Saturday, 24 December 2016
Listed below are the bands and singers featured for each month in 2016, including a look at both the career of the Spice Girls as a band and the solo work of several of their band members (above). The December 2016 blogs can be found due right, which feature Madonna Japanese EP releases and Bowie releases from 2014 until 2016. There are a number of Bowie blogs for this year, as a tribute to the single most important musician of all time.
The complete list for the year is shown below:
January 2016 - David Bowie / Madonna
February 2016 - Spice Girls
March 2016 - Victoria Beckham / Emma Bunton / Geri Halliwell
April 2016 - The Cure
May 2016 - David Bowie
June 2016 - Madonna
July 2016 - David Bowie
August 2016 - Tubeway Army
September 2016 - David Bowie
October 2016 - The Beatles
November 2016 - David Bowie
December 2016 - David Bowie / Madonna
To look at blogs from January to November, just click on the relevant month.
"Uncage the colours, unfurl the flag, luck just kissed you hello"
And so, we come to my final Bowie blog of 2016.
Since “The Next Day”, both Bowie’s current label (Iso) and his former paymasters at EMI (now buried under the Parlophone imprint) have been tossing out material at such a rate, you have to wonder how much of this seems like cash in material. But by all accounts, a lot of the stuff that has come out in recent years had to get the nod by the man himself before it was issued/reissued, although this hasn’t stopped critics griping about the content of this material. This year’s new boxset, “Who Can I Be Now?” is a nice thing to own, but is mostly full of material most of us already have. It’s timing, surfacing at the same time as a gargantuan Pink Floyd boxset which included mostly material that nobody owned, officially, saw Bowie’s team come in for some stick.
But, it seems as though we are in the middle of some sort of revamping of the back catalogue, so we shall see what 2017 brings. Until then, here’s what’s been happening since my last Bowie blog on the “new stuff” back on 2014.
Blackstar and Lazarus
Routinely now being referred to by an actual black coloured star shape in the press, I don’t have such a symbol on my keyboard, so I shall refer to Bowie’s last studio album as “Blackstar”. You don’t need me to tell you about the fact that it was released only days before his passing in January, or the lyrical references and symbolism that pointed towards the issue of mortality. This album, unlike any Bowie album in years, has been subsequently analysed and obsessed over unlike any other.
An album heavily influenced by Bowie’s life long love of jazz, Blackstar later drew parallels in one magazine article with “Station To Station”, which had been recorded 40 years earlier. Both had a running time of about 40 minutes, both featured a relatively small number of songs, and both opened with a lengthy, multi part title track. “Blackstar” was a seven track LP, although only five of the songs were ‘new’, as two were re-recordings of material Bowie had first released in connection with the “Nothing Has Changed” best of (more later). Whilst it might have seemed that this was the sign of a man who simply didn’t have the energy to produce anything more, this was seemingly not the case, as those close to him have stated that not only were there outtakes from the sessions, but that Bowie had even started work on material for another new LP.
Let’s get the hyper expensive clear vinyl edition out of the way first. 5000 of these were pressed in a special die cut sleeve, which were sold with Bowie lithographs and available from his official site only. Worried that my postman might leave it in my recycling bin, and that it could end up with the binman a day later, I opted against this one - which, of course, now sells for a fortune - and opted for the black vinyl edition (Iso 88875 173871). These were nowhere near as limited, but soon sold out after his death, resulting in a second batch being made available. There seems, nowadays, to be a fascination with first and second Bowie pressings, a la The Beatles, and so you will find that the first pressings (with a 2015 copyright date) sell for more than the second pressings (2016 copyright date). To avoid being damaged, the vinyl itself is housed in a clear inner sleeve, and copies came with a lyric booklet. For the full monty, there should also be a card inside with the download code on, and the sticker on the front of the sleeve should be intact.
The CD edition was housed in a totally different sleeve (Iso 88875 173862), a white cover with a black coloured star shape filling up the front. The track listing is the same as the vinyl edition. Unlike the first and second editions of the vinyl, the CD version was not initially limited to a certain number of copies, and the versions on sale in your local record shop are essentially later repressings of the original release. There is no difference between a copy bought in January 2016 and one bought now - it’s only the vinyl edition that sold out, and required a second batch of altered pressings. It’s worth noting that copies of the CD were originally shrinkwrapped, and also came with a sticker on the front detailing the artist’s name and album title, but it’s possible that once second hand copies start to surface, the stickers may well have been discarded along with the shrinkwrap.
October saw the release of “Lazarus”, a cast recording of a Bowie written play that takes it’s title from one of the key tracks on “Blackstar”. Bowie obsessives will undoubtedly be fascinated by the album, given that it consists purely of Bowie songs, but the main interest for me has to simply be the three new Bowie tracks that appear on the set, sung by the man himself. Aside from some fancy vinyl releases aimed squarely at the bearded hipster crowd, the set was also issued as a 2-CD set (Iso 88985 374912), the second CD being a sort of EP style job, consisting of four Bowie recordings - “Lazarus” and the three new songs. Bowie also pops up on CD1, as a strange 30 second edit of “Sound And Vision” is included mid way through proceedings.
Nothing Has Changed and Legacy
With “The Next Day” having put Bowie firmly back into the public eye, Parlophone issued a new career spanning best of that was designed to celebrate Bowie’s 50 year long recording career in 2014. “Nothing Has Changed” was a very high profile release, being hyped up long before anybody even knew what it would look like, or exactly what it was.
When it appeared, it appeared in three distinct editions in the UK, each of which featured a different photo of Bowie looking in a mirror on it‘s cover, each photo taken from a different part of his career. The vinyl edition featured an early 70s image, the 2-CD set one came from the mid 70s, and the 3-CD one a far more recent contemporary image.
The 3-CD set (Parlophone 82564 6205769) was notable for featuring material from Bowie’s entire career, all the way back to 1964, the first time any Bowie set had featured such a wide ranging batch of material. This edition of the album was an essential buy, as it included various unreleased tracks and a barrage of single mixes. Highlights had to be the inclusion of several tracks from the abandoned “Toy” album, “Your Turn To Drive” and a re-recording of “Let Me Sleep Beside You”. Although Tin Machine material was absent, tracks from Bowie’s earlier bands were included, including tracks from the time he was the leader in The Lower Third.
The set ran backwards, starting with a new song recorded for the set, “Sue”, a gargantuan jazzy strut that sounds like the theme tune for a 70s cop show (which might explain the “Or In A Season Of Crime“ subtitle - or not), and closing with Bowie’s 1964 debut 45, the Davie Jones And The King Bees’ “Liza Jane”. This isn’t the first time a greatest hits set has run backwards (see the Genesis “Platinum Collection” release) and I can only think this was done to sort of build up to a climax of the big RCA era stuff at the end. But I am not sure it completely works, because once you’ve had “Life On Mars”, and then “Space Oddity”, it obviously keeps going back to that early stuff, stuff that sometimes even Bowie was a bit embarrassed by in later years.
The 2-CD set (Parlophone 82564 6205745) is probably a more sensible listening experience, running as it does in chronological order, starting with “Space Oddity”, and climaxing with “Sue”. Given that, in my opinion, Bowie was routinely at the peak of his powers in the 90s and 00s, this one works a lot better, as the ending quartet of “New Killer Star”, “Love Is Lost”, “Where Are We Now” and “Sue” pack a real punch. It is also noticeable for completely ignoring anything from 1987’s “Never Let Me Down”.
If it has any flaws, it is the sense that it maybe moves too quickly. Remember, we were getting career spanning double-CD Bowie best of sets as far back as 1993, so to try and use the same format for another one 21 years down the line, obviously means something somewhere is going to fail to make the cut this time. So there’s no “Diamond Dogs” or “Be My Wife” on this one. “Fashion”, bizarrely, appears in a newly edited mix, an attempt apparently to try and ’re-create’ the original 7” mix, but which fails abysmally, and sounds quite horrific. This mix also appeared on the 3-CD set.
The vinyl edition (Parlophone DBLP 6414) is a bit of an odd release, as by being restricted to two slabs of vinyl, it was always going to have to be very selective. It opts for an, at first, random looking track listing, but which seems to have some vague thought process behind it. So, side 1 runs backwards from “Let’s Dance” to “Life On Mars?”, side 2 opens with “Space Oddity” (Bowie, when he used to play this in the 70s, always dropped it in midway through the show) and is then followed by three tracks of glam before concluding with “Rebel Rebel” (which was also the closing halfway point on “Diamond Dogs”). Side 3 runs forwards from “Golden Years” to “Sue”, and side 4 cherry picks from the 80s, 90s and beyond.
It wasn’t designed as such, but “Nothing Has Changed” has ended up as an overview of Bowie’s entire career in a way, as “Sue” was later re-recorded for “Blackstar”, meaning the 3-CD version has both Bowie’s first single, and a track from his last album. “Sue” was issued as a 10” single to help promote the set, featuring both the radio edit and the album mix along with another new song (and another one later taped for “Blackstar”) called “’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore” (Parlophone 10 RDB 2014).
Bowie’s death did obviously make the record company think that a revised best of, taking in “Blackstar” material, would make sense and although it does have a feel of ’cash in’ about it, this year’s “Legacy” compilation makes a certain amount of sense. Issued on a single disc and also as a ’deluxe’ double CD set (Parlophone DB 69162), this is simply a revamped version of “Nothing Has Changed” - even the vinyl edition being planned for early 2017 replicates the ’random’ track listing of the 2014 LP.
It came in for some stick by online reviewers - including moaning about the packaging (although the booklet in which different Bowie album covers are spliced together to create alternative Bowie images is quite clever), and moaning about the track listing (“Dancing In The Street” is on here) but if you think of it a bit like the reissue Warners did of the first Madonna album, where it appeared two years after the original with a new title and new artwork, and was pitched specifically at new converts, then the existence of “Legacy” - and it’s choice of track listing - makes complete sense.
The main differences are that in order to cover “Blackstar”, a couple of newer songs from “NHC” have been removed, including “Sue”. Instead you get the ’never released in physical form’ radio edits of “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, the final song on “Blackstar” and the final song on “Legacy”. I quite like this idea, but again, you had the social media crowd banging on about “who cares about radio edits” - well, some of us do, and I was quite excited to add these to the collection.
More pointless though is the new mix of “Life On Mars” - in which the original version is turned into a more orchestral sounding affair by removing the drums and guitar parts. It does make it sound like a big, grand, sort of West End musical number by doing this, which I think was the idea, but there can be nobody who genuinely thinks this makes it better than the original. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Now. There is a part of me that isn’t even sure if this reissue is worth mentioning. Bowie’s 1976 best of collection, which for some reason, was reissued in 2016. But, officially, the album had been deleted from the Bowie catalogue some time ago, so this was not really a repressing of an existing album, the way vinyl albums used to get repressed back in the 70s and 80s, but a full blown, heavily hyped reissue of one of Bowie’s earliest hits sets. The question is - why?
And the answer is - I have no idea. It could be part of a new campaign to put back into the shops what might be considered important parts of the back catalogue, to tie in with the issuing of Bowie’s boxsets. The reissue came roughly midway between the release of the “Five Years” boxset, covering the 69-73 years, and “Who Can I Be Now?”, which covered 74-76. Or it could simply be that the decision was taken to issue it for no other reason than it is 40 years old. Thing is, where do you draw the line?
Don’t get me wrong, “ChangesOneBowie” is a crucial part of the Bowie story. Originally issued by RCA, who by that point had the rights to everything from “Space Oddity” onwards, it was therefore a mostly career spanning LP at the time of it’s release, containing Bowie’s big singles and a few key album tracks, along with the release of “John I’m Only Dancing” on an album for the first time.
