David Bowie has always shown an acumen for marketing himself, as well as a willingness to do so through unconventional channels. Still, many industry observers were surprised when Bowie chose the small, independent Rykodisc label to reissue his RCA catalogue on CD, a catalogue that ranked only behind the Beatles' on consumers' wish lists. Bowie's intuition paid off quickly: Rykodisc's "Sound + Vision" anthology, which served as a teaser for that catalogue, was outstanding in both its content and packaging, and so are the first three re-released albums: "Space Oddity," "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Hunky Dory."

The albums, chronologically arranged and digitally remastered, are available not only on CD and cassette, but on premium vinyl as well. Ironically, because Rykodisc has included four bonus tracks on each album, the vinyl versions are double discs. For instance, "Space Oddity" includes "Don't Sit Down," a track found on the original Mercury pressing but deleted when RCA took over Bowie's catalogue in the early '70s, "Conversation Piece" and "Memory of a Free Festival Pts. 1 & 2" in a later version that marks the first recorded appearance of sidekick guitarist Mick Ronson. "The Man Who Sold the World" includes off-the-wall versions of "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang On to Yourself" released in Holland under the name Arnold Corns. The CD versions of these albums come with lyric booklets and rare photos from Bowie's personal archives (he's been involved throughout the reissue process). The next batch of Bowie reissues should be out in March.

Bowie also announced recently that he's embarking on a "farewell" world tour that will be a long goodbye not for him, but for many of his older songs. "After this tour I won't be doing them ever again," Bowie said at a London press conference. "I want to keep myself excited and there's no point in continually doing the same songs and reflecting on the past, using the old songs as a crutch." (Somebody please send this information to the Who, which will be releasing a double album from its stupendously boring 1989 world tour.) Bowie scoffed at the notion that this was a desperate comeback bid after the poor reception given his most recent incarnation as "just another member" of Tin Machine, which recently finished its second album in Australia. "Sales-wise, the {first album} sunk, but the Tin Machine tour {which didn't make it to America} was the biggest I've ever done, so I don't know which way to look at it."

Ever playful, Bowie announced "Dial a Dave Fave," in which fans will vote for the old songs they'd like to hear, with the most requested songs in each country forming his set list for shows there (no word yet on when he'll get to the United States, but this time he probably will). The man of a thousand phases "won't be dressing up for these shows," Bowie added. "You won't be seeing funny clothes. No stack-heeled boots, no dresses, no red hair, not even a wig." Bowie also said he had no plans for more film work, but added that he'd still like to work the big screen with Mick Jagger. "About 15 years ago we were asked to play Shelley and Byron, but we never got around to it. I suppose the next one might be Ginsberg and Burroughs."

Oh No, Not Again

Here's the downside of the end of the '80s: We've had to advance our nostalgia from the '60s into the '70s. And to remind us just how great '60s music was, Rhino Records has just released the five-volume collection "Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day." (The marketing angle: The '70s are back and there's nothing you can do about it!) The hit songs included here (50 on LP, 60 on CD) are probably responsible for the rise of FM radio and the triumph of the album over the 45 -- even Rhino describes these one- or two-hit wonders as "stomach-turning."

The funny thing is that when you hear some of these songs, they'll sound awfully familiar even if you hated them and had managed to forget them over the last 20 years (these first volumes cover the years 1969-1971, with five more volumes on the way covering 1971-1973). Sure, there are a couple of decent numbers, but most of them are dreadful, performed by artists who would be fated to play in Top 40 cover bands had they not somehow slipped onto the charts themselves for one brief moment.

Among the digitally remixed downers: Vanity Fare's "Hitchin' a Ride," Sugarloaf's "Green Eyed Lady," Brewer & Shipley's "One Toke Over the Line," Ocean's "Put Your Hand in the Hand," Lobo's "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," the Fortunes' "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again" and Hotlegs' "Neanderthal Man" (hard to believe this group eventually turned into 10cc). Had the American forces in Panama blasted this music at Manuel Noriega, he would have surrendered a lot sooner, but so might have the Marines.

Chapman's Essay Promotion

Washington's Rhythm and Blues Foundation is working with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman and her label, Elektra Entertainment, to promote a national essay contest growing out of Chapman's new Spike Lee-directed video, "Born to Fight." The video juxtaposes images of such historic figures as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali with Chapman's song about the human rights struggle. High schools in 15 major cities (including Washington) were sent copies of the video and an exclusive Chapman interview to provide further inspiration for essays of 500 words or less discussing "Key African-Americans That Have Made a Profound Crossroads in Black History" ("Crossroads" is also the name of Chapman's second album). The winners will benefit from almost $10,000 in scholarships, and the three top winning schools will also receive computers. Winners will be announced March 30.