Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bowie On Video

Like several other of his contemporaries, the Bowie Videography is a bit of a mess. Well, maybe not a mess, but a bit scattergun. This is partly due to him starting his career at a time when pop videos didn’t exist, and TV shows would wipe their tapes to reuse them for other shows. Some concert tours were filmed officially, others weren’t. Best of releases have appeared at times when he was still making music, and thus became “incomplete” later on, and so whilst his death may now be a time for EMI or Sony or whoever to finish it all off, they currently seem to be more interested in issuing pointless rehashes of 40 year old hits albums like “ChangesOneBowie”. A nice release originally, but given that it stops before “Low”, and was thus actually revamped in 1990 as “ChangesBowie” to acknowledge this fact, it’s proof that the labels don’t quite yet seem to have worked out how best to preserve his legacy. In my opinion, that is.

This is a full list of all officially authorised (solo) Bowie Video/DVD releases thus far. We have avoided the “copyright bending” things like the 1990 “Tokyo Dome” film, and releases that were issued only outside the UK, including those whose existence is also slightly dubious (the 1978 TV special documenting the “Isolar 2” tour from Dallas was once issued on VHS in Italy) and are just looking at the sort of things that form the official discography. Various Artists sets are excluded, so no mention of “Live Aid” for now, but Wikipedia will help you with that in the meantime. And as you will see with the remainder, it’s all slightly hotch potch.

The releases are listed in the order in which they “could” have first been released had video or DVD existed in the 60s, simply because it nearly makes sense to do so, and it does mean the list is semi-chronological. But also, it’s a bit more fun that way. To avoid too much info, I have detailed catalogue numbers for only the most recent or essential releases, but if you want to, there are multiple variants from the VHS era of many of these releases available if that’s what floats your boat.

Now, given that video players didn’t even exist in the 60s, it’s no surprise to note that there is only one release that really covers that decade. And “Love You Till Tuesday” is a strange beast at that. Filmed after Bowie’s debut album on Deram had flopped, “LYTT” was some sort of extended showreel, designed to showcase Bowie’s love of music, film and mime. It was the brainchild of Bowie’s then manager Kenneth Pitt, and was presumably designed to be shipped around interested parties to see if anybody would take Bowie on - in any form. Widespread distribution of the film never happened, and it was locked back in the vaults, before appearing on VHS in 1984.

It is a half hour film, a sort of selection of promo videos for singles already released (“Rubber Band”), songs that would later, in re-recorded form, become singles themselves (“Space Oddity”) and clips for things that were neither (“Sell Me A Coat”). One song, “Ching A Ling”, is essentially a performance by Bowie’s short lived interim outfit Feathers, with Bowie reduced a la Tin Machine to the role of a sideman. It is strange, fascinating, and also slightly underwhelming - the version of “Space Oddity” here sounds a world away from the monumental version that Bowie would eventually create for the second LP. You can sort of see why nobody who saw the film had any real desire to sign Bowie to a label.

The definitive version came out on DVD in 2005 (Universal Music 06024 982 33603), when - housed in a new and improved sleeve - the set was expanded to include a TV show from 1970 called “The Looking Glass Murders”. This was a short film that saw an early appearance of Bowie’s “Pierrot Clown” interest, more widely seen circa “Ashes To Ashes“ - the TV film was a remake of a 1967 stage production Bowie had appeared in called “Pierrot In Turquoise“. As well as starring in the TV show, Bowie also provided the soundtrack, which includes several “officially unreleased” songs (such as “Threepenny Pierrot”, a reworking of the at the time unreleased “London Bye Ta Ta”). It too is a slightly surreal watch, the sort of thing that you might see on BBC2 at half eleven at night on a Monday, but these two films are a great venture into the world of Bowie pre-fame, and so whilst the overall quality of the disc is not exactly of “Hunky Dory” style brilliance, it’s of major interest to anybody who wants to see what exactly Bowie was getting up to before Ziggy landed.