It continued to make sense after the release of “ChangesTwoBowie”, the 1981 follow-up which brought the story up to date by including the likes of “Ashes To Ashes”, but did make the odd decision to include older material that could have been on the first LP but wasn’t (“Aladdin Sane”) in preference to newer, seemingly essential songs (there was no “Heroes”). But given that Bowie jumped ship soon after to EMI America, between them, they give you a decent overview of Bowie’s musical journey from 1969 to 1980, later seen by many as the key years.
1990’s “ChangesBowie” was essentially the officially revamped version of the album(s) after they got deleted in the 80s. Issued as part of Bowie’s retro-tinged “Sound + Vision” campaign, it used the same image on it’s front as “ChangesOneBowie” had done, but this time formed part of a collage full of other Bowie images from the years. The album featured a sizeable chunk of material from the first album, opened with “Space Oddity”, and used the same ‘block’ lettering typography that the originals had done (following on from the use of that style on “Station To Station”) but the compilation was rejigged to include a wider variety of material from the later years, including tracks from the EMI America period. Last time I looked, you could still pick this compilation up online.
Now, given that “Nothing Has Changed” was obviously designed as a definitive, career spanning best of, you have to ask why Parlophone are doing this. It seems to be nothing more than a slightly pointless cash in release. It was issued on vinyl and CD, with some of the vinyl copies pressed on clear vinyl, but with no indication as to whether or not, if you bought a new shrinkwrapped copy, what colour the vinyl would be (done to keep with the spirit of the original version, where the first pressings famously included the wrong version of “John I’m Only Dancing” by accident).
So, apart from it being 40 years, is this release simply being pitched at the newcomers? The people whose interest got reignited after “Blackstar”? Just another attempt, for the LP versions at least, to keep up with the often enjoyable, but sometimes baffling, vinyl revolution? Not sure. I am sure though, if you are desperate for a “ChangesOneBowie”, you would be able to find an original version, or a late 70s/early 80s reissue for not too much, although being able to click a few buttons on Amazon is obviously a bit easier. But if every hits collection that has been deleted over the years starts to get reissued, it would seem to me like overkill. Wherever these sets have included something unique or interesting, the original approach was to simply put said track on a newer release (so it was that “John I’m Only Dancing” made it onto “ChangesBowie”). Still, if you fancy a copy, I feel obliged to mention the catalogue number of the vinyl editions (Parlophone COBLP 2016).
The 40th Anniversary Reissues Continued
We left off last time by mentioning the then forthcoming release of the 40th anniversary version of “Knock On Wood”, which was breaking the tradition of the previous picture disc reissues by including a different song on the flipside, as opposed to using an “alternate” version of the A-side. “Knock On Wood” was thus issued as a AA-side release with “Rock N Roll With Me”.
From this point onwards, each of these reissues were to be issued by Parlophone as AA’s, meaning that a number of songs would, theoretically at least, be issued as a single for the first time ever in Bowie’s career, even though the stickers on the front of the sleeves would only make a point of plugging the ‘official’ A-side.
So, the follow up to “Knock On Wood” was 2015’s “Young Americans” (Parlophone DBYA 40), which appeared here in it’s ’2007 Tony Visconti Single Edit’ version. On the flipside was the alternate ’With Strings’ version of “It’s Gonna Be Me”, previously only available on the 2007 expanded edition of “Young Americans”. Because the track is quite long, the B-side has to play at 33rpm, and this, coupled with the poorer sound quality you get on picture discs, means that the sound - to these ears - is fairly awful, once again putting question marks over the quality control aspect of some of these new vinyl releases. It’s all very well bleating on about the “warm sound” of vinyl, but you will only get that sound by pressing the thing properly in the first place. Rant over.
Following a couple of RSD releases (more later), the next one in the series was “Fame”, which appeared in it’s original 7” edit form. The AA-side was “Right”, which had also appeared on the flipside of the original UK 7”. However, the version this time around was an alternative mix. Confusion reigned at the time as to what was so alternative about it, but as I understand it, the decision was taken to remix a number of tracks from the “Young Americans” album in preparation for it’s 1991 reissue by EMI and Rykodisc. The remix of “Right” that was done saw it mastered at the wrong speed, and the version that thus appears on the picture disc is the 1991 remix, but mastered at the correct speed. You can play spot the difference when you play it (Parlophone DBFAME 40).
I have already mentioned the “Space Oddity”/”Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” reissue in a blog earlier this year, but just to clarify, this is a strange reissue which commemorates the 1975 RCA Maxi-single release but which uses a track listing more in line with the 1969 Philips original - edited version of the A-side on side 1, acoustic version of “Freecloud” on side 2 (RCA used the standard album version of “Space Oddity“ when they put it out as a 45). Apparently, this picture disc uses a stereo mix of the edit of “Space Oddity” in preference to the mono original, but I’m not sure exactly how different it sounds. Similarly, there are two mixes in existence of “Freecloud”, one with a spoken word intro, and one without. The images are also more in line with the 1969 release than the 1975 one (Parlophone DBSO 40).
The last reissue from 2015 was “Golden Years” (Parlophone DBGOLD 40), which again used the original 7” edit on the A-side. This one was issued as a AA with “Station To Station”, which appeared in it’s single edit form, originally concocted for use on a French 7” in 1976, and later included on the “Single Edits” CD inside the Super Deluxe boxset reissue of the “Station To Station” album. Suffice to say, this was the first time the song had appeared as an A-side in the UK.
Now, this is where it gets a bit baffling. The first 2016 reissue should have been the first of two, if we follow the logic applied by EMI and Parlophone so far. “TVC 15” was originally issued as the follow up to “Golden Years” in April 1976, and thus it’s 40th anniversary coincided with Record Store Day (Parlophone DBTVC 40). So, the 40th anniversary reissue was done as an RSD release, complete with suitably stickered sleeve (and inflated price tag). On the A-side, you get the original edited version. On the AA-side, you get a Bowie track that had actually appeared as a single before, “Wild Is The Wind” (issued to plug “ChangesTwoBowie” in 1981). However, the version here seems to be a new edit of one of the Harry Maslin mixes done for the “STS” boxset in 2010, so completists will have to consider shelling out for a copy.
If the 40th anniversary logic is applied here, then summer 2016 should have seen the release of “Suffragette City”. RCA had issued confusing cash in singles before (see the 1974 release of “Rock N Roll Suicide”) but this one was slightly more acceptable, as it was included on “ChangesOneBowie” and RCA issued the song as an attempt to promote the LP. But as I type this, there has been no reissue for this one. Strange. Especially when you consider the 2016 reissue of the album it was used to plug.
As for the other RSD releases in the period, the picture disc one from 2015 was a reissue of “Changes”, which was never reissued as a 40th anniversary release, as EMI only started doing them from “Starman” onwards. It was issued as a AA with “Eight Line Poem”, appearing here in it’s ‘Gem Promo version’ mix (Parlophone DBRSD 2015). The history behind the latter is that Bowie’s manager in 1971, Tony Defries, was looking to find new record deals for two of his artists - Bowie and Dana Gillespie. So, he arranged for a 500-run set of vinyl albums, pressed by the Gem Record company, which were to be used as a showcase for the two acts. Seven Bowie songs appeared on side 1, and five Gillespie ones on side 2, including her version of “Andy Warhol”. This later became known as the BOWPROMO.
The Bowie tracks were mostly songs that did end up on “Hunky Dory”, albeit all in slightly different forms - “Eight Line Poem” resurfaced with a completely different vocal mix. Two songs didn’t make the cut, “Bombers” and “It Ain’t Easy”. By all accounts, the promo didn’t generate any interest at all, and Defries then produced an early copy of “Hunky Dory” on the Gem label which featured the finished album, which did attract the attention of RCA. Copies also came with a gatefold sleeve which featured a sepia toned version of the actual final “Hunky Dory” front cover, although I understand some copies over the years have surfaced without this sleeve. Suffice to say, the original BOWPROMO release and the Gem version of “Hunky Dory” are auction house collectors editions.
The other RSD release from 2015 was for Scary Monsters album track “Kingdom Come”. This was part of Rhino’s ’Side By Side’ series, where the same song would appear on either side of a 7”, performed by different artists on either side. So this release sees the Tom Verlaine original on one side, and the Bowie cover on the other (Rhino R7-547633). Copies were pressed on white vinyl, and the Bowie side came with a label designed to look like the black and white RCA labels that were in circulation in the early 1980s.
Issued in late 2015, “Five Years” (Parlophone DBX 1) is the first of a series of boxsets designed to sort of reinvigorate the Bowie back catalogue - or at least, the years from “Space Oddity” onwards. Ever since the deletion of the 1990s Rykodisc reissues, the Bowie catalogue has suffered from a slightly haphazard reissue program. A bonus track free reissue of “Hunky Dory” in 1999 remained the standard version of that album for the following fifteen years, whilst “Ziggy” got reissued not once but (at least) three times.
Whilst the boxset may seem like yet another cash in release - and to some extent, it is - it had Bowie’s blessing, and exists as an attempt to tidy up the back catalogue. Trouble is, this is all going to take some time, and at the same time as “Five Years” was being released, it was possible to buy new Parlophone branded versions of the old 1999 EMI reissues of the latter period albums - the sign of a catalogue nowhere near being tidied up yet.
So what exactly is in this first box? Well, you get reissues of the run of studio albums from “Space Oddity” through to “Pin Ups”. For both the vinyl and CD versions, attempts at recreating the original label designs have been made, but with a stylised “Bowie” logo in place of the original Philips, Mercury or RCA logo. Suffice to say, the bonus tracks from the old Ryko issues are absent. This was a deliberate move, to return the records to their original “state” - each of the studio albums in the set were later issued individually, and thus are now the new standard versions of those LP’s.
You also get - and this is likely to be a regular feature in each box - a bonus alternate album. In this case, it’s a second version of “Ziggy”, using an alternate cover shot (and alternate rear sleeve) and playing the 2003 remix of the album, which had only previously appeared on an SACD version of the album at the time, and later on the DVD included as part of the 2012 LP reissue. Live albums taped during the period are also included, so you get “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars - The Motion Picture Soundtrack” (the version here is a repress of the 2003 reissue), and “Live Santa Monica 72”, the authorised version of the earlier release on Mainman.
The big selling point really is the “Re:Call 1” disc of rarities. This gives a new home to some of the Ryko rarities, but is dealing only with material that had previously appeared on a commercial release at the time (along with the odd possibly-promo-only mix of early, highly obscure US singles, where question marks still remain as to the existence of stock copies). So, you get both sides of the UK “Space Oddity” single, all five rarities from the Mercury 45’s, “Ragazzo Solo”, both sides of the US “All The Madmen” 45, and the Arnold Corns 45.
The second disc deals with rarities from the RCA period, so you get mono single mixes, B-sides and overseas only edits. Repetition is allowed where the variant versions are noticeably different - so you do get both the original and “Sax” versions of “John I’m Only Dancing” - whilst tracks recorded in the period and only issued later on also make the cut, so you get the ’Spiders’ version of “Holy Holy” and “Velvet Goldmine”, taped in 71 but not issued until 74/75 respectively. What you don’t get are minor variations of existing tracks (so no US single versions of “Memory Of A Free Festival” or “Starman”) and, just to clarify one last time, none of the unreleased bonus tracks off the original Ryko reissues. Either Bowie had vetoed these things from ever appearing again, or there is a plan for a rarities boxset in the future.
Everything in the box, with the exception of the bonus “Ziggy” and “Re:Call” have now been made available individually, on both vinyl and CD. Generally, the CD editions were issued in 2015, and the vinyl ones in 2016. As somebody who struggles at times to keep up with this never ending recycling of people’s back catalogues, I would hope that these editions become the standard releases, and that any future reissues are simply repressings of these editions - if not, then the boxset will start to look like another record company exploitation job.
