Features

Saturday Deluxe Special / A Life Listening to David Bowie: part 2

bowie1975

In the second of a special three-part feature, SDE Editor Paul Sinclair, reflects back to his earliest memories of hearing, buying and listening to the music of David Bowie. If you haven’t read part one, we suggest you start there.

It is 1988 and I am spending much of time time immersed in some of the best music ever released – specifically, Davie Bowie’s output in the 1970s. If you’ve read part one of this, you’ll know I had 12 albums taped, one either side of an SA90, and we’re up to week three in my journey, would have meant listening to Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs every day which a full and frank discussion at the weekend with my friend Aubrey (who also had to endure a tedious commute to work every day).

I had, and still have, mixed feelings about Aladdin Sane. By any normal standards it’s a fine record but it’s rather pick ‘n’ mix in terms of style and production and is perhaps slightly rock-n-roll-by-numbers in places – Watch That Man, and the Stones cover Let’s Spend The Night Together come to mind. Also, that annoying low-in-the-mix vocal on the former (only the album opener!) still irritates nearly 30 years on. I never properly dialed into Cracked Actor eitheruntil a few years later when I heard the far better David Live version but I have always loved Prettiest Star, completely unaware at that time that this was a re-recording of an old single (in retrospect it does sound a bit more ‘naive’ and charming then the other material. However THE track on this album that captivated me was the title track. That lazy soft drum sound, the tone in Bowie’s voice and of course Mike Garson’s incredible piano. Amazing.

Crucially, what I couldn’t do with Aladdin Sane was properly lose myself in a world that has a consistent mood and tone. Enter the noir-ish ‘post-apocalyptic’ Diamond Dogs. Bowie had recorded covers album Pin Ups in between these two albums of course, but a) it’s a covers album, b) I didn’t know half the songs he was covering anyway (I was 18 in ’88), and most importantly c) I hadn’t taped it off of school friend Paul Fraser so it was ‘out of scope’ (as project managers like to say) in this Bowie-fest.

I had read (and loved) 1984 and as many of you will know David’s original plan was to put on some kind of theatrical production of George Orwell’s novel, only to be refused permission by his estate. No matter, many 1984-themed songs made it onto Diamond Dogs including We Are The Dead, Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me, 1984 and Big Brother and they do have a pleasing consistency and theatricality to them. In fact all these tracks are on side two of the record, which finishes with the brilliantly titled Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family. I’d go as far to say that side two of Diamond Dogs is up there with any ‘side’ of any album Bowie produced in his career. And when you consider that the real album highlight – the stunning suite of Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing (reprise) – is on side one, that illustrates how good this album really is. In fact call me a crazy mother-lover, but I’ve always thought that the inclusion of Rebel Rebel spoils Diamond Dogs. A brilliant, perky pop song about getting dressed up and going out on a Saturday night is the perfect seven-inch single, but sticks out like a sore thumb on this long-player.

Anyhow, six albums in and Diamond Dogs was/is the clear ‘winner’ on my third TDK SA90 and I’ve not changed this position in the last 25 years. The album joins Space Oddity/David Bowie and Hunky Dory in the winners’ enclosure.

Remember, when I was listening to this music I wasn’t looking a glorious high-resolution artwork, or detailed credits with references to musicians, I was looking at some handwritten scrawl which listed the track names and the album title and that was it. Some of you may be aware that the inlay card for a TDK SA90 was rather optimistic when it came to the space available to write the title of the track. The Jean Genie wasn’t a problem, neither was Rebel Rebel, but try writing The Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family in a horizontal space of little over an inch. Things got messy. You’d spend ages with your ‘best pen’ (geek alert – I tried to use the same pen for all tapes) and write s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully. These things didn’t come with spares, so if you cocked up, you’d have to live with it. The rookie’s error was to slide the inlay into the plastic case without waiting for the ink to dry – cue smudges and blotches – NO!!!

bowiesa90

The TDK SA90 – My format of choice for home taping

The reason for mentioning this, is that the next Bowie album for a teenage Paul Sinclair was really just another list of songs and a title. The internet hadn’t been invented so, while I may have had little bits of background knowledge, there wasn’t much opportunity to find out what was going on in Bowie’s world in 1975. Well there was, and that was to listen to the album!

It goes without saying that Young Americans was a very different record to its predecessor, but like Diamond Dogs, it was very much a cohesive album. The title track just sounded SO different, but brilliant. Bowie’s stream-of-consciousness lyric is genius, with some brilliant phrases like “misses a step and cuts his hand”. The ‘plastic soul’ as Bowie self-deprecatingly described it was amazing. I remember thinking at the time that I couldn’t really hear the joins, I could see the whole picture but not the edges of the puzzle pieces that make up that picture. What I mean by that is with good old rock ‘n’ roll it was normally easy to decipher guitar, bass, drums, etc. but Young Americans, the album, was this fusion of sounds with weird squawks and flanging and god-knows-what that was just thrilling and mysterious.