We have already mentioned the history behind the 1973 “Ziggy Stardust” concert film in my “Bowie Live” feature, so I won’t repeat it in full here. But this concert film documented most of the final “Ziggy” gig at the Hammersmith Odeon on 3rd July that year, minus the Jeff Beck starring encore, and with a few bits of ’behind the scenes’ footage intercut into the proceedings. Originally issued on Betamax (I still have my copy, albeit with no functioning Betamax machine) and VHS, and also issued at some point on Laserdisc, it has been reissued on DVD a few times, most recently in 2003 to mark the 30th anniversary of the gig. There are no real major extras to speak of, but it’s the best you are going to get (EMI 492 9879). It comes housed in a see through slipcase, and includes both a booklet and poster. The gig has long been dismissed as a performance in which Bowie and his band were below par, especially since the release of the 1972 Santa Monica show, and the admission of just about everybody involved that the sound (and vision) that was captured were all of poor quality - but it is an essential release, because it is the only full blown video document of the Ziggy era. If you don’t like it, then you don’t really like music at all.

By 1983, Bowie was a genuine worldwide superstar. Mostly thanks to his new “mainstream” sound, but probably also helped a bit by the existence in the USA of MTV. Bowie had filmed videos for most of the singles taken from his new album, and thus provided perfect material for broadcast on the relatively new channel. As the promo campaign for the LP - his first album on EMI America - “Let’s Dance”, started to wind down, his label decided to cash in on his new found video-assisted fame. Hence the release of the helpfully titled “David Bowie Video EP” (EMI/Picture Music International MVT 990004 2) during the latter part of the year. It included the three clips Bowie had filmed for what were the three UK singles taken from the album, namely the title track, “China Girl” and “Modern Love”. The “China Girl” clip is the ‘X-Rated’ version in which Bowie’s posterior gets some screen time during the closing scene on the beach. One for the ladies, and indeed, several of the men as well I guess. In most instances later on when “China Girl” was included on an updated hits video collection, it was a censored version that was included instead.

The “megastar years” saw Bowie step up in terms of audience reach, and thus, the size of the concert venues he was now expected to fill. 1983’s “Serious Moonlight” tour was initially planned as another trawl around the arenas, but by the end of the European leg of the tour, he was playing the likes of the Milton Keynes Bowl - and not once, but three nights on the trot. That amounted to a lot of people.

By now, the home video revolution was in full swing, and so the powers that be decided to film a Bowie show, rather than just tape one. And so it was that in 1984, we saw a video release documenting the tour. Well, two actually. Bowie’s gig in Vancouver was the one that had been filmed, and the entire show (minus “Modern Love”, see the blog from the month before last as to why) was issued on VHS - and, Betamax as well. However, the show was split into two halves - one half appearing on the first video, and the second half on another. Why? Well, I think that when home videos first appeared, the officially released videotapes were VERY expensive - retailing for the same price that DVD’s used to when they first launched in the late 90s. However, if the video was made to be a bit shorter, then the production costs were thus reduced, and the price was able to come down. At least, I believe that’s why it happened.

Either way, the original VHS releases for the tour were spread across a 50 minute long “Vol 1” and a 50 minute long “Vol 2”. I picked up a 1995 VHS reissue, which did the honourable thing and merged the two volumes into one, used a new sleeve, and generally tidied this madness up.

The tour itself is of major interest. It does, of course, capture Bowie going stellar. He wears his nice suit, has a smart haircut, and doesn’t do “Warszawa”. If you look at the setlist of the video, many of the older songs had been brought in from earlier tours. So, “Station To Station” is still there, “Cracked Actor”, a relic of the 73 and 74 tours, is in there, and the only songs that are new to the stage are mostly either those from “Let’s Dance”, or songs from “Lodger” and “Scary Monsters”, two albums that were never supported by tours. Furthermore, the selections from these albums tend to be the singles, so you end up with a real crowd pleaser of a set - old favourites essentially interspersed with hit 45s. This explains why Bowie decided to retire most of this lot in 1990, as he had played the likes of “Rebel Rebel” and “Young Americans” far, far more times than he had “Joe The Lion” or “Teenage Wildlife”.