For clarification - the CD reissues from 2015 are in standard jewel cases, with the stylised Bowie logo once again used for the ‘label’ side of the CD. The vinyl reissues are effectively extracted from the boxset - however, these later copies were shrinkwrapped with a barcode attached to the back of the shrinkwrap for sales recording purposes, as the copies within the box were barcode free. Inserts that were included in the original boxset do seem to have survived for the repressings, as my “Aladdin Sane” comes with a reprint of the 1973 fan club application form that was included with the LP back when it was first released. On the form, you are asked to list the name of your school. Amusing, when you consider that this is the album where Bowie sings the line “falls wanking to the floor” on “Time” - I dread to think what was being shouted in the school playgrounds of the time. You will have missed the boat now, but anybody who ordered the box before it was released from Bowie's website, received a free "Pin Ups Radio Show" promo EP, although some CD editions were sold as individual items via Bowie's US website to get rid of the stock.
This year has seen the release of the second box, “Who Can I Be Now?” (Parlophone DBX 2), which runs from 1974 to 1976. So this one goes from “Diamond Dogs” to “Station To Station”, taking in “David Live” along the way. In comparison to the bonus “Ziggy” in the first box, this has two alternate albums in the form of the 2005 remix version of “David Live” (using a sleeve which is simply printed the opposite way) and the 2010 Harry Maslin mix of “Station To Station”, previously done for the super deluxe boxset (it comes in the 1991 colour sleeve version of the LP). You also get, for the first time, a sort of “new” album courtesy of “The Gouster”, an early version of “Young Americans”. The original concept was abandoned whilst Visconti was mixing the record, so the sleeve that is used simply seems to be a photo from the period, as opposed to it being any original proof sleeve.
The “Live Nassau Coliseum 76” album, previously only ever included in the deluxe versions of the 2010 reissue of “STS”, is also in here, along with an album of rarities, “Re:Call 2”. Bowie simply wasn’t as prolific as regards singles during this time, and mono mixes had ceased to be made, so this time around, it’s just a single disc. Again, a mix of UK, overseas and US single edits, the odd B-side (the live “Panic In Detroit”) and the 7” edit of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)”. The full length version is on “The Gouster”, as is “Who Can I Be Now” and “It’s Gonna Be Me”, meaning that these one time Ryko bonus tracks are now officially part of the “standard” Bowie catalogue, I guess.
I have the CD version of this box, and so can confirm that the CD’s are designed like vinyl style pressings - gatefold sleeves, inner bags, and rear covers that show no barcodes. Tucked inside the “Station To Station” disc is a reprint of a mid 70s poster plugging the back catalogue, but I understand the vinyl box includes more inserts, including another fan club application form from the post-”David Live” period. Whilst the single disc “Re:Call” disc obviously seems a bit low key compared to the 2 disc one in the first box, especially when you consider that the last five songs are the contents of the “Single Edits” CD from the “Station To Station” deluxe box, it does at least do it’s job - and is worth listening to for the bizarre edits of “Diamond Dogs” (from Australia) and “Rock N Roll With Me” (from the USA), both of which just fade out halfway through proceedings. Yes I know, there is no “K-Tel” edit of “Diamond Dogs” in this set, but you can’t have everything.
You know, at the end of the day, it’s Bowie. And as pointless as this boxset may at times be, it has taken pride of place on my shelf. Let's not forget, the three studio records in this set are three of the best albums ever made. We shall have to wait and see what the next boxset produces, and how Parlophone are going to approach the missing rarities from the Ryko days - and whether or not they bother with the “Let’s Dance” to “Never Let Me Down” period.
There have been some official but "unauthorised" releases in recent times due to ongoing quirky copyright laws. It's debatable as to whether or not you should attempt to bother with these, especially as there seems to have been a flood of these live albums, sometimes duplicating material from other such releases, but being Bowie, I couldn't resist getting what I think are probably the three most interesting.
There have been two releases on the Laser Media label - "Day In Day Out", as mentioned in my Bowie Live blog earlier this year (LM 160) and the untruthfully titled "Space Oddity FM Broadcast 1983", which is actually nineteen tracks lifted from bootlegs of rehearsals held in Dallas before the start of the "Serious Moonlight" tour (LM 700), none of which took place anywhere near a radio station.
Also worth a mention is the "Back In Anger" release on Sonic Boom (SON 0330), a double CD set documenting a show from the 1995 "Outside" tour, a flawed release, but currently the only 'official' full length document of what I consider to be one of Bowie's most important tours. Next year, my next Bowie blog should be a look at Bowie live albums from the post-Tin Machine years.
Friday, 2 December 2016
As I may have once said in an earlier blog, the Japanese didn’t really “do” 12 inch singles. 7” singles, yes, and they did launch the 3” CD in it’s snap-pack sleeve - but the 12” format was something that, for Madonna at least, they only ever really dabbled in from time to time. There were 12” releases for “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Causing A Commotion”, but the likes of “Holiday”, “Open Your Heart” and “Express Yourself” were restricted to 7” releases only when it came to vinyl issues.
For any other artist, this might not have been a problem. But given that she had emerged from the New York Disco scene, Madonna’s singles in the UK and the US were being subjected to extended dance mixes, meaning that there was a danger of there being no way of issuing these reworkings in Japan. So, to resolve this, the Japanese - as they so often did - did things differently.
Between 1984 and 1995, the Japanese division of Sire issued a series of EP releases that were used, in the main, to compile these remixes. Not everything got collected, and some releases felt a bit more erratic than others, but they did appear with great regularity. Later releases were of lesser interest, as they were more like albums of multiple remixes of the same song, but even these were worth a look as they included, at times, mixes than were either unavailable on CD in the UK - or occasionally, not officially available at all. Thereafter, the Japanese releases reverted to “standard” CD single pressings, and the likes of “You’ll See” onwards were fairly similar to their UK counterparts. Completists will want these of course, but the EP stylings of the earlier releases was abandoned forever.
At first, these EP’s were rarely available outside of their native Japan, but in the early 1990s, new pressings were made to join the latest releases, with copies being exported to the UK. At the time, as somebody who had only just discovered Madonna, these releases were fascinating. They were widely available, my local HMV in Romford seemed to stock a lot of them on the assumption that somebody would want them (and yes, that somebody was me), and the London record stores had them as well. The fact that they included remixes that I either didn’t already have, or only had on vinyl, plus the sheer visual impact that these releases had (especially if they still retained their obi strips), made them amongst the more interesting releases in Madonna land.
When the earlier EPs were being released, vinyl was still the format of choice, and so the first few were issued as both 12” singles and on the new fangled CD format. There was one exception (which we shall come to in due course), and then, of course, the tide turned and vinyl pressings became non existent.
What we shall do here, to keep things simple, is look at the releases in their “original” order, without getting too bogged down in the formats they were available on (some of these appeared on Cassette as well). We shall look at what they offer the UK fan, and catalogue numbers for each release will appear at the end.
So, it all starts with the helpfully titled “Like A Virgin And Other Big Hits!”. The only one of these EP’s that I happen to have on both 12” and CD, it was housed in a sleeve which mirrored the UK release of the “Like A Virgin” 45, and included the extended mixes of “LAV”, “Borderline”, “Lucky Star” and - slightly pointlessly - the LP version of “Holiday”, included I guess to pad out the running time, but also, given that it was long enough to not need a 12” mix anyway, included here on the grounds of completeness. This EP was reissued this year as a European wide Record Store Day release on, randomly, pink vinyl, so that makes your chances of owning “a” copy of the EP that much greater, but being an RSD release, you may find it cheaper to just buy an original! It is certainly not a UK exclusive release, so don’t go worrying about thinking that you NEED this new pressing. Still, kind of interesting that it has now been issued again, but a bit random.
The next release was originally on 12” only, as it was almost more of a maxi single than an EP. Housed in the same sleeve as the UK single release of “Angel”, the “Material Girl” EP as it is sometimes called was eventually released, belatedly, on CD in 1992. The original release more or less just credits it’s three songs as if this was a AAA-side release, but the CD edition refers to it as the “Club Mix EP”. It includes the 12” mixes of “MG” and “Angel”, along with “Into The Groove” - again, widely available as it was issued as a 7” in Japan in it’s own right, but included here to ensure that, at the time, all of Madonna’s “major” single releases in Japan up to this point had therefore been compiled in their ‘full length form’ on these two releases. This approach would be mostly avoided on future releases, as the amount of material available courtesy of the 12” mixes were more than enough to fill these releases up. Because it was issued on CD “out of sync”, the 1992 reissue has a catalogue number which belies it’s original release date, but places it in line with the other EP‘s (of ‘new’ material) issued the same year.
By the start of 1986, the next EP had appeared under a title which more or less just told you what was on it, as opposed to it having a catchy name! “Dress You Up - Ain’t No Big Deal” was a reversion to the 4-track approach of the first EP, but for this one, we saw the first EP where repetition of songs were noted. This was because the instrumental version of “Dress You Up” was included alongside the 12” mix. The other two tracks were “Shoo Bee Doo” - an album track, used again for padding, as it had also appeared on the flip of the “Dress You Up” 7” in Japan - and also a proper rarity in the form of non-album track “Ain’t No Big Deal”, a track previously tossed away on the Warner Bros compilation “Revenge Of The Killer B’s Vol. 2”. The sleeve used for this was the same as that used for the US 7” release of “Dress You Up”.
Next up was the awkwardly titled “Super Club Mix”. Housed in the same sleeve as the “True Blue” (UK) single sleeve, this was a bit more of a hotpotch affair, as it not only attempted to fill in the gaps missed by the earlier releases, but also had to work out what to do with it’s attempts to include “Live To Tell” on the set. We got the 12” mix of “True Blue”, and the 12” mix of “Papa Don’t Preach”, along with BOTH sides of Madonna’s first US 12”, “Everybody”, with both the six-minute long 12” mix being joined by the even longer dub mix. Discogs claims that this version has been edited down from the original US single, but I can’t confirm if this is the case, as there are “issues” over the timings of this mix on other releases as well. As for “Live To Tell”, the instrumental version was included. This 5-track release had a running time in excess of half an hour, so even at this point, we were moving away really from EP lengths into the world of the mini album.
Now - if you only buy one of these EP’s, then really, 1987’s “La Isla Bonita Super Mix” is probably the one. Housed in the same sleeve as the UK 7”, it’s big selling point was the inclusion of not only “Crazy For You” but also “Gambler” - the only Madonna “compilation” upon which you will find this track. Even “Crazy For You” turned up on “The Immaculate Collection” in Q-Sound remixed form. The rest of the disc consisted of both the 12” and 12” instrumental versions of “La Isla” (again, claims on Discogs of this being an ‘alternate instrumental’) and also the 12” mix of “Open Your Heart”. The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that the “Dub” mix of “OYH” is missing. But really, the inclusion of Madonna’s two contributions to the “Vision Quest” soundtrack make this worth the price of admission alone, and with the world of the promo only remix madness just a few years away, the absence of an, admittedly, un-essential remix is not totally the end of the world.
1989’s “Like A Prayer” was a turning point. It was, of course, Madonna’s entry into the world of grown up pop. And yet, it also coincided with the insanity of multiple remixing. So, here we had an album of earthy, downbeat, and quite serious subject matter, all being put through the hands-in-the-air remix machine. Strange. In terms of the impact that it had on the Japanese EP, it was quite a big one. “Remixed Prayers”, housed in the same sleeve as the “Like A Prayer” 12”, does more or less what it says on the tin. It is an hour long barrage of mixes of “Like A Prayer” and “Express Yourself” and nothing else. This really was the point at which the EP approach of these releases started to get widened. Indeed, given that it has a running time longer than the then new Madonna album, means even claiming it as a mini album is a bit of a misnomer.
