Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Bowie: An Alternative Guide to the Early Years

Back in 2010, I did a series of blogs on Bowie, running from the early pre-Space Oddity years right up to the current day, via the criminally underrated Tin Machine period. The first blog ran from 64 to 72, a period in which - “Space Oddity” aside - Bowie released a consist run of flop singles. Suffice to say, these original pressings are now worth a small fortune.

But if like me, you want to try and own these 45s in some form or another in single form, then you could try ‘cheating’ a bit. Many of these singles have, technically, been issued again in the intervening years - some official, some not so official. So, having finally now got nearly all of these releases on “alternative” single releases myself, I thought it would be worth showcasing what these releases are. The purists amongst you might baulk, and will be happy to shell out £500 for a “Prettiest Star” on Mercury, and I acknowledge that - I wish I could do the same. But if you want to cut a few corners - and hey, there are also going to be some people who will want both sets of releases - then this is my own little run through of the sometimes slightly dubious world of the alternative Bowie “Early Years” single releases.

Bowie’s first 45, as leader of Davie Jones And The King Bees, was 1964’s “Liza Jane”. By the late 70s, the rights to release this song seemed to have fallen to Decca, who dutifully put out a 7” reissue of the single in 1978. Possibly in order to showcase that this was a 60s effort, Decca declined to issue the single in a picture sleeve - despite the fact that these were becoming all the rage post-Punk. Instead, they simply issued it in the standard Decca ‘blue and white’ bag (7”, Decca F 13807). By all accounts, the single didn’t sell brilliantly second time around - there is no mention of Bowie anywhere on this release, so perhaps some people simply had no idea who or what it was - but it is obviously nowhere near as rare as the original. There are quotes that only 3500 copies of the Vocalion original were pressed (plus, a series of totally illegal US “repressings“ that can easily be found on eBay), and even though the Decca one is a more obscure release than other Decca singles from the same period (I bought Adam And The Ants’ “Young Parisians” for about £2 some years ago), the reissue is not wildly OTT in terms of value - I recently purchased a copy for £30.

Bowie was then, for a short time, a regular recording artist for Parlophone. Well, he lasted for two singles. First up was a single with The Manish Boys called “I Pity The Fool”, and then his first release where he was billed as a solo artist, Davy Jones - “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving”. In 1979, EMI decided to stick all four tracks together on an EP (7”, EMI 2925). The EP doesn’t totally have a title, you just have a picture of Bowie and his backing band, The Lower Third, on the cover, with the name of the two bands above. So, effectively, all four tracks get equal billing here. The EP was later issued, in slightly altered but mostly very similar packaging, by the See For Miles label in 1982 as a 10” (10”, See For Miles CYM1), in 1985 as a 12” (12”, See For Miles SEA1) and a CD in 1990 (CD, See For Miles SEACD1). I seem to recall picking up my CD copy a couple of years ago for about £15, so again, not out of the budget of most people. There was also a totally revamped version of the EP in 2013, when EMI did a Record Store Day release called “Bowie 1965!” (7”, EMI GEP 8968) but being an RSD release, meant it was already rising in value as soon as the eBay scalpers got home.

It was then onto Pye, where Jones became Bowie, and three singles were issued on the label. He started his tenure by crediting his band, with 1966’s “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” appearing as a release by David Bowie With The Lower Third, but issued the two follow ups as Bowie solo efforts - “Do Anything You Say” and “I Dig Everything”. The Pye material itself has resurfaced quite a bit over the years, including an EP issued by the label itself in 1972 which included all three A-sides, under the banner of “For The Collector” (7”, Pye 7NX 8002). However, the one to go for is 1999’s “I Dig Everything: The 1966 Pye Singles”. This release is so sexy it hurts. It was issued, as the Pye material often was, as a 6 track Mini Album, but there was also a 3-disc box set release which included, in their own individual sleeves, repressings of the three singles on both vinyl (3x7”, Castle Music ESB07 765) and Compact Disc (3xCD, Castle Music ESBCD 765).

A word on the sleeves themselves. When ‘Early Years Bowie’ stuff first started to surface, the labels used to try and dupe the record buyers into purchasing what they thought might be contemporary sounding music - 1973’s “Images”, dealing with the Deram stuff, was famously issued in a “Young Americans”-esque sleeve. But by 1999, there was starting to become a fascination with this material, to such an extent that seeing actual photos of Bowie from the period was thrillingly retro. So the three singles here are all issued in what are new sleeves designed specifically for the box, but all using pictures of Bowie from the 66 era. On the back, however, are photos from after 66. Reason? A couple of these singles were issued in the 70s by Pye “post-fame” overseas, and photos from these singles appear on the rear. So, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” has the 1972 Spanish sleeve printed on the rear, and “Do Anything you Say” has the 1972 Japanese sleeve. As far as I can make out, there was no reissue for “I Dig Anything” - it did actually appear as the B-side on both the Japanese and Spanish singles mentioned above - so the back of the third disc in the box is the Japanese “Can’t Help Thinking” 45, also issued in 1972.

