David Bowie once picked out his favourite David Bowie songs
In 2008, David Bowie created a compilation which collected 12 of his most favoured songs from his extensive back catalogue. While of course it means that some vital records are missing from his catalogue, the list still provides a keen insight into the Starman’s perception of his career.
Initially, the CD was billed as a collection of personal favourites and was made available exclusively as a free gift with an edition of The Mail on Sunday. However, due to popular demand, the newspaper quickly sold out and the CD became a collector’s item. It’s no surprise, considering the wealth of Bowie’s artistic mystique (often willing to chop out the greatest hits from his tours), that people would be desperate to know exactly what songs he thought were his best.
With Bowie’s US fans disappointed at their inability to get their hands on the record, Virgin/EMI released the CD in identical format to the one that appeared in The Mail on Sunday. The difference, however, was that it was released with a booklet which contained song-by-song comments which originally appeared in the newspaper.
On top of that, the US and Canadian released was enclosed within a standard jewel case packaging, which may be the most perfect cover for such an esteemed collection of tracks. In later years, 2015 to be specific, a limited edition red vinyl version was released to celebrate the opening of the exhibition David Bowie Is which showed at the Philharmonie de Paris in France.
The compilation became a big hit with fans because Bowie decided to avoid most of his most popular hits. In fact, Bowie only included three official singles; ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Loving the Alien’ and ‘Time Will Crawl’. Furthermore, the latter was a remixed version by engineer Mario J. McNulty who featured several newly recorded parts.
Elsewhere, Bowie chose to include the rarity ‘Some Are’, a song which became unavailable after he removed it from 11th studio album Low. Speaking about the selection of ‘Teenage Wildlife’ Bowie commented: “So it’s late morning and I’m thinking, ‘New song and a fresh approach. I know. I’m going to do a Ronnie Spector. Oh yes I am. Ersatz just for one day.’ And I did and here it is. Bless. I’m still very enamoured of this song and would give you two ‘Modern Love’s for it anytime.”
Although Bowie did pick one huge tune from his collection, about the construction of ‘Life on Mars’, he said, “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy.
“I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road.”
Another song many will be glad to see is ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ about which Bowie said in the 2008 liner notes: “The only pipe I have ever smoked was a cheap Bewlay. It was a common item in the late sixties and for this song, I used Bewlay as a cognomen – in place of my own. This wasn’t just a song about brotherhood so I didn’t want to misrepresent it by using my true name. Having said that, I wouldn’t know how to interpret the lyric of this song other than suggesting that there are layers of ghosts within it. It’s a palimpsest, then.”
Another obscure but beloved song is ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ which Bowie says “was written for a wonderful young girl whom I’ve not seen for more than 30 years. When I hear this song she’s still in her 20s, of course. A song will put you tantalisingly close to the past, so close that you can almost reach out and touch it. The sound of ghosts again.”