Young Americans’ side one; which consists of the title track, Win, Fascination and Right mirrors the strength of Diamond Dogs side two. It’s 20 minutes of bliss. Bowie slightly corrupted the original vision by including Fame and the Across The Universe cover, and dropping Who Can I Be Now? and It’s Gonna Be Me, although it was probably a good decision since Fame reached number one in the USA and helped make the album very commercial successful in America.

Young Americans was on side one of my fourth SA90, while 1976’s Station to Station was on side two. The latter has a nod to the former with Golden Years and a gives a hint to Bowie’s future direction and the so-called ‘Berlin Trilogy’ with the title track, which has Krautrock influences. The album doesn’t really put a foot wrong with the ten-minute tour-de-force that is the title track (“it’s not the side effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love”), the funk-rock workout of Stay and the truly affecting Word On A Wing.

David Bowie performs Stay on the Dinah Shore show in 1976

Obviously Bowie had a new ‘character’ with The Thin White Duke, but I wasn’t thinking much about that when I listened to Station To Station. What I was thinking was how can one man write so many good songs that don’t do what most artists do which is to plough the same styles and influences exhibited on previous albums? Station To Station is nothing like Young Americans but is just as good. In fact this is the first SA90 with two Bowie albums where it’s very hard to call a ‘winner’. It’s probably a dead heat, although if you were going to put a gun to my head and force me to make a decision, I’d probably give Young Americans the edge – just.

I’m going to pause for a moment here and skip forward a year or two, before carrying on with this journey through 1970s Bowie, because although in the end I did buy some pre-recorded tapes of some of the albums (not exactly known for their high fidelity) the very late eighties was a great time to become very interested in David’s work because Rykodisc in America were about to launch a massive reissue campaign where his RCA output would be remastered with bonus tracks and reissued on CD. So I would effectively get the opportunity to work through the albums all over again! But before that there was the small matter of Tin Machine!

People forget that first Tin Machine album was actually reasonably well received (4 stars in Q Magazine, for example) although – at odds with what normally happens – its reputation seems to have sunk over the years. I don’t care about that. People who don’t like it are “just a bunch of assholes with buttholes for their brains” (note: that’s a jokey reference to a line from Crack City – perhaps not David’s finest lyric). Anyway… I had tried to enjoy Never Let Me Down, I’d then discovered what a genius David Bowie really was by absorbing in detail, his entire output from the 1970s, and I was wondering if that guy was coming back. Okay, I’m not claiming Tin Machine is on a par with anything in the 1970s – it’s not – but using the Sales brothers for the rhythm section (they played on Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life) gave the project a few strands of 1970s DNA and the sheer gusto of it blew away the cobwebs of mid-to-late eighties ennui (ever heard anyone actually say that word? – me neither). With with songs like Heaven’s In Here, Tin Machine, Under The God he reminded listeners that he could ROCK. Bowie would later years revisit I Can’t Read, such was his regard for that track. Even if Tin Machine wasn’t your bag, Bowie’s conviction had returned. Perhaps for the first time since 1983’s Let’s Dance it sounded like an album he believed in. That was significant.

A second Tin Machine album was actually recorded before Bowie headed out on his 1990 Sound + Vision tour but was held back until its September 1991 release. Tin Machine II was less ‘pure’ than the first album. It was a bit more melodic, had a slightly more nuanced production and felt more like some kind of Bowie-Tin Machine hybrid, with an off-kilter quirkiness apparent in songs like Goodbye Mr Ed, Betty Wrong and the lead single You Belong In Rock ‘n’ Roll (I still have my now rusting CD single of the latter in a round tin box). I really should have seen Tin Machine live and can offer no explanation as to why I didn’t, but it wouldn’t be long before I would see him on stage for the first time in 1990 as he kicked off his Sound + Vision tour.

Tin Machine perform You Belong In Rock ‘N’ Roll on UK TV’s Paramount City

Before that, there was the small matter of Ryko’s Sound + Vision reissue campaign. I remember clearly, the Virgin Megastore at the Tottenham Court Road end of London’s Oxford Street literally piling up Ryko’s Sound + Vision box set on the floor and the towers of newly remastered Bowie rarities rising to five or six feet high. Don’t forget, this box wasn’t released officially in the UK at all. As if it needed to be any more exciting, it was an ‘import’, to add to the desirability (it eventually came out in Britain in inferior packaging in 2003 and then again in 2014).