Onto the Deram years. To clarify, Bowie issued his first LP on this label in 67, and also released three singles, none of which were included on the album - although two of them did appear in alternate mix form. The first 45, “Rubber Band”, was backed with what was later claimed to be the first Bowie ‘classic’, “The London Boys”, which itself was later issued as a 45 in it’s own right by Deram in 75 to try and cash in on the Bowie name.

By all accounts, the three Bowie 45’s were all reissued “post-fame”. Something to do with the matrix numbers appearing “right way up” on the reissues. Single number 2 was reissued numerous times, as there are varying label designs for “The Laughing Gnome”, with pressings from 1973 and 1980 featuring design differences from the 67 version. “Gnome” was never included on the debut LP, but single 3 was, albeit in alternative form - “Love You Till Tuesday”. “The London Boys” was definitely reissued in 1980, using an injection moulded label design.

If you want to kill three birds with one stone, then I would hunt down the 1986 “Archive 4” EP issued by Castle (12”, Castle TOF 105). Issued in a sleeve that uses a 1980s Bowie image, unsurprisingly, this limited release (7500 only) was one of several EP’s issued by the label that were designed to hoover up old singles (Castle also issued a Small Faces one). What you get on this 4 tracker are “The London Boys”, “Love You Till Tuesday” and “The Laughing Gnome”. Not sure if it’s the LP or 45 mix of “LTYT”, but don’t worry about that - there are a multitude of Deram era comps knocking about that include the single mix. The EP is rounded off, slightly randomly, by “Maid Of Bond Street” from the debut LP.

“Rubber Band” is a bit more awkward. I did see one on eBay recently being offered for £1500. Ouch. Seems to be a post death price hike, as mint copies a few years ago were safely within the 3 figure sum. However, I recently picked up a US pre-release copy for just £40, plus postage, and customs charges (Grrr) and it seems to be quite genuine (7”, Deram 45-DEM 85009). For those of you who are interested, it’s the album mix (again, the 7” mix is easy to find) and the flipside is another track from the LP, “There Is A Happy Land”. My copy is a stock copy, but with a “promotional copy” stamp. Demo copies, first pressings designed specifically to be sent to radio stations, are worth a lot more and are easily identified by the alternative catalogue number of 45-85009.

Now, given that it was a big hit, “Space Oddity” is slightly outside our remit here. If you want a Philips original, you can get one. It went top 5 remember. But we may as well mention the four - yes, four - reissues that have turned up since. First up, was the 1975 three track reissue (7“, RCA 2593). Not completely sure why RCA decided to put this release out - they weren’t being starved of Bowie product at the time (“Young Americans” at the start of the year, “Station To Station” at the end) but it was issued as part of their “Maximillion” series - ‘3 tracks for the price of 2’. It was originally issued in a contemporary picture sleeve, upon which all three tracks were given equal billing - “SO”, “Changes” and the previously unissued “Velvet Goldmine” - a ‘Ziggy’ outtake reportedly stuck on side 2 without the Dame’s permission. The single was later repressed a few times, and housed in a standard RCA sleeve - initially, the sleeve used was a custom “Maximillion” bag, where “Space Oddity” was more clearly billed as the A-side, and the two bonus tracks as the B-side(s), whilst late 70s and early 80s pressings were housed in what were the regular RCA bags of the time (please look at the brilliant Bowie Singles website for visual presentations).

In 1982, RCA were starting to cash in themselves on the Bowie phenomenon, and reissued 10 Bowie singles as 7” picture discs, as part of the “Fashions” series. Available as a boxset, or individually, these reissues included a repress of the 1975 “Space Oddity” maxi (7“ Picture Disc, RCA BOW 101P). This was followed in 1983 by the “Lifetimes” series, a set of 20 black vinyl 7” reissues that were all, originally, housed in picture sleeves. The sleeves had some connection to the A-side - for the reissue of “Space Oddity” (7“, RCA BOW 518), the image from the picture disc was used - whilst this image dated from circa 1972, it was not too dissimilar to the RCA 1972 reissue of Bowie’s second LP, which was retitled “Space Oddity”. Once the picture sleeve copies had sold out, later pressings were housed in red and grey RCA bags.