In terms of material, it includes the 12” Dance Mix, 12” Extended Remix, Churchapella, 12” Club Version and 7” Remix/Edit versions of “LAP”. To place this in context, these are the five remixes that were spread across the 12” and Limited 12” releases in the UK, and the five mixes that - along with “Act Of Contrition” - made up the US 12” release. The remaining three tracks are mixes of “Express Yourself” - the “Non Stop Express Mix”, “Stop + Go Dubs” and the “Local Mix”. Again, to place in context, these three mixes, plus “The Look Of Love”, made up the US 12”. In the UK, the “Local Mix” was never released, so that makes “Remixed Prayers” a worthy addition to the collection. Listening to it in one go just make you go a bit stir crazy, though.
The concept of these EP’s featuring lengthy running times, albeit with few actual “songs”, was now mostly set in stone. The next release, 1990’s “Keep It Together” was also notable for not even being given an odd title, it’s not even officially known as the “Keep It Together EP”. It looks, from a distance, exactly the same as the US 12” release. But it is the next in the EP series no doubt, as the first track is actually the 12” mix of “Cherish” - followed by 6 mixes of “KIT”. These are the 12” Remix, Dub, 12” Extended Mix, 12” Mix, Bonus Beats and Instrumental versions. Once more, to place in context, these are the same mixes that appeared on the UK 12” White Label SAM promo, and also, the US 12” release. A handful of these mixes were later issued as B-sides to the “Vogue” 45 in the UK, but most weren’t, so again, a worthy release to track down.
“Vogue” itself was the subject of the next EP release, and this time, was actually called the “Vogue EP”. Again, same front cover as the standard “Vogue” 45. It reverted, slightly, to the older style, consisting of three songs with variant versions of most of those songs. The first three tracks are remixes of “Vogue” - the 12” Mix, Bette Davis Dub and the Strike-A-Pose Dub. To place in context, the three mixes from the US 12” - the “Bette Davis Dub” was never officially released in the UK. The EP is finished off with the three tracks from the “Hanky Panky” UK CD/12” release, namely the 7” and 12” mixes of “Hanky Panky” and it’s accompanying B-side, “More”. Again, it’s inclusion both makes sense - it was the flipside, after all - and also makes no sense, as it’s easily found on “I’m Breathless”. But, given that Warners view that as a soundtrack album, I guess it was included on this EP to both pad out the running time, and also make it available on an ’official’ Madonna release.
We now come to 1991’s “Rescue Me - Alternate Mix”, which is overloaded with Shep Pettibone reworkings. It’s a 10 track, 66 minute long release, housed in the ‘standard’ “RM” sleeve - in other words, the non-UK sleeve using a still from the “Justify My Love” video where Madonna slides down the corridor wall. What do you get? Well, from a UK fan’s point of view, quite a bit. There are, to start with, two versions of “Justify My Love” as found on the UK 12” and CD single(s), the “Q Sound Mix” and the “Orbit 12” Mix”. What then follows are tracks never released in the UK, but which did appear previously on the US CD Single, namely the “Hip Hop Mix” of “JML”, the extended 1990 reworking of “Express Yourself” and the “Beast Within” version of “Justify“. Five versions of “Rescue Me” then conclude the set. These include three mixes lifted from the various UK single editions (the 7” Mix, the Titanic Mix and the Lifeboat Mix) along with two never released in the UK - the unedited “Houseboat Vocal” and the “SOS Mix”. Yet again, to place in context, these five mixes had previously been issued on the US CD Single. All of these mixes also appeared in Germany, where they were spread across two CD Single editions, and indeed, CD1 of this release featured a Dub mix not on the Japanese release, even though there would have been space to include it. But still, “Alternate Mix” probably has more than enough remixes than you need in one go, and the inclusion of five tracks never released in the UK again make it a decent buy. Especially with that stunning cover.
It is at this point in proceedings that the world of the mega-remixing starts to further dent the overall excitement of these EP’s. 1992’s “Erotica Remixes” is of interest if you only have UK copies of the “Erotica” single (as no remixes at all were included) or the “Bad Girl” 45, which had some, but not all, of the mixes available on this release. The mixes are the Album Edit, Kenlou B-Boy Mix, WO 12”, Underground Club Mix, Masters At Work Dub, Jeep Beats and Madonna’s In My Jeep. Although there was also a German CD single with the “Remixes” legend on the cover, it was only a five track release. But, it is worth pointing out that the US CD, which just has the regular “Erotica” cover, has an identical track listing to the Jap EP. So not only did we have an EP with just the one “song”, but a track listing that matched a more easily available overseas release. Overall then, one of the less exciting items in the set.
Another “mega” release came with the “Deeper And Deeper EP”, again housed in the standard single sleeve. It has no less than 12 tracks. More of a double album, let alone an EP. It starts with 6 mixes of “DAD” - the Shep’s Deep Makeover Mix, David’s Klub Mix, Shep’s Classic 12”, Shep’s Fierce Deeper Dub, David’s Love Dub and Shep’s Deep Beats. To place in context once more, these are the six mixes you will find on the UK 12” Picture Disc. Next up is the extended mix of “Bad Girl” (never released in the UK), followed by more mixes of “Erotica” - mixes are the Kenlou B-Boy Instrumental, Underground Tribal Beats, WO Dub, House Instrumental and Bass Dub. With the exception of the WO (William Orbit) Dub, none of the other mixes have ever been issued in the UK.
The “Rain” EP from 1993, housed in a sleeve which recalls the US version of the single as opposed to the UK one, is a similarly mixed bag. For reasons that are not totally clear, the extended mix of “Bad Girl” makes a second appearance here. The first four tracks are songs available on various versions of the “Rain” single, with the LP version joined by the “Radio Remix”, along with a remix of “Waiting” and the non-LP “Up Down Suite”. Again, placing in context, the four tracks here also made up the US CD Single. The rest of the disc includes mixes of “Fever” - the Extended 12”, Shep’s Remedy Dub, Murk Boys Miami Mix and Oscar G’s Dope Dub - and the “Video Edit” of “Rain”. All of the “Fever” mixes turned up in the UK - indeed, even the UK CD Single offers more than what you get here - but the remix of “Waiting” was never issued in the UK. The Video Edit of “Rain”, as far as I can make out, was never issued on any of the UK editions - at least, not under this name - but you can just watch the video on Youtube and it should have the same effect, I suppose. However, and I haven't had a chance to sit down and analyse the different edits of "Rain" to confirm, but it may actually be the same as the "Remix Edit" version that is on the UK CD Single. If anybody wants to clarify all of this, please get in touch.
The final Japanese EP’s were releases in relation to the “Bedtime Stories” album, reissued by Rhino on vinyl in the UK this year BTW. The first one was “Secret Remixes”, which used a unique cover shot from the album photo shoot. Like the “Erotica” EP, it consists purely of alternate versions of the same song. So, you get Junior’s Luscious Single Mix, Junior’s Extended Luscious Club Mix, Junior’s Luscious Dub, Junior’s Sound Factory Mix, Junior’s Sound Factory Dub, the Some Bizarre Mix, the Allstar Mix and the Edit. All of these have been issued in the UK - the Junior (Vasquez) mixes on the CD2 edition of the original “Secret” single, the Edit on CD1, whilst the other two mixes were B-sides on the CD2 edition of “Bedtime Story”. Still, a lovely front cover image, and if you don’t have the “Secret” CD2, it’s worth a punt.
And so we end with the “Take A Bow Remixes” set. This is of major interest, as no remixes of “TAB” were ever issued in the UK, not even ’after the event’, so this release is worth your cash. Housed, once more, in a sleeve which recalls the UK single, you get the edit and instrumental mixes that were issued in the UK, along with the InDaSoul Mix, InDaSoul Instrumental, Silky Soul Mix and the Silky Soul Instrumental that were not. To pad the set out, there are two versions of “Bedtime Story” at the end - the “Album Edit” and “Junior’s Wet Dream” mixes, both of which did get released in the UK.
With all these releases, if you want the full monty, then each of them featured the aforementioned obi strip around the left hand side of the box. In my HMV, they would unseal the CD’s, realise the obi would then fall off, so decided to tape them back on, with a little bit of sellotape on the front and back to “reattach it”. Can’t remember where I got it, but my “Deeper And Deeper” was purchased brand new - but the obi had already gone missing before I even got my hands on it, having obviously fallen off when unpacked, and then simply binned by the shop. So not every copy of these singles necessarily were sold with their obi’s intact, and over the years, a lot more have probably been lost. As such, copies with them intact often sell for more than those without. All should come with lyrics printed inside in both English and Japanese, usually on a separate booklet, but not always.
Following the “delayed” release of the “Club Mix” EP in 1992, a concerted reissue campaign of these EP’s was conducted in 1997. This time around, the CD’s were housed in slim line jewel cases, with new obis which showed they were being issued under the “Collectors Series” banner, with - of course - new catalogue numbers. By all accounts, despite being reissues, they don’t seem to be any easier to find than their early 1990’s counterparts, so anybody hoping to own all 14 on CD - twice - is going to have their work cut out.
There is, then, another bizarre situation. The Australian division of Warners have, at times, cheated a bit with some of their artists. I have, somewhere, a Faces album on CD that looks, to all intents and purposes, like a UK pressing (complete with UK catalogue number) but also has a second catalogue number, and a mention of “Made In Australia” somewhere on the packaging. Warners Music Australia, in 1993, issued a select number of these EP’s to coincide with Madonna’s first tour there, which seemed to simply involved “obtaining” some of these discs from Japan, adding an Aussie catalogue number on it somewhere, mentioning “Australia” again somewhere else in the pack, and issuing them as Australian EP’s - despite the fact that the Japanese catalogue number and Japanese writing on the spine remained in situ! By all accounts, the EP’s that are available as these strange Jap/Oz Hybrid releases are for the “Super Club Mix“, “La Isla Bonita Super Mix”, “Remixed Prayers“, “Keep It Together”, “Erotica Remixes”, “Deeper And Deeper EP” and “Rain EP” issues. Given that they obviously lack the obi strips, they don’t seem to have the same desirability as the Jap releases, but the track listings and covers are exactly the same. So, if it was me, I would consider filling in any of your gaps with at least one of these releases. “Rain” might be the best one to go for, as copies came with a sticker mentioning “includes Japanese Remixes”. This, of course, is not strictly correct - but I know what they meant!
And so, from then on, Japanese CD singles become quite “normal”, and even though some future releases followed the “Remix” path of things like the “Erotica Remixes” release, this was simply because each single released in the UK or US got one in Japan as well, and if something had been remixed to death, then those mixes got the nod. If it didn’t, then the release simply had less songs. The original Japanese approach, to cobble together extended versions of multiple old hits was over, and by all accounts, these “new” singles were released at the same time as their international counterparts. Worth hunting down if you have the money, but to be honest, a Japanese “Frozen” is not that far removed from a UK one. So, pay your money and take your choice.
Whilst, of course, other Warners acts were also the recipient of similar EP releases, I can only comment on Madonna, as these are the releases I have made the effort of collecting. Of course, if you were there from day 1, buying those 45’s as they came out, then perhaps these releases are no more than glorified, short, greatest hits sets. But as a way of discovering these 12” mixes for (usually) the first time, plus the colourful nature that many of them have, these releases always fascinated me. Furthermore, with the asking price nowadays usually being no more than what they were first selling for back in the 90s, getting hold of them is not quite as daunting as it might seem.
So, I have listed two sets of discographies. The first is, more or less, the catalogue numbers of the releases that you would have got had you bought them new in a UK shop in 1991 (or in the case of “Material Girl”, the catalogue number of the 12” edition you might have seen at a record fair, as this seems to have been the most common format for that release). I have then listed the releases in catalogue number order for their 1997 CD reissues, which seem to be far more difficult to find. I have also listed what I believe are all the Australian variants, as they too seem to be quite easy to find on the likes of eBay.
