Monday, 6 September 2010

Bowie on on Vocalion, Parlophone, Pye, Deram, Philips, Mercury and B&C

As David Brent would say, Fact - David Bowie remains the single most important musician of all time. The sheer quality and breadth of the material he has recorded, especially during that golden period in the 70s, remains unmatched by anybody else. There may have been better singers quality wise (current world number one - Scott Walker), and he may not have released the best single ever (“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen, in case you were wondering), but overall, the heights Bowie has hit have been way beyond most artists. It’s shocking to think that, incredibly, there are some people on this planet who do not actually own a David Bowie LP. Presumably, these are people without ears - otherwise, there is no excuse not to own “Diamond Dogs“ or "Low" or "The Buddha Of Suburbia".

For his first decade in music, Bowie failed to do much commercially. It was only after he signed to RCA in 1971 that he finally started to sell records. 1969’s “Space Oddity” may have gone top 5, but it was very much a one-off, and it was followed by a string of flop records. In this blog, the first of six Bowie articles due in the coming months, we shall look at the records Bowie released before he signed to RCA. To keep things simple, we shall also look at some of the releases from these labels that appeared after he became famous - the success of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP in 1972 was a perfect excuse for these labels to offer up this material to the new wave of fans Ziggy helped bring to Bowie’s work.

Bowie’s early years fall into two periods - the pre-Space Oddity years and the post-Space Oddity years. The rights to re-release the post-Space Oddity material eventually fell into the hands of RCA, which helped put a divide between the two - which goes some way to explaining why Bowie released not one, but two self-titled albums in the 60s. But that doesn’t tell the whole story - so how did this happen?

The Early Years

Whilst still plain old David Jones, Bowie’s first involvement in a band was as Saxophonist, and occasional backing singer, in a group called The Konrads. They played live extensively during 1962 and 63, but with little sign of a prospective record deal on the table, Bowie left at the end of 1963 to forge his own solo career as a lead vocalist (The Konrads did secure a deal a year or so later). He formed a band called Davie Jones With The King Bees, who in 1964, released a 45 called “Liza Jane” on the Vocalion Pop label. It flopped. The band split, and Bowie was dropped from the label. He then joined an already existing group called The Manish Boys, and with them got his first real taste of fame. Although The King Bees did make at least one TV appearance plugging their single, The Manish Boys managed to make waves on both TV and in the papers thanks to their “long haired look”. They released a single called “I Pity The Fool”, which flopped. Bowie jumped ship, and the band disintegrated soon after.

Now a solo act, it was as Davy Jones that he released a second single for Parlophone in 1965, “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving”, although he was technically backed by a new group called The Lower Third. It flopped. Bowie was dropped from the label. With a more famous David Jones now in existence as part of The Monkees, David Bowie was born. Although promo copies were shown as a solo Bowie release, his next 45, on Pye, was credited to “David Bowie With The Lower Third”, and was titled “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, released in 1966. It flopped. However, Bowie was contracted to a three single deal so was not kicked off the label this time.

Bowie’s backing band changed at this point - he formed a new band called The Buzz, but they were not credited on the next single. This was the first of several points in Bowie’s career where the band were billed on posters for live concerts but not on record (see also The Hype, and of course, The Spiders From Mars). The second Bowie single on Pye, “Do Anything You Say”, was issued later in 66,and flopped. A third 45, “I Dig Anything”, was for some reason, recorded with Bowie and a group of session players, despite the fact that The Buzz were still playing with him at that point - but it didn’t help sales. It flopped.

The Deram Years

With Bowie no longer on Pye, he decided to take his career in a different direction. Whilst his singles up to this point had been heavily indebted to The Who and early Rolling Stones, he would now be influenced by the more music-hall/cockney/orchestral stylings of Anthony Newley - and his next set of recordings showed this quite openly. Now signed to Deram, he entered quite a prolific period in which he would record no less than three singles and an album, as well as recording a handful of tracks that would actually fail to get a release at the time. Of the three singles he released, two of them would appear in alternate form on his 1967 debut LP “David Bowie”- the tracks concerned, “Rubber Band” and “Love You Till Tuesday” were released before and after the LP respectively. The other single, the infamous “Laughing Gnome”, was not included on the LP, but became the most famous of the pre-Space Oddity recordings after it was reissued by Deram post-Ziggy.