In my 2014 blog, I detailed the ongoing series of 40th anniversary picture discs. I think a new blog will be needed to bring the story up to date, but until then, we need to mention the 2015 reissue of “Space Oddity” (7” Picture Disc, Parlophone DBSO 40). It uses, as it’s A-side image, the front cover of the original 1969 French version of the single - a suitably psychedelic looking bit of art. The a-side is the original 7” edit, the B-side is the original B-side - the acoustic version of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”. The difference here is that the single is listed as being a AA-side, meaning that “Freecloud” appears here as a UK A-side for the first time ever. Technically. I doubt that the radio stations at the time bothered to play “Space Oddity”, let alone the flip. There is also some talk on the net about whether the A-side is the stereo or mono single mix, but I think my copy is still sticker sealed so even if my tinnitus suddenly eased up, I couldn't tell you. And don't ask if "Freecloud" is the same version as found on the original "Sound + Vision" boxset, or the one featured on the 2003/2014 one. Just buy one if you see one.

Now, onto the infamous Mercury singles. For the 60s stuff, there is probably a reason why none of those singles sold. They are viewed, by many, as simply not being very good. But the three 45’s Bowie put out after “SO” were at a time when he was really starting to find his feet, and there is some really good material here. OK, so yes, maybe “The Prettiest Star” did benefit from being ‘glammed up’ for “Aladdin Sane”, and yes, Bowie did hate “Holy Holy” so much that he revamped it heavily during the “Ziggy” sessions. But whilst it is possible to listen to, say, the three Deram singles and scratch your head in bemusement, listen to the three Mercury singles - and they sound like the work of a completely different artist.

“The Prettiest Star”, “Memory Of A Free Festival Part 1”, and “Holy Holy” were all massive flops. “Star” was reported to have sold less than 800 copies, and I am sure I heard a story suggesting that at least 1000 copies had been pressed, and so the remainder were melted down. By the late 70s/early 80s, the five rarities spread across these discs (“Holy Holy” had an album track on the flipside) were in demand - so in demand, that a pair of US bootlegs were issued to make these recordings available again.

There are several US bootlegs of Bowie rarities, but we are only concerned with the two that were issued with the sole purpose of making these recordings available again. Yes, they can all be found on the “Recall” disc of the 2015 “Five Years” boxset, but back in 1982, they were like gold dust.

Whilst I don’t normally condone bootleg releases of officially available material, I can’t help but admire the “David Bowie And The Hype” EP. It includes “The Prettiest Star”, the sublime b-side “Conversation Piece” and “Holy Holy”, in a sort of cartoon-esque Bowie sleeve. The single comes in a wrap around sleeve, the vinyl itself housed inside a white die cut bag, and therefore should also come with a PVC outer that holds it all together. Inside, it looks - at first glance - like a Mercury single, until you notice that the label is simply DESIGNED to look like that - the record label is the dubiously titled Major Tom (7”, Major Tom 6052 200). Nice. With copies sometimes available for as little as a tenner, I can certainly recommend this curio.

The other Major Tom boot, a repress of “Memory Of A Free Festival Part 1”, isn’t quite so brilliant. It again comes in a picture cover, with an image of Bowie-plus-acoustic that recalls some of the foreign “Space Oddity” sleeves. And it does include the ’re-recorded’ “Part 1” on the A-side, and “Part 2” on the flip. Thing is, in the USA, the “Part 1” recording was edited, and remains - unless you know otherwise - unavailable anywhere else. Whenever the re-recorded song(s) have emerged again, such as on the 1990 expanded “Space Oddity”, it’s been the UK single mixes, and not the US ones, that have been used. So, again, for a tenner, a dubious looking reissue can be yours (7”, Major Tom 6052 201). And perhaps, it’s your only chance to get a copy of this 45 without breaking the bank. But what a shame they didn’t bootleg the US single. OK, so that single is so rare, it's believed by many to have actually only ever reached promo stage, but still - those mixes exist. There are also "promo" copies of the UK Mercury original kicking about on eBay from time to time, housed in original looking bags, with a big hole in the middle, but I understand these are all 'authentic' looking counterfeits. The labels are white, with a big "A", but aren't dinked like the geniune promos, but have a 'smooth' edge around the hole, and usually go for about 50 notes. AFAIK, the proper promos were issued in red bags, the "reissues" in a sort of muddy yellow sleeve.

You could probably write a book about the Arnold Corns period. There are various theories about why Bowie formed this ‘band’. When they celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2011, Bowie’s official site stated it was a way of Bowie being able to record new material under a pseudonym to avoid record company complications. By all accounts, Bowie had been asked to write material for a band named Rungk, and also for a designer friend of his called Freddie Burretti. The initial Arnold Corns recording session, from April 71, involved Bowie actually fronting the members of Rungk, and two songs from the session were chosen to be released as a single the following month, with “Moonage Daydream” on the A-side and “Hang Onto Yourself” on the flip. By the time the single was released, Burretti was, for some never fully explained reason, being presented as the band’s singer. Publicity material for the single involved none of Rungk, and instead, Arnold Corns was presented as a duo of Burretti and Bowie. The single was issued on the relatively small B&C label, but failed to chart. Bowie remained signed to Mercury, and there is somewhere out there, an apparent promo poster from the period simultaneously plugging both the “Man Who Sold The World” LP, and the Arnold Corns 45.