Another opportunity here for me to pat myself on the back (I did that a lot) because having spent all that time on the train listening to ‘RCA’ Bowie on those SA90s, I could really appreciate the many rarities dotted around the four discs (the box contained 47 audio tracks across three CDs and a 4-track CD-Video disc). There’s nothing worse than being presented with some rare single version of a track when you don’t know the ‘normal’ album version. So I really consumed the music voraciously. 1984 from Diamond Dogs was fused here with a track called Dodo, a great Young Americans outtake After Today featured on CD 2 (this has still not surfaced anywhere else) and Bowie covered Springsteen’s It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (see Bruce’s tribute to Bowie here).

I should point out that I bought my first CD player in autumn 1989, so this was a double whammy of hearing remastered and rare Bowie for the first time and enjoying the clarity of CD sound quality. Point of note here, no music fans ever talked about ‘remastering’ in 1989. I had no idea what it was until I poured over the sleeve notes of Sound + Vision and read about the mysterious sounding Dr. Toby Mountain. I think I must have had visions of a man in a white coat, perhaps in the rarified air of a lab in Switzerland, deconstructing and tinkering with David’s music.

sisterray

Sister Ray when it was in Berwick St market

The next few years (1990-1992) were some of the most enjoyable of my life when it comes to buying David Bowie albums. Ryko spent over two years reissuing the RCA back catalogue and even though EMI released them in Europe, I always wanted the Ryko versions, which just seemed… cooler. This was actually rather tricky since while the box set was freely available in the UK at the end of 1989, EMI (perhaps not unreasonably) enforced an embargo to stop the individual albums being imported to protect their marketplace. Thankfully, even though you would be out of luck in HMV, Virgin Megastore etc. there were independent record shops that would stock them (naughty!). My retailer of choice was Sister Ray in Berwick St., which at that point was still in its old location where the market is and had only been open for a few years (the shop in its current location, closer to Oxford Street, used to be Selectadisc). Every three or four months, a new batch of reissues would appear. I even bought the so-called Berlin Trilogy (with live album Stage) packaged in a special Sound + Vision metal display case, which was big enough to hold all the Sound + Vision reissues (sadly that got lost in a house move).

Most of the reissues had a few bonus tracks but it was the packaging and presentation that was really educational. Even though by today’s standards the eight-panel poster booklet/inserts might seem lightweight, they were so well designed, and always carried any alternate album covers and the lyrics. As I have said, this was a pre-internet era (i.e. I’m old), so even when I’d bought an official cassette of, for example, The Man Who Sold The World, all you got was that black and white front cover of Bowie kicking his legs in the air and the track listing of the album, and maybe a few credits. That was it. It’s no wonder that ‘home taping’ was so popular, when tapes were so dire. It was hard to know or find out much else about the album, so the photos of David from the year the album was issued along with lyrics and those album covers were a big deal. I had no idea, for example, that David Bowie had those long flowing locks and wore the ‘man’s dress’ at this point in time, until I bought the Rykodisc reissue.

As hinted above, I first saw David play live on the Sound + Vision tour in Milton Keynes Bowl in 1990. Of course it was very exciting, although I will admit the whole standing-in-a-field-for-half-a-day, and then being very far away when he eventually came on stage, took the edge of it a bit. That and the fact the band played Adrian Belew’s Pretty Pink Rose (not one of Bowie’s best). I won’t mention the wait for the ‘shuttle bus’ back to the train station, after which we then had to get the train back to London. I have no idea why I didn’t go to the London gigs. That would have been too easy. However the next time I would see him play would be so much better!

The third and final instalment of A Life Listening to David Bowie will be published next week.

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66 responses to Saturday Deluxe Special / A Life Listening to David Bowie: part 2

  1. Brian says:

    I love those ryko editions. The ziggy album was great in the little box with the fantastic book.

  2. Zongadude says:

    Love the “Young Amercians” typo on the SA90 label ;)
    (great reading – I have the same memories of home-taping, and I too enjoyed Tin Machine).

  3. Leemer says:

    I was lucky enough to get the original LPs on vinyl from my local record shop at the time. Most near mint condition (until I got trough with them) because the audiophiles were dumping their vinyl in favor of those new CD things. Probably my favorite of this era was Young Americans although I didn’t really care for Across the Universe, Fame was such a fantastic song.

  4. Jon B says:

    Great article Paul! We seem to have followed a parallel path in the late 80s/early 90s, I’m slightly younger than you but I too got into Bowie in my late teens and bought those reissues. I bought them on vinyl but sadly for some reason they chose to release Stage and Scary Monsters on cassette and CD only, I never found out why, as you said, that was pre-internet when getting hold of information was way harder than today.

  5. Johnathan says:

    Paul, I’ve wanted to ask this for a while, and apologies if you’ve discussed/answered before, but why do you italicize song titles in your posts? I understand doing so for album titles, but I find it a little hard to track along in posts where I’m not as familiar with an artist’s output and can’t distinguish between track and album titles. (Maybe I’m the only one — it wouldn’t be the first time!)

