Sunday, 24 June 2012
I have already mentioned on this site the singers who are the leaders in their field (Madonna, Scott Walker, Bowie) and have talked about the greatest 45 ever made (“Born To Run”). So starting this month, and continuing at a rather random basis, I have decided to devote an entire blog to a particular classic album. Not an unsung one, granted, but it makes sense to start with the best LP ever recorded. Future choices might be a bit more unexpected. And after much thought about what the best album of all time is (contenders being “Sticky Fingers“, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, “Pet Sounds”, “The White Album”, amongst others), I came to the conclusion that the single most important singer in the world also happened to release, in the same year I was born, the single greatest LP of all time. David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” (to give it it’s often referred to shortened title).
It is possible, if you try hard enough, to pick faults in the record. Bowie opted to include a cover version at the end of the first side of the LP, which obviously wasn’t going to be as good as the stuff he wrote himself, thereby meaning that it’s not quite a perfect record. But it’s as close to perfect as you are going to get. Because when the album hits the heights (the slow building, poetically astonishing “Five Years”, culminating in those incredible cries of the songs’ title in it’s final dying moments, the Rock and Roll rush of “Suffragette City”, the beautifully anthemic but heartbreakingly, tearfully sad “Rock N Roll Suicide”), it’s astonishing. Add to that the fact it is housed in probably the most iconic album sleeve of all time, and is also home to the most famous rear cover of all time, and you have what is really as important a piece of art as anything you are ever likely to see or hear.
When it was first issued, there were some dissenters talking in less than ecstatic terms about this album. Certain Bowie supporters, at the time, accused Bowie of “selling out”, by opting to make an album that seemed far more accessible than some of the albums that had preceded it. But as good as some of those earlier LP’s were, the fact that they went a bit left-field at times was exactly what prevented them from being 100% (or 99%) perfect. “The Man Who Sold The World”, at times, seems unsure as to what direction it’s going in, whilst “Hunky Dory” is sometimes in danger of being just a bit too laid back and whimsical. But “Ziggy”, with it’s Glam Rock heart in place, goes for the jugular time and time again. Even songs that you might be ready to dismiss as “not his best” are superb - “Star” may sound like a deliberately commercial sounding record, but it packs one hell of a punch. “Soul Love”, with it’s quiet verse loud chorus structure, thereby pre-dated Nirvana’s “Lithium” by nearly 20 years. And you don’t need me to tell you how incendiary “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang Onto Yourself” are, taking the guitar driven glam of T Rex and multiplying them by ten. The sheer beauty of “Lady Stardust” is mesmerising, and listen closely to “Starman” and “Ziggy Stardust”, and you realise how inventive they actually are. The morse code style “da da da da” in the choruses of the former, the double tracked vocals in the choruses of the latter…as one, “Ziggy” fits together in one perfect guitar driven piece. It’s only that cover of “It Ain’t Easy” that prevents the album from being totally perfect, but then again, nothing’s perfect. Although “Rock N Roll Suicide” isn‘t too far off.
Bowie had been knocking about in the industry, with little success, for about a decade. The music hall inspired debut LP had been a resounding flop when issued in 1967, and although the opening track on his second LP, “Space Oddity”, became a hit two years later, it failed to generate any interest in the album, and Bowie was “shifted” sideways from Philips to a sister label, Mercury. Neither the next LP, “The Man Who Sold The World”, nor any of the three stand alone singles he released on the label in 1970/71 failed to do much, and Bowie was soon without a contract.
Bowie’s then wife, Angie, became determined to help him break through commercially, and began to exert as much an influence over his career as his manager, Ken Pitt, who was later replaced by Tony Defries. Angie encouraged Bowie to try and further his career, and Defries was instrumental in getting Bowie to sign to RCA for his next record. The next LP, “Hunky Dory” was issued in 1971 - his fourth album on as many labels. Although the first single from the album “Changes” was a reasonable success, Bowie was still a long way from making any major commercial breakthrough - “Hunky Dory” sold in fair numbers, but he was still something of a cult hero, much loved by several Radio 1 DJ’s (such as John Peel), but not taken to by the British public.
By now, Bowie’s backing band was starting to cement itself as part of his stage and studio setup, and live performances at the start of the decade were being billed as “David Bowie And The Hype”. Mick Ronson was the lead guitarist, with Woody Woodmansey on drums, and Tony Visconti on bass. Before the recording of “Hunky Dory”, Visconti was replaced by Trevor Bolder, and these three, along with Bowie and pianist Rick Wakeman, were the main personnel on “Hunky Dory”. No sooner had the album been completed, than Wakeman decided to join Yes, and the remaining four piece would soon manifest into “The Spiders From Mars”. Indeed, when Bowie turned up on the Old Grey Whistle Test in early 72, ostensibly plugging “Hunky Dory”, he and the band were already decked out in Ziggy garb, and gave an airing to what would become the opening number on Ziggy, “Five Years”.
Despite his relative failure to sell any records, Bowie was seemingly not too disheartened by this lack of success, and had more or less written “Ziggy” even before “Hunky Dory” was released in late 1971. A couple of songs had indeed already been released before, when the infamous “Arnold Corns” setup/side project released a 7” on B&C Records after Bowie had left Mercury in 1971, coupling early versions of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang Onto Yourself”. Both were to be re-recorded for Ziggy, the basic song structures remaining intact, but both heavily glammed-up, with almost entirely new sets of lyrics. Arnold Corns consisted of Bowie and The Spiders, and various other guests such as the band’s so-called co-lead singer Freddi Buretti, a dress designer whose involvement with the band was minimal. After the single bombed, B&C tried again to give Arnold Corns a hit by issuing a second 7” before “Changes” was put out by RCA (the first single from “Hunky Dory”), this time by putting “Hang Onto Yourself” out as the a-side of a 45 instead, but this too flopped.
