This is less a Bowie album than it is a compilation album of performances from the musical acts on Saturday Night Live, including Bowie. He gets one song on the album, “Scary Monsters,” from (an obviously live performance) in 1997.
I was on the fence about including this album in this compendium at all, but I’ll use the opportunity to comment on Bowie’s appearances on Saturday Night Live beyond his performance of “Scary Monsters.” “Scary Monsters” is an odd selection as a sample— in total Bowie appeared on the show three times and performed a total of seven songs. One appearance is far more memorable than the other two and nearly approaches the point of being a cultural moment, but that appearance was in 1979 and is not included on this album. (Scary Monsters is also odd because he performed it 17 years after it was initially released— its a good song and a good performance, but I’m not sure why he chose it at that moment, at a time he was promoting “Earthling.”)
During the same 1997 show in which he performed “Scary Monsters,” he also performed one song from “Earthling,” which was “Little Wonder.” This fits with the typical Saturday Night Live pattern of musical acts appearing twice during the show. Bowie performed “Thursday’s Child” and “Rebel Rebel” during his 1999 appearance. But in 1979 he got three songs— “The Man Who Sold the World,” “TVC15” and (the new one at the time), “Boys Keep Swinging.” Rarely had Bowie looked so cool, innovative and weird (and that’s saying something). In each case, Bowie performed with nary a facial expression. In “The Man Who Sold the World,” he was literally lifted into place while wearing a large, stiff plastic suit of sorts. For “Boys Keep Swinging” he employed some sort of video trick which wouldn’t be impressive today, but placed his head on what seems like a computer generated image that was unusual for live television in 1979. He sang TVC15 while wearing a skirt. All of this was done while being backed by two backup singers who looked like extras from Star Trek (one of them, Klaus Nomi would keep the look and go on to have his own somewhat prominent career). All of this was a triumph. The difference between the 1979 performance and the latter two is that the telling of the Bowie story would be incomplete without a mention of it (it is probably also an essential moment in the story of Saturday Night Live). A video loop of the 1979 performances was a feature in the “David Bowie Is” exhibit that toured the world until recently.
Which brings us back to the specific record at hand. It is a nice collection of mostly well-known songs by several well-known artists. I put it on once in a while and it is suitable as background music at parties. But what I would really like to have is an EP of the seven songs Bowie performed in total over the years, which seems like an obvious enough product, or even better, a larger collection of all of Bowie’s television performances.