The Singles Collection

David Bowie

1993: EMI 7243 8 28099

Disc 1:

  1. Space Oddity
  2. Changes
  3. Starman
  4. Ziggy Stardust
  5. Suffragette City
  6. John, I’m Only Dancing
  7. The Jean Genie
  8. Drive in Saturday
  9. Life on Mars?
  10. Sorrow
  11. Rebel Rebel
  12. Rock & Roll Suicide
  13. Diamond Dogs
  14. Knock on Wood
  15. Young Americans
  16. Fame
  17. Golden Years
  18. TVC
  19. Sound & Vision

Disc 2:

  1. Heroes
  2. Beauty & the Beast
  3. Boys Keep Swinging
  4. D.J.
  5. Alabama Song
  6. Ashes to Ashes
  7. Fashion
  8. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
  9. Under Pressure
  10. Wild Is the Wind
  11. Let’s Dance
  12. China Girl
  13. Modern Love
  14. Blue Jean
  15. This Is Not America
  16. Dancing in the Street
  17. Absolute Beginners
  18. Day In Day Out

I’m actually not a Bowie fan and never have been; I bought this compilation so I could revel in the two Bowie tracks that truly grabbed me and then explore some of the ones that had brushed me attractively in passing.

The solid two are “Golden Years” and “Fame.” Don’t think that pegs me as only being aware of Bowie during that era: I’ve checked his stuff out over the years, but the overwhelming majority of it (and there is a LOT of that) seemed to never go anywhere with its idea in a musically compelling way (whatever the lyrical content) that resonated with me. I suppose that could be contrasted with Paul McCartney’s work, which often has consisted of great little ideas that tell their little joke and then are done, and which are then either painfully stretched out to pass as a song or slapped up against a bunch of others to make a pastiche such as “Band on the Run.” And maybe it’s of the same strange ilk as the oeuvre of the Rolling Stones, which seems to sell millions of copies according to reports but I personally haven’t heard since their 1980s stuff.

However you slice it, it’s still pretty thin stuff even though what’s going on in the creator and the creative process is obviously one hell of a drama (no, make that *two* hells of a drama, at times) and the persona changes certainly kept things worth checking out now and then to see what was currently going on; unfortunately, the vehicle far too often had more substance than its content does, to my ear anyway, with Bowie’s copious work.

Probably the tracks that almost grab me, and which keep me coming back to check on them in case they really do make the connection in full eventually, are “Beauty & the Beast,” “Ashes to Ashes” (which unquestionably holds appeal and resonance and fascination for anyone interested in Bowie, but which maybe still doesn’t quite grab me as a song on its own), and “Fashion” (DAMNED catchy and slick, but what does it amount to after the impressions are made?).

It’s no coincidence that only my two standout tracks appear on the first of these two discs and that no other track on that disc grabs me at all: earlier Bowie leaves me downright wincing, most of the time, although “Rebel Rebel” has a certain time-stamp appeal that can’t be shaken off and “Young Americans” does herald some of the dramatics to come on Disc 2 and his subsequent career phase(s), but everything else on Disc 1 (and I *do* mean “everything,” the classic/iconic hits included) just seems painfully a product of its moment in Rock’s vibrant development—vital and visceral and brilliant then in its newness but shoddy, high-pitched, and thin in content now (and probably even once meatier stuff was being recorded a decade and a half later). Again, though, that IS qualified by an acknowledgement that lyrically Bowie can really go some interesting places…it’s just that he doesn’t always manage to take *us* along with him successfully in doing so.

All that said, “Golden Years” is just about perfect as recordings go. And the phrase “In walked Luck, and you looked in time” just nails that impression.