Aside from re-recording the two Arnold Corns songs, Bowie also opted to re-record other oldies as work on Ziggy began. “The Supermen”, originally on “The Man Who Sold The World”, was re-recorded in a new quiet/loud, quiet/loud version, and would later be performed on stage in this manner, but it seems unlikely that this version was being planned for “Ziggy”, and the song ended up being included on a various artists LP, “Glastonbury Fayre Revelations”, in 1972. One of the “flop” Mercury 45’s, “Holy Holy”, was also re-recorded, partly because Bowie was unhappy with the original single version.
Covers were also being considered. Aside from the aforementioned “It Aint Easy”, Bowie also taped a raucous cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round”, and recorded a solo acoustic version of “Amsterdam”, which he had been playing in his live set for a while. Although written by Jacques Brel, Bowie opted to cover it because he liked the Scott Walker version - during the “Ziggy” tour that followed, he would start to play another Brel/Walker tune, “My Death”, on stage as an acoustic number instead. “Velvet Goldmine”, taped during the “Hunky Dory” sessions, was held over and became a contender for the “Ziggy” album, but in the end, failed to make the final cut.
The eventual choice of songs that made it onto “Ziggy” were designed to tell the story of the Ziggy Stardust character, thus making it Bowie’s first concept album. The name was derived from various sources, a combination of Iggy Pop, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and a clothes shop called Ziggy. Bowie later claimed he was “a cross between Nijinsky and Woolworths”. The album told the story of Ziggy, an alien rock and roll musician, who comes to earth in human form to spread a message of hope, on the basis that the world will cease to exist in five years time. But in the end, Ziggy himself dies before the five years are up, killed by the excesses of rock and roll.
Eleven songs made the final selection, ten originals and the cover of “It Ain’t Easy”. Most of the remaining material seeped out as B-side material over the years instead. “Round And Round” turned up on the flip of 1973’s “Drive In Saturday”, and “Amsterdam” appeared on the other side of “Sorrow” later the same year, only appropriate as the a-side was taken from Bowie’s covers LP, “Pin Ups”. “Holy Holy” appeared on the B-side of “Diamond Dogs” in 1974, and “Velvet Goldmine” eventually crept out, seemingly against Bowie’s wishes, in 1975 when it surfaced on RCA’s reissue of “Space Oddity”. This cash in single appeared as a 3-track Maxi (along with “Changes“) in a picture sleeve featuring a then contemporary photo of Bowie - despite the fact that nothing on the single had been taped before 1972! Another song from the sessions, “Sweet Head”, remained completely unreleased, until eventually turning up on a reissue of the LP in 1990.
At one point, some consideration was being made to issue the lead single, “Starman”, as a stand alone 45 - Bowie having regularly released singles “not on an album” throughout his career. However, once it was decided it would be used as a promo tool for the LP, it was slightly remixed for inclusion on the album. After years of flop 45’s, Bowie suddenly had a huge hit on his hands, helped in part by the now famous “homo erotic” performance he gave on “Top Of The Pops”. He and Ronson, with Bowie’s arm clamped round the guitarists shoulder, sang parts of the choruses together into the same microphone, and remains to date, Bowie‘s most famous TOTP appearance. Bowie sang a live vocal on the show, and this mix of the track has now been released officially, appearing on the 2012 “Record Store Day” 7” picture disc reissue of “Starman” itself. “Starman” was originally issued in the UK in a picture sleeve, a relative rarity at the time, and indeed, only a select number were issued as such, before later pressings came in standard RCA company sleeves. Picture sleeve copies are now worth about £50 minimum. However, often overlooked is the fact that huge numbers of the US single were issued in a picture sleeve, which was more or less the same as the UK one, and these have long been easier to get hold of compared to the UK edition.
“Ziggy” appeared in the summer of 72, and was both a critical and commercial success. It was no flash in the pan, and from then on, Bowie would become a commercial force to be reckoned with, not just in the UK, but worldwide. It came in a famous cover, a picture of “Ziggy” outside the K West store in Heddon Street, Central London. Bowie and the band were in an upstairs studio, and photographer Brian Ward decided he wanted to take some shots outside. The band claimed it was too cold to go out - it was late evening - and so Bowie went outside alone, where Ward took both the front cover shot of Bowie outside number 23 Heddon Street, and the rear cover of him looking out from the inside of a red phone box nearby. The shots were taken using black & white film, with a view to colouring them in for the sleeve. When Ward later contacted Bowie, talking about the photos he wanted to use for the cover, Bowie seemed non-plussed, and happily agreed to let Ward use whatever he wanted - it seemed he was a bit surprised that these photos, done “off the cuff” on a rainy night in the capital, were deemed so crucial. Bowie later admitted he had come to realise just how special the cover was, and how fans had become attached to the imagery. He was also quoted as saying he believed some fans thought the “K West” sign had some sort of hidden meaning, as when spoken as one word, it sounds like “Quest”.