STANDARD RELEASES AS AT 1991
Like A Virgin And Other Big Hits! (CD, Sire WPCP 3437)
Material Girl (Extended Dance Remix)/Into The Groove/Angel (Extended Dance Mix) (12”, Sire P 5199)
Dress You Up / Ain’t No Big Deal (CD, Sire WPCP 3438)
True Blue Super Club Mix (CD, Sire WPCP 3439)
La Isla Bonita Super Mix (CD, Sire WPCP 3440)
Remixed Prayers (CD, Sire 20P2-2900)
Keep It Together (CD, Sire WPCP 3200)
Vogue EP (CD, Sire WPCP 3698)
Rescue Me Alternate Mix (CD, Sire WPCP 4100)
Erotica Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCP 5150)
Deeper And Deeper EP (CD, Maverick WPCP 5244)
Rain EP (CD, Maverick WPCP 5644)
Secret Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCR 170)
Take A Bow Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCR 191)
1997 COLLECTORS SERIES
Like A Virgin And Other Big Hits! (CD, Sire WPCR 1501)
Dress You Up / Ain’t No Big Deal (CD, Sire WPCR 1502)
True Blue Super Club Mix (CD, Sire WPCR 1503)
La Isla Bonita Super Mix (CD, Sire WPCR 1504)
Remixed Prayers (CD, Sire WPCR 1505)
Keep It Together (CD, Sire WPCR 1506)
Vogue EP (CD, Sire WPCR 1507)
Rescue Me Alternate Mix (CD, Sire WPCR 1508)
Material Girl Club Mix EP (CD, Sire WPCR 1509)
Erotica Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCR 1510)
Deeper And Deeper EP (CD, Maverick WPCR 1511)
Rain EP (CD, Maverick WPCR 1512)
Secret Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCR 1513)
Take A Bow Remixes (CD, Maverick WPCR 1514)
Super Club Mix (CD, Sire 7599 25533 2)
La Isla Bonita Super Mix (CD, Sire 7599 25451 2)
Remixed Prayers (CD, Sire 7599 26022 2)
Keep It Together (CD, Sire 7599 26177 2)
Erotica Remixes (CD, Maverick 9362 40585 2)
Deeper And Deeper EP (CD, Maverick 9362 45288 2)
Rain EP (CD, Maverick 9362 45491 2)
PS. There are a couple of websites which show nice images of the different pressings with their variant obi strips both here (http://www.madonnatribe.com/japan/japan5_1.htm) and here (http://www.madonnadiscography.pl/article/view/113/).
Monday, 21 November 2016
In 1982, in an attempt to give their star signing a Christmas Number 1, RCA issued David Bowie’s duet with Bing Crosby as a single. Their performance of “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was a surreal event in the first place, thanks to Crosby seemingly being unaware of who Bowie was, and Bowie only agreeing to the duet in an attempt to move his career towards the mainstream - hence his later quote of agreeing to do the show as "I just knew my mother liked him". It would have been a strange choice of single had it come out at the time of recording - 1977 - but to wait five years before releasing it was slightly baffling. Whilst it seemed to be designed to stem the flow of bootlegs that had been issued of the recording, it equally felt like RCA were simply trying to cash in.
Bowie, having recorded albums on a pretty much annual basis in the 70s for the label, had now stopped doing so. Instead, he seemed to be more interested in his acting career, appearing in the “Elephant Man” on Broadway, and filming the likes of “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”. His big 1981 hit single, the duet with Queen, “Under Pressure”, had been issued on a rival label. 1982’s willfully uncommercial “Baal EP”, his only new product for RCA since the release of 1980’s “Scary Monsters”, only existed because it was a soundtrack to a Bowie starring TV drama.
So it’s safe to assume that the release of the Crosby 45 was an attempt by RCA to try and keep Bowie in the public eye. But by all accounts, the release of the single infuriated Bowie so much, that he expressed a desire to leave the label - and did so. 1983’s “Let’s Dance” was issued on EMI America, and turned him into a superstar.
In the years that followed, RCA continued to cash in. In 1983, twenty of Bowie’s singles were reissued (initially) in picture sleeves as part of the “Lifetimes” series, receiving new catalogue numbers which seemed to suggest they had been originally released in a totally different order. The series also, strangely, neglected to feature key Bowie singles like “Starman”. And then, in 1984, RCA started to issue - randomly again - selected Bowie albums on the super duper new CD format.
Not all the albums that could have been reissued actually were reissued. The 1983 live album of the Ziggy ‘Farewell’ gig didn’t resurface, but relatively recent RCA cash in albums, such as the ‘hits’ set “Fame And Fashion” and the ‘best of the album tracks’ set “Golden Years” did, despite the fact that both of Bowie’s earlier (authorised) compilations, “ChangesOneBowie” and “ChangesTwoBowie” were also being reissued.
What happened next is open to debate, but the most common story is that Bowie, having not given the nod for any of these reissues, saw them as another RCA cash in moment and asked for the CD’s to be withdrawn. Common consensus is that they were whipped off the shelves, which explains their often high price on the collectors market. But a blog written by somebody who was involved in their release (see http://picknmixed.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-bowie-rca-cds.html) suggests that the CD’s were only deleted in 1988 when RCA’s rights to releasing Bowie material expired. Other internet sources claim that people were still finding them in selected record stores even later than that, suggesting the CD’s had been deleted as opposed to being withdrawn and returned from the shops. Whichever story you believe, the fact is that by 1990, trying to find a Bowie CD from the RCA years in your local HMV was unlikely to happen.
By now, Bowie himself was going through something of a career rehabilitation period. Tin Machine had reinvigorated him, and in 1990, he announced his ‘farewell to the hits’ tour, “Sound + Vision”. To coincide with this, Bowie inked a deal which would see his “RCA period” albums reissued with bonus tracks (where possible). As RCA had obtained the rights to Bowie’s two post-”Laughing Gnome” albums in 1971, this meant the complete run of studio albums from “Space Oddity” to “Scary Monsters” were the ones getting the nod. The three live albums RCA had released up until 1983 were also included, although Jeff Beck’s refusal to allow his appearance at the final Ziggy gig be used meant there were to be no bonuses on the “Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture” set. For reasons never fully explained, “Aladdin Sane” would also be missing bonus tracks, its potential bonuses being shoehorned onto other releases. Alongside these were, in the US, an accompanying boxset also called “Sound + Vision”, which doubled up as a sampler set for the reissues as well as including rarities and previously unreleased material. The boxset, and the reissues, were handled by the relatively small Rykodisc label (although they would later gain a reputation as reissue specialists) but the UK releases were to be issued on EMI, who decided against releasing the boxset - Rykodisc copies appeared on import quite freely, although EMI did eventually issue the box in expanded form in 2003.
Whilst I am sure that Bowie experts would be able to pick the choice of bonus tracks to pieces in some cases, I personally thought the “Ryko” reissues (as even the EMI ones get called - we shall refer to them like this for this article) were pretty good. By the time “Ziggy” had come out, the Shergold household had upgraded to CD, so these albums were killing two birds with one stone - not only were they appearing on this shiny new “indestructible” format, but the tagging on of extra tracks felt like you were getting a bit of value for money. OK, so there was later some head scratching about how genuine some of these outtakes were - the reissue of “Heroes” had a track called “Abdulmajid”, which shared it’s title with the surname of Bowie’s new girlfriend, suggesting it was a Berlin era outtake, but one which most likely had undergone some cosmetic enhancements for the reissue. But long lost B-sides were recovered, unreleased material exhumed, and - with the exception of the botched “Aladdin Sane” - this all gave this period of Bowie’s career something of a well deserved moment of recognition.
Perhaps I am being naïve, but given that the CD had been sold to the general public as this unbreakable music format, and these new Bowie CD’s had - usually - included never-before-heard material, I assumed that these were definitive editions. That these were now the standard releases and that if any of them had to be repressed, they would be repressed with their bonus tracks intact. How wrong I was.
What happened next - I am not sure. But by 1999, Rykodisc had been sold and it’s office in Massachusetts had been closed. This seemed to have some impact on some of the artists on it’s roster, and by all accounts, it resulted in the deletion of the Bowie reissues (possibly). Over here in the UK, Bowie - who had been leapfrogging from label to label after leaving EMI America in 1991 - found himself on Virgin in time for the release of the “Hours” album, who by this point, now came under the far bigger umbrella of the EMI corporation. Bowie’s three solo LP’s for EMI America (and “Tin Machine“) were all reissued by Virgin in 1995, with a so-so selection of random A-sides, B-sides and soundtrack contributions as bonus tracks (but nothing unreleased), and then, to more or less coincide with the release of “Hours”, EMI decided to reissue Bowie’s post-”Laughing Gnome” albums once more. EMI/Virgin now had the rights to the entire run of pre-Tin Machine solo records from 69 onwards, and decided to reissue them under the banner of the “David Bowie Remastered” series.
I wasn’t impressed. All of the bonus tracks from the Ryko releases went missing. Yes, these new reissues came with some nice pictures inside, and at least the albums now “ended” the way they should, but the idea of removing tracks like “Bombers” and the Arnold Corns single, and leaving them in a black hole, seemed bizarre to me. There was not even a new rarities set to help re-home them.
In the years that followed, some vague attempts were made at trying to recover these missing rarities. “Alabama Song”, a stand alone Bowie 45 from 1980 that had been on the expanded “Scary Monsters”, turned up again on 2005’s “The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987”, whilst a number of instrumentals from the expanded “Low” and “Heroes” made it onto 2001’s “All Saints” and 2008’s “iSelect”. There were 30th anniversary reissues of “Ziggy”, “Aladdin Sane” and “Diamond Dogs”, but ultimately, things fell through the gap.
“Young Americans” reappeared in expanded form in 2007, but the version of “It’s Gonna Be Me” this time around was an alternate version. Better was the reissue of “Station To Station”, which turned up in 2010 in deluxe and super deluxe form, and this one ticked all the boxes, as both came with a live album from Bowie’s gig at the Nassau Coliseum in 76, which included within the two live bonus tracks that had been used to close the Ryko reissue. There were other releases as well. But at no point did “Hunky Dory” get any sort of expanded reissue. The result being that not only was one of Bowie’s finest albums seemingly being neglected from getting any special treatment (along with “Low”, of course) but that the missing tracks from it were still missing.
Before his death, Bowie had been working on the content for a series of, what I think could well be, career spanning boxsets. Or at least, post-”Laughing Gnome” ones. The first box, 2015’s “Five Years”, included all of Bowie’s studio albums from the period between 1969 and 1973, along with live albums taped during the period, including some which were not officially released until later on. In that box was a bonus double CD called “Re:Call 1”. It included a chunk of material that had been used as bonuses on the Ryko releases, alongside some more that weren’t. The “unreleased” material however, remained AWOL. One can only assume that either Bowie had vetoed these things from coming out again, or there is a plan for some form of mega rarities boxset in the future.
Now, why am I mentioning all this? Well, this year has seen the release of the follow up box, “Who Can I Be Now?”. This also has included it’s own “Re:Call” set, and covers the years from 1974-1976. Included on this set are a couple of tracks that not only missed being included on the Ryko reissues, but never - in their original form - had managed to appear anywhere else since their sole inclusion on a long deleted 1982 Bowie rarities album. The tracks concerned were the original, un-remixed version of the live “Panic In Detroit” from ‘74 and the 7” edit of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)”. That album was called “Bowie Rare”.
“Rare” was RCA’s attempt at cashing in on Bowie via the LP charts, alongside the “Peace On Earth” single. Bowie disowned it, and it seems to have received nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders, the Wikipedia article has long dismissed any notion of a CD release as pointless because “much of the content is available on other CD’s”. Not strictly true until the release of the new box set. And certainly, it would have made more sense if RCA has issued this in 1984 or 1985 instead of the gloriously pointless “Golden Years”.
