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Top 10: Best of the Best of Bowie

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Quite a few of you greeted the announcement yesterday of Nothing has Changed, a new David Bowie three-CD hits collection, with the cry of ‘not another one!’.  And it’s true enough that The Dame has certainly had his fair share of ‘greatest hits’ sets out over the years. Below, we take a look back at 10 of them, although we’ve left plenty out – believe it or not!

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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

Before yesterday’s announcement 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 lastest 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.


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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.


If you’ve got all of the above you will be wanting the new compilation “Nothing Has Been Changed” to keep your collection up-to-date! It’s being released on 17 November along with the brand new single “Sue (or In A Season of Crime)”

3CD Deluxe Edition / Nothing Has Been Changed 

2LP Double vinyl / Nothing Has Been Changed

2CD Edition / Nothing Has Been Changed

Limited 10-inch vinyl / “Sue (or In A Season of Crime)” 

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

  1. Dave says:

    Nice reading material. If you would ever consider covering all the Queen greatest hits compilations, you would be busy for a few hours. They have countless GH compilations. I like this guide for Bowie. Thanks!

  2. DaveDogFacedBoy says:

    I remember having to buy the cassette edition of ‘ChangesBowie’ cos it had that Starman song on it I liked and wished they had got rid of that rubbish ‘Fame 90′ remix

  3. omar says:

    Since i have my foot firmly planted in the 80s, my favorite was always The Best Of 1980-87.

  4. nick says:

    Funny thing is the KTel one may actually be the one collectors all want most now.

  5. Stevie Dal says:

    I like The Singles (2cd) but it’s lacking The Man Who Sold The World , sadly.

    great idea for a feature by the way , do more !!!

  6. leo says:

    I found fame and fashion in a charity shop recently for 1.99. So what you say, ask but it was the rca cd version.

    The promo version of 74-79 had the rare and exclusive to it edited version of John I’m only dancing again. Why it wasn’t on the stock copy I’ve no idea.

  7. Eric says:

    Wow, a thorough job Paul! I’d echo the requests for more features like this, although they must be time-consuming.

    I think I must have bought most of the CD-era ones by now, and none were especially satisfying. The 1993 collection felt good because it was a 2CD fatbox affair and actually went beyond Let’s Dance, but probably the DVD format of the 2002 Best Of is where it’s been at until now.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks Eric! I’m looking forward to the new one but “The Singles 1969-1993″ is probably my ‘go to’ greatest hits.

  8. Alan says:

    Golden Years was actually a very cleverly compiled album actually as every song on the album was being sung by Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour (at least at the start), although songs like Red Sails didn’t last very long. It was, because of this, a very good companion to Let’s Dance for people who wanted to relive some of the highlights of the tour.
    The majority of the RCA albums were mid-price by 1983 however, so quite a few of them charted anyway as people went on a Bowie buying spree.

  9. Dave Richards says:

    The long mix of Fame 90 (nothing premeditated mix) is a really great mix that was on the Ryko Disc CD5″ here in the US. Not sure how much Bowie had to do with it, but as long as the song goes on for it is never boring…

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes, I too really like that mix. I have the US CD5 and could never understand why it didn’t make it on to one of the formats over here. Probably issues with CD single running times, but could have been a limited edition 12″ at least.

  10. Jeremy says:

    Lest we forget. David Bowie has owned his song catalog since 1997 and so presumably made all the decisions on what to issue, how and when. In 1997 he issued “Bowie Bonds”. These paid the investor just over 7% for 10 years from future royalties earned. Prudential Insurance paid Bowie $55 million…!

  11. Steve Benson says:

    a Rolling Stones version of this article would be useful

  12. Cary Allen Wilson says:

    I own, I believe, the Chile version of “Best of Bowie.” It had the best collection of the “rare” songs, so I really wanted it. It took forever to track it down. Remember some of the editions were 1-CD and some were 2-CD:

    http://www.illustrated-db-discography.nl/Best.htm

    Space Oddity/The Man Who Sold The World/Changes/Life On Mars/Starman/Ziggy Stardust/John, I’m Only Dancing/All The Young Dudes/The Jean Genie/Sorrow/Rebel Rebel/Young Americans/Fame/Golden Years/Wild Is The Wind/Sound And Vision/”Heroes”/Ashes To Ashes/Fashion/Under Pressure/Cat People/Let’s Dance/China Girl/Modern Love/Blue Jean/Tonight/This Is Not America/Dancing In the Street/Absolute Beginners/Underground /When The Wind Blows/Day-In Day-Out/Never Let Me Down/Hallo Spaceboy /Little Wonder/I’m Afraid Of Americans/Thursday’s Child/Slow Burn.

    This edition is unique in having the US single edition of ‘Rebel Rebel’.

  13. Fat Old Bloke says:

    Changes 1 is the best compilation I like. It covers his classic years and sounds great!