After “Reality” and Bowie’s disappearance from view, the label who by that point owned the rights to his “pre-Tin Machine” years were Parlophone, who set about on a slightly low key revamping of the back catalogue (well, either it was low key or I just wasn’t paying attention. When you have all this stuff, you don’t necessarily keep looking to see if it’s come out again!). Aside from the remixed versions of “David Live” and “Stage”, the mid noughties saw a DVD release for “Serious Moonlight”, again in another revised sleeve which used part of the original tour artwork, as opposed to a shot of The Dame on stage (EMI 0946 341539 9).

It included the (nearly) complete gig of course, but also included as a bonus feature, the slightly surreal “Ricochet” rockumentary, originally issued as a stand alone VHS in 1985. Billed as a look behind the scenes of Bowie’s tour of the far east at the end of 83, it is another excuse really for Bowie to do a bit of acting. It takes place in three countries, and so is divided into three segments. Each segment builds up to a performance of a song of two in said country by Dave from the tour itself. So, apart from some bits and bobs of Bowie being ferried around in a taxi, or being filmed doing interviews, there are also some vague “stories” going on at the same time. So in the first part, we also get to follow the trials and tribulations of one man who wants to see Bowie play, but can’t afford the ticket. So there are Bowie-less “TV movie” scenes involving this man, who after various approaches, manages to resolve his woes by simply asking somebody to lend him the money - and they do. Not exactly “It’s A Wonderful Life”. In another segment, Bowie escapes from his hotel and is seen pondering life whilst watching a street opera performance. How any of this can be classed as a behind the scenes ‘documentary’ is beyond me. Anyway, the bonus feature is a good 75 minutes long - this involves an hour of Bowie footage/drama nonsense and about 15 minutes of gig material, four live performances of complete songs from the shows in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.

Arguably just as bizarre is 1984’s “Jazzin’ For Blue Jean” (EMI/VMC PM 0017). Either the sign of a man trying to emulate the superstar actions of Michael Jackson, a man once again getting a chance to do a bit of acting on the side, a man heading off into a world of avant garde film making, or a combination of all three, this video is simply the full 22 minute long version of the “Blue Jean” promo. It presumably has a title to give it some movie-esque gravitas. It does have a plot, so you get 19 minutes of Bowie the actor, and 3 minutes of pop music in the middle where the bloke from Right Said Fred appears playing guitar. Again, there are no doubts that the intentions here are honourable, a desire to do something a bit left field - but “Blue Jean” is one of Bowie’s most mainstream pop songs, so that deadens the effect. Furthermore, Bowie’s own performance is regarded by some as being downright cheesy, so once more, this isn’t the music world’s equivalent of “Duel”. Most Bowie comps that later included “Blue Jean” went for the heavily shortened TV edit, which basically just features the performance of the song itself from the middle of the clip, and the original full length version has never been made available since, although “alternative” edits have been.

Not previously mentioned I think when I did my original Bowie blogs was 1987’s “Day In Day Out” (PMI MVR 9900682). On the face of it, this could be seen as an attempt by the label to carry on issuing video singles in order for them to put all of Bowie’s new promos out on the shelves (it includes “Loving The Alien”, meaning that all 6 clips Bowie had filmed for EMI singles taken from the studio LP’s up to this point had thus been made available officially) but I think it was more to do with the fact that the clip was quite controversial, and some TV stations refused to play it (it was, indeed, the final Video-Single). Hence, a VHS release (rated “18”) to allow people to get to see what all the fuss was about. The main thing that sticks out of me is the baffling scene where Bowie roller skates through a library.

You get two versions of the A-side, thus meaning you have to endure this nonsense for even longer in the “Extended Dance Version” clip. To be fair, “DIDO” isn’t too bad, it’s a pleasant enough bit of gated drum obsessed pop, but to have fallen this far from the likes of “Low” and “Lodger” within a decade or less is something that I still struggle to come to terms with. I recoiled in horror when “Classic Pop” responded to Bowie’s death by putting a photo of him from this period on the cover of their tribute issue - of all the aspects of his career that you could choose to remember him by, why pick this one?

