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Top 10: Best of the Best of Bowie

bowie_sde

When David Bowie‘s Nothing Has Changed compilation came out in 2014, here at SDE we thought it would be interesting to look back at the proliferation of ‘greatest hits’ compilations that have hit the marketplace over the years. Bowie has certainly had his fair share and with the very sad news of his death, there will undoubtedly be more in the future. So here’s another opportunity to take a look at ten of them; the best of the best of Bowie, if you will…

bowie_changesone

Changesonebowie (RCA, 1976) > Full track listing

The first ‘proper’ hits collection from the RCA period, assuming you don’t count Best Deluxe, a 2LP Japan-only set from 1973. Golden Years had just been a transatlantic top ten hit and not long before that Fame had hit the top spot in the US, so with Bowie at arguably his commercial peak in America in the 1970s, this was a good time to release Changesonebowie. 

Bowie Fact: No place for Life On Mars.

Bonus Bowie Fact: First appearance of John, I’m Only Dancing on an album (early pressing has the rare ‘sax version’).


bowie_bestofbowie

The Best Of Bowie (K-Tel, 1980) > Full track listing

A budget compilation from K-Tel, which explains why there was no sign of what was then very recent UK mega-hits Ashes To Ashes, or Fashion. Instead, this stops at 1979’s Boys Keep Swinging from Lodger. The ‘sax version’ of John, I’m Only Dancing is back again.

Bowie Fact: Someone took the scissors to Life On Mars, creating a unique edit to help squeeze 16 tracks onto the LP.

Bonus Bowie Fact: Cover is nicked from the Fashion single.


bowie_changestwo

Changestwobowie (RCA, 1981) > Full track listing

A second RCA hits collection but rather than a just including post-1976 material for a follow-up to Changesonebowie, the label went back and picked an alternative selection of early tracks to which they added later period hits, including Ashes to Ashes and Fashion.

Bowie Fact: Somebody at RCA didn’t like Life On Mars – it’s still missing, and Oh! You Pretty Things is the sole selection from Hunky Dory.

Bonus Bowie Fact: Like most of Bowie’s RCA albums, this briefly got a CD release in the mid-eighties, but was quickly deleted. Unlike the studio albums this wasn’t reissued by Rykodisc/EMI in 1990 so the CD version is rare.


bowie_goldenyears

Golden Years (RCA, 1983) > Full track listing

By this time Bowie had buggered off to EMI and had the enormous global hit album Let’s Dance. RCA’s final recordings were the (a-hem) not-quite-as-commercial Baal EP. The label had previously annoyed the star by issuing the old Bing Crosby duet Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy and the Bowie Rare compilation in late 1982, but by now all bets were off and they could effectively do what they wanted. This bizarre compilation mainly includes late seventies output, but does dip briefly into the early ’70s for the Pin-Ups Who cover, I Can’t Explain.

Bowie Fact: RCA shamelessly packaged this with a Serious Moonlight-attired Bowie on the front cover, clearly hoping to piggy-back on the Let’s Dance feel-good factor.

Bonus Bowie Fact: First and last inclusion of Joe The Lion and Red Sails on a ‘hits’ collection.


bowie_fameandfashion

Fame and Fashion (RCA, 1984) > Full track listing

For the fourth year in a row RCA put out another David Bowie compilation. Fame and Fashion had a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin subtitle “David Bowie’s All Time Greatest Hits” and was generally more conventional than 1983’s Golden Years. This 12-track selection was – in the main – a case of one big hit per album. Changes was the pick from Hunky Dory.

Bowie Fact: A couple of years earlier RCA had also put out a similarly titled Fashions set, which was a rather nifty 10×7″ picture disc in bespoke folding wallet.