  6. Neil O says:

    Enjoyed reading this, Paul. I have always loved Diamond Dogs and Young Americans too.

    My first ‘live’ experience of DB was Milton Keynes too. He looked great and the set list was amazing. Radio 1 was broadcasting it on the night I went. I got a friend to record it for me. Not sure where the tape is now!

    Looking forward to reading Part 3 next week.

  7. Tracey says:

    Thanks for sharing these stories with us Paul. Your comments about prematurely sliding the inlay card back in the case and the limited space provided on the inlay card in which you had to write the track names…and the actual misspelling on your “Young Amercians” (sic) cassette all brought back some great memories and made me laugh out loud. DOH!!!

  8. Darren Briscoe says:

    It’s a real pleasure to read these articles and think of my own Bowie experiences. My favourite was queuing overnight in “that London” (I lived on the Herts/Essex border) at the age of 16 for a ticket for his Braxton charity gig at Hammersmith Odeon . Mum thought I was staying at a friends! I begged and borrowed the train fare and the £25ticket price and was rewarded with a 2nd row centre stage seat for what is to me the best concert ever….I was literally within 10 feet of my hero! The ticket like many other pieces of my Bowie collection has long gone but the memories and the music will remain forever.

  9. Darren Briscoe says:

    Brixton not Braxton!!!! Damned predictive text!!!

  10. David says:

    I always loved Tin Machine. No idea why they are so derided now. Rolling Stone gave the first album 4 stars, too, and had a bang-up feature on them, praising Bowie’s relevance again.

  11. Rob Dickinson says:

    Very warmly written and received Paul. For me, like many readers your articles are inspiring memories of discovering Bowie’s back catalogue via the second hand rack of my local record shop and my older brothers bedroom; agreed 100% with part one, but Young Americans over Station To Station? I’ve not heard Young Americans for many a year having picked it up around 1980 second hand; I just couldn’t get into it, and it became the album I balanced my plate on when eating in my bedroom, unloved and slowly food stained…However… I’ve a lot of Bowie to still investigate and other albums to revisit and maybe reassess over the next few months, so with an older pair of ears maybe I’ll find a place in my heart for it. (Or maybe not…but I’ll give it a shot) Looking forward to part 3 already.

  12. Stephen says:

    Great feature. I know these three pieces are in tribute to Bowie, but how about something like this as a regular feature? Your recollections of listening to/discovering great music over the years. It makes for engrossing reading.

  13. SimonH says:

    Thanks, loved reading this!
    I like seeing positive comments re Young Americans, too many people seem to damn it with faint praise.
    It’s interesting to think back to a time when remastering was never discussed…ironically of course some of those early CDs (but of course not all) are more enjoyable to hear than stuff post the late 90s or so. Also a time when reissues were far from the sometimes grandiose releases we see now. It was much more about the new back then, not the endlessly repackaged…you were left to do your own detective work, and as you say, there was no internet to reveal all. What was good about this was that you were able to react to music without all the baggage of other people’s views.
    Oh, and I Can’t Read is great…picked up the rerecording on a cd single at the time with This is Not America as a bonus…probably cost £1.99 I suspect. Memories:)

  14. Andy says:

    Excellent – more of this sort of thing, please…

  15. Gordon says:

    The TDK references brought a knowing smile to my face – despite being a good speller and having VERY neat handwriting (my only skills – now completely redundant in the age of Microsoft Word, LOL), being left-handed meant my handiwork would often get smudged no matter how hard I tried. : )

    Plus those card-inserts were never just plain old card – they were always coated in goodness-knows-what, making them hard to write on in the first place.

    And don’t get me started on the sticker labels/strips for the cassette itself! My nit-picky-ness meant I always got frustrated that I could never get them on straight, LOL. The repeated taking-back-off and putting-back-on resulted in them looking a bit worn and losing their ‘stickiness’. And if you did manage to get it right, you’d press down hard and run your finger along it to make sure it stayed secure. And then you’d realize the ink hadn’t quite dried and you’ve just smudged it! GAAAH! LOL

  16. Chris Lancaster says:

    SA90s? You were obviously from a wealthy background, Paul. Some of us made do with D90s!

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      They weren’t that expensive!! I think D90s were between £1 and £1.29 and SA90s were £1.50-ish. Obviously you could save cash by buying multi-packs which I normally did.

  17. Scott says:

    Great article. Nice reading about your discovery. That magical time when you first discover a brilliant artist is the treasure hunt story I think everyone here can relate to, I certainally can. This type of article, along with your second hand news and record digging diary are really great reads.

  18. Gareth says:

    Good article. Any thoughts on why ‘Tin Machine 2′ is so hard to find? A quick glance at amazon.uk has TM1 selling for £8.54 but TM2 is an eye-watering £56.29. Why would TM2 be out of print when TM1 isnt?