But I like it. Not only does the Dame look quite dapper on the cover (and this coming from a married, heterosexual man), but it really does feel like some thought went into it. It does a pretty good job of hoovering up the RCA B-sides (as Dave never really did that many), and by covering what were, by this point, the “expanded” RCA years (ie. 1969-1980), and running chronologically, it serves as a pretty decent overview of the alternate side of Bowie’s career during what was, unquestionably, the greatest period of his musical output.
I also like the fact that it is a reminder of how rarities records used to be, issued as “normal” LP’s, normally priced. The “Re:Call” discs, remember, are exclusive to those boxsets, meaning that anybody who wants to just fill in those gaps, has to buy a boxset full of records they already own. The sort of people who can afford the boxsets without question, are probably the same group of people who have, or have a desire to have, the original singles upon which these things appeared in the first place, as opposed to just owning the songs (OK, yes, I do have "Who Can I Be Now?", so I'm picking on myself here). As for “Rare”, £15-£20 and it’s yours.
It starts, as all decent Bowie comps should, with “Space Oddity”. As the breakthrough hit, and as the monumental opener on Bowie’s first great LP, it always makes sense to kick start a compilation with it as well. Of course, the version here is a rare one, an Italian language version called “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola”. You can probably guess that, when translated, it doesn’t come out as “Space Oddity”. It is basically a completely different set of lyrics, sung in Italian, for release on an Italian only 45 from 1970. Given that the music of “Oddity” was designed to fit the lyrics (the liftoff section, for example), it might seem perverse, but there we go. It got a second lease of life on bootlegs, but “Rare” was the first time this version of the song had ever been released in the UK. It has since been made available on the 2009 expanded version of the “David Bowie”/”Space Oddity” album, and the “Re:Call” disc in “Five Years”.
We then get three songs which, subject to some uncertainty, were all taped during the “Ziggy” sessions, and then released over the next few years. First up is “Round And Round” AKA “Around And Around”, written by Chuck Berry. This was very close to making the “Ziggy” LP but after concerns that the album had too many covers, this was binned in favour of ”Starman“, which had originally been envisaged as a stand alone 45. It turned up on the flipside of 1973’s “Drive In Saturday” single. It was included on the “Sound + Vision” boxset, but the version now available on the 2003 (and 2014) versions contain a different vocal take. The 30th anniversary edition of “Ziggy Stardust” includes the original mix, as does “Re:Call 1“.
“Amsterdam” AKA “Port Of Amsterdam”, was rumoured to have been recorded during both the “Ziggy” and “Pin Ups” sessions. It did, of course, only surface at the time of the “Pin Ups” LP, as it was included on the flipside of “Sorrow”, the sole 45 lifted from that LP. It was originally included as a bonus on the Ryko “Pin Ups”, which makes sense (it was remixed for that release BTW), but was later shoehorned on to the 30th anniversary “Ziggy” suggesting a confirmation of the recording date as 1971, as opposed to 1973. According to the excellent Bowie Singles website, second and third versions of “Amsterdam” exist, both slightly truncated versions that appeared on late 70s and early 80s reissues of the 1974 “Rebel Rebel” EP released in Australia. It gets more confusing as the equally excellent “Pushing Ahead Of The Dame“ blog states that the mix on “Rare“ is a totally different take from that on the original single - as I've never played any of my different copies of the "Sorrow" 45, I can't say. “Re:Call 1” includes this song, but god knows which mix it is.
We then have “Holy Holy”, originally one of three flop 45’s Bowie issued on Mercury Records in 1970/71. Bowie didn’t care a great deal for the single version, giving him an excuse to tape a new version during the “Ziggy” sessions. Again, it got shelved, before surfacing in 1974 on the “Diamond Dogs” 45. It was originally included on the Ryko “The Man Who Sold The World”, thereby relating to the release date of the original single and not the re-recording, but again, was later “correctly” re-positioned when it turned up on the 30th anniversary “Ziggy”. Both the Mercury version and the remake are now on “Re:Call 1”.
If you get hold of a cassette version of “Rare”, then it most likely won’t tell you why the tracks included have been included (mine doesn‘t). So, on the face of it, “Panic In Detroit” is an album track. But it is, of course, the live version taped at the same time as “David Live” and issued on the B-side of 1974’s “Knock On Wood” single. Strangely, this recording was omitted from both the Ryko version of “David Live” when it was reissued in expanded form, and also the “Sound + Vision” boxset. It was included in remixed form on “David Live” when that was reissued once more in 2005, but until recently, “Rare” was the only place you could get the original mix, other than on 45. Not sure exactly how different the two mixes are, I can't spot much between them, but it’s worth noting that the original version has been included on the “Re:Call 2” disc in “Who Can I Be Now?”, which also includes the remix courtesy of the inclusion of the 2005 reissue of “David Live” as well. So you can compare and contrast and see if your hearing is better than mine.
It was never made very obvious, but a lot of Bowie’s RCA singles were subject to remixing or editing in both the UK and the US - and beyond. Sometimes, you really had to listen on headphones to hear them (the UK 7” mix of “Jean Genie” does simply sound more ‘mono’ when you listen closely) but several of the US edits were quite drastic. “Young Americans” was not edited for it’s commercial UK release, but there was obviously a view in both the States and regards UK radio that, at five minutes in length, it was too long for broadcast. A shorter mix was created, and as well as being issued on promo copies, was also used for the commercial release of the single in the USA. It is truly horrific, jumping from the “or even yesterday” line to the section near the end where Bowie is singing “you ain’t a pimp” in a higher register, resulting in something hopelessly disjointed. It was obviously included on “Rare” because it is so extreme, it’s an obvious “single mix” whereas, say, the UK “Starman” 7” mix isn’t, but in terms of aesthetics, it would have been better to have had the glorious original US Single Mix of “Rebel Rebel”, with it’s freaky spaced out intro (later copies of the single ended up using the UK mix, so it really was a rarity, even in the USA). Not only does it sound different, but it’s a perfectly decent alternate mix, so this is where “Rare” possibly goes a bit off course.
So, we are now onto side 2. And probably one of the most famous Bowie flipsides. “Velvet Goldmine” was another Ziggy outtake, but took until 1975 to surface. It appeared on the 3 track “Space Oddity” maxi-single that was issued by RCA as a bit of a cash in event, with Bowie reportedly unhappy at the track’s release, commenting that the final mix was created without his knowledge. Nevertheless, once it was out of the traps, it became unstoppable. Get any expanded version of “Ziggy” and you’ll get it. It turned up on the slightly confusing “The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974”, and even provided inspiration for a film of the same name. I think I even have it on some music magazine freebie CD as well. But back in 1982, it obviously wasn’t quite as commonplace, although the “Space Oddity” single had been reissued as a picture disc that year (as had “Sorrow” and “Drive In Saturday”).
Whilst the entire world and his wife know “Heroes”, what may not be so obvious is just how many different versions of it were created in and around it’s original release. A six minute long epic recorded for the album of the same name in 1977, it was issued in heavily edited form as the lead single from the LP that September. Bowie also decided to record French and German language versions, which involved him singing translated lyrics over the backing of the single edit. These appeared as singles in their respective countries under the titles of “Heros” and “Helden”, although the original English language version was also issued as a single in both those territories as well, with different sleeve designs and different catalogue numbers. The relative rarity of these items saw them included on a bootleg called “Slaughter In The Air”, an otherwise live document of a Bowie gig in LA from April 1978.
There also exists overseas a 12 inch single which includes longer versions of both these re-recordings, which dates from 1981. These versions are actually a hybrid of the re-recorded foreign language versions, extended to the same length as the LP version by gluing it to a section of the original song sung in English. So for these mixes, they had to be retitled to acknowledge their dual language vocals, and so the French one was cumbersomely listed as “Heroes / Heros” and the German one “Heroes / Helden”.
This full length version of “Helden” was originally included on the original German edition of the “Heroes” LP instead of the English mix. This was obviously done to acknowledge the Berlin background of the album. It got another lease of life when it was included on the 1981 compilation/soundtrack album “Christiane F”, a set of mostly Berlin-era songs which deliberately went down the rarities route by including a few choice oddities from the past - the “Heroes / Helden” track being one of them. The soundtrack was never officially released in the UK, so the first time the song appeared in the UK was on “Rare”. The soundtrack was officially released on CD in the UK in 2001 in a new Bowie sleeve. The story of “Helden” doesn’t quite end there, as the original German single mix was remixed in 1989 for the “Sound + Vision” boxset.
Another song with a long history is “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)”, included at this point in the compilation to relate to it’s original 1979 release, but which actually dates from five years earlier. The original “John” was a post-Ziggy 1972 stand alone single release, the lyrical subject of which has been endlessly debated (it may be John as in John Lennon, or an earlier John, John Hutchinson, that Bowie irritated in his youth by temporarily nicking his girlfriend). After it’s release, Bowie - a man notorious for re-recording songs for potential new albums - decided to record “John” again, this time with a more noticeable saxophone section in the choruses, now known the world over as the “Sax” version. The plan had been to include it on the forthcoming “Aladdin Sane” LP as the album closer, but Bowie decided against it, and instead arranged for later pressings of the “John” 45 to use this mix instead of the ‘Ziggy-esque’ original. There was no obvious way to tell which version was which, although the excellent Bowie Singles website seems to suggest that the label designs for the Sax version are unique. If not, the matrix numbers are the indicator. Both tracks have surfaced on various releases over the years, with the original appearing on the 30th anniversary “Ziggy”, and the Sax mix on the 30th anniversary “Aladdin Sane”.
By 1974, Bowie was itching once more to try and get the song on a regular album. And so, during a break in the “Diamond Dogs” US tour schedule, he didn’t just re-record the song but completely re-wrote it, revamping it into a seven minute long funk workout, Bowie by this point going through an obsessive R&B fascination. The verses were more or less discarded, with just the basic song structure and choruses remaining intact. The “new” track was debuted on later dates of the tour, and it was planned to be included on Bowie’s next LP.
That album, we now know, had the working title of “The Gouster”, and the re-recorded “John” was planned to open the album. Master tapes exist which show that it was planned to be a seven track album, closing with “Young Americans” and “Right”. But after Bowie had collaborated with John Lennon in early 75 on a cover of “Across The Universe” and recorded a new song called “Fame” with help from guitarist Carlos Alomar, the project took a sharp turn. The original album was abandoned, and in it’s place came a 'funkier' album called “Young Americans”, which took four of the songs from “The Gouster”, most in rejigged form, added the Lennon tracks, added two more - and “John”, once more, got left on the shelf.
In 1979, presumably to cash in on the disco boom, RCA issued the revamped version as a single, under the title of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)”. On the b-side was a slightly remixed version of the original 1972 version, known as “John I’m Only Dancing (1972)”, which was even issued as an a-side at the time in selected overseas territories. The track, due to it’s length, was issued on a 12” single. But the idea of not issuing a Bowie 45 on the 7” format at the time would have been folly, so a heavily edited version of the remake was issued on the 7” edition. It’s not a great mix, as the joyous bounce of the original is lost, as the track fades out just as it starts to get going, but it exists. It was this edited mix that was included on “Rare”, the first time it had appeared on a Bowie LP. And until recently, the only.
When the Ryko reissue campaign got to “Young Americans” in 1991, the full length version of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)” was tagged on as a bonus track, alongside two more tracks from the abandoned “Gouster” project (“It’s Gonna Be Me” and “Who Can I Be Now”). The short mix remained AWOL, as “Rare” had long been deleted by this point. The remake turned up again on 1998’s “The Best Of David Bowie 1974/1979”, and again, in it’s full length 12-inch form. And when “Young Americans” was reissued in 2007, with restored mixes of several songs that had been ’altered’ for the 91 pressing, “John I’m Only Dancing (Again)” was once again added as a bonus track - and once again, appeared in it’s unedited form.