Bonus Bowie Fact: This was the last widely released RCA collection to be issued.


bowie_changesbowie

Changesbowie (Rykodisc/EMI, 1990) > Full track listing

A new decade and a new deal inked for Rykodisc (in the US/Canada) and EMI (rest of the world) to reissue David Bowie’s back catalogue. The Sound + Vision box (soon to be reissued in 2014) was the connoisseur’s choice to whet the appetite for the whole Sound + Vision campaign, but general fans were offered Changesbowie, a fairly comprehensive 21-track hits collection. The public in the UK responded enthusiastically and it reached number one, while Fame 90 – a newly remixed version of David’s 1975 US number one – was a top 30 hit.

Bowie Fact: The UK cassette and 2LP edition included 21 tracks but the CD omitted the following: Starman, Life On Mars (groan) and Sound and Vision.

Bonus Bowie Fact: Fame 90 was replaced by the standard Fame on the Rykodisc Gold ‘AU20′ edition from 1996. The 14-minute “Absolutely Nothing Premeditated/Epic Mix” of the same track is still unreleased in the UK.


bowie_thesinglescollection

The Singles Collection (Rykodisc/EMI, 1993) > Full track listing

Just three years on from Changesbowie, another greatest hits emerged. In the UK this was called The Singles Collection and in the US The Singles 1969-1993.  The UK edition effectively spanned the same era as Changesbowie, albeit it included Day-In Day-Out from Never Let Me Down and the excellent Pat Metheny Group collaboration This Is Not America. However, the American version was the more interesting set and bang up to date thanks to Rykodisc having the rights to Jump They Say from 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album. Quirky selections on the US edition included the soundtrack version of Cat People with the really slow, long build-up before our man starts PUTTING OUT FIRE WITH GASOLINE!! (later re-recorded – but not improved – for Let’s Dance) and the title track from Never Let Me Down.

Bowie Fact: Early pressings of the US version came with a bonus CD single of the Bing Crosby duet Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy.

Bonus Bowie Fact: Space Oddity and TVC 15 are both unique edits on the American edition compared to the UK which used the album versions of both tracks.


The Best Of David Bowie 1974/1979 (EMI, 1998) > Full track listing

A single CD release taking the listener on a musical ‘journey’ from Diamond Dogs to Lodger. The Best Of David Bowie 1974/1979 is notable for including Bowie’s version of Springsteen’s It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City which featured without fanfare, despite it being previously unreleased on the UK at the time (it was on the 1989 Sound + Vision box which was a US-only release).

Bowie Fact: EMI also released similar collections for the years 1969-1974 and 1980-1987. The latter included a DVD which is the only place to find the video for When The Wind Blows and Drowned Girl (from the Baal EP).

Bonus Bowie Fact: The three separate releases were brought together to form a Queen-like ‘Platinum Collection’ in 2005. The world yawned.


bowie_bestof

Best of Bowie (Virgin/EMI, 2002) > Full track listing

Until the three-CD version of Nothing has Changed,  this Bowie ‘best of’ had the widest span at 33 years, starting (inevitably) with 1969’s Space Oddity and ending with Slow Burn from what was at the time the latest album, 2002’s Heathen. 

Bowie Fact: This was released in 21 territories and track listings in each area were different depending on which songs were most popular.

Bonus Bowie Fact: A 47-track DVD was also issued.


bowie_collection

The Collection (EMI Gold, 2005) > Full track listing

An excellent and thoughtful budget release that forgets about ‘hits’ and has a one-track-per-studio-album rule for the 1969-1980 era (not including Pin-Ups). Nothing overfamiliar here, as it kicks off with Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed (from Space Oddity) moves through tracks like Andy Warhol (from Hunky Dory) and ends with Teenage Wildlife (from Scary Monsters).

Bowie Fact: Sweet Thing from Diamond Dogs is included by without the Candidate and Sweet Thing (reprise) elements. Frankly, this doesn’t work.

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57 responses to Top 10: Best of the Best of Bowie

  1. Rob Deighton says:

    I wish they continued the 1969-1974, 1974/1979, 1980-1987, series up to the end of the nineties. This period has been overlooked and limited to a few tracks here and there on the NHC and Best Of releases.