  19. Paul English says:

    Great post Paul. Can totally relate to the home taping woes. My mother would often have albums recorded onto tapes but she wouldn’t bother filling in the inlay. I used to snag them as spares.

  20. Paul English says:

    @ Jon B – the reissues of Stage, Scary Monsters and Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture were the last batch in the 1990 – 1992 campaign. The reason for no vinyl is poor sales of the previous batches on that format.
    EMI squeezed the bonus tracks onto single LPs which compromised the sound quality.

    In the US, the Ryko Analogue LP reissues stopped at David Live.
    Young Americans onwards – CD and cassette only.
    However the Ryko LPs are much nicer than the EMIs. Clear vinyl (to match the Sound + Vision box) with the bonus tracks on a separate LP for Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust.

    Aladdin Sane had none while Pin Ups and Diamond Dogs have the bonus tracks added onto the end of side 2. This is somewhat unsatisfactory as the original side 1 / side 2 configuration is altered with the first couple of tracks from the original side 2 moved to end of side 1 to accommodate the bonus tracks.

    The extra tracks on David Live are added to side 4.

    ChangesBowie also came out on clear vinyl with Ryko.

  21. baward says:

    ‘We Are The Dead’, ‘… Skeletal Family’ as well as ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ and scattered throughout his words – the subject of death actually came up on quite a few occasions in Bowie’s lyrics, something I’ve only come to appreciate completely since he left us.

  22. Bruce Nicholson says:

    Great article Paul, thank you. Were the Ryko reissues the ones which often had 2-3 bonus tracks on them? So, Lodger had a long slowed version of Look Back In Anger, Station to Station had live versions of Stay and Word on a Wing, etc? I also remember RCA reissued a whole load of singles in early 1983 [maybe just before or after LETS DANCE on EMI America went mega] which, truth be told, had awful covers. Didnt Bowie have quite a few of these reaching the chart at the same time?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks Bruce. Yes, those were the Ryko ones. Aladdin Sane had none at all, but as you say most had at least 2 or 3.

  23. Chris Squires says:

    The most memorable thing for me in this was seeing the TDK SA90 tape, it was my tape of choice too, once I got my Saturday Job in WHSmiths (Birmingham) and I had a few bob to spend there was a little cassette tape shop at the top of Corporation Street, just up from where The Plastic Factory would eventually be and I would buy a pack of 5 to make my own Japan / Stephen “TinTin” Duffy / Paul Young mixtapes. Happy, happy days. They were SO much better than TDK D90s and my vertical Sharp record deck (as advertised by Gary Bailey) loved them. Suddenly I am 16 again, thank you Paul.

  24. Stephen says:

    Quick question: do all of those Ryko bonus tracks get mopped up on the Sound+Vision box or are some of them now completely unavailable? I only managed to buy four or five of those reissues at the time and now of course regret not buying the set.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      There was no overlap with bonus tracks on the Sound + Vision box and the individual Ryko reissues. Most of the bonus tracks have appeared somewhere or other in the last 25 years, but not all. “After Today” from the Young Americans sessions is still unique to the S+V box and didn’t even appear on the CD+DVD reissue of Young Americans.

  25. Michael Pendlebury says:

    I remember when Tin Machine’s “Under The God” came out – Nicky Campbell on his Radio 1 show played it three or four times in one night! It had such a sense of urgency and sounded so vital which sounded nothing like anything else which was being played on the radio at the time, at least nothing that I connected with. I rushed out and bought the cassette as soon as it came out – I don’t rate it his best work but still like it. I finally bought a used copy on CD from Rasputin for $2 a couple of days into this New Year.

    Loving reading these memories!

  26. steg says:

    The boxed version of Ryko’s TRAFOZSATSFM CD is a true gem. Which rendered a disappointment the double CD version of the same album years later (most people say that its CD 1 is inferior to the Ryko one).

    Steg at http://steg-speakerscorner.blogspot.com/

  27. Steve says:

    This recap is great fun, thanks for taking the time to write it out. I have to admit, I’ve always appreciated Bowie’s genius, but I’ve never really been able to get into his albums (except for Scary Monsters, which I love). Maybe I’ll have to try your approach and listen to an album per week.

    I still remember the wonderment I felt when I discovered that blank cassettes could be mail-ordered in bulk at a discount! Of course, us college students were so broke, we’d all have to go in together to make a single order.

