Prior to the IPod, the two main discs of “The Singles” was my default Bowie compilation. The collection totals 40 songs, including a third bonus disc featuring Bowie’s duet with Bing Crosby, “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy” (which to date is my only source of this song). The need for compilation CDs dropped, at least for me, since the advent of playlists. This has changed slightly in recent months as Apple technology has evolved, probably deliberately, in such a way to encourage the direct downloading of music rather than the burning of CDs. I had resisted downloading, “Nothing Has Changed” for more than three years because I already owned most of the songs on that compilation, but I recently downloaded that compilation, too, and in fact have made much use of it.
“The Singles” was part of the Rykodic reissues of much of Bowie’s catalogue. The versions of most of his albums from “Space Oddity” (1969) through “Scary Monster and Super Creeps” (1980) come from this series. For me, and I suspect for others, the Rykodisc collection helped define what I think of as Bowie’s greatest hits period. For instance, Rykodisc ignored Bowie’s pre-“Space Oddity” work. This was a good call as most of Bowie’s 1960s music wasn’t very good. But Bowie was still releasing albums when Rykodisc was reissuing the back catalogue, so most of his 1980s albums, Tin Machine and “Black Tie White Noise” are not part of the Rykodisc series. “The Singles” ignores Tin Machine but does contain selections from Bowie’s output up through, as the album title suggests, 1993.
Almost all of the collection’s 40 songs (not all of which were released as singles, but never mind that), are recognizable. I like most of Bowie’s later albums, but few of them contain songs that are nearly as well known as, say, “Rebel Rebel” or “Let’s Dance.” I sometimes wonder if I would have invested enough attention to the later albums to appreciate them if I wasn’t drawn in first by Bowie’s work form their 1970s and 80s. For those who don’t want to put too much contemplation into why they want to listen to Bowie, this is a great collection.
That said, I haven’t listened to, “The Singles” for quite some time. I have a few different Bowie playlists on my IPod, so I don’t need to rely on someone else’s selection, no matter how universally appealing. That’s a function of technology, but technology continues to ch-ch-change and Apple continues to manipulate that change. For me, the constant revisions of Apple software (as well as hardware) is confusing. Today it is more difficult to upload music burned off of CDs without screwing up my podcasts than it is to directly download purchased music. I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but as soon as I learn how to, I’m sure the technology will change again.
For this reason I recently downloaded, “Nothing Has Changed,” a 59-song collection that starts before the period covered by, “The Singles” and continues way past 1993. It is the most comprehensive Bowie complication that exists today, even including a song from “Blackstar,” which had not yet been released at the time “Nothing Has Changed” was released. (That song is, “Sue [Or In a Season of Crime],” which is not only my least favorite from “Blackstar” but is a different, worse version on this collection. I did download this song back in 2014, and it gave a misleading signal about what Bowie’s next studio album would be).
Its nice to have a compilation that covers the full arc of Bowie’s career, but there are downsides, such as the inclusion both of some of Bowie’s lower-quality early songs, and selections from the unreleased album, “Toy,” which are covers of some of those early songs and aren’t too much better than the original versions. Also, several of the songs on this compilation are shortened or otherwise changed from the more familiar album versions. In most cases, the songs that were shortened were edited for radio play. These versions are often noticeably different, but they are not better. In a few cases, such as “Young Americans,” the song seems to skip— it isn’t actually skipping, but portions of the song were simply removed. There is some value to including something in a compilation that is harder to get elsewhere, but I don’t think there’s a lot of value added here.
All that said, with “Nothing Has Changed,” I have once again added a compilation to my listening rotation. With that, there is little need for future greatest hits collections. Something like, “Nothing Has Changed” can be updated to include the better songs from, “Blackstar.” Certainly there can be other, themed collections (I think a great one would be of songs Bowie performed on other artists’ albums, several of which are currently quite obscure). But since Bowie isn’t around anymore, the journey that began with, “ChangesoneBowie,” really does end with, “Nothing Has Changed.”