Part of the success, it seems, was achieved by the fact that Bowie had already started touring as “Ziggy” much earlier in the year, and buzz began to build. It is reported that some shows, especially in the provinces, struggled to sell well, but that the London shows became full, attended in part by “hipsters” desperate to align themselves with the latest “in thing”. After the release of the album, the band began to get billed as “David Bowie And The Spiders From Mars” - The Spiders themselves would eventually release a studio album under this moniker later the same decade, albeit with slightly altered personnel. The popularity of the band saw them playing certain venues on repeated nights, or playing an afternoon matinee show as well as an evening one, or playing huge places like Earls Court in London. But these were balanced out by smaller theatre shows as well - I still find it incredible to think that Bowie played the Romford Odeon in 73! Although the “Ziggy” tour carried on, in parts, until that famous final July gig at Hammersmith a full year after the album’s release, Bowie had already released his sixth studio album, “Aladdin Sane”, in April that year.
Soon after “Ziggy” had hit the shops, Bowie and the band went back into the studio to record a one-off single, “John I’m Only Dancing”. It was issued in the fall of 1972, with “Hang Onto Yourself” on the b-side, but failed to get a US release due to it’s “risqué” lyrical content. This did not stop Bowie performing it during the US tour that followed. As ever, Bowie was slightly unhappy with the final version, and - with work already started on Aladdin Sane - went into the studio in early 1973 to re-record it, this time with Ken Fordham providing saxophone backing. With the single still on catalogue, subsequent pressings were issued with this “Sax” version instead of the “Ziggy” original, but with apparently no tell tale signs that the A-side was now appearing in it’s new mix. From what I can gather, the only way of working out what version is which, is to look at the matrix numbers scratched into the running groove, as the 1973 version differs from the 1972 one. The “Sax” mix of this song has always had an air of mystery about it. When Bowie’s 1976 compilation “ChangesOneBowie” was first released, the album “accidentally” played the “Sax” mix, and copies were quickly withdrawn, and new copies pressed with the 1972 version instead.
Bowie was still not quite satisfied with the song, and decided to re-record it yet again during the sessions for 1975’s “Young Americans”. Just like the Arnold Corns material, the new version that was taped bore little similarity to the original, with the chorus just about remaining intact and little else, the end product being a mammoth 7 minute funk workout. However, when it came to putting the track listing for “Young Americans” together, “John I’m Only Dancing” was left on the shelf.
In late 1979, RCA decided to release the re-recorded version, under the title of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)”. The song had to be heavily edited for the 7”, whilst the 12” used the unedited re-recording. On the B-side, the original “Ziggy” version was used, albeit in remixed form, and was dubbed “John I’m Only Dancing (1972)”. This remixing nonsense explains why, when it was included on the 1990 reissue of “Ziggy”, it was listed as the “B-Side Version”. The full length “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)” has cropped up now and then, firstly appearing on the expanded reissue of “Young Americans” in 1991, although it was dropped when the LP was reissued in 1999 by EMI - as were all bonus tracks on all Bowie LP’s they re-released at the time. It has since been made available again on a new reissue of the LP, and can be found on “The Platinum Collection”. The 7” edit, however, is far rarer, and has never been made available on anything apart from the Vinyl/Cassette only “Rare” album, an early 80’s release now long deleted.
“Ziggy” was first issued by RCA Victor in 1972 on LP (SF 8287) and Cassette, and the vinyl came with an inner sleeve featuring pictures of both Bowie and the three Spiders. We have a copy which has no inner sleeve, which suggests either later pressings were made which failed to include the inner (Island did this with Cat Stevens’s “Mona Bone Jakon” in the early 70’s), or one of us bought this copy second hand and somebody had replaced the inner with a standard white bag. Any information about this would be gratefully received.
The first reissue of note was in 1980, when the album appeared on the RCA International label (INTS 5063). RCA International was not quite RCA’s budget label - that was their Camden imprint, which usually dealt in releasing slightly randomly designed compilation albums. The International repressings were usually a bit “frills free” so for Ziggy, the inner sleeve was not used, and a plain white bag replaced it. Wherever a reference to “RCA Victor” had appeared originally, these were now obviously removed and replaced with “RCA International” bumph. The back cover retained the original back cover, complete with the famous “To Be Played At Maximum Volume“ legend, and showed various tell tale signs that it was a re-pressing - some of the extra text was printed in a different typeface to the original, and there was a 1980 copyright date. The most noticeable difference was the actual record itself, as the “International” pressings appeared with lime green labels, as opposed to “Victor”’s orange ones.
The first appearance of Ziggy on CD occurred in 1985 (PD 84702), when RCA - by now, Bowie’s former label - decided to cash in by reissuing huge chunks of the back catalogue. Bowie was not consulted over the reissues, and asked RCA to stop production of any further CD editions of “Ziggy” and all the other RCA albums. The CD, at the time, was still in it’s infancy, which explains why Bowie asked for the reissues to be stopped, and for RCA to accept. Other acts, however, were not so fussy, so although the Bowie RCA CD’s stopped being pressed, it was still possible many years later to get RCA copies of Lou Reed albums from the same period. As such, Bowie CD’s on RCA are now very collectible. It is also worth noting that, when “Station To Station” was reissued a few years ago, the Super Deluxe boxset included a “1985 Master” version of the record, suggesting that RCA had polished up all of Bowie’s albums before releasing them on Compact Disc. It is safe to assume, therefore, that a 1985 “Ziggy” might sound slightly different to a 1972 one. Again, any information you have…
By 1989, Bowie inked a deal with his then-current label EMI to reissue (most of) his back catalogue over the next few years. Each album from the 1969 to 1980 period was to be pressed with extra tracks (except, for some reason, “Aladdin Sane”), with some of the earlier releases appearing on vinyl - in order to try and keep the vinyl reissues from expanding from a single album to a double, the amount of bonuses were kept down to three or four rarities, with the grooves being squeezed together, to allow for some of the material from the second half of the record to be placed at the end of side 1 instead, thus freeing up space on side 2 for the rarities. US reissues, being handled by Rykodisc, were also to be issued on Cassette. (Some albums, such as “Space Oddity”, were actually issued as a 3-sided double LP in the USA, if my memory serves me correctly).