The short version has only now made it’s debut on CD, by appearing on the “Re:Call” Disc in the new “Who Can I Be Now?” boxset, and thus finally makes - 34 years after it’s release - “Rare” a now nice, rather than essential, Bowie release. Then again, with the boxset selling for just shy of a ton on CD (and much more on vinyl), anybody desperate to hear this (slightly butchered) single mix may find this LP is a cheaper alternate. Either that, or just try and hunt down the original 7” from 79.
We now come to the final two songs, both of which should be available on something you can buy on Amazon, but which will also surely appear on the next box set (or if not, the one after). Both songs are also two of the more ‘out there’ single releases from Bowie. First up is “Alabama Song”, listed on “Rare” as “Moon Of Alabama” and also known as “Whiskey Bar”. Written by Bertol Brecht and Kurt Weill, Bowie was a fan of Brecht (“Baal” was a Brecht play) and played it during his 1978 tour. Bowie was so taken by the song he decided to then record a studio version of the song, and released it in early 1980.
It’s certainly one of the more oddball of Bowie’s 45’s, complete with a chorus which sees Bowie singing at one pace, and his band starting off at another, resulting in them having to speed up to catch up with him. Whilst some of Bowie’s other single edits and stand alone 45’s had been compiled onto “ChangesOneBowie” and “ChangesTwoBowie”, “Alabama Song” was not, and so was included on “Rare” to give it a (temporary) home. It appeared on the Ryko version of “Scary Monsters” and the excellent 1993 set “The Singles Collection”, before getting it’s latest outing on the “1980/1987” CD+DVD set.
“Crystal Japan”, according to some sources, was recorded specifically for use in a Bowie-starring Japanese TV commercial - although Bowie said that even though it was used in the advert, it had originally been recorded for the “Scary Monsters” album. It was an instrumental, an oriental sounding piece of ambient music, that certainly would have made more sense as an LP closer than it did as an attempt at trying to crash into the Japanese singles chart. It was issued as a 45 exclusively in Japan in 1980, backed with “Alabama Song”.
It got a belated UK release the following year, when it was issued on the flipside of “Up The Hill Backwards”, reportedly due to stories of fans paying OTT amounts of money for the original single. “Up” was the fourth and final single from “Scary Monsters”, and whereas all the others had featured album tracks on the B-sides, this was the first to feature a ‘new’ B-side. Trouble was, with the album getting a bit old by this time, the desirability for singles from the record by this point was decreasing, and the single stalled outside the top 30 - “Ashes To Ashes” of course had been a chart topper. “Crystal Japan” was later added to the Ryko “Scary Monsters” reissue, and then included on the 2001 instrumentals collection “All Saints”.
So what was missing? Well, a single slab of vinyl was going to have to be selective, so your best bet is to look at what is on the “Re:Call” discs to see exactly what was issued outside of Bowie’s standard albums. As for the obvious ones? Well, I guess the acoustic “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” could have been in with a shout, but maybe there were complications over the fact that it was a Philips B-side, and may not have been part of the RCA buy-out deal? The five rarities from the Mercury 45’s would have been a crowd pleaser - instead, it was left to the bootleggers to sort those out. Ditto the Arnold Corns 45. The “Sax” mix of “John” might have been a nice inclusion, as until the release of the “Sound + Vision” box, it was a bit of a pain to find, but given that “Rare” seemed to be a companion release to the two “Changes” sets, perhaps there was a view that including too many ’versions’ of the same song across these releases might have seemed excessive. The avoidance of repetition also meant that the 1979 remake of “Space Oddity” couldn’t be included, and is currently AWOL due to the deletion of the Ryko “Scary Monsters” upon which it later appeared. The next boxset should sort that problem.
Otherwise, “Rare” does the best it can within the confines of a single LP. It may well have incurred the wrath of Bowie, and it’s usefulness will probably be diminished once the next box (or boxes) appear with “Crystal Japan” and “Alabama Song”. But even then, it is still an interesting album, and one which shows that Bowie was not averse to tossing away perfectly decent songs as B-sides. I would sooner have had “Holy Holy” on “Ziggy” than “It Ain’t Easy”, for example. Remember, an album of Bowie B-sides is still going to be better than an album of Paul Young a-sides. Apologies if you happen to like him, but a fact is a fact. Next month, we shall look at Bowie’s “new” product from the last two years, and will see exactly how the “Re:Call” sets are finally filling in most of the gaps that this album started to attempt to do.
Rare (LP, RCA PL 45406, with inner sleeve)
Rare (Cassette, RCA PK 45406, pressed in numerous countries with front cover artwork variations on each)
Sunday, 16 October 2016
It took me a while to discover The Beatles. My oldest sister was a fan of John Lennon and George Harrison, as they had launched their solo careers whilst she was still in her youth, and she liked them in the same way she was also liked other singer songwriters from the same time period, like Cat Stevens and Harry Chapin. She later told me that she was too young for the Fab 4, and after getting into Lennon, saw no real reason to go back and buy the old records he had made with his former band. She liked Lennon because he was Lennon - and not because he was “John out of The Beatles”. So, I too got into Lennon and Harrison via her LP‘s, and somewhere along the way, eventually fell in love with Wings, after somebody bought a copy of the live “Maybe I’m Amazed” 45 - but not, at that point, The Beatles.
My mum, for whatever reason, didn’t get them either - same with Elvis. She preferred Cliff and then Scott. My dad, though, did own some records by both The King and The Fabs, but my parents got divorced when I was about ten, so I didn’t really get to hear what he had. So, whilst I developed a love of Bowie by virtue of the fact that everybody in the house seemed to have one of his albums, The Beatles just didn’t happen to me, because there were no records in the Shergold household for me to discover them through.
In 1995, the broadcasting on TV of the “Anthology” series started to focus my attention. The Lennon connection was probably a starting point, whilst those dreadful Stars On 45 singles from the early eighties had, at least, made me aware of things like “Do You Want To Know A Secret”. I began to develop a fascination with this band, helped along by the fact that Oasis were name checking them left right and centre, a band I had recently fallen in love with. I figured that if I was going to be buying records by Liam and Co, then I should also be going to the original source. A bit like buying “Give Out But Don’t Give Up” by Primal Scream, but not buying “Let It Bleed”.
I got hold of the ‘Bread Bin’ boxset of the albums, lugging it home on the bus from HMV in Romford, causing my arms to ache the longer I carried it. I recall listening to each disc in order on a daily basis, and by the time I had got to “Let It Be” and the “Past Masters” sets, well, my jaw had dropped. Several times. This wasn’t just good music, this was ASTOUNDING music. Where had this band been all my life? I later accused my mother of child cruelty on the basis that she had never owned a copy of “Rubber Soul” that I could listen to, and that it had thus affected my development during my youth. “Scott 3” and “Scott 4” eased the pain though.
My favourite Beatles album changes from day to day, month to month. Sometimes it will be “Revolver”, thanks to the psychedelic buzz of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, or the guitar drenched power-pop of “And You Bird Can Sing”. Another day, it will be “Sgt Pepper” - too cool to be name checked by the Hoxton hipsters now, but home to both “She’s Leaving Home” AND “A Day In The Life”. Say no more. If I want to cheat, I might go for “Magical Mystery Tour”, which by housing both “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am The Walrus”, is therefore home to two of the Beatles’ greatest ever recordings. And I have long had a love of “Abbey Road”, thanks to the masterful beauty of Harrison’s “Something”, the stoner rock thumping that closes “I Want You” and the proggy medley that fills up most of side 2.
But at the moment, my favourite is the 1968 self titled effort. “The White Album” as it is more commonly known. The first time you hear it, it might all be a bit too much to take in in one go, being a double album. But the more and more I listen to it, the more and more I love it. Sure, there is filler all over it, but the sheer diversity contained within is staggering, and the fact that it lasts for more than an hour and a half actually works in it’s favour, as listening to it becomes an immersive experience. Sure, it’s fun to listen to the snappy “Yesterday And Today” on the way home from work, but put “The White Album” on, and it’s time to prepare yourself for one hell of a ride.
It was recorded just as the band were beginning to fall out with one another. The beginning of the end. Ringo walked out at one point. The follow up album, the aborted “Get Back”, had started life as an attempt to go back to their roots, only for the band to more or less break up by the year’s end. And yet, rather than sounding like a band on the verge of collapse, “The White Album” is a masterpiece, a sprawling work admittedly, but one that contains some of the best work they ever committed to tape. Fair enough - several of the songs are notable for featuring at least one or more Beatles absent from the actual recording - but The Stones did the same, and of course, we already had “Yesterday”.
OK, so the likes of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” are throwaway bits of nonsense - but because of the way the LP is structured, these otherwise minor pieces of work are part of what makes “The White Album” so special. It is designed to flow, to be listened to in order, and in full. So, pull the minute long insanity of “Wild Honey Pie” from the album, and it would actually lose something. Strip out the bit where Lennon shouts out “Ehh up” in a Yorkshire account just before “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” kicks in, and the LP simply wouldn’t sound the same. Part of the brilliance of “The White Album” is it’s sometimes ramshackle nature.
The album was designed not as a collection of 30 songs, but as four sides of music, as many of the songs cross faded into each other, or started quickly after the previous song ended. As such, the quick fire feel of the album makes it feel akin to listening to a concept album, and as such, songs that might, in isolation, feel like filler, become quite important - they feel more like incidental music being used to link together other more substantial pieces, and the variety of musical influences on even these linking pieces, just add a greater colour and texture to the album. I am not going to sit here and claim that “Rocky Raccoon” is better than “Nowhere Man”, but in my opinion, it is a 100% essential ingredient to “The White Album”.
Once you start listening to this album, it’s hard to escape it. The opening rush of “Back In The USSR” kick starts it all perfectly, complete with it’s 1950s Rock N Roll vibe and Beach Boys style vocals in the middle eight. It segues into the gorgeous “Dear Prudence”, a song completely at the other end of the scale, all minimalist guitar parts, simple but effective drum patterns, beautiful key changes and sublime Lennon vocals. It probably helps that out of the four band members in the group, the band included, well, four vocalists, meaning that not only did the Fabs have the ability to approach songs without any view as to whether or not they were recording a “Beatles sounding” song, but the option of then featuring a different singer just helped to add to the kaleidoscope of sounds that they could get into an album. And with a double LP like “The White Album”, well, it just stretched the ’sound’ of the record even further than they’d gone before.
The album, at times, gets quite heavy musically. “Glass Onion” is a grizzly Lennon sung rocker, in which the band brilliantly quote their past in clever pop culture style (“I told you about Strawberry Fields“, “I told you about the fool on the hill”, “The Walrus was Paul”). Side three opens with the roaring “Birthday”, and continues with the grunge driven sludge of “Yer Blues”, hated by some, by to these ears, a magnificently vicious piece of stoner rock, years before the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age had even been born. And then we have the astounding “Helter Skelter”. Essentially, the beginning of heavy metal starts here (I‘m afraid). The brilliance of this song, of course, is that unlike most metal bands, who go down the idiotic route of playing their guitars louder and faster than everything else and assuming that makes you “the heaviest”, it’s really the bass here that makes this song what it is. There is a level of fury here no doubt, but that twanging of the bass, as if it is the lead instrument, coupled with Paul’s near psychotic vocal delivery, make this a truly standout moment on the record. What a shame it did, in the long run, gives us the likes of Slipknot and Guns N Roses. Furthermore, with it’s lengthy drawn out ending, it all feels absolutely gargantuan - further proof that maybe, just maybe, Paul’s contribution to this band has been unfairly overlooked in favour of the material we got from the “cooler to name check” John. Oh, and it ends of course with the famous "I've got blisters on my fingers" call from Ringo on the stereo version - another bit of seemingly pointless nonsense, but ultimately, another quite cool bit of pop art. What a shame it got left out of the mono mix entirely.
