One of Bowie's songs here is "Time Will Crawl," and compared to the artist's quick-change persona, it does: In the space of 10 years, he invented and discarded more personalities than Sybil ever had. Some of them run smack up against each other - check out the gay glam pirate look he sports in 1974's performance of the classic "Rebel Rebel," and try to reconcile it with the slicked-back, plastic-souled Dave of "Young Americans," shown on the Dick Cavett show, also in '74. The sound is as changed as the vision, but the transformation is just starting. By the late '70s, he'll be crafting icy pop beauties with Brian Eno, while the music video revolution begins in earnest. A lot of these clips are terribly dated now - in fact, you're watching the MTV aesthetic be born and learn to walk as much as you're watching Ziggy Stardust grow up - but there are a handful of videos here that unite song and images beautifully. On the second disc, the songwriter gets less interesting as the mini-films become more sophisticated. Such directors as Gus Van Sant, Julian Temple, and One Hour Photo's Mark Romanek come on board, ensuring that even a lame Bowie tune is fun to watch.
Back when many would sooner use the adjective "freakish" than "fun" to describe Bowie (1972, when he was just starting to work his androgyny in the press), the young star got a chance to play with one of his heroes, the former leader of the Velvet Underground. The second Lou Reed solo record (but the first to get noticed much), Transformer (BMG Heritage), has just been reissued, and it's an inspired collaboration: Reed had been romanticizing the junkies and transvestites of the New York underground since before he lived there, but the morphine drone of the Velvets never caught on with the public. Now, with Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson at the helm, he had a gritty rock sound to balance musical excursions like the strings-and-piano "Perfect Day." Reed's personal life may have already been swinging back toward the semi-conventional, but his bisexual Frankenstein image helped sell a record with songs - "Walk on the Wild Side," "Satellite of Love," "Perfect Day" - that only needed to get their feet in the door to win fans over.