“Ziggy” was expanded with five tracks. As well as a couple of magnificent previously unheard demos of “Lady Stardust” (Bowie and piano), and “Ziggy Stardust” (Bowie and guitar), you also got the previously unreleased “Sweet Head”, the 1975 b-side “Velvet Goldmine”, and that 1979 “B-side Version” of “John I’m Only Dancing”. The original 1972 single version appeared, instead, on a new compilation album issued to tie in with the reissue campaign, “ChangesBowie”. Some copies of the 1990 “Ziggy” came housed in a fancy boxset edition, with the back cover intact but with the “Maximum Volume” message missing, but open it up, and you got the standard CD which retained the Volume instruction (CDEMC 3577).
In order to spread the rarities around, some of the other Ziggy-related material was used on reissues of other albums, to which the songs had some sort of connection. So, both sides of the Arnold Corns 7” appeared on the expanded “The Man Who Sold The World”, as did the re-recorded “Holy Holy.” The reason for the latter seemingly appearing on the wrong album, was because the original plan had been to use the Mercury 1970 original single version for the reissue, but Bowie refused to allow it to be used, so the “Ziggy” remake appeared instead. “Round And Round” and the “Sax” mix of “John I’m Only Dancing” appeared on a tie-in boxset issued at the same time, “Sound And Vision”. “Amsterdam”, perhaps unsurprisingly, appeared on the reissue of “Pin Ups”, whilst the “Glastonbury Fayre” version of “The Supermen” turned up on the expanded “Hunky Dory”.
As has already been mentioned on this site in the past, EMI conducted a pointless ‘bonus track free’ reissue campaign of all these albums again in 1999, to tie in with the EMI/Virgin-issued new studio LP “Hours”. Part of the campaign was to try and return the albums to their roots, which explains why Bowie’s second album was reissued in it’s original cover - but doesn’t explain why it retained it’s “Space Oddity” title, given to it by RCA when they reissued it in a Ziggy-esque cover in 1972. For each release, a small reprint of the original vinyl back cover was used as an inset at the top right of the cover, with the track listing printed on a black background filling up most of the rear. Trouble was, for “Ziggy”, by doing this, it meant the “Maximum Volume” legend was missing from this reissue (521 9000). It did, if nothing else, provide a new version of the album that ended, as it should do, with “Rock N Roll Suicide”, but it still seemed a wasted opportunity.
In 2002, “Ziggy” was one of three Bowie records to be given a 30th Anniversary double-disc reissue by EMI, along with “Aladdin Sane” in 2003 and “Diamond Dogs” the year after. The rear cover was once again reinstated, complete with the “Maximum Volume” legend, whilst the front cover featured the original photo housed inside a black border (539 8262). The re-issue came in a hardback book style sleeve, with the original 11 track release on disc 1, and 12 rarities on disc 2. The album had been remastered again, with the result that two songs appeared in a new form - “Hang Onto Yourself” lost it’s “one, two” intro, whilst “Ziggy Stardust” faded out early, and thus produced a gap between this and the following song, “Suffragette City” - all previous pressings had featured the two songs appearing without a break between them.
Disc 2 was used, mainly, to gather together the rarities from the earlier “1989” EMI reissue campaign, which had been lost when the 1999 pressings removed those bonus tracks. The “B-side Version” of “John I’m Only Dancing” was not included this time around, only the 1972 Single Version was used (the “Sax” mix turned up on the 2003 reissue of “Aladdin Sane”). “Sweet Head” appeared in a longer version than that released in 1990, but this was purely because the intro included some ’in the studio’ faffing about before the song actually starts. Just to clarify, the rarities were taken from different reissues, so you got the Arnold Corns 7”, the “Lady Stardust” and “Ziggy” demos, “Velvet Goldmine”, “Holy Holy“, “Round And Round”, “The Supermen” and “Amsterdam” as well. The only real rarity this time around was a new bonus mix of “Moonage Daydream”, used to close the second disc. Trouble is, this reissue was done as a limited edition, and in recent years, has been deleted, meaning the flawed 1999 version is the one you will usually see in the shops.
“Ziggy” had by this time also appeared, in part or in full, on a number of other, slightly obscure, overseas releases. In 1981, the German arm of RCA released a number of double album releases by various acts, including Bowie, all called “Rock Galaxy”. The sleeves of each were identical, apart from the artists name and image (of course), and each album coupled up two older long players by said act. Bowie’s “Rock Galaxy” coupled “Hunky Dory” on disc 1, and “Ziggy” on disc 2. In 1990, a semi official Russian LP called “Starman” was issued, which included an entire side devoted to “Ziggy” - the first four songs from the LP were joined by “Lady Stardust”. In other words, the first five self penned songs from the LP in the order in which they appear on the original. Suffice to say, neither of these releases have any Ziggy-related imagery as part of their packaging.