If you are unaware of the “David Bowie” album, then hearing it for the first time could be a shock. I can only describe it by saying that it was very similar in feel to the music being made by another Deram artist at the same time, Cat Stevens, who would also later reinvent himself in the 70’s, as a folky acoustic troubador - both of their 1967 debuts were recorded with an orchestra, rather than with a standard “rock” band. But this change of style did not turn Bowie into a star, and by 1968, he was off the label.

What happened next is a bit confusing. Bowie decided to leave behind the Newley style, and began to write songs that were veering back in a more “rock and roll” direction. He had also been discovered by the BBC, who invited him to record numerous sessions for Radio 1, and Bowie found himself performing Deram era material alongside new unreleased songs, that bore little resemblance to that first LP. He made a movie, “Love You Till Tuesday”, which was designed to showcase his music, acting and mime talents to any prospective labels, but at the same time, seemed to be toying with the idea of abandoning a solo career, having taped a demo with childhood friend John Hutchinson, in which they shared the vocals and instrumentation. It was this demo that caught the eye of Philips, although by this time, Hutchinson had decided against a career as half of a Simon And Garfunkel style-duo, and thus Bowie was signed to Philips as a solo artist. The material that appeared on his 1969 LP was a world away from the 1967 LP, with only a few whimsical, orchestral sections paying homage to his past, and this, combined with the fact that the album technically started life as a non-solo album, go some way to explaining why the Philips album was also called “David Bowie” - it was as if the first LP was by a different Bowie, a more ‘Pop’ one. When Bowie eventually started to sell records, the early years of his career were so obscure, they were almost written out of history by default.

The Philips/Mercury Years

The Philips “David Bowie” was promoted, singles-wise, by the first track on the LP, “Space Oddity”. It was a monumental leap forward from the Deram records, an epic, psychedelic powerhouse of a song, but on first release, failed to do anything. However, when the moon landing took place later in 69, “Space Oddity” was seen as the unofficial soundtrack to the event, and the 45 started to sell. “Space Oddity” would eventually hit the top 5, but it was to be a one-off - Bowie would not have another chart hit for three years, and it failed to generate any interest in the accompanying LP. Often overlooked is the fact that the song was slightly edited for the 7”, with both the intro and outro being shortened - this mix is available on the 1980 compilation LP “The Best Of Bowie”. There would be no more Bowie records on the Philips label.

Bowie then signed to Mercury, for whom he would record another LP and three more singles. Interestingly, most of the tracks that appeared on those singles would either be re-recorded later in his career, or were re-recordings themselves of older songs. The first single, “The Prettiest Star”, featuring a pre-Glam Marc Bolan on guitar, would later appear in a more “Ziggy-fied” form on 1973’s “Aladdin Sane”. The B-side, “Conversation Piece”, was re-recorded in 2000 for the “Toy” project - an unreleased album that would have consisted mostly of re-recordings of “Pre-Ziggy” tracks. It eventually surfaced on the limited edition double-disc edition of the miraculous 2002 record “Heathen”.

Single number 2 was a re-recording of the Philips “David Bowie” album closer, “Memory Of A Free Festival”. The track was too long to fit onto one side of a 7”, so it was split into two halves, one on each side. In 1971, after Bowie’s third LP had been issued, Mercury released “Holy Holy” - later re-recorded during the Ziggy Stardust album sessions, and eventually surfacing as the B-side to 1974’s “Diamond Dogs”. The B-side, “Black Country Rock”, had appeared in 1970 on album three, “The Man Who Sold The World”.

Far noisier and heavier than the Philips “David Bowie”, “The Man Who Sold The World” was first issued in a famous sleeve depicting Bowie wearing a dress - making the album musically, and socially, the potential starting point of “Ziggy”. Bowie’s band at the time, The Hype, also featured future Spiders From Mars. The album is now a big collectable, but not because, as was once thought, that the LP was withdrawn from sale because of the cover - but simply because nobody bought the album during the two years in which it was on sale. In 1971, Mercury dropped Bowie from their roster.

