SOMEONE once remarked that pop music in the 1970s would have been pretty dull without David Bowie. His name is practically synonymous with style. As a proponent of art rock, Bowie turned heads with his self-styled characters like the androgynous Ziggy Stardust and the stark Thin White Duke. But throughout his stylistic changes, Bowie has consistently been a good songwriter. So it was depressing for died-in-the-wool fans that his many albums have been hard to find in recent years. Although RCA had issued CDs of some of his titles, by 1985 these also were off the market.
Fortunately, a major Bowie reissue set, called ``David Bowie: Sound + Vision,'' is now available in CD, LP, and cassette formats. The package was conceived by an independent, Massachusetts-based label, Rykodisc, and its focus is not just on Bowie's best-known songs.
``A lot of the hits aren't on the set,'' says Jeff Rougvie, manager for the project, in a telephone interview, ``although there are a fair amount of them, too.' He notes that the set includes ``Rebel Rebel'' (a different version from the original), ``Ziggy Stardust,'' ``Changes'' (in a live concert version), and ``Young Americans.''
``It's geared more toward getting people who already know the hits to pick it up and hear album tracks that the radio didn't play,'' says Mr. Rougvie.
Bowie knew of the excellent job the label had done with its Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa reissue packages, says Rougvie, and was looking for something similar. So he helped unearth rare tracks for the set, notably the original demo tape of his 1969 hit ``Space Oddity,'' recorded in his living room.
Thanks to Bowie's foresight and business acumen, rights for all the masters of his albums reverted to him in 1984. ``It's rare when an artist gets his own catalog - it was a pretty shrewd deal that he made in the beginning,'' says Rougvie.
The Bowie CD package includes three full-length discs, and a video disc featuring an unreleased live concert in Boston from 1972, and a booklet illustrated with Bowie photos. Some rarities include a previously unreleased track of Bruce Springsteen's ``It's Hard to be a Saint in the City'' and an outtake from the ``Young Americans'' recording session.
The CD set sells for $59.95, the cassette set for $49.95, and the LP set for $69.95.
``When these records were being marketed in the '70s,'' says Rougvie, ``they were a good bit ahead of their time, and consequently the public had a weird perception of them. Now the public's kind of caught up.''