But it is now 2012, and Ziggy is thus 40 years old. And so, EMI - again - are reissuing the record. Why? Not sure. No real new material has been found for the reissue. One can only assume it will allow them to rectify the faults on the 1999 version. And make a few quid.
So what does the 2012 edition offer? Well, the CD seems to do nothing - it’s got no bonus tracks, so other than being a new 2012 remaster, it will look and sound like the 1999 one, although the rear cover has been restored in full. One can only assume that this will at least allow EMI to replace the flawed 1999 edition with something a bit more “good”, given that the 2-CD edition from 2002 has been deleted.
The vinyl pressing is of more interest (DBZSX 40). The reissue is on EMI, so - like “Station To Station” - the labels are designed to look like the orange RCA Victor labels, but have a “Bowie” logo instead of an RCA one. Furthermore, the original RCA logo that appeared in the top right corner of the front cover is completely absent, unsurprisingly. But you will be pleased to know that the original back cover is intact, even to the point where the barcode which should be there is missing - instead, copies originally came shrinkwrapped, with the barcode printed instead on a sticker attached to the front of the shrinkwrap. The inner sleeve is present and correct.
Some internet forums have been talking about how the 2012 master on the vinyl edition may or may not be different to the CD, but the real selling point seems to be the free DVD that is being thrown in, housed in it’s own black sleeve, and housed inside the gatefold via a slot used to hold the disc in place. Not only do you get a set of 5.1 mixes that appeared on a SuperAudioCD reissue of “Ziggy” in 2003 (itself a reissue of the 2002 double-disc pressing), but you also get previously unissued mixes of some of the non-album stuff from the period, namely the re-recorded “Supermen”, “Sweet Head” and “Velvet Goldmine”. You also get a 5.1 mix of an instrumental version of “Moonage Daydream”, which given that this has never appeared before in any form, is the only real rarity here. However, you could argue that - as rarities go - it’s a bit of a fake. Did Bowie really tape a version of this without vocals, for possible inclusion on the LP? Is it an alternate take to the LP original? Or is it, as I believe, simply the album version with the vocals simply erased? Cheating, surely. And if it is, what bets we get a 50th Anniversary Ziggy in 2022 promising us a previously unissued “Instrumental” mix of “Five Years”, a 60th one with a remixed “Soul Love”, and so on? Suffice to say, word on the street is that Bowie has disowned himself from this reissue.
But you can understand why EMI are doing it. Because “Ziggy” deserves it’s place in the (recurring) spotlight. There may have been more left-field sounding records, longer concept albums, and probably more noisier glam rock LP‘s, but the sheer quality of what’s on here is staggering. My wife and I have been watching the repeats of “Top Of The Pops” from 1977 that BBC Four are showing, and at the moment, “Sound And Vision” crops up now and again. And, I hate to say it, even though 1977 was the year of punk, there was still a lot of dross knocking about. And whenever we hear the likes of Brendon, it only makes “Sound And Vision” sound even more incredible, like it had been beamed in from the future. Well, the fact was that Bowie - via Ziggy - had sounded, five years before, that he really had come from another planet back then, and even now, he remains so far ahead of the opposition, it’s simply embarrassing. If you are the sort of person who listens to Radio 1, and are of the opinion that Huw Stephens’ championing of the god-awful Lostprophets is something to get excited about, or that the appearance of Will.I.Am and Flo Rida at their Hackney Weekend is the most exciting thing on earth, well stop thinking such thoughts now, and go and buy this record instead - if, by some bizarre freak of nature, you don’t already have it. Because “Ziggy Stardust” is the most important Rock And Roll record ever made, by the most ingenious solo artist who ever lived. It invented half of the bands who sprung up in the years that followed, and you can trace the formation of everybody from Spandau Ballet and Frankie Goes To Hollywood to Joy Division and Kasabian back to this album if you look closely enough.
There are still rumours that Bowie, seemingly in an attempt to “preserve” his image, has actually retired. And if he has, then you can understand why. He spent thirty-odd years trying to top this album, and never quite managed it, but then again, neither did anybody else. As the African-American preacher announced in 1993 on “Pallas Athena”, “God Is On Top Of It All”. Or Bowie, as some of us call him.
Sunday, 17 June 2012
So instead, I decided to put their 2001 best of “Rotten Apples” on there instead, and recently had a listen to it. Now, whilst some greatest hits albums can sometimes be a bit patchy, this one really works well. It’s mostly singles, and the good thing was, the record label seemed to get it right when it came to the band’s 45s.
“Rotten Apples” was released to mark the (original) demise of the band. They had gone through one or two line up changes before calling it a day, but the album still came in a sleeve depicting what was more or less the classic line up - Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlain, James Iha, and Grunge Pin-up Queen, D’Arcy Wretzky. A revamped version of the band is now in existence, of which leader Corgan is the only original member in place, and expanded editions of the band’s back catalogue are starting to appear.
I decided it would be fun to look at what was on “Rotten Apples”, what should have been on, what probably shouldn’t have, and how the chronological order of the album helps in following the course the band took through their singles. The album is thus detailed below, but in “sections“.
For each section, a UK discography covering that period of the band’s career will be shown. The important original album release(s) will be detailed (choice of formats will be semi-random!), as will the CD singles from the period. Where an important vinyl release exists on 45, this will also be detailed.