  28. Tino Stabile says:

    Wow, so many great memories as well. I too bought the Sound and Vision box set and at that time I was at my most enthralled with all of his music. I loved the design of the box. The great songs… 1984, Sound and Vision, the classic cuts from Stage, from Station to Station and of course those early songs from his first couple of albums. Yes, the songs from Young Americans were quite good. It didn’t take long to admire the man’s genius in song, music and genre. Every album is different…. and yes, I love Aladdin Sane… the title track. I am lucky that I got to see him live on his Sound and Vision tour and then later his Glass Spider tour.
    The man did not mind taking risks and that was at every single turn. Not too many people had that vision back then and will ever in my opinion. We should cherish all of his albums and admire the genius that he left us with… Black Star will go down as a great one as well. It is unfortunate that the man had to leave this world to have a Number 1 on the Billboard chart… that being Black Star. A shame that merchants are charging a fortune for the vinyl for that release and capitalizing on his death . They should be ashamed… but hey my opinion and I digress.

    Suffice it to say that the man’s catalogue is just so vast that his music will never leave our subconscious even if we wanted it to.

    Thank you Paul for these features…. a lot of memories

    Tino

    • Catweazle says:

      “I am lucky that I got to see him live on his Sound and Vision tour and then later his Glass Spider tour.” –
      Wasn’t it the other way round, first Glass Spider and then Sound + Vision?

  29. Paul English says:

    @ Bruce Nicholson – yes, all the 7″ reissues came out in 1983. The sleeve is more or less the same on all of them.

  30. Brian says:

    Thanks for that. I remember feeling let down by the Ryko version of Aladdin Sane because it had no bonus tracks at all.

  31. Chris H says:

    “I’ve always thought that the inclusion of Rebel Rebel spoils Diamond Dogs.”

    – ME TOO!

  32. David Bricknell says:

    Always thought it strange that the usually agreeably accurate ratings to be found on All Music Guide – http://www.allmusic.com – make an unusual deviation on their assessment of “Diamond Dogs”.

    After a run of obviously deserving 5 star (or 4.5) ratings on DB’s preceding 4 albums of original studio material, AMG rates “Diamond Dogs” a lousy 2.5 stars! And then goes on in their review to pretty much inexplicably (mostly) slag it off.

    Personally, I find when I put it on, I always find myself thinking “This album is amazing! Not only is it up there with ” Scary Monsters” “Ziggy” and “Low” in the Bowie canon, but it’ up there with Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” or The Stones “Exile” in the whole pantheon of modern music.” It’s THAT good…so pleased to feel your love for DD’s, Paul!

    Also, to those who haven’t fully appreciated “Young Americans” many charms, I too felt that way for many years. However, a couple of years ago I decided to really “go deep” into my Bowie collection and start really listening (you know: long solo drive/good car stereo or at home/door locked/lights out/really good home stereo – either way, ZERO distractions). I went in with the view that I would kind of ignore the two obvious Mt Everests on the album – title track and “Fame” – and see if I could appreciate any of the other so-called “lesser” tracks to the same degree. Low and behold, “Win” and “Fascination” immediately jumped out as did many others.

    Now that DB has gone I suspect most of his lesser-regarded works are going to be very favourably reappraised in time…

  33. Mick says:

    What a great read Paul. Thank You!
    We share many similar memories: of tape (only mine were Maxell UD XLII’s) and of the Ryko’s (I’m in the U.S., and had no trouble getting each one as they came out).
    Where we differ is our favourite albums. Pin-Ups and Aladdin Sane are my two favourite Bowie LP’s…followed closely by Diamond Dogs and Ziggy.
    I take a lot of heat for my love of Pin-Ups – and I know it’s odd to revere a covers album by a man so known for his songcraft. I think part of the reason was that Pin-Ups’ sister TV special “The 1980 Floor Show” was the first time I actually saw Bowie on TV. That was quite a revelation for this impressionable 13 year old!

  34. PC says:

    Lovely piece, Paul. You are absolutely right about Tin Machine. The first album is great and the second would be great if it excised the songs not sung by Bowie. Too much democracy in rock music can be a bad thing.

  35. Robert says:

    Ryko and Rhino set the standard for special edition cd releases. I think the Bowie and Costello catalog were some of the best releases of the time, I worked at a cd store at the time and those stuck out. I still have some of the Ryko sets. Excellent read !

  36. Mic Smith says:

    I’m enjoying reading these accounts very much and have similar memories of hearing most of Bowie’s albums on cassette taped from a friends vinyl. At that point, I knew the hits having seen his rise from 1972 onwards first hand, but it took me until 1980 before I bought my first Bowie music (Alabama Song 7″) and Scary Monsters album (won in a local record shop competition) which was newly out in September 1980.
    Those tapes did me well throughout my college days (1981-85) but it took the Ryko reissues before I owned all of this classic music. I’d forgotten about the UK embargo on these and actually got my initial batch of Space Oddity, MWSTW and Hunky Dory while in London (from Hanover St funnily enough) – subsequent releases must have been simultaneous releases as I bought the EMI versions thereafter.
    Using the pairings that Paul had on tapes I’d go with MWSTW, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Station to Station (my favourite Bowie album) as my head to head favourites. But all of his albums from that era set standards that few could match.

