the late 90s and much of the 2000s thus far were a most troublesome time for the record industry. the internet, and the ability to record your own CDs cheaply, were really hitting the profits, look you see. oh, sure, the record industry had always bleated about piracy being likely to destroy the music business, but it had not done so.
one of the more interesting claims that piracy would destroy the business was in the early 80s. somewhere on this blog i've posted the article from Rolling Stone which says that home taping - as in recording a vinyl lp onto a tape - was costing them US$1billion a year, and would see the industry "cease to exist" before the end of that decade. back then, though, a mate or similar had to at least buy something like The Joshua Tree or No Jacket Required to tape it off of. by, say, 1999, this was removed - you could, in a less than official way, download album after album gratis, and make splendid copies of it with your CD recorder.
instead of just crying, the music industry tried to claw back some money by changing things a bit. in order to convince we, the people, that it was still worthwhile to buy music, they sometimes gave you with your CD something which at that stage you could not download, record yourself or "stream" - a DVD.
whilst some of the DVDs issued with a CD were quite tosh and poor, every now and then you would get a really smart one. the smartest of the smart, somewhat inevitably, came with David Bowie releases.
there were several CD+DVD combinations released under the name of David Bowie during this era, and these are just three. i know of at least one more, but i've not unpacked my copy of it. therefore, the only time that the Reality CD and DVD set, with the DVD featuring a complete performance of the album, will be mentioned is right here in this sentence.
David Bowie has sold a quite frankly staggering number of albums since his sad passing earlier this year. as i've unpacked them, then, i thought a look at these combination sets would be of interest to those looking to buy some of the less obvious releases, as well as allowing for the history lesson of sorts above.
The Best Of David Bowie 1980 / 1987 is at once one of the most loved and most unloved compilations of the great one. whilst most purists would (perhaps rightly) argue that this was his weakest era, it is strangely also his (before this year) biggest selling one, with the Let's Dance singles making him a huge, huge seller.
if we start with the music component, Bowie's 80s stripped down to 19 tracks actually makes it all sound rather smart. what does come through loud and clear is that his finest work of this time was his film music. Cat People, This Is Not America, Absolute Beginners, the often overlooked When The Wind Blows and Underground were all for films, whether he was in them or not. no, sorry, Magic Dance is not included in this set, as much as many of you might quite like it to be. in retrospect, or indeed if you like in glorious retrospect, it might have been an idea for someone at the time to say to David "look, just pretend that all you do in the studio is for a film, and then it will sound amazing, man". but, they didn't, and to be honest this cross-section of the best of it is a really rather splendid listen. even for those purists who say 70s is all for Bowie, with maybe some 90s.
what we find over on the DVD is pretty much stuff that was on the (magnificent) Best Of David Bowie 2 DVD set, with two very notable exceptions. on this DVD you get two videos that are, so far as i am aware, not available anywhere else (except internet) - the previously mentioned When The Wind Blows and The Drowned Girl. both these make it worthwhile for the collector, such as moi, and if we're honest all of these videos show him when he was his most visual in pop music terms.
as far as i am aware this is not a difficult set to find. as you can see on the sticker on the cover, it was released as a "specially priced" set. a quick glance across the internet suggests one can order it for south of £10, which is not at all bad going. especially as, so far as i am aware, this is one of the few if not only places you can get When The Wind Blows on CD, to mention it a third time.
best of bowie. this one is a 2 CD and 1 DVD thing, and pretty much offers precisely nothing that most fans would not have already. oh.
the two CDs do a rather good, if somewhat pedestrian, job of covering the basics. all of the much loved and lesser loved hits from Space Oddity through to the Heathen album feature. the great novelty of this release, if i remember right and it seems i do looking at the link i added, was that a different tracklisting was used in different countries for it. which is kind of cool, but also kind of annoying for those of us who wanted to collect all released. to this end, no, i did not seek out editions from the rest of the world, and no i have not gone looking for them since.
i'm not at all sure if it was only with the South African release, for it is there where i was at time of it coming out, that a DVD came along with it. if so, fear not collectors, for it is "only" the "special limited edition" of Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture yet again. make no mistake, for it is a superb concert film and always essential viewing. it is, however, not that much of a selling point to fans such as moi, for many of us have this celebrated film several times over, all in different variations of "special limited edition". i think the copy i got in a clear slip cover is my favourite.
weirdly, the 2xDVD best of Bowie set that came out at the same time is very much worth getting. whilst not complete it is a comprehensive look at his visual voyages, and there are some boss hidden features, or if you like easter eggs, across the set.
VH1 Storytellers, a set that came out a fair few years after his actual performance. boy, where to start with this one.
at the time, right, it was pretty much looked over. we all assumed that we would have David forever, and to be honest not that many got excited about his song selection here. it's all but bereft of hits, with Life on Mars? and Rebel Rebel getting just "gestures" of play rather than airings. one suspects that VH1 baulked at the proposed set list, pretty much as was the case when Nirvana turned up at Unplugged and MTV panicked when it became clear that not only were most of the hits absent, but most of the set was non-Nirvana. in both instances, however, the instinct of the artists not to do the obvious was quite correct, and both ended up delivering a variation on a format that has by far outlived the performances of those who played it safe and did just the stuff that people know.
i've probably passed on this information before, but here it is again. it is often quoted that when people asked Bowie about an autobiography, he would say "just select any of the biographies which people have written about me that looks the most exciting to you, and assume that it is all true". this lack of interest in sharing anything of his life beyond what he says in his music is never more true than in this performance. whilst he shares some wonderfully witty stories between the songs (that's the idea of the format, for those unaware), by the end of it you become aware that he has not said one single thing of himself. clever man.
if this approach was somewhat disappointing at the time, now it is cherished. i'm not going to speculate or comment on the songs, that's irrelevant now. this is, so far as i am aware, the only time David Bowie has....had spent an hour playing only what he wanted, sharing tales of adventure and excitement that he wanted to share with us, the humble fans. of the three sets i have looked at here, then, this one has the least content yet offers the very most possible.
i understand that probably all of the above are all freely, in a very real sense, available to download or "stream" across the internet. whereas i might well have come to accept that this Net Flix thing isn't so bad, there's still no thrill better than browsing the music that you own and holding it in your hands before playing it. all three of the above sets give that sense.
the last time i looked the record industry was still alive and well. well, ok, maybe not quite so well as it once was, but it remains a going concern.
should you be discovering, rediscovering or perpetuating a love of David Bowie through this sorry year, well, i hope that aspects of the above have been of use to you......
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!