Although the band’s debut LP, “Gish”, was issued in 1991, the band’s vinyl debut had in fact occurred the year before, when “I Am One” appeared as a hyper limited US only 7”. The band then issued a one off single on the Sub Pop label, “Tristessa”, which was their first release in the UK and Europe. Although a number of different coloured vinyl editions of the 7” were pressed in the band’s homeland, it is actually the UK 12” release that is of most interest, as it includes a bonus track unavailable anywhere else.
The band then signed to Caroline Records in the USA, and Hut in the UK. The first track on “Rotten Apples”, “Siva”, was taken from “Gish” and issued as the band’s next single, and appeared in the UK as a 12” only, backed with another track from the LP, “Window Paine”. It was followed by the “Lull EP”, a four track affair led by another “Gish” track, “Rhinoceros”, with three new b-sides. “Rhinoceros” appeared on the EP in edited form, and it is the edit that appears on “Rotten Apples”.
“I Am One” was re-recorded for “Gish” (as was “Tristessa”) and was issued as the band‘s next single in 1992. Amongst the various formats that were pressed were a CD Single and 10”, both featuring different B-sides. The b-sides of the CD edition, “Plume” and “Starla”, both made it onto 1994’s rarities album “Pisces Iscariot”, but the two tracks from the 10” remain unavailable on any other physical release, which has helped keep the price of this format relatively high.
“Siva” got a second lease of life in 1992, when an alternative version of the song - taped for BBC Radio 1’s John Peel show - was the lead track on the “Peel Sessions EP” released that year. Unlike most other Peel Sessions releases, which usually appeared in generic sleeves on the Strange Fruit label, this release appeared on Hut, and in a “proper” sleeve, seemingly designed by the band themselves. “Gish” also got a second lease of life, when it was reissued in 1994 following the success of the second album, “Siamese Dream”, the previous year. The front cover design was slightly altered second time around, and the album was remastered for the reissue.
“Drown” is the odd one out. It was never released as a commercial single, and never appeared on a Pumpkins album, but was recorded for the soundtrack album to the “Singles” movie. The version on “Rotten Apples” is a heavily edited version, done so that an extra track could be included on the album. “Gish” has been the subject of a deluxe edition reissue, surfacing last year, and a third version of “Drown” appears as a bonus track on this edition.
Gish (LP, Hut HUTLP 2)
Gish (Cassette, Hut HUTMCX 2, 1994 reissue in black bordered p/s)
Tristessa/La Dolly Vita/Honeyspider (12”, Sub Pop SP10/137)
Lull EP: Rhinoceros/Blue/Slunk/Bye June (CD, Hut HUTCD 10)
Peel Sessions EP: Siva (Live)/Girl Named Sandoz (Live)/Smiley (Live) (CD, Hut HUTCD 17)
I Am One (New Version)/Terrapin/Bullet Train To Osaka (10”, Hut HUTEN 18)
I Am One (New Version)/Plume/Starla (CD, Hut HUTCD 18)
4. Cherub Rock
1993’s “Siamese Dream” was the band’s commercial and critical breakthrough. Although “Gish” was later re-evaluated and deemed a worthy debut, it was the band’s second album that came to be regarded as the band’s finest hour. The subsequent albums would all get a bit of a slagging from certain members of the press - the 28 track “Mellon Collie And the Infinite Sadness” was deemed by some as being a bit too prog, the acoustic/electronic “Adore” a bit underwhelming, and “Machina” was seen by some as being impenetrable. But, post-”Nevermind”, any grunge or grunge-esque record had a chance of being praised, and “Siamese Dream” was seen as as important a release as anything Nirvana or Pearl Jam had done up to that point - it was indeed better than both the likes of “Bleach” or “Ten”.
Four singles were taken from the album. All appeared as limited edition coloured vinyl 7” singles, each with an exclusive vinyl-only B-side, although the flip of “Today”, “Apathy’s Last Kiss”, later appeared on the 2000 Promo EP, “Still Becoming Apart”. More about that later. “Disarm” was the odd one out, appearing on two CD editions, rather than just one, each housed in different sleeves with different b-sides.
“Rocket” is absent from “Rotten Apples”. Released as an ultra limited edition 7” in the summer of 1994, it was pressed on peach coloured vinyl, and included a live cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” on the flipside (albeit titled slightly incorrectly). It came housed in a box titled the “Siamese Singles”, and the idea was that you would put your coloured vinyl pressings of the three preceding singles into the box to create a sort of mini-album. Only 1500 of these were made, and the current asking price for a box with just the “Rocket” 7” inside is £100+. At the same time, a black vinyl edition of the boxset was issued, which included repressings of all four of the singles inside a similar version of the box, and was identifiable by the fact that the sticker on the front of the “Rocket” release was missing from the black vinyl release. Despite being released as such a limited edition single, “Rocket” was still the recipient of an official promo video, possibly because the single was also issued as a not-as-limited release on CD in Australia.
“Siamese Dream” has also been reissued recently, and like “Gish”, comes in a box which uses the same basic cover as the original, but is housed in a different coloured sleeve.