Bowie had one last stab at fame before signing to RCA, where things would start to fall into place. He formed a side project band called Arnold Corns, which ended up being nothing more than a front for a Bowie solo-esque project. It was on B&C Records that a pair of later-taped-for-the-Ziggy-LP tunes, “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On To Yourself”, were released on a 7”- which flopped. During the Arnold Corns period, Bowie continued to perform live, and billed as “David Bowie & Friends”, did a live Radio 1 gig where new material such as “Almost Grown” and “Looking For A Friend” were showcased. When Bowie signed to RCA later that year, neither track made it onto his RCA debut “Hunky Dory”, but another track performed that day, “Kooks”, did make it onto the record - and the Superstar Years began.

After Bowie became famous, B&C issued “Hang On To Yourself” as an A-side, with a new track called “Man In The Middle” on the flip - this 45 failed to sell, and even the 1974 reissue on the Mooncrest label failed to chart. “Man In The Middle” was not sung by Bowie, but another member of Arnold Corns, Freddie Burretti.

What Happened Next

Possibly because the early singles had surfaced on a myriad of labels, there was no single reissue LP of this material during the 70s or 80s. “Liza Jane” was reissued on 7” by Decca in 1978, whilst the two Parlophone singles were compiled on a 4-track EP a year later. This EP has been reissued a couple of times, even getting a CD release in 1990 on the See For Miles label. The Pye tracks appeared in 1981 on the 6 track mini album “Don’t Be Fooled By The Name”, housed in a sleeve which looked a lot like the 1978 LP “Stage”, presumably to actually get people to be fooled by the name enough to buy it.

The Deram “David Bowie” was not reissued as such in the 70s - instead, the label issued a compilation record called “The World Of David Bowie” which cobbled together album tracks, single material, and a trio of previously unissued songs - “Karma Man”, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” and “In The Heat Of The Morning”. What was more or less an expanded version of this record, “Images”, was first issued in the US in 1973. This featured all of the “David Bowie” LP, plus all of the B-sides from the period and the “new” songs from “The World Of…”. All of Bowie’s Deram A-sides were included, but to avoid repetition, it was the album mixes of “Rubber Band” and “Love You Till Tuesday” only that were included. The album was, sort of, in chronological order - the first 45 opened the LP, the “new” tracks appeared at the end, and it was a B-side, “The London Boys”, that appeared at the end just before the new songs. Deram even released “The London Boys” as a single in it’s own right in 1975.

In 1984, that slightly surreal video “Love You Till Tuesday” appeared on VHS and Betamax. Consisting of a series of old and (at the time) new Bowie recordings, it was effectively a series of promo clips for songs that, in an alternate universe, might have been issued as singles. Two of them actually had been, but these clips had of course been made after Bowie had left Deram. An accompanying soundtrack LP, consisting of material from the film plus selected older Bowie tracks, was issued to coincide.

In 1972, RCA acquired the rights to release the Philips and Mercury material, and Bowie’s second album was subsequently reissued as “Space Oddity”, in a new Ziggy-esque sleeve, which didn’t quite give a true indication as to the rather fey nature of some of the songs contained therein. For some reason, the track “Don’t Sit Down” was removed from this, and all following pressings, up until 1988. “The Man Who Sold The World” was reissued in a new cover, an impressive black and white photo of Bowie doing a quite nifty high kick, which actually WAS more indicative of the loud nature of the music, more so than the “Dress” cover was.

The Subsequent Reissues

In 1991, Rhino Records in the US released the excellent “Early On” set, which compiled everything Bowie released before signing to Deram. It also included five previously unissued songs from the same period. For some reason, the Manish Boys tracks appeared in alternate mixes, meaning the only way to get hold of the original mixes is to either buy the original 7”, or the See For Miles “Parlophone” CD Single. Vinyl copies of “Early On” featured three less tracks than the CD.

In 1999, Castle released “I Dig Everything”, a 6 track mini album featuring all of the Pye material. As well as being issued as a standard album, a 3xCD Single Box Set was also issued, with each single coming in it’s own picture sleeve, which is certainly a cheaper way of owning the 45’s than if you were to buy the Pye originals. Curiously, the mix of “Do Anything You Say” was different to any previously released.