  2. Re. your comment about the 3CD Platinum Collection, “The world yawned”. I didn’t! It was my first proper foray into Bowie (following a car boot LP of Ziggy) and was a great intro to his stuff.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Haha – sorry! Glad it got you into Bowie :)

      • I didn’t yawn either – it’s a great set, and (at least up until this week) tended to be cheap as chips. I retired my Singles Collection as soon as I got it.

        That said, I enjoyed this piece, as I have done with all the other Bowie stuff you’ve posted, for which many thanks.

        • Paul Sinclair says:

          I’m starting to regret the ‘yawn’ lol. Thanks for kind words. I’m in the middle of writing a new Bowie piece which should be up by Saturday morning.

    • Springer Bell says:

      I’m with Mini. I didnt yawn either. Straight into the CD Library along with the Singles. Never enough!! Mind you I did also buy the Queen Greatest Double in a “lovely” Gold cover.

      • Peter B says:

        I agree. It’s the best entry into Bowie and was great value. When I was DJing 5-10 years I found there were a lot of young Bowie and their entry into Bowie was the Labyrinth movie.

  3. Luke Jackson says:

    I feel that the omission of Life On Mars from all the early compilations has kept it from being over-played a la Space Oddity, Changes etc.

    I bought Nothing Has Changed in a ridiculously cheap SDE deal alert (thanks Paul) but was horrified to find so many tracks had been edited here and there to cram them all onto the CDs. Because who wants to hear the WHOLE GUITAR SOLO, half a guitar solo is surely enough! I played it once, writhing around in pain with every new edit. It currently sits on my “stuff to get rid of” shelf.

    • Paul English says:

      I totally disagree. Compilations like this should feature the single mixes / radio edits / 7″ mixes as much as possible.

      Want album versions? That’s what albums are for.

  4. Andrew Mogford says:

    Interesting and timely article Paul, especially as I was looking at my greatest hits Bowie collection. I have the Platinum Collection, and did have the singles collection which I really liked but can’t find any more.

    What would you recommend greatest hits wise that’s available new on vinyl in the UK atm? Any good 180g greatest hits vinyl releases? Or do you think it’s worth holding tight for now?

  5. William says:

    Think I might have to have a night in with the Best of Bowie DVD (2002) and a bottle of red.

  6. Robert says:

    I really liked the Ryko re-issues. Thought they did the best job on his catalog, along with Elvis Costello the label took care in their re-issues. I picked up the Elvis Costello 2 1/2 years box and two of the jewel cases were broken. Normally not a big deal but they used green tinted jewel cases. I wrote them and a couple weeks later received a box with a dozen green tinted jewel cases. That was nice of them. I still have my Bowie Ziggy gold disc they issued !

  7. adam shaw says:

    Paul ,
    did you know Danny Baker has retweeted you post about the 5 years doc on BBC the other night .

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yeah, I spotted that. He follows SDE on twitter (good taste!), so that was nice of him to retweet that :)

  8. Geoff says:

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned before but there’s a very interesting, albeit infrequently updated, blog by the producer of the Ryko series explaining the rationale behind some of the choices and where they were sourced from, here:

    http://www.jeffrougvie.com/bowie-blog/

  9. Friso Pas says:

    I got the EU Singles Collection at the time, and was very pleased with the track listing.
    But one thing always bothered me. Later, if not all, cd-compilations, including this Singles Collection, issued a very slightly different 7″ edit of China Girl, which connoisseurs will know, which happens after the SRV guitar solo.
    The edit is at the end of the solo and then the drum fill (the fill of the end of the 1st solo (7″ vinyl) ór the 2nd solo (single edits on cd).
    The album version continues with another “She says shhhh” bit, and another SRV guitar solo. Now, the original 7″ vinyl was edited with the end of that second solo bit and the drum break, whereas the compilations make use of an edit of the first solo and the ending of that solo with a hard cut into the drum fill from the second solo.
    (You still with us?)
    In my opinion, the original 7″ edit always worked best, and I’m wondering which cd version has that particular version.

