As Pin Ups turns 50, news has emerged of a long gestating monster-sized Bowie box in the pipeline, focusing on his glam rock era. In other words, Ah wham, bam, thank you Glam…
Welcome back pop pickers.
Let’s get spotty for a minute. If no Bowie box set is issued in 2023, it will be the first year since 2014 that a big deluxe compilation jobby hasn’t made it out for the Christmas market. The evidence m’lud…
2015 – Five Years
2016 – Who Can I Be Now?
2017 – A New Career In A New Town
2018 – Loving The Alien
2019 – Conversation Piece
2020 – Brilliant Live Adventures
2021 – Brilliant Adventure
2022 – Divine Symmetry
It’s certainly true that the release schedule in 2023 has been slower in terms of Bowie rehashes, though when the likely releases relate to some of the most famous and popular albums the Dame ever released, I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for their procrastination.
The Warner Music Group paid a reported $250 million to gather the rights to publish Bowie’s work and I doubt they’re going to waste time stalling a new release just for the sake of it. They’ll milk it every way they can, perhaps the relative drought this year relates to embarrassingly long wait times at vinyl pressing plants, who knows. In preparation for this latest copyright extension release they’ve been secretly dumping unreleased takes and mixes on Spotify for a few days at a time so it‘s not as if they had no plan (ho ho).
However, there is light at the end of the feather boa’d tunnel because in September, Bowie’s early ’70s producer Ken Scott spoke at something called the Haarlem Vinyl Festival in The Netherlands. Now 76, Scott mentioned that he’s been working on a monster-sized Bowie boxset containing outtakes and session material from the Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups eras, and that it’s due to be released by Parlophone in 2024.
It may seem frustrating to Bowie collectors when the half-century copyright securitisations of Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory had their own attendant boxes. Moreover, Ziggy and Aladdin are hugely important records that, in terms of iconography alone, deserve to be celebrated with their own separate sets.
Alas, I can totally see the logic of combining the Ziggy era albums into one super deluxe set, which I’m led to believe has the slightly unoriginal working title of Glam. Wouldn‘t Wham Bam Thank You Mam! be a tad less generic though?
Whereas the boxes focusing on 1969, 1970 and 1971 were padded out with numerous BBC sessions, lest we forget they were generally regarded as a promotional tool for those acts in need of a shot of airplay assistance on Radio 1; thus the amount of Beeb takes dries up with this box, which kicks off with the release of the album that propelled Bowie to eternal stardom, 1972’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
Also, as he became more successful the studio time generally became more efficient, so this too lessens the amount of genuine demos and outtakes. Case in point: the first time 1973’s Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups* were remastered, by Rykodisc in 1990, the number of hitherto much-trumpeted bonus tracks had shrivelled down to two on the latter (renditions of Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam and Bruce Springsteen’s Growin’ Up) and a unbelievably disappointing zero on the former.
Since then, a few things have emerged though, either on paper or in terms of previously unreleased rarities. Scott has revealed that the fabled first session of John, I’m Only Dancing, recorded at Trident Studios on 24 June 1972, has been found though he made no mention of a nascent cover of The Who’s I Can’t Explain also tackled that day.
Bowie’s own version(s) of All The Young Dudes was finally issued in the late 1990s, and in private correspondence with this author, Rykodisc’s Jeff Rougvie confirmed that he had located a 1973 master tape containing a Pin Ups era take of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows which was “virtually identical to the version David cut for EMI” [on 1984’s Tonight album].
Rougvie had proposed its inclusion as a bonus on the label’s expanded remaster of the album in 1990, though the suggestion would be vetoed by Bowie, as “I think he wanted to let the later version stand.”
Now that‘s what I call sadism.
And the rest, as Neil Tennant used to say, is history.
Perfect 10: Glam on 45 is here
*David Bowie’s Pin Ups (variously written as PinUps or Pin-Ups), was released on 19 October 1973, two weeks after Bryan Ferry’s first solo set These Foolish Things, similarly an album of cover versions but with a much wider pool of sources and more ambitious arrangements.
By contrast, the retrospective focus on Pin Ups was narrower and more perfunctory — Bowie’s beat boom favourites from the mid ’60s: a little psychedelia, mainly British, Bowiefied and threaded together perfectly with some astounding vocal gymnastics over Ronno’s always brilliant, dynamic musical orchestrations, wrapped up in that astonishing Vogue reject cover with Twig the Wonderkid. This isn’t ’her‘: