, my task was clear: Make a compilation of his most classic material in under 80 minutes or less. (Oh, & for the record, I called this a playlist, with the assumption that few to no one would bother to burn it onto one of those compact discs from the 1900s). Here was my criteria:
- I focused on David Bowie's finest & most influential era: 1969 to 1983. Bowie would go far beyond this period, but his streak from "Space Oddity" to "Modern Love" represents his most essential work. Anything thrown in after would seem like a distraction & require key songs to be missing.
- Each studio album in this period is represented. Bowie released 14 studio albums in these 14 years, all of which range from worth checking out to indispensable. I have seen lists (especially after his death) where all of these are ranked somewhere—yes, even Pin-Ups, thanks to Greil Marcus's classic "Treasure Island" list in the rock-on-a-desert-island-book Stranded.
- Each hit song in this period is represented. Pretty much. The US was easy: Always less of a deal than in his native UK, this contains all of his songs to make the US Top 50—& nearly all of the ones to make the lower reaches of the Top 100 as well. The UK was trickier, but what follows below contains every hit that landed within the UK Top 10 (as in #9 or higher). On a few occasions, I put in an album track ("Ziggy Stardust," which somehow was never released as a single) or a minor hit ("Suffragette City," which was originally released as a B-side) instead of a Top 10 UK hit (like the #10 hits "Starman" & "Knock On Wood" from Ziggy Stardust & David Live, respectively) when the former songs were more essential.
- There is only David Bowie. In an effort to streamline things, I left out any collaborations, which means that I left off 2 big hits—"Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby (#3 UK) & "Under Pressure" with Queen (#1 UK, #29 US)—the latter of which will probably piss off most people who read this list. I LOVE the song "Under Pressure," but I don't see it as a true Bowie song: If it was, it would have been included on one of his albums, but it wasn't, it appeared on Queen's Hot Space. To me, this makes it more of a Queen song. It's like when Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney both sang on "The Girl Is Mine" & "Say, Say, Say": "The Girl Is Mine" landed on Michael Jackson's Thriller (& subsequent Jackson compilations) while "Say, Say, Say" landed on Paul McCartney's Pipes Of Peace (& subsequent McCartney compilations). "Under Pressure" is unimaginable without Bowie, but for me, it is essentially a Queen song that he guests on.
Well, if that hasn't bored you or turned you off thus far, you should be rewarded with the list:
Sound+Vision: The Essential David Bowie [1969-1983]
1. Space Oddity (single from David Bowie, 1969; #1 UK [1975 re-release], #15 US [1973 re-release])
2. The Man Who Sold The World (album track from The Man Who Sold The World, 1970)
3. Changes (single from Hunky Dory, 1971; #49 UK [2016 re-release], #41 US [1975 re-release])
4. Life On Mars? (album track & later single from Hunky Dory, 1971; #3 UK)
5. Ziggy Stardust (album track from The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, 1972)
6. Suffragette City (album track, B-side, & later single from The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, 1972; #194 UK [2016 re-release])
7. The Jean Jeanie (single from Aladdin Sane, 1973; #2 UK, #71 US)
8. Drive-In Saturday (single from Aladdin Sane, 1973; #3 UK)
9. Sorrow (single from Pin-Ups, 1973; #3 UK)
10. Rebel Rebel (single from Diamond Dogs, 1974; #5 UK, #64 US)
11. Young Americans [Single Version] (single from Young Americans, 1975; #18 UK, #28 US)
12. Fame (single from Young Americans, 1975; #17 UK, #1 US)
13. Golden Years [Single Version] (single from Station To Station, 1976; #8 UK, #10 US)
14. Sound & Vision (single from Low, 1977; #3 UK, #69 US)
15. "Heroes" [Single Version] (single from "Heroes", 1977; #12 UK [2016 re-release])
16. Boys Keep Swinging (single from Lodger, 1979; #7 UK)
17. Ashes To Ashes (single from Scary Monsters (& Super Creeps), 1980; #1 UK, #101 US)
18. Fashion (single from Scary Monsters (& Super Creeps), 1980; #5 UK, #70 US)
19. Let's Dance (single from Let's Dance, 1983; #1 UK, #1 US)
20. China Girl (single from Let's Dance, 1983; #2 UK, #10 US)
21. Modern Love (single from Let's Dance, 1983; #2 UK, #14 US)
Oh, & yer welcome. Now let's dance.