According to the fascinating blog Pushing Ahead Of The Dame, Bowie was seemingly inspired by the Andy Warhol “Factory”, and so continued to immerse himself within a large group of musicians, of which the Arnold Corns setup was seemingly only part of the whole shebang. In the summer of 71, Bowie did a live concert for John Peel, in which material being slated for “Hunky Dory” (“Kooks”, “Queen Bitch“) was mixed up with cover versions (“Almost Grown”, “It Ain‘t Easy“) and tracks from the Arnold Corns songbook (“Looking For A Friend”), although Buretti was not present at the gig. Rungk guitarist Mark Pritchett was however, thus adding to the confusion. Friends Dana Gillespie and George Underwood took lead vocals on a song each, with Gillespie singing a song that was actually destined to be recorded by Bowie on “Hunky Dory“ - “Andy Warhol“.

Soon after, Arnold Corns then went back into the studio with the intention of recording material for a second single. By this time, it was almost as if Bowie was indulging in some sort of weird art experiment, as Burretti was installed as the new singer in the studio, and the not-yet-named-as-such Spiders From Mars were brought in as the musicians for this single. Two singles, both under the same name, but with totally different personnel. There are some reports that talk about Bowie having designed the band to have a “fake” singer, and that it provided the early genesis of the “Ziggy Stardust” character.

Plans were drawn up for the release of this new single that, by all accounts, would not feature Bowie in any musical way at all - a track called “Man In The Middle” on one side, and an “Arnold Corns” cover of a ‘Bowie Original’, the aforementioned “Looking For A Friend”. But almost immediately, Bowie became bored of the project, and pulled the plug. B&C cancelled the release, Burretti became a regular Bowie costume collaborator and attention returned once again to the completion of “Hunky Dory”, with Bowie being dropped by Mercury, resulting in him shipping around a promo copy of the album (on the “Gem Management” label) to try and gain interest - eventually catching the attention of RCA. The rest as they say...

After Bowie had started to gain an audience, B&C decided in the summer of 72 to try and cash in. Rather than just reissue the original Arnold Corns single, they opted to issued a “new” 45 with “Hang Onto Yourself” on one side, along with the unreleased “Man In The Middle” on the flip. Somehow, they didn’t manage to grab people’s attention, and the single flopped. By 1974, with Ziggy now dead, and Bowie a huge star in America, another label called Mooncrest had an attempt at trying to cash in, by reissuing the “Hang Onto Yourself” 45. They too, somehow, failed to get what should have been a captive audience to buy a copy, and this edition too was something of a flop.

By the early 80s or thereabouts, the rarity of the three officially released Arnold Corns recordings caused some enterprising bootlegger to issue what, on the face if it, seemed to be a genuine B&C release. A three track 7” appeared in 1984 which included all three of the songs from the original releases, with what seemed to be an official catalogue number (7”, B&C 200). However, B&C had stopped functioning by the end of 1972, after the release of B&C 190. The label was resurrected a few years later, but these releases used a new catalogue system, meaning that the use of the number 200 by the counterfeiters was almost done as a tell tale sign for the initiated, a way of acknowledging to the experts that this was not a genuine B&C release.

But I like it. It is naughty, and yet also, by reproducing the basic B&C label design, is an opportunity for you to at least own something that LOOKS like an Arnold Corns original. Copies seem to change hands for round about the £30 mark, although some cheeky sods have attempted to offload copies for closer to a ton.

The Arnold Corns story doesn’t fully end there. By 1985, a ‘European’ 12” appeared under the banner of “Arnold Corns AKA David Bowie And The Spiders From Mars”, which coupled “Man In The Middle”, the unreleased “Looking For A Friend” and “Hang Onto Yourself”. By all accounts, it is an official, but not authorised release, but even though it comes in a sleeve which uses a variant version of the Aladdin Sane “flash”, only one of the three tunes actually features Bowie himself. The two “Bowie featuring” songs from the Arnold Corns period, the two songs on the very first B&C 45, have since reappeared with great regularity on various Bowie reissues, although the spoken word intro to “Moonage Daydream” has regularly been edited out of such reissues. That's all folks.

Now, this is the first of FIVE Bowie blogs that are in various stages of production, the plan being to publish them all before the year end. But, given that the follow up to "1.Outside" never even surfaced, forgive me if I too fail to manage five. Or two, for that matter.