If you ever wanted proof of how George was also criminally underrated whilst in the band, then look no further than this LP. The wonky beauty that is the epic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on side 1, with what sounds like a broken, out of tune organ battling the Harrison/Clapton double act. The magnificent Hammond fuelled majesty of “Long Long While” on side 3, complete with it’s slightly eerie, creaking, closing passage that sets you up perfectly for the shambolic brilliance of the following “Revolution 1”. And on side 4, the saxophone driven roar of “Savoy Truffle”, a magnificently upbeat and joyous rock & roll romp, one of the standout tracks made even more brilliant by Harrison’s “sweets” inspired totally nonsense lyrics (“Cool Cherry Cream, nice Apple Tart”). It is so much fun, so indescribably catchy, words can’t really do this moment of genius justice. All in, evidence that George’s songs were all killer, no filler.
But then, even some of the stuff long dismissed as filler, sounds utterly vital. The rambling hotpotch that is “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” has a warm glow, everything from Yoko’s ‘vocal solo’ to the crowd terrace chant of the choruses, I wouldn’t want it to sound any other way. The music hall inspiration that drives the charming “Martha My Dear” or the 1920s 'flapper' stylings of “Honey Pie” might, on “Revolver”, have sounded daft, but here, sound completely at home amidst the myriad of styles that surround them. Even “Ob La Di Ob La Da”, routinely written off as ‘the worst song ever recorded’ sounds positively glorious here, the ska/reggae shuffle has a delightful bounce that is joyously good fun. If you think this is the worst reggae song ever, then may I redirect you instead to the works of post-"One In Ten" UB40 and ask you to rethink your position.
There is a lot of acoustic stuff on side 2, mainly as a lot of these songs were demoed as acoustic tracks originally. But far from sounding like unfinished sketches, or a band struggling to work out how to add any instrumentation to the bare bones, the likes of “Blackbird” have a simplistic beauty to them that doesn’t need anything more. This is particularly notable on Lennon’s affecting “Julia”, which ends the first half of the record, a tearful solo outing about his mother, who died when he was still a teenager. It is arguably more heartbreaking than any of the psychotherapy stuff that he put out on “Plastic Ono Band”. The opening lyric, “half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you Julia”, followed by a monumental key change in the next line, just hits me every time. It is simple, but stunningly effective and seems to provide a fitting conclusion to the end of the first disc.
There are a couple of songs on here that do “sound” like “Classic Beatles”. Both Lennon vocals, the mesmerising “Sexy Sadie” opens with ‘that’ piano solo, and then settles down into a piece of flawless Fabs pop. Similarly, the beautiful “Cry Baby Cry” has ‘that’ piano sound again, the one that Oasis nicked for “Don‘t Look Back In Anger“. Both these songs are quite understated in their approach, but at the same time, seem to have a lot going on. That probably doesn’t make sense, but then again, if you know these songs, then perhaps you know what I mean. In their early days, The Beatles best moments were where they went for the spine tingling harmonies and hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-key changes (“She Loves You“, “Please Please Me“), and these songs both flow in that classic tradition.
What else have we got? Oh yes, the brilliant Ringo starring rinky dink country stomp that is “Don’t Pass Me By”, a song he had first written in 1963 but which the band refused to record. Here, again, within the context of this album, it’s nigh on essential. The shape shifting rumble of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, a sign of how great the band were as musicians, something often overlooked in favour of their superstar Beatlemania popularity. The ‘upper class’ vocal delivery of the sneering “Piggies”, Harrison’s piece of social commentary complete with a musical backing that sounds like something from a period drama. The beautiful acoustic strum of “Mother Nature’s Son”. The raucous rock and roll rabble this is “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”. Lennon’s laid back groove/noisy scowled anger of the slightly shambling “I’m So Tired”, like Badly Drawn Boy twenty years too early. By the time we have got to the end of side three, it’s already been one hell of a journey.
Because the sound collage that is “Revolution 9” is fast approaching at this point, I have always found that whenever I listen to “The Beatles”, that by this point, we are on a sort of final stretch. As if the album is building up to a big climax, and I find myself “preparing“ for the big ending, getting ready for that long bit of sonic surrealism. Each song that follows feels like it is providing a stepping stone to the next one, until we get to the “ultimate“ moment in the world of Beatles experimentation. So side 4 kicks in with the messy alternate version of the “Hey Jude” b-side “Revolution”, named here as “Revolution 1”, the high energy, distorted, punk rock vibe of the single version replaced with a Bo Diddley blues style shuffle, everything being slowed down but also being slightly roughed up a bit. The following fun of the aforementioned “Honey Pie” and “Savoy Truffle” lead us into “Cry Baby Cry”, which ends with a brief snippet of the unfinished “Can You Take Me Back”, where McCartney appears almost ghostlike from the ether, with his clipped acoustic guitar sound and fading out vocal. It was described recently by 6Music DJ Stuart Maconie as a moment that he feels is one of the “most disturbing ever” on record - and he’s right. As it disappears from view, in comes the “weird” sounds of “Revolution 9”. It feels as though, so simplistic is it’s nature, that it is leading you unaware into the madness that follows.
The first time you hear this ’song’, you will probably hate it. But after repeated listening, it becomes fascinating. Unashamedly avant garde, “Revolution 9” probably still remains one of the most unusual things ever released by a “big” pop act ever. It was, in 1968, sort of akin to Adele deciding to cover anything by Cannibal Corpse. An eight minute long barrage of sound, tape effects, somebody talking like Ringo who isn’t Ringo, shattered excerpts of Lennon screaming, Yoko muttering, backwards noises, it is terrifying at first. But listen to it again, and again, and you will find yourself trying to get “into” the recording, seeing what sounds you can hear that you might have missed before. It’s placement near the end of the album feels totally correct, as if the glorious genre mashing that has gone on in the previous eighty minutes was all leading up to this. As it ends, and the beautiful orchestral hum of the stunning “Good Night” starts up, the perfect end to the album especially with that title, it’s difficult not to feel as though you have been on some sort of ’experience’. This isn’t just an album, this really does feel like a work of art.
“The Beatles” was originally issued in November 1968. It was released in both mono and stereo, with the mono mix featuring numerous differences to the stereo one. “Revolution 9” was not mixed in mono, simply being a ’fold down’ from the stereo version, but everything else was mixed into mono especially, with more attention being paid to this LP as regards the mono mix than to any that had come before it. As such, if you get a mono copy of this album as well, I would suggest you listen to all of it, as at least half of the record has significant differences - most notably the aforementioned “missing“ false ending on “Helter Skelter“. It was, coincidentally, the last ’proper’ Beatles album to be issued in mono.
Original copies, famously, were housed in a simple white sleeve, with the band name embossed on the cover, and each copy numbered. The reason for the minimalist packaging was designed as a response to the OTT artwork for the “Sgt Pepper” album, whilst the numbering system was done ironically. Everybody knew the album would sell like hot cakes, and so the idea of having a “numbered” edition, normally used to denote a limited edition, but here being used on an album where the number of editions would run into the millions, was deliberately tongue in cheek. This hasn’t stopped Beatleheads the world over paying ridiculous sums of money for a “low numbered” copy, despite the fact that number 500 is really no rarer than number 99999. Seems that nobody got the joke.
The original LP was packaged quite brilliantly, aside from the “non” cover and number thing. The lyrics were printed on the back of a poster that was included inside, along with four now iconic portraits of each of the band members. In order to stop these photos from falling out, the gatefold album came with top opening slots, as opposed to side openings. Amazingly, I don’t think this simple idea has ever been repeated on any other album I own, indeed, Lennon’s own “Imagine”, which came with a free 6”x4” postcard, was housed in a normal (side opening) sleeve, meaning the photo could easily ’come out’ if you held the record to one side. The 2014 mono reissue of the LP was designed to replicate the ‘68 original, so was not only numbered, but also included the top opening design and the poster and postcards as well. The original catalogue number was even used (in part). Because LP’s nowadays need to have barcodes for sales reasons, copies were shrinkwrapped and had a sticker on the front, with the track listing, album details, and said barcode. That’s the image of one such copy at the top there. If you ripped off the wrap and binned the barcode, the album would look, more or less, like an original. I have already mentioned in an earlier blog, that the first CD pressing of the album in 1987 saw some artistic license take place, where the band name was printed in grey on the front of the cover just so people knew exactly what it was. The original free photos, and images on the poster, were reprinted throughout the enclosed booklet, along with the lyrics. The 2009 CD pressing, went for a similar approach, but this time around, the band name was printed “wonkily” on the front, just as the original vinyl embossed editions had been.
There were no singles lifted from the album, although “Hey Jude” was issued as a 45 some months before, with the aforementioned alternate version of “Revolution” on the flip. This single has been reissued, as have most Beatles singles, on numerous occasions since. First in 1976, as part of an EMI “cashing in” exercise following the end of Apple’s distribution contract with EMI, which allowed the label to flood the market with new “old” Beatles product. There was another reissue in 1982, one of several to mark the 20th anniversary of “Love Me Do”, and then another one in 1988, as part of the ongoing “It Was 20 Years Ago” reissue campaign. I mentioned in my first ever Beatles blog the various boxsets that were issued back in the day, and a 3” CD Singles Boxset was made which contained within, picture sleeved reissues of the band’s original singles, each of which were also sold separately - and so “Hey Jude“ appeared again in 1989. The subsequent 1992 reissue, as a standard 5” disc, emerged as part of it’s inclusion in a second CD Singles boxset. Last I heard, if you fancy owning these boxsets, the 3” one is worth a lot more than the 5” one.
It sometimes seems incredible that, soon, “The Beatles” will be fifty years old. Because it makes you wonder where music has gone since then. Yes, I know, we are just happening to be going through a particularly lean patch at the moment, like we did in the eighties, with only a few beacons of light from the “new” boys and girls (a quick name check here for Bat For Lashes, somebody who does seem to embody The Beatles‘ maverick spirit), but even so, it does feel as though bands today simply have nowhere new to explore. And so, they simply nick bits from what has gone before, and recycle it. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does mean that few people are making music that has the same power, gravitas, or sheer inventiveness of The Beatles. This LP in particular, showcases just how daring, bloody minded, and UNCOMMERCIAL they could be, despite being the biggest group in the world at the time. Go on Adele, I dare you to make an album this bold. Of course, it won’t happen. A lot of modern music is too safe, too polite, too much in awe of what the record company might say. Those acts shifting the units, are usually the ones whose music is the most bland. 1985 all over again.
But “The Beatles” transcends all of this. The biggest pop band in the world, making one of the most the left field, diverse, and experimental records of all time - and yet, coming up with something that was still mesmerisingly brilliant which then sold by the bucketload. It ticked all the boxes. I suppose it just happened to be that by the time we got to the noughties, everything you could do and say in music had been done, making it that much harder for somebody now to come up with something “new”. But in 1968, with pop music in it’s infancy still, perhaps that allowed The Beatles free reign to try anything they wanted. Still, the sheer scope and sound of this album is staggering, and whilst worshipping at it’s alter does make me sound, again, like a Mojo journalist, I can’t help it. It really is one of the greatest albums ever made.
The Beatles (1987, 2xCD, Apple CDS PCS 7067/8, Stereo mix, with booklet)
The Beatles (2014, 2xLP, Apple 6025 3773 4535, Mono mix, numbered, originally shrink-wrapped with sticker, plus poster, “Love” insert and 4 postcards, original cat numbers on vinyl [PMC 7067/8])
NOTABLE RELATED SINGLES
Hey Jude/Revolution (1968, 7”, Apple R 5722, company bag)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1976, 7” in “Singles Collection” p/s, Apple R 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1982, 7” in “live” p/s, Apple R 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1988, 7” in “parrot” p/s, Apple R 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1988, 7” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Apple RP 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1988, 12” Picture Disc with backing insert, Apple 12 RP 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1989, 3” CD Single, “parrot” p/s, Apple CD3R 5722)
Hey Jude/Revolution (1992, 5” CD Single, “live” p/s, Apple CDR 5722)