The Deram “David Bowie” was issued briefly on CD in the 80s, but was deleted soon after, and for most of the time that followed, it was easy to get Bowie material from this period, but not necessarily in the form in which it originally appeared. In 1992, Pickwick reissued “Love You Till Tuesday”, and replaced several of the unique mixes from the soundtrack with album versions. However, the version of “Space Oddity” that appeared here was a longer version to that released on the film/LP, and another track “Ching A Ling” was also extended - but given that Bowie only does backing vocals on this song, I wouldn’t get too bothered about that.

Quite a few Deram era compilations exist, many of them offering up a lot of the material from this period, but not all. Spectrum’s “London Boy” is notable for featuring the full length “Space Oddity”, but only includes two of the three “new” songs from “The World Of David Bowie” whilst 1997’s “The Deram Anthology” is possibly the pick of the bunch, putting on a single CD the LP, the A and B sides of all the singles, plus the “new” songs and mixes from “Love You Till Tuesday” and “The World Of David Bowie”. The “long” version of “Space Oddity” however, is missing.

The Deram “David Bowie” finally got a reissue again on CD in 2010. Whether or not one of Bowie’s more flawed albums deserves such an honour is questionable, but there was obviously some demand for a reissue, and if you’re going to reissue an album, you may as well do it properly. CD1 includes the LP in both mono and stereo, CD2 has a barrage of previously unissued mixes and radio recordings.

In the late 80s, all of Bowie’s RCA catalogue (including the Philips and Mercury years) was reissued by EMI, and “Space Oddity” was the first to be treated in 1989. It restored “Don’t Sit Down” to the running order, and included three bonus tracks from the period - although they were in fact all songs recorded after Bowie swapped labels from Philips to Mercury - “Conversation Piece” and both sides of the “Memory Of A Free Festival” 7” were the tracks concerned. In the US, the album was pressed on clear vinyl, with the extra tracks on a 1-sided 12”, but the UK edition was pressed on black vinyl and featured the whole expanded album on a single disc - meaning that some of the material previously at the start of side 2, was now at the end of side 1. “The Man Who Sold The World” was reissued in it’s original ’Dress’ cover, and added four bonus tracks - both sides of the 1971 Arnold Corns single, a previously unreleased track called “Lightning Frightening” and “Holy Holy” - the original plan was to include the 1971 Mercury single mix, but Bowie vetoed this decision, apparently because he was unhappy with the original recording, and so the “Ziggy” remake was included instead. A box set issued about the same time, “Sound And Vision”, included other rarities from the period - the original Bowie/Hutchinson demo of “Space Oddity”, the 1970 single version of “The Prettiest Star”, and an acoustic version of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”, originally on the second LP, but this version lifted from the B-side of the “Space Oddity” 45. To this date, the Mercury version of “Holy Holy” is still only available on the original single or on bootleg.

In the late 90s, Bowie was signed again to the EMI/Virgin conglomerate and to coincide with the release of 1999’s “Hours”, all of Bowie’s albums from 1969 to 1987 (covering material from Philips, Mercury, RCA and EMI America) were reissued - but for some reason, the bonus tracks were removed. “Space Oddity” was strangely issued in it’s original 1969 sleeve, but retained it’s 1972 title, making it an instant collectable. “The Man Who Sold The World” appeared in the ’Dress’ sleeve again, but shorn of it’s bonus tracks, it was a pointless exercise. In 2009, a 40th Anniversary edition of "Space Oddity" appeared, in it's original sleeve and now called “David Bowie” again, and this included a second disc full of various rarities and unreleased versions, with the three bonus tracks from the 1989 edition included again. Three of the four bonus tracks from “The Man Who Sold The World” later resurfaced on the 2002 reissue of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, but “Lightning Frightening” remains unavailable on a current Bowie record.

The "Early Years" Discography

Listed below is a select choice of Bowie records from this period of his career. I have listed the original singles released from 1964 to 1971, along with any other “new” releases on those labels that took place thereafter. Any “early years” singles re-released after this period, but on a different label, are not listed, athough some of these are of interest if you like EP’s in picture sleeves - there are links below to the Bowie Singles website which goes into greater detail.