  37. Kris. Perth Australia says:

    Love this trip Paul down memory lane, particularly as I was a teenager of the 70’s and all the trials and tribulations of home taping you described are so true (right down to one of the readers accurately describing the dramas of writing the song titles and being
    left handed (like me) = smudging!!!). Smudging, not enough space for song titles and spelling mistakes…the rites of passage of all serious home tapers!
    As for the main event, David Bowie, Young Americans is THE BEST (with Low and Lodger close), and the album is only further enhanced by the three wonderful ‘outtakes’ that were attached to the Ryko edition
    including the magnificent ‘plastic soul’ version of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’. Magnificent, and what a stunning artwork for the album cover.

  38. fredpostman says:

    Thanks for your trip down memory lane Paul.2 weeks in and though the news has finally sunk,i still feel sad.I have starting at the beginning and listening to the whole of Mr Bowie’s output.I played Pin Ups last night and forgot how short it’s running time is ,though the album is beautifully produced.

  39. Johnny Feathers says:

    The Ryko issues were my gateway to Bowie: ChangesBowie, Ziggy, Berlin trilogy, David Live, Scary Monsters, and Ziggy Motion Picture.

    As I was still buying his stuff, the catalog switched over to EMI, which is the version I bought for the rest of his 60’s-70’s output, other than the deluxe Diamond Dogs. (Tin Machine is the only album I own between Scary Monsters and BT/WN.) I thought they might have actually sounded better than the Ryko ones, but I missed the bonus tracks. Lucky for me, I at least got the Berlin Ryko discs.

  40. Interesting take on Diamond Dogs, which I got shortly after its original release. I always preferred side 1; perhaps if side 2 hadn’t opened with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me’, which feels like the odd man out. Whenever playing side 2, I would start with ‘We Are the Dead’. (Often, I would stop listening halfway through ‘Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family’, especially if I were listening at night; the ending scared me the first time I heard it.)

    I came late to Young Americans, not buying a copy until 1981—shortly after missing a step and cutting my hand in my high school’s parking lot (true story). (Although I had the 45 of ‘Golden Years’, Diamond Dogs was my last Bowie LP of the ’70s.) It’s another favorite, though the cover of ‘Across the Universe’ breaks the mood somewhat, and there is a hit-and-miss quality to some of the songs. After the singles, I’m still partial to ‘Win’, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, and ‘Can You Hear Me'; ‘Fascination’ and ‘Right’ are okay, but I like them more for the production than for the songs themselves.

    Similarly, Young Americans was one of the last of the Ryko-era reissues I bought; in fact, I didn’t get it until 1998, after distribution rights had transferred to Capitol-EMI in the US, but before the 1999 Virgin reissues.

    I warmed up late to Aladdin Sane, which I bought on a cutout 8-track a few years after its original release. I still prefer Pin Ups, my very first 8-track tape purchase. However, because it was resequenced for 8-track, the original LP sequence still sounds ‘wrong’ to me.

    As for cassettes, I generally bought TDK SA-90 or Maxell XLII or XLII-S, more often opting for the TDKs because the multi-packs sometimes came with free padded cases (several of which I still have). Later on, I experimented with different tapes—Sony, Denon, That’s, Axia, and Konica.

    30 years on, I have found that my normal-bias (aka Type I) tapes have held up far better than chrome (Type II) tapes, which vary widely in their ability to maintain their sound quality over time. The tapes that have held up the best? Denon DX3, TDK AR-X, and Maxell XLI-S. Sony tapes tend to fare the worst. I learned all this a couple of years ago, when my car’s CD player died (as did its replacement a few months later), and I had to go back to my tape collection for in-car listening.

    Of course, now only normal-bias tapes are available (at least, that I have found). TDK’s D series has the edge here; I find that the Maxell UR tapes don’t reproduce as much high end as the TDKs. (I currently use a refurbished Harmon-Kardon deck.)

  41. John, Adelaide Australia says:

    I remember the feeling of pure joy when I spotted the Sound & Vision Box set up on a shelf behind the counter at my local music shop. I wasn’t even aware of its upcoming release so it really was a pleasant surprise. I took a look at the track listing and it was laced with rarities, the packaging superb. It cost $100 AUD, I couldn’t afford it really but I did a quick budget in my head, what I would go without to be able to walk out of that store with it under my arm. I’m glad I did it, it still remains in immaculate condition and is very much a show piece of my music collection.