We have covered Bowie’s 1987 “Glass Spider” releases in the live albums blog. Just to clarify, shows in Sydney were filmed, edited, then issued across a pair of VHS releases in early 88. The second VHS, simply because of the setlist and the removal of certain songs from the show, amounts to a sort of 50 minute long hits set, titled “More Of David Bowie - Glass Spider 2”. You do get to see Bowie attempting to reconnect with his past on a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, but the mullets and the “80s sound” make it quite hard to even enjoy seeing him rattle through “Time” and “White Light White Heat”. The most common release of the tour is the standard DVD release from 2007 (EMI 0946 3909 6497) which combines the two VHS releases into one single concert film.

By 1993, Bowie had got his career back on track. Ignore those obituaries that claim he did nothing of worth between 1983 and 2013 - I was there people, and “Black Tie White Noise” wasn’t just an improvement over “Never Let Me Down”, it more or less grabbed that thing, buried it, and then trampled all over it’s grave. This was a glorious comeback, written out of history now by the bandwagon jumpers who raved over “The Next Day”, but rightly regarded by Bowie-philes as the actual moment that The Dame started to make glorious music again.

He was newly signed to Arista, more specifically to a subsidiary label called Savage, and the rights to his “pre-Tin Machine”/”post-Laughing Gnome” stuff, ie. The years from 69 to 87, were now in the hands of EMI. EMI responded to the critical and commercial success of “Black Tie” by issuing, at the tail end of 93, the excellent “The Singles Collection” - which included large numbers of quite famous Bowie songs that were not actually singles. To accompany this, they also issued a promo video collection on their affiliate video imprint (Picture Music International) on VHS called, yep, “The Video Collection” (PMI 7243 4911863 9). It is, simply, a run through of most - but not all - of Bowie’s promo clips from “Space Oddity” to “Never Let Me Down” and the “Fame 90” clip. Most of these had thus never been issued before commercially, although the 1989 US boxset “Sound + Vision” had included “Ashes To Ashes” on the VCD bonus disc in the Compact Disc edition of the set.

It runs in ‘single release date’ chronological order, but this is not necessarily the order in which the clips were filmed. “Space Oddity”, for example, was filmed in late 72 to help plug RCA’s reissue of the Philips album from which it was taken, meaning the following “John I’m Only Dancing” is slightly out of place, but it makes sense to indulge in this bit of artistic license. Pop videos weren’t really the thing in the 70s, so the bulk of this video dates from the 80s onwards, which skews things quite a bit. It’s a bit awkward when it jumps from 1973 to 1977, but Bowie simply didn’t film videos for anything during the time, so the “Station To Station” LP is simply erased from history. From a collectors point of view, you get to see the never before released video for 1986’s “As The World Falls Down” - capturing Bowie’s 80s nadir at it’s over-produced peak, I’m afraid - but look at the genius of what else you get on here...”Be My Wife”, “Absolute Beginners”, “Boys Keep Swinging”, “Life On Mars”. It’s not Adele, put it that way.

Bowie had killed off Tin Machine by now, but for whatever reason, didn’t want to resume touring as a solo artist just yet. Instead, he did produce the slightly confusing “Black Tie White Noise” VHS (BMG Video 74321 16622 3) at round about the same time “The Video Collection” appeared. It features Bowie and his band MIMING to selected cuts from the LP, interspersed with David interview footage. It feels like an extended electronic press kit - perhaps that’s what it was? It then concludes with the promo clips for the three singles from the album. A nice souvenir, but a bit random. When the “Black Tie” album was reissued in 2003 to both celebrate it’s 10th birthday and to also get it back in the shops, it came with a DVD featuring this video release. The DVD was not housed in it’s own sleeve, so if you are a completist, you will need the original Video (or Laserdisc, they exist) in your life.

The period around 1999’s “Hours” album would eventually generate a fair amount of Bowie video releases, all a bit oddball to be fair, but video material nevertheless. Several late 90s/early 00s singles were issued as enhanced CD Singles with video material on the CD-Rom section. The release of an atrocious remixed version of “Under Pressure” in 1999 saw a new video created in which Bowie’s performance of the song from the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute gig was mashed up with footage of an earlier Queen stage performance of the song, and included on the CD1 edition of the “new“ single (Parlophone CDQUEENS 28). The CD1 version of the “Survive” single included the video (Virgin VSCDT 1767), whilst a live recording of the same song was included in video form on the CD2 edition (Virgin VSCDX 1767). A bit late, but the brilliant “Bowie being stalked by Trent Reznor” video for “I’m Afraid Of Americans” was included on the CD2 version of “Seven” (Virgin VSCDX 1776), presumably on the basis that being a US only single, some UK fans might not have seen the clip before.