    • Derek T. says:

      I believe you’ll find an ‘authentic’ China Girl edit on the 2002 Best Of, The Best Of 1980-1987 and Nothing Has Changed.
      Btw, some of us like having single edits on compilations! It’s nice having them cleaned up, remastered and put on CD. If I want the album versions, I play the albums.

  10. Brian says:

    Isn’t it about high time they up dated the video collection? and on Blu-ray of course

  11. William says:

    I have a few of those on vinyl and a good few on c the ones I don’t have are now on my Amazon and discogs wishlists… sadly the prices are going through the roof as the unscrupulous look to make a killing

  12. probablyrustin says:

    I sort of doubt they will be very quick to issue a new hits collection considering that the 2002 Best Of and the 2014 Nothing Has Changed compilations are readily available (in the US/worldwide and UK, respectively). Considering that by the time Nothing Has Changed came out, he knew of his diagnosis (and possibility of demise), it’s hard not to think that he planned the release out to be a legacy-redefining bookend. With a few notable exceptions, it does a pretty good job of reviewing his entire output, and IMO I can’t fathom what new “spin” could be put on it so soon after release. Of course, I’m sure we can expect some “fresh perspective” every few years, but it’d be rather cynical of them to supersede it in the immediate future. Though given how much his catalog has been mined and re-mined for endless reconfigurations…

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      You’re right, I don’t think anything will happen for ages, but there will definitely be more Bowie compilations in the future, that’s for sure. It’s almost irrelevant how ‘good’ an existing compilation is, ten years down the line record labels want a new set and a new design to market again to a new audience.

  13. probablyrustin says:

    Oh definitely Paul. If that were the case, 3/4 of these wouldn’t exist! This would be a great template for some other over–anthologized artists too (New Order comes to mind).

  14. Justin Isbell says:

    I didn’t realise there was a 3xCD platinum collection. I must compare it to my singes collection to see if it betters it (and buy it if it does) !!

  15. Scott says:

    I would not be too surprised to see some kind of retrospective this year. Bowie was a prolific artist, there is bound to be a lot of unreleased material that will be getting re-evaluated for an inclusion for such a compilation. Even though the other best of compilations exist, the marketplace is all about what is new today. What gets a Rolling Stone review. Even a condensed 2 disc version of five years with a few new surprises would not be too shocking and would likely serve as a good primer to those unwilling to get the big box.

  16. Rob C says:

    Have to agree about Bowie planning NHC as his defining statement – he clearly knew his fate to a degree and thus gave us this nice gift summarising his career through the then planned (but unknown to us at the time) Blackstar.

    If anything I would add a bonus 4th disc appending tracks missing from the 3-disc version:

    John I’m Only Dancing; TVC15; Cat People; Day In Day Out; Station To Station; Under The Gun (Tin Machine); DJ; Underground through the final 2 singles, Blackstar & Lazarus. Some key album tracks like Queen Bitch, Aladdin Sane, Panic In Detroit, Be My Wife, Breaking Glass, Five Years, Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) & Teenage Wildlife to round it out.

    Still no room for The Laughing Gnome and Magic Dance sadly…

  17. AlexKx says:

    First Bowie compilation for me was the three compact disc set “The Singles 1969-1993″ from the U.S. of A. a.k.a. “The Singles 1969-1993 Featuring His Greatest Hits”. Three discs being that I had a version that contained the bonus compact disc single “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby. Way, way cool.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      I’ve got that one. At the time it was very up-to-date because it included Jump They Say, unlike the UK version which ended at the Never Let Me Down era.

  18. Adrian Slatcher says:

    That k-tel album was my gateway drug to Bowie. I’d add a couple of weird ones: iSelect a collection of Deep cuts that bizarrely came free with the Mail on Sunday, chosen by Bowie – inc. Teenage Wildlife, Win, and the Sweet Thing medley. I also like All Saints (which is still available I think) – a compilation of his instrumental stuff – mainly Low, Heroes with some Outside, BTWN. Always been surprised there hasn’t been a Bowie soundtrack collection picking up some of the rarer tracks.

