Conversation Piece: Bowie box set shenanigans – what is and isn’t coming up

“My past is my business.” – Jack Celliers, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

At the risk of blowing one’s own French horn, I’m pleased to see that the Boys Keep Swinging at 40 / I Pray, Olé feature I published in August 2019, slightly surprisingly, become the most read article at stevepafford.com specifically about David Bowie.

I popped in a footnote regarding Hunt Sales’s comments to me about a proposed Tin Machine project almost as an afterthought, and almost didn’t bother, as I didn’t think it was particularly relevant to the main topic.

I’m glad I did though. 

Not only has the throwaway remark helped widen the readership for the blog, but it’s promoted a helluva lot of debate about Tin Machine and where the quartet fit into the future plans of Parlophone and the Bowie estate’s repackaging of the artist’s back catalogue.

Ardent Bowie watchers were expecting the latest in a series of Bowie box sets “spanning his career” that began with 2015’s Five Years [1969-1973], but, alas, it has yet to appear.

Perhaps the last box, the fourth, didn’t sell well. Loving The Alien — which focused on the 1980s EMI America years of Let’s Dance, Serious Moonlight, Tonight, Labyrinth, Never Let Me Down and Glass Spider — was certainly Bowie’s creative nadir.

Interestingly, I assumed that for this ongoing series of Bowie boxes, Warners waited to see how pre-sales went before determining pressing size. That’s not the case, they use sales data from previous releases and production is all booked in before launch announcement. 

The again perhaps the drummer is playing hardball? Hunt has certainly been party to box set discussions, and that goes back two years or so. At that time it was the financial deal he was not happy with. 

Well, put it this way…

If you were wrongly blamed for the break up of Tin Machine and then the estate of the disingenuous person wants to issue an anthology of that band’s complete works, yet they don’t want to pay you your full 25 per cent performance royalties but merely a session man’s point despite scores of interviews claiming it was a band, what would you do?

In retrospect, Bowie the businessman was bloody clever having the ‘made by David Bowie under licence to’ on the back of the first Tin Machine album. The fact that it just said Tin Machine and not Tin Machine by Tin Machine meant legally it really could be a solo album after all, in exactly the same way David Live didn’t have the Bowie name on the front cover.

Whatever the behind the scenes machinations, having received several very interesting emails from those ‘in the know’ the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d share a quick breakdown of a few pretty things in the pipeline. You’re welcome.

Parlophone’s contract with the Bowie estate was quietly extended this year, as it was in 2017 and 2012

The big Bowie box set out in time for Black Friday will be announced “any day now” and will not include Tin Machine recordings. In fact it won’t focus on his material from the 1980s or 1990s at all, because what’s on the way is a 50th anniversary super deluxe edition based around Bowie’s sophomore set from 1969, the one later retitled by RCA in 1972 as Space Oddity after its big hit. In other words, it’s being announced in September for release in November. 

The multi-disc package is expected to include the exorbitantly priced Space Oddity-related vinyl releases from earlier this year. The core album was completely remixed from the original multitracks* by Tony Visconti in the spring.

It might be that dealing with half century celebrations and copyright extensions is taking precedence over getting more recent back catalogue on the shelves, as Parlophone are currently working on further year-based sets focusing on Bowie’s material up until 1974. 

In other words, expect a plethora of BBC sessions, demos and alternate mixes for the eras that spawned classic LPs like The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs, as well as one-off releases.

Having said that, it appears that a Sound + Vision package from 1990 may be in the works, loosely pencilled in for the silly charade that will be Record Store Day 2020.

If that’s actually happening, the Japanese television and/or BBC radio recorded shows from Tokyo or Milton Keynes Bowl seem the most likely candidates, and a brief cameo in promo videos for Fame 90 and the new 2019 mix of Space Oddity excepted, would be the first proper release from Bowie’s infamously ‘telephone voted’ greatest hits tour, though without the visuals it‘s a slightly challenging listen that gained ‘mixed reviews’ of the sparse pub rock versions of Bowie’s most famous songs.

We never bothered to scream.

Steve Pafford, Chernobyl

*Except for one track, for which a lesser quality production master was used

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Author avatar
Steve Pafford
We use cookies to give you the best experience.