I have also listed details of Bowie’s original albums from the period, with interesting editions of each shown. I have not listed any re-pressings that offer nothing of interest to anybody other than the “completists”. What is interesting about this period, especially the pre-Space Oddity years, is that for many years, Bowie himself failed to really acknowledge any of these records, presumably thinking that if he started playing them on stage, nobody would know what he was playing. But in 1999, he began playing a handful of these songs on stage, prior to the abandoned "Toy" project. Several songs re-recorded for that record later appeared as b-sides, and we shall look at these reworkings in a future blog.

ORIGINAL “PRE-RCA” 7” SINGLES 1964-1975

Liza Jane/Louie, Louie Go Home (7”, Vocalion Pop V9221)
I Pity The Fool/Take My Tip (7”, Parlophone R5250)
You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving/Baby Loves That Way (7”, Parlophone R5315)
Can’t Help Thinking About Me/And I Say To Myself (7”, Pye 7N 17020)
Do Anything You Say/Good Morning Girl (7”, Pye 7N 17079)
I Dig Everything/I’m Not Losing Sleep (7”, Pye 7N 17157)
Rubber Band (Single Mix)/The London Boys (7”, Deram DM 107)
The Laughing Gnome/The Gospel According To Tony Day (7”, Deram DM 123)
Love You Till Tuesday (Single Mix)/Did You Ever Have A Dream (7”, Deram DM 135)
Space Oddity (Edit)/Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Acoustic) (7”, Philips BF 1801)
The Prettiest Star/Conversation Piece (7”, Mercury MF 1135)
Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1)/(Part 2) (7”, Mercury 6052 026)
Holy Holy/Black Country Rock (7”, Mercury 6052 049)
Moonage Daydream/Hang On To Yourself (7”, B&C CB149)
Hang On To Yourself/Man In The Middle (7”, B&C CB189)
The London Boys/Love You Till Tuesday (7”, Deram F13579)

ORIGINAL ALBUMS AND NOTABLE REISSUES

David Bowie (1967, LP, Deram DML1007)
David Bowie (1967, 2010 2xCD reissue, Deram 5329086, Stereo/Mono mixes plus 25 extra tracks)

David Bowie (1969, LP, Philips SBL 7912, “Don‘t Sit Down“ and “Letter To Hermione“ appear listed and pressed as a single track)
Space Oddity (1969, 1989 CD reissue, EMI 79 1835 2, “Don’t Sit Down” and “Letter To Hermione” now separate tracks, in “Ziggy” sleeve with 3 extra tracks)
Space Oddity (1969, 1999 CD reissue, EMI 7243 5218980, in original 1969 sleeve but with no bonus tracks)
David Bowie (1969, 2009 2xCD reissue, EMI DBSOCD 40, with 15 extra tracks)

The Man Who Sold The World (1970, LP, Mercury 6338 041)
The Man Who Sold The World (1970, 1972 LP reissue in “Kick” p/s, RCA LSP 4816)
The Man Who Sold The World (1970, 1990 CD reissue in original p/s, EMI CDP 79 1837 2, 4 extra tracks)

SELECTED COMPILATIONS

The World Of David Bowie (1970, LP, Decca SPA 58, includes previously unissued tracks)
Images (1973, originally US only but issued in UK in 1975, 2xLP, Deram DPA 3017/8, includes entire “David Bowie“ LP)
Early On (1991, US only, CD, Rhino R2 70526, includes new mixes of “I Pity The Fool“ and “Take My Tip“ and both sides of the Vocalion and “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving” singles)
London Boy (1995, reissued in 1998, CD, Spectrum 551 706-2, with extended mix of “Space Oddity” and all A and B sides from the Deram 45‘s)
I Dig Everything (1999, CD or 3xCD Box Set, also on vinyl, Castle ESB07 765, with unique mix of “Do Anything You Say“)
Love You Till Tuesday (2004, DVD, Universal 0602498233603, reissue of 1984 Video, bonus feature includes previously unavailable 1970 material, 1984 soundtrack LP features same mixes)

Next month, we shall look at Bowie’s “classic” 1971-1980 period - the single most important collection of music ever released by anybody in the history of sound. Until then, I suggest you check out the websites below, which go into greater detail about this fascinating part of Bowie's career.

Further reading:
Bowie 7" Single Discography: http://www.bowie-singles.co.uk/Site/David_Bowie_7_Inch_Singles_Discography_Home_Page.html
The Illustrated DB Discography: http://www.illustrated-db-discography.nl/About.htm

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