There were some other enhanced CD releases thereafter - the Scumfrog remix of “Loving The Alien” also resulted in a new promo clip being made, and this was added to the enhanced section of the single that was issued by Positiva at the start of the millennium (Positiva CDTIV-172), whilst the accompanying “Club Bowie” album (Virgin VTCD 591) from 2003, a series of pointless remixes and “dance singles with Bowie samples”, came with a clip for the “Club Bolly” mix of “Let’s Dance”. I cannot for the life of me remember what either of these two videos look like. We have also mentioned before the 2009 release of the 1999 filmed “VH1 Storytellers” show (EMI DBVH1), an 8 track CD from the TV show accompanied by a 12 track DVD, which gives a basic overview of the setlist that Bowie was peddling for the handful of “Hours” gigs he played in 1999/2000. More about that tour in my “Bowie Live Part 2” blog in due course.

Let’s rewind a bit to “Survive” and the late 90s again. Bowie declined to film a video for “Seven”, and the promo campaign for “Hours” concluded, more or less, with the triumphant Glastonbury show in 2000. After the abandoned “Toy” project the following year, Bowie returned with 2002’s sublime “Heathen” album. He was now on another new label, having come full circle sort of by ending up on Sony (who did, at some point, have the RCA imprint under their wing). EMI, or now more accurately, Parlophone, thus now had the rights to everything from 1969 to 2001 - or at least, had the power to include material from this period altogether without too many licensing issues. And so, as Sony unleashed “Heathen” on Bowie’s own Isolar imprint, Parlophone unleashed “Best Of Bowie”, famously issued with variant tracklistings in each country, and an update of sorts of the “Singles Collection”. In the UK, “Slowburn” from “Heathen” was actually tacked onto the end, so it brought the story (post-Laughing Gnome) completely up to date.

There was an accompanying DVD release. This too was, in essence, an expanded version of the “Video Collection” but this time around, extra clips for missing singles, and missing “well known” album tracks were included, sourced from TV shows. The set opened with Bowie’s famous 1972 “Whistle Test” appearance, so “Oh You Pretty Things” starts things off. “Space Oddity” now appears after “Jean Genie” and before “Drive In Saturday”, itself taken from the ‘Russell Harty Plus Pop’ show.

Most of the extra clips this time around were either TV performances of at-the-time current singles (“Rebel Rebel”, on a loud sounding show called ‘Top Pop’ in Holland in 74) or were clips used to bring the story up to date. Every clip post-“Fame 90” is here (barring Tin Machine stuff, and the Bowie-less clip for “Real Cool World“, which instead cobbled together clips from the “Cool World“ film), and so the set concludes, slightly low key, with “Survive”. The decision to use TV shows second time around helps to fill in the gaps we had on “TVC” with the 70s stuff, as an example you get “Young Americans” here from the Dick Cavett show in late 74. Anybody who wants to see more of the same appearance will be advised to hunt down the 2007 reissue of “Young Americans”, which includes a DVD of Dave doing “1984” as well (EMI 0946 369 50921) or the “Dick Cavett Rock Icons“ DVD.

There are various easter egg bonuses - I am useless at doing these, but the Discogs page lists them somewhere. These give you extra alternate videos, but it does NOT give you the missing clips for, say, the original “Under Pressure” or “The Drowned Girl”. We shall come to that in a bit. As mentioned earlier, after Bowie went into hiding after “Reality”, Parlophone started to reissue material from the past. “Best Of Bowie” got a 2007 reissue, mainly a move to turn the original gatefold sleeved issue into a standard jewel case release, and this happens to be my copy (Parlophone 0946 3897 1191).