Siamese Dream (CD, Hut CDHUT 11)
Cherub Rock/Purr Snickety (Clear Vinyl 7”, Hut HUT 31)
Cherub Rock/Pissant/French Movie Theme (CD, Hut HUTCD 31)
Today/Apathy’s Last Kiss (Red Vinyl 7”, Hut HUT 37)
Today/Hello Kitty Kat/Obscured (CD, Hut HUTCD 37)
Disarm/Siamese Dream (Purple Vinyl 7”, Hut HUT43)
Disarm/Soothe (Demo)/Blew Away (CD1, Hut HUTCD 43)
Disarm/Landslide/Dancing In The Moonlight (CD2, Hut HUTDX 43, different p/s)
Rocket/Never Let Me Down (BBC Radio 1 Session Version 12.9.1993) (Peach Vinyl 7”, Hut HUTL 48)
7. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
10. Tonight Tonight
Given that Billy Corgan is a Pink Floyd fan, it was probably no surprise that 1995’s “Mellon Collie…” would appear as a double album. However, it’s important to mention that it was a double album only as regards the CD and MC formats. On vinyl, the album was actually spread over three slabs on vinyl, and also included two extra tracks, not on the 28-track formats, one of which, “Infinite Sadness”, remains exclusive to this release. I am convinced I saw a gold vinyl version of the album for sale in a Virgin Megastore soon after it‘s release, but the internet seems to be full of people saying any coloured vinyl versions are fakes.
“Bullet” was the first single from the album, and appeared as a 2-track single. 1979 was only really issued in “EP” form, appearing as a 4 track single but no ’short play’ formats. A second CD single was issued which came in a different sleeve, and consisted entirely of remixes of the A-side. “Zero” was the odd one out - it appeared in the UK as a 7 track CD, with a running time more in keeping with most albums, rather than singles. It’s lengthy playing time was helped along by the 23 minute “Pastichio Medley”, a compilation of bits and pieces of unfinished Pumpkins songs.
“Tonight Tonight” was the first release to offer up different new songs across the formats, with two CD editions being released in the UK, each coming with three B-sides each. CD2 featured an alternate take of the A-side called “Tonite Reprise”, which had previously been issued on the vinyl edition of the LP. In the UK, there was a fifth single, absent from “Rotten Apples” - “Thirty Three”. Again, there were two CD editions, housed in different covers, with bonus B-sides on each, although for this release, there weren’t as many tracks to go round, and the CD2 edition was released with just two B-sides, as opposed to CD1’s three.
In the fall of 1996, the band’s US label issued a 5-CD Box Set “The Aeroplane Flies High”, named after one of “Thirty Three”’s b-sides. It includes reissues - in their original sleeves - of the five UK singles, with a number of bonus tracks added to the first two discs. “Bullet” now ran to seven songs from it’s original two, “1979” was expanded from four to six - but with the remixes all absent. The bonuses on “Bullet” were all covers, whilst the box originally detailed the inclusion of “12 previously unreleased” songs. However, that was for US fans - it was only the two new songs on the “1979” disc (plus the covers) that were unreleased, but from what I can gather, it was the B-sides of “Zero”, and the extra tracks on the CD2 versions of “Tonight” and “Thirty Three” that were making their debut in the US.
I am not quite sure what happened next, but I have seen a few “reissues” of these singles for sale, including the 6-track “1979”, but I understand these are not just people selling the discs from the box set individually, but it seems certain European divisions of Hut released these items after the original UK releases. I am not sure all five got reissued, but I would suggest you shop around if you can’t afford an “Aeroplane” boxset, if you want these re-releases.
Meanwhile, “Pisces Iscariot” appeared in the UK some two years after it’s original US release. The original freebie 7” given with the US LP was missing, but the album came in different sleeves dependent on which format you bought.
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (3xLP, Hut HUTTLP 30)
Pisces Iscariot (Cassette, Hut HUTMC 41)
Bullet With Butterfly Wings/…Said Sadly (CD, Hut HUTCD 63)
1979/Ugly/Believe/Cherry (CD1, Hut HUTCD 67)
1979 (Vocal Mix)/(Instrumental Mix)/(Moby Mix)/(Cement Mix) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 67, different p/s)
Tonight Tonight/Meladori Magpie/Rotten Apples/Medellia Of The Gray Skies (CD1, Hut HUTCD 69)
Tonight Tonight/Jupiter’s Lament/Blank/Tonite Reprise (CD2, Hut HUTDX 69, different p/s)
Zero/God/Mouths Of Babes/Tribute To Johnny/Marquis In Spades/Pennies/Pastichio Medley (CD, Hut HUTCD 73)
Thirty Three/The Last Song/The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)/Transformer (CD1, Hut HUTCD 78)
Thirty Three/The Bells/My Blue Heaven (CD2, Hut HUTDX 78, different p/s)
12. Ava Adore
Once again, “Rotten Apples” starts to veer off it’s ‘Greatest Hits’ path. “Eye” was never a single in the UK, but was another soundtrack offering. It appeared on the “Lost Highway” release, and did get a second lease of life when it appeared on the “Still Becoming Apart” release. “Rotten Apples” was it’s first real appearance on a Pumpkins album.
In 1997, the band - now a three piece after the (temporary) sacking of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain - agreed to record the theme tune for the new Batman movie. “The End Is The Beginning Is The End” was released as a single in early summer, and appeared as a 4 track CD with alternate versions of the A-side as extra tracks, but all retitled as if they were “new” songs. After an appearance at Glastonbury in June, the single was released again in a new cover, this time featuring five new remixes of the song. Both variants of the single were released on Warner Bros, not Hut, which has caused various licensing problems, and explains it’s absence from “Rotten Apples”.