  42. Joei Tan says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for writing such a great article for us to immersed into! You are such a prolific writer! Yes, I do agree that Ryko did a great job in reissuing
    the Bowie catalogue. Packaging was top-notch, second to none! Was
    playing Hunky Dory vinyl over the weekend and thought it was such a
    Lyrical Masterpiece, beautifully created album. Was going through my Bowie collection and I came across a sealed-copy of Bowie – Live at
    Santa Monica 72 CD & 7” VINYL Set in an orange coloured sleeve.
    Looks to good to be opened, i’ll just leave it in it’s sealed condition.
    I hope to see Low in a Deluxe Edition soon and also unreleased Berlin
    out-takes with Eno. Wonderig who’s looking after his Vaults, Visconti?
    Saw a Bowie TV Tribute last night on Arts 21 – German tv programme. Looking forward to your next Bowie instalment. Still missing Bowie!!!

  43. Paul Fraser says:

    I think Tin Machine is due a reappraisal. While you can drop the Hunt Sales-written songs and Gabrels wiggly metallic guitar solos can outstay their welcome, there are tracks that stand up with the best of later Bowie: I can’t read, Amazing, Amlapura, Shopping for Girls, Goodbye Mr Ed, Baby Universal and Baby can dance. I’d even throw in Bus Stop for the charmingly sarcastic lyrics.

  44. Eamonn says:

    Agreed entirely about your take on Diamond Dogs.

    The title track and Rebel Rebel are brash and catchy – fine an’all but side two is almost flawless and as you say, that’s without the power of Side One’s non-singles: the Sweet Thing sandwich between Candidate and the eerie, beguiling opener Future Legend.

  45. Sean Neville says:

    Great article and great comments !! Time to dig out some of those lesser celebrated albums

  46. aubrey says:

    Another great piece! Such a pleasure to read and reminisce… (and I got a mention on SDE!). Totally agree with you on Diamond Dogs over Aladdin Sane. But Young Americans over Station To Station? I mean *maybe* if you took off Across The Universe and ‘put back’ Who Can I Be Now?, It’s Gonna Be Me and After Today (I always loved the end of that, where Bowie cracks up and says ‘I was just getting into that…’) but even then… no! Sorry, STS is a stone cold masterpiece. And Tin Machine! I remember us listening to that at whatever was the fullest volume we could muster (11, I think…). The opening notes of Heaven’s In Here, and then when the drums kick in… listened to it just now. Still holds up. I Can’t Read, Bus Stop, Betty Wrong…. all gems. Can’t wait for the next installment!

    • aubrey says:

      Oh… and obsessively writing inlay cards (and then buying blank inlays for a ‘re-do’). That’s a memory almost lost forever…

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Ha! I do agree that Across The Universe does grate a bit – Bowie went to far with his Lennon-love-in by including that! Dunno though… I think YA has perhaps a little bit more ‘heart’ that STS, although STS is basically flawless I agree. I did say it was a dead heat and someone would have to hold a gun to my head!

      • aubrey says:

        Yes, fair point: Young Americans is warmer than Station To Station, which is coldly brilliant in a “I’ve just played an alien in a Nic Roeg film and now I’m doing a ton of coke” way – “YA Bowie” would probably have been more fun to have a beer with than “STS Bowie”…

  47. David says:

    Pinups is worth a listen if only for Aynsley Dunbar. Try listening to it and imagine the songs without Aynsley.

  48. Jeff Rougvie says:

    Get story! Sadly the Ryko vinyl releases were cancelled due to low sales – they were not profitable. This was doubly surprising as Ryko was the only company releasing Bowie vinyl worldwide at that point, but this was the early 90’s, and vinyl had few fans then. Still can’t believe how foolish EMI were to never release the S+V box set in the UK, but their poor choice worked in our favor. FWIW, I will wrap up the S+V box portion of my site soon.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks Jeff. Something very special about that era and the Ryko reissues. If you have any sealed vinyl ‘hidden away’ somewhere, I’m interested :)

  49. Randy Metro says:

    Paul,

    I would agree with you that Rebel Rebel seemed at odds with all that preceded it on side 1 of the vinyl Diamond Dogs. My interpretation to this day is that Rebel Rebel was a big F-U from some little tribe of refugee human holdouts beaten down by the direness of their situation (tracks 1 thru 5) and going out in a blaze of glory.

    The last track on side 2, Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family, was the same human holdouts succumbing to their brainwashed fate as demonstrated on tracks 1 thru 4.

    A side note: I was 18 in 1974, the year DD was released. I started my journey with Bowie in 1969, Space Oddity, and the first moon landing July 20, 1969. Easy for my 13 year old mind to remember: my birthday July 20. I saw Bowie at a fairly small venue, Radio City Music Hall, NY October 30 or 31, 1974. To be honest, I was aghast at what I saw as DD Bowie was transforming into soul Bowie. Almost 60, I’m a teenager at heart.

  50. Lanny says:

    Has part 3 of this been posted yet? I can’t seem to find it on the site. Am I missing something?

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