Slight rewind again. In 2003, Bowie launched the “Reality” album with the glorious 45 “New Killer Star”. With the DVD now successfully installed as the home video format of choice, Iso issued the single in the UK as a DVD Single only - no vinyl, no CD formats, and certainly no cassette release (Iso 674275 9). It included the promo clip and the EPK for the LP, along with an audio only version of “Love Missile F1-11”. “Reality” itself was also subjected to a DVD release when a late 2003 reissue of the LP saw a change in sleeve, change in bonus tracks, and the inclusion of a free DVD featuring Bowie performing the album in full (Iso 512555 3). This is an especially interesting release as a number of these songs simply didn’t feature on the tour that followed.

That tour was documented by the accurately titled “A Reality Tour”, filmed in 2003 and released the following year. After years of being wary of playing too many old hits, Bowie had by now settled on a setlist that mixed new songs, rarities (“Battle For Britain“, “Fantastic Voyage“) and crowd pleasing faves (“Hang Onto Yourself“ and “Ziggy“ closed the show). In 2008, it was one of several music videos that were reissued as part of a “Visual Milestones - On Stage” series, with each release using similar artwork designs, and this version may be of more interest as it thus uses a quite different looking sleeve to the audio edition that you might already own (Columbia 88697 278019).

By 2007, and Bowie had gone into hiding. EMI meanwhile were continuing to mine the back catalogue and since the late 90s, had been issuing a series of quite baffling best of releases, featuring what I can only refer to as having “eclectic” track listings, each covering a specific period of his career. In 2005, a 3 disc set called “The Platinum Collection” was issued which included the two discs released so far, and a third disc of stuff from the eighties. For continuity reasons, EMI decided to issue this disc in it’s own right in 07 as “The Best Of Bowie 1980/1987” (EMI 0946 3864782 9).

The CD itself is, of course, an awkward one. A mix of brilliant “Scary Monsters” material mashed up with some of the less exotic fluff that followed. Same goes, I guess, for the DVD. But as I once said before, Bowie’s 45s from this period are overall, not too bad, and this disc is thus a decent watch. It runs in chronological order, from “Ashes To Ashes” to “Time Will Crawl” (so no “Never Let Me Down”, apparently because it was never officially released at the time, and indeed a few other clips from “Best Of Bowie” are also missing). But it does include (the original) “Under Pressure”, included on various Queen best of collections over the years, but until now absent from any Bowie ones, either because it was available on the Queen sets or perhaps the absence of both Dave and Queen from the clip itself meant that the record label thought nobody would be interested in it. You also get “When The Wind Blows” and, from the “Baal” EP, “The Drowned Girl”, filmed at the same time as “Wild Is The Wind” and thus included here instead of that. Despite being issued as a single in 1982, “Peace On Earth” is also missing, I guess, because it really dates from 1977. But you can get hold of the clip officially, courtesy of a 1999 US CD Single which has the video of Bowie and Bing crooning away on Bing’s Christmas show on the enhanced CD-Rom element of the disc (Oglio OGL 85001-2).

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the expanded version of “The Next Day” at the tail end of 2013 came as a triple disc release, including a DVD of the four music videos made for the album by that point (Iso 88883 787812) - namely “Where Are We Now?”, “The Stars Are Out Tonight“, “The Next Day“ and “Valentines Day“. A video was made for “Love Is Lost” more or less at the same time this edition of the album was being released which meant that, unlike the “Black Tie” VHS, the “Next Day” DVD is a nice, but ultimately, incomplete item. Think of it as a Video EP, rather than any sort of box-ticking exercise.

And for now, that’s it I think. I was convinced Bowie’s 1978 “Musikladen” show was given an official (but unauthorised) release in the 90s, but I can’t find anything other than bootleg looking releases. Get in touch or add a comment below if you can help. There are promo clips still missing in action (“Slowburn” was apparently exhumed from the vaults years after it had been filmed) and there are of course the now famous clips from the “Blackstar” album, so maybe we will get another updated “Best Of Bowie” at some point. Not that I want to encourage the record companies to extract some more cash from me but it would make sense to somehow tie up these loose ends at some point.

Next Bowie blog the month after next.