“Adore” was the band’s fourth LP, issued in 1998, and showcasing the band’s new Depeche Mode inspired acoustic/electronic sound. “Ava Adore” was issued as a limited edition 2-track 7”, and a 3 track CD which featured the vinyl B-side and an exclusive bonus track - although said track “Once In A While” did appear on the Japanese version of the album. The album, as well as being issued as a 16 track CD in a black and white sleeve, was released as a 3-sided MONO vinyl LP, housed in a colour sleeve and originally shrinkwrapped, with the band name printed on a sticker attached to the shrinkwrap. The running time was less than that of a double vinyl LP, so the fourth side of the vinyl was blank. The release appeared on the band’s US label, Caroline, and a number were exported to the UK. These copies were allocated a Hut catalogue number, although nowhere on the record was this even displayed, but copies sold through HMV came with a barcode price sticker upon which the catalogue number appeared.
“Perfect” was issued as the second and final single from the album, possibly due to the underwhelming reaction the record seemed to have received. B-sides were a bit scant, with most of the bonuses being remixes of “Adore” material.
Adore (CD, Hut CDHUT 51)
Adore (2xLP, Hut HUTDLP 51, Mono, stickered/shrinkwrapped colour sleeve, less tracks than CD edition)
The End Is The Beginning Is The End/The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning/The Ethers Tragic/The Guns Of Love Disastrous (CD, Warner Bros W 404 CD)
The End Is The Beginning Is The End (Stuck In The Middle With Fluke Vox Mix)/(Stuck In The Middle With Fluke Alternative Mix)/(Rabbit In The Moon’s Melancholy & The Infinite Madness Mix)/(Hallucination’s Gotham Ghetto Beats)/(Rabbit In The Moon’s Infinite Radio Edit) (CD, Warner Bros W 410 CD)
Ava Adore/Czarina/Once In A While (CD, Hut HUTCD 101)
Perfect/Summer/Perfect (Nellee Hooper Mix) (CD1, Hut HUTCD 106)
Perfect (LP Version)/(Perfecto Mix)/Daphne Descends (Kerry B. Mix) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 106, different p/s)
14. The Everlasting Gaze
15. Step Inside Your Love
16. Try Try Try
17. Real Love
2000’s “Machina The Machines Of God” would turn out to be the final (proper) album released by the band before they split. Chamberlain had rejoined, but during the recording process, bassist D’Arcy Wretzky left/was fired, and Corgan and guitarist James Iha were left to record the bass parts for the remaining songs. For the forthcoming tour, which was already being planned as their farewell, ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur joined the band, although the amount of material she would actually record with the band was limited, possibly even non-existent , given that Corgan was ready to split the band.
Auf der Maur was in the band in time to appear in the promo video for “The Everlasting Gaze”, although it was not to be given a commercial release as a single. The first proper single from the album was “Stand Inside Your Love”, which was issued as a two track CD single, as was the follow up single, “Try Try Try”. “Machina” was issued in some stores as a limited edition double disc release - the aforementioned “Still Becoming Apart” promo was given away as a freebie in selected stores (HMV, maybe some others, maybe not), but was housed in it’s own sleeve, and so tended to be stocked on the shelves next to “Machina”, rather than being shrinkwrapped to it, or attached in any way. In the UK, the catalogue number of the promo was very similar to the catalogue number of “Machina”.
Copies of “Machina” that were scheduled to be sold with the promo came with a suitably stickered front cover. As for the promo itself, it consisted of b-sides and rarities, and included a previously unreleased version of “Mayonaise”. In the US, the promo was issued by Virgin, and seemed to have been offered to people who pre-ordered “Machina” - copies were initially shrink-wrapped, unlike the UK copies. It’s probably also worth pointing out that you are unlikely to see a stickered “Machina” and the promo being offered for sale together, but the promos do tend to turn up for sale on their own.
The band’s UK tour to promote the album was their swansong. I saw the band’s final English show at Wembley Arena in the fall of 2000, and remember feeling rather tearful as the band walked off for the final time. It did seem as though part of the reason for throwing in the towel was because of the industry itself - the “Machina” sessions had spawned a number of outtakes, and Corgan had wanted to release this material either as a bonus disc, or as a free download - but Virgin blocked both. In the summer, the band returned to the studio to record more material and a privately pressed release, “Machina 2”, was released late in 2000. 25 copies were made, and most were handed out to fans who were encouraged to distribute the material for free on the internet. Given that so few copies were made, it’s quite probable that anybody who owns a copy of this record, only has it in bootleg form.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the “Rotten Apples” release, a new song, “Untitled”, taped by Corgan, Iha and Chamberlain only, was issued as the band’s final single. It was one of two “new” songs to be included on the album, with the other - “Real Love” - being taken from “Machina 2”. Even then, the mix of the “Rotten Apples” version differed to that on the original album, so even hardcore collectors would be getting something new. Initial copies of “Rotten Apples” came with a second CD of rarities, titled “Judas O”, but only one of the songs on this disc seemed to feature Auf der Maur - a live recording of “Rock On”.
Machina/The Machines Of God (CD, Hut CDHUT 59, copies in stickered sleeves designed to be sold with free “Still Becoming Apart” EP [CPHUT 59])
Rotten Apples (2xCD, Hut CDHUTD 70)
Stand Inside Your Love/Speed Kills (CD, Hut HUTCD 127)
Try Try Try/Here’s To The Atom Bomb (CD, Hut HUTCD 140)
Untitled/Try/Age Of I (CD, Hut HUTCD 148)