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Maybe I’m feeling in a bit of a half-assed greatest hits type of mood, but I am really digging David Bowie Fame & Fashion (David Bowie’s All Time Greatest Hits) tonight.  As a rule I’m a bit ambivalent about greatest hits albums, sure I own a few, it’s the best way to experience some artists and with others they can be a very good way in to the club, but overall give me a ‘classic’ album every time.  But, maybe because work this week has reduced me to a gibbering, twitching wreck, Fame & Fashion is all I need tonight.

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Released in 1984 and proudly boasting that it has been ‘Digitally Remastered’* on its garish 80s cover, here’s a greatest hits set from an artist who wanted to put the spotlight firmly on recent work.  The offerings here are firmly weighted from Station To Station, through to Scary Monsters.  Figure it out: my four favourite Bowie albums Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory and Low only provide 2 songs here!  This really wouldn’t match my own selection if I was doing the picking; Hell, I’d pick 10 songs from Hunky Dory and ‘Jean Genie’ twice! But I think that’s why I’m enjoying this LP tonight, it’s the stuff I know but don’t hear very often.

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Okay, so I’m being a bit disingenuous here, I know this is a singles compilation, but even so … ‘1984’? RCA looking to cash in on the year of release rather than fond memories of a pretty minor release and a very minor satellite in the firmament of Bowie’s talent.  Anyhoo, Fame & Fashion hangs out a token triplet of oldies in the form of ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Changes’ and ‘Starman’ and then strides onwards, you can’t argue with their inclusion and they stand strong isolated from their respective albums.  Well, I’m not hugely fond of ‘Space Oddity’ actually, it’s a novelty record I’ve listened to far too many times, being the childish little chap I am, I far prefer Cassetteboy’s shorter, more profane version:

I only have a passing acquaintance with Young Americans and so it’s interesting to hear ‘Young Americans’ and ‘Fame’.  Although most of my favourite Bowie moments come accompanied by Mick Ronson strutting his stuff in Bacofoil trousers, I do quite like Bowie’s Teflon soul phase, it’s the sound of a real artist having a ball with form and fashion.  It’s shallow as hell, but I can respect that because it really doesn’t aspire to be anything else; and I love the meanness of ‘Fame’.

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One Bowie album that’s been a daily disappointment to me since the day I bought it is Station To Station, I really can’t get on with it** although Mrs 1537 loves every nanosecond of it.  I will never dig ‘TCV 15’, but ‘Golden Years’ really takes wing liberated from its hideous brethren and magically becomes the funky, elegiac awakening it always secretly was^.  You don’t need me to tell you how great ‘Heroes’ is, that great big lovable wind tunnel of a song – I feel all noble, well-tailored and chiselled just listening to it now in my pyjama bottoms and greying AC/DC T-shirt, imagine if I was actually remotely noble, well-tailored and finely chiselled? it would probably cause an explosion of pure cool sufficient to tilt the world off its’ axis resulting in the extinction of 85% of sentient life on the planet.  True story, some scientists in white coats and glasses worked it out for me last Wednesday.

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Diametrically opposite to the opening three oldies, Fame & Fashion accelerates away in futuristic fashion with ‘D.J’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’, a great salvo to finish on.  I’ve never heard Lodger, so this was my first encounter with ‘D.J’, a strange gristly, dark nugget of a track if ever I heard one, is Bowie commenting on the essential existential emptiness of the DJ phenomenon? or was he merely orbiting so far off his tits on horse tranquilizers that this is what life sounded like to him in 1979? It was a real revelation to me and I love it.  ‘Fashion’ is a real period piece now, the way that Robert Fripp skewers the reggae/funk beat is a complete treat from beginning to end.  Amusingly, given that he was always mocked as a Bowie clone, I hear a fair chunk of Gary Numan’s sound in here, ‘Fashion’ being a very near contemporary of ‘Cars’^^.

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‘Ashes To Ashes’ is a perfect way to end the LP, for my tastes one of his last, undeniably great songs.  Bearing in mind it was released in 1980, it comes on like a sad lament for the excesses of the 70s and 80s, heard now it just seems to have aggregated an almost unbearable amount of pathos.  It is a shot of pure David Bowie, there isn’t a note of this track that sounds remotely like anyone else, or could even have been produced by anyone else.  Perfect^*.

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Fame & Fashion is a compilation that really works.  In fact I’d argue that it would work even better without the opening three oldies on it, substitute them out for ‘Sound & Vision’, ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Cat People’ and it would hit even harder.  I have enjoyed spinning this one immensely, despite the fact there’s barely a proper bass note on the whole LP; it really is possibly the most treble friendly album I own; wonder what frozen precipitation could possibly have been fuelling that?

This is a worthwhile dose of Bowie, not a defining survey by any stretch of the imagination, you just need so much more space for that, but one which is, quite charmingly, of its time.  Just lose the subtitle, please.

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615 Down.

PS  – Carlos Alomar, just wow.

*I’m guessing back when things like that were impressive, rather than the norm – you know, like medieval times and shit.

**even the cover upsets some delicate equilibrium far inside me, triggering my repulsion reflex.  True story.

^especially for J.


^^If I were a cool savvy hepcat I’d splice the two tracks together, forever proving my essential cleverness beyond all doubt.

^*the video can just fuck off though, all that solarized Pierrot and bulldozer nonsense!

11 thoughts on “Flame & Flashion

  1. Bowie has had more compilations than you and I have had vinyl over-spends and more catalogue repackagings than you have hair metal bands. Is it just such a rich songbook that it begs for re-compiling every 6 months? Dunno, but I get your being charmed.

    (I’m mostly with Mrs 1537 on S to S. Try listening without the two W**W tracks.)

  2. I don’t tend to buy compilations, but given I own only one Bowie album I’d likely pick this up if I saw it (I’d buy your Bowie compilation too, of course!).

  3. I wouldn’t envy anyone the job of trying to pick the hits of David Bowie. From any era. Sure, you could just do the singles but that’s lazy, and maybe plays a bit disjointedly all together?

    Still, good on you for playing this one through. Lots to love here. And dammit, now I have that funky line of Fame in my head and I can’t get it out. I like it!

  4. I probably have to side with Mrs 1537 regarding Station To Station. It’s weird, like compressed anxiety shoved into an abandoned German bunker, but that appeals to me. And you really need to hear the whole of Lodger. It’s a bizarre but wonderful affair.

    This compilation is intriguing. It seems like an odd collection, but one that works. I’m with you on these sorts of greatest hits collections. I’d rather have a proper LP and be done with it. But in 1984, this is how you got acquainted with an artist, not Spotify. If I found this somewhere I’d buy it, and rechristen it the 1537 Thin White Duke Mix.

    1. I bet you play S2S in your bunker all the time, don’t you? it makes me feel anxious and on edge.

      I will get Lodger next year, DJ is just quite brilliant.

      It is a funny compilation, if it hadn’t been given to me I would never have bought it.

      1. I do play it in the bunker, as a matter of fact.

        S2S is the only album Bowie says he had no recollection of even making because he was so coked out of his mind. That goes a long way to explaining why it feels the way it does.

  5. As always, I quite enjoy the creativity & the absolute appropriateness of your vocabulary Joe – upon further reflection, garish is the only possible adjective!
    Laughed out loud as well at the alternative greatest hits you proposed, I’d listen to that any day too!

    1. Thanks Geoff – it’s appreciated. I like the word ‘garish’, I keep it safely in a box on top of my wardrobe and get it out and use it only on special occasions. True story.

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