  19. Matthew McKinnon says:

    Who’d be the next-most-compiled artist on the racks then? My money’s on the Human League.

  20. Petter says:

    I too prefer the single edits, like Let’s Dance, Modern Love and especially Loving the Alien. One exception, Ashes to Ashes should never have been edited, it was already a rather short song and not one second of empty space. It was ruined from the start of having only half of the intro. Great article SDE, thanks.

  21. William says:

    Is there any chance of Toy, the recorded but never released (rejected by the record company) 2001 (I think) album being released? I’ve been listening to nothing but Bowie since Monday and Your Turn To Drive came on from the Nothing Has Changed compilation. Really lovely song and I’d like to hear more from that period. As this was before Heathen, another album I love, I imagine it would be in a similar vein.

  22. ken says:

    I was always disappointed when Changestwobowie came out and included tracks from the same era as one. I thought it should have covered Low to Scary Monsters only.

  23. Kauwgompie says:

    Don’t forget that the 2002 Best of was later released with a bonus CD called “Club Bowie”, making it a 3cd box set. It contained the following remixes:

    –The Scumfrog vs. David Bowie Loving The Alien 8:21
    –Let’s Dance (Trifactor Vs Deeper Substance Remix) 11:02
    –David Guetta vs. Bowie Just For One Day (Heroes) (12″) 6:37
    –The Scumfrog vs. David Bowie This Is Not America 9:12
    –Solaris vs. Bowie* Shout (Original Mix) 8:02
    –David Bowie China Girl (Riff & Vox Club Mix) 7:08
    –David Bowie Magic Dance (Danny S Magic Party Remix) 7:39
    –David Bowie Let’s Dance (Club Bolly Extended Mix) 7:58
    –David Bowie Let’s Dance (Club Bolly Mix) 3:52

  24. Scott says:

    I’m sure Toy will eventually be released, it is a complete album. When I finally heard it a few years ago I felt it had a very posthumous feel to it, like a found letter by a departed friend, Bowie reflecting on his youth via his old songs, from the vantage space of time, in a way I can see why at the time it was not released, as he was not getting the respect then that he gets now, it felt like a goodbye and he still had more to say.

  25. Johnny Feathers says:

    ChangesBowie served as my gateway to his work. It may be flawed, but it was the first time I’d ever heard Heroes, not to mention most of the rest of the tracks. I even liked the Fame ’90 remix–it still almost seems like the definitive version, even though I fully acknowledge its basic irrelevance.

    With his passing, I’ve been considering picking up something of his to expand my collection. I’m considering any/all of the albums I’ve passed up so far: his debut, Let’s Dance, Tonight, Never Let Me Down….even though I know full well they’ll pale compared to his 70’s/90’s-present work I already have. I was also considering Nothing Has Changed, which I thought was an interesting way to present a retrospective. Or Bowie at the Beeb, which I’ve missed, though I would probably want the original version that came with the then-current live album.

    • probablyrustin says:

      The Platinum Collection is the one to go for if you don’t care about 90s onward, but I rather like Nothing Has Changed for its inclusion of early rarities, unreleased “Toy” tracks and the 1st disc (covering 90s-present, which isn’t covered as completely by any other compilations).

  26. RJSWinchester says:

    Changestwobowie on cassette was the first Bowie album that I owned back in 1986. It’s probably the reason why I prefer John I’m Only Dancing (Again) over the original.

  27. Michel D. says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Bowie left instructions to release something, say in 6 month or 1 year after his passing (would really be his style), something like Toy or an album of leftover songs from his last two albums maybe!!

  28. Eightiesaddict says:

    Considering the amount of press and attention David’s death is getting, I would think there will be some new releases by the beginning of summer. I would love to see all the remixes (from the 80’s on CD finally). Ditto a singles collection from 1990 forward.