  14. A tad harsh on the Platinum Collection which I found to be nicely priced and well mastered, with a more enticing tracklist than Nothing Has Changed.

    I nominate Aerosmith for a compilations roundup. The most outlandish was the Tough Love set that seemed to think Love In An Elevator was a ballad.

  15. Nancy says:

    Nice read indeed, Paul! My favourite Bowie ‘greatest hits’/’best of’ compilations are “The Singles Collection 1969-1993″ (1993) and “Best Of Bowie” (2002). The latter’s accompanying DVD edition is just superb even though it omits the “This Is Not America” and “Real Cool World” videos. Taking they are movie songs, I guess copyright issues were the matter.
    Covering Queen, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and ABBA ‘greatest hits’/’best of’ compilations in as the same vein would be darn fantastic!
    Some top artists from the ’80s like The Art Of Noise, Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode, New Order and Kim Wilde, for example, who had many of them deserved as the same treatment.

  16. trash says:

    I have a soft spot for Changes One Bowie as it was my first real introduction to his work. I had heard various singles on the radio (I particularly remember being struck by Life on Mars and TVC15) and then one someone at school bought this I borrowed it and played it to death. It really is a classy compilation (and I still love the cover) and the reverse in the style of Station to Station.

    As for the Bowie Singles collection I remember reading about the free mini single only being available in the US. Ordering internationally was not so simple back in those days but luckily the head of the company where I worked was off to the US for a holiday so I asked him to pick me up a copy. I must have been very naive – I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing these days. However two weeks later he returned with a copy (and didn’t even ask me to repay him). Just checked my collection and I still have it complete with Bowie/Crosby single (I was sure it was a Mini CD but in fact it is a full-size one).

    Thanks for the article Paul – I might have to go onto eBay and pick up a vinyl copy of ChangesOne just out of nostalgia (and for that cover).

  17. Mic Smith says:

    I echo the comments that say ‘good job’ Paul. I really enjoyed that overview of Bowie comps. Personally I think Best of Bowie 2CD version is hard to beat but the forthcoming NHC 3 CD set will be an excellent update on BOB. I also like the Singles comps from 93 (I have UK and US editions – the latter with the bonus single).

    ‘Tis a shame the original Holy Holy hasn’t appeared on CD. Early this year I took the plunge and picked up a nice German copy of the single and asked a friend to clean it up for me. Having heard it in its early form I can understand the reluctance to include it on a best of but it would suit a deluxe TMWSTW. It should have featured on Sound + Vision really. Has the master been lost or something?

    By the way the price of NHC at Amazon Uk has dropped £5 this week to £15.

  18. Paul Fraser says:

    Fame and Fashion was my very first Bowie album. Fond memories. Still never quite worked out from what year the album cover photo was taken.

    Excellent appraisal of the cornucopia of compilations, btw. Strange that Life On Mars was so often omitted.

  19. mark e says:

    “‘Tis a shame the original Holy Holy hasn’t appeared on CD”

    So there is a different version to the one thats on the 2 cd Ziggy Stardust set ?

    http://www.discogs.com/David-Bowie-The-Rise-And-Fall-Of-Ziggy-Stardust-And-The-Spiders-From-Mars/release/1030082

    m.e/ireallylovemusic

  20. Jeff Rougvie says:

    So much Bowie in the wind these days! As producer of the original S&V series, I can tell you that the regular version of Fame was replaced on all standard issues of ChangesBowie after the Gold CD was released. It was originally included because it was in the Pretty Woman soundtrack and EMI in the US were planning a huge radio push for the track. We were somewhat bullied into it, but eventually replaced it. May history judge us fairly.

    Ironically I was not in favor of the Singles 2CD set at the time, just because the RCA onslaught of comps thad quite rightly been called out for the shameless cash-in they were. The UK rejigged the track list at their will, and there was a US mail-order only version through Time/Life that included the live version of “all The Young Dudes”.

    PS: Pardon the shilling, but starting next week, I’ll be covering the entire Bowie S&V campaign on my site – including the thought process behind many of the decisions made during it, and with pics of many (if not all) of the tape boxes made available to us.

  21. Rajiv says:

    Jeff Rougvie – is there a link to your website? I am interested in reading your article re: the S&V campaign. thank you!

  22. DAVID CARROLL says:

    Time for a definitive 8-9 cds best with every single. every song included on various comps, Bowie’s personal faves all presented in single/radio edits. I can not think of another music artist better served by this. This could be easily accompanied by a very thorough dvd comp. of 4-5 dvds.
    Stuff of dreams!?

  23. Beth Manson says:

    Does anyone know if there is a release recording of Tonight other than the Tina Turner duet? It seems to be only on the one CD release. Also why do the DVDs of Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider not have all the songs that were in the shows.

  24. Beth Manson says:

    Does anyone know who the three actors are in the Thursday’s Child video? The young David is played by Owen Beasley, but the two females?

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