  29. Gordon says:

    I didn’t yawn at the 3-disc ‘Platinum’ – I thought it was amazing and an absolute bargain ($15 AUD – for a 3CD set in Oz, that’s a great deal) and best of all…..FAAAAATBOOOOOX!!!!! Although I must admit I didn’t know it was a re-issue, nor did I know the discs were available individually. It normally wouldn’t bother me, but because ‘Platinum’ doesn’t have the bonus ’80-87′ DVD, I have to re-buy a CD I already have (something I absolutely HATE doing!)

    I’m kicking myself at the moment, because my local Sanity had ‘Nothing Has Changed’ (3-disc) and ‘Sound + Vision’ (4-disc 2014 reissue) for several months at a really good deal ($40 AUD for BOTH!) as well as ‘The Next Day’ (super-deluxe). But I kept putting them off because I’m in debt so I have to save every cent and dollar that I can get. They are still available at the moment, but I notice the individual prices have jumped up a bit and the “2 for $40!” stickers have mysteriously disappeared…..

    On top of that, I had the chance for a ‘Ziggy’ DVD at only $15 a few months ago, but I let it go. Oh well, more fool me.

    Yeah, I like the 7″ edits/single mixes/etc. on compilations – as others have said, keep the album versions for the albums.

  30. Mylene says:

    We got an album called Chameleon on the Starcall label in Australia. Tracks were.

    Star Man
    Aladdin Sane
    Sorrow
    Diamond Dogs
    1984
    “Heroes”
    V2 Schnieder
    Beauty & The Beast
    Boys Keep Swinging
    DJ
    Look Back in Anger

  31. Gordon says:

    One more (slightly off-topic) comment – I hope the “Five Years…” documentary gets a proper DVD release. I’ve recorded it off the telly, but here in Oz we only get a 60-minute version. From what I’ve read on ‘teh interwebz’, it was originally 90-minutes?

  32. CJ Feeney says:

    Clearly Bowie was a great singes artist (111 of them according to one article this week) and that’s how I always appreciated his music, I’ve bought more compilations of his over the years than “proper” abums.

  33. Galley says:

    I’ve had The Platinum Collection ever since it came out. When Nothing Has Changed was released, I picked up the 3-CD version, as it includes later hits as well as a few gems that were left off the earlier collection.

  34. Eightiesaddict says:

    Love the Platinum Collection also. Also have the 80’s collection with the DVD. As well as anything else that I got my hands on in the last 25 years. I’m still amazed at the attention that David’s death is getting.

  35. elliott buckingham says:

    id like a bowie comp that uses the full length versions instead of the awful radio/single edits. the edit of young americans is awful

  36. RJSWinchester says:

    The single edit of Young Americans on Nothing Had Changed rips the heart and soul out of the song – it’s appalling!

  37. Julian H says:

    ” the soundtrack version of Cat People with the really slow, long build-up before our man starts PUTTING OUT FIRE WITH GASOLINE!! ”

    One of my favourite Bowie moments. That voice!!

  38. Johnny Feathers says:

    I picked up Nothing Has Changed, and finally made it through it.

    Yeah, the edit of Young Americans. Even worse, for me, is the edit of Fashion. It’s hardly a long song to begin with. All of the various edits throughout the set make me think, either just make it a 4-disc set, or take out 1 or 2 songs so you can fit in whole versions. I understand a few tastefully done edits for songs like Heroes or Little Wonder, but others, not so much.

    That said, it’s a fascinating journey, especially now that he’s gone. I’m more curious than ever about his early years, and will likely pick up his first album and other pre-Space Oddity stuff. I quite liked what was on there. Going back before Space Oddity almost seems like pre-history. It was cool to see the set really dig into that stuff.

    Other than the various bad edits, the concept and execution of the set is really pretty well done. It won’t be a definitive listen for me since I have so much of his material already, but it’s a nice addition.

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