Reviews

David Bowie / Conversation Piece review

SDE takes a close look at the new box set and comes away impressed

In 1989 Rykodisc included a previously unreleased demo of David Bowie‘s ‘Space Oddity’ in their Sound + Vision box. 30 years later that same demo is included on CD again on Conversation Piece, a five-CD music box set that could well be the best Bowie reissue for decades.

For the last few years, Bowie fans have been enjoying era-summary collections like Who Can I Be Now? and A New Career In A New Town and while these did a great job of re-presenting David’s core catalogue, as has been noted regularly by SDE and fans alike, these have offered almost nothing previously unreleased (with the odd exception, such as The Gouster and Never Let Me Down 2018). 

What we haven’t had, for a while, is an in-depth exploration around a specific album. 2010’s Station To Station was probably the last attempt and even that flattered to deceive, with some inessential single edits, a decidedly dodgy 5.1 mix and a very compressed live recording.

Parlophone have paused the multi-album boxes in 2019 to take a deep delve into 1969’s David Bowie/Space Oddity album and specifically the road to that album in 1968, a year in which David released no singles at all. He may not have known it at the time, but Bowie was laying the foundations for a career that was so successful, it would be another 30 years before he stayed commercially inactive for another full calendar year, and released no singles (it next happened in 1998).


Five CDs are housed with inside front and inside back covers

Conversation Piece includes all the audio from the ‘demo’ vinyl boxes issued earlier this year (although not the 2019 single edit of ‘Space Oddity’ from the 50th anniversary seven-inch box) and it has to be said, the content makes much more sense here. It was a mistake for the record label to put out those vinyl boxes. They seemed random, they were overpriced (particularly the extortionate ‘Mercury Demos’ set) and succeeded, primarily, in annoying fans.

At the time it felt gimmicky, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person guilty of picking up boxes like Spying Through A Keyhole and then shoving them on the shelf to be played ‘later’, when I got around to it. Only I couldn’t be bothered to faff around with multiple seven-inch singles, so ‘later’ never really came. The format was actually discouraging me from hearing these historical recordings, which isn’t what a physical music release should be doing. Parlophone also released them in succession far too quickly, turning the release of rare Bowie demos into a ‘oh-not-another-one’ commonplace event.

Disc one of Conversation Piece is simply called ‘Home Demos‘ and takes in the entire contents of Spying Through A Keyhole, Clareville Grove Demos AND MORE and sitting listening to these tracks while reading all about them in the magnificent book presentation (the CDs sit within a big hardcover tome) is just pure pleasure. Of course, some of it is tough going. A few of the very early numbers like the previously unreleased ‘April’s Tooth Of Gold’ are a bit of a racket, and Bowie’s loyalty to the twee ‘When I’m Five’ (the song appears once on each of the first three CDs) is admirable but it’s not one you find yourself wanting to listen to very often. However, there is much to enjoy, including a rough demo of the excellent ‘In The Heat Of The Morning,’ the sweet ‘Love All Around’, two versions of the curious ‘Angel, Angel Grubby Face’ and the  fabled ‘London Bye, Ta-Ta.’ Despite David recording a demo, two studio versions (in 1968 and 1970) and playing it on a Radio One ‘Top Gear’ session, ‘London Bye, Ta-Ta’ was destined never to be issued and like the ‘Space Oddity’ demo mentioned at the top of this post, the first commercial release was TWO DECADES later on the Sound + Vision box set! (and what a great box set that was).


The book is truly outstanding and up there with the best (e.g. McCartney, The Who)

If you think four versions of ‘Space Oddity’ in a row sounds dull, then think again. Tracking the development of what is surely Bowie’s best known song is fascinating and one of the highlights of Conversation Piece is hearing David performing with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, a relatively brief partnership that has rather fallen between the gaps in terms of Bowie’s history (with Hermione Farthingale they were a three-piece called Feathers, but Hermione left for America during this period). Again, the book is fantastic, really putting you in the room where it all happened. Not only does it explain why Hutch says “Christie – don’t talk!” at the beginning of one of the ‘Space Oddity’ demos (his young son Christian was in the room with them) but the book offers a few photos of the three of them together. It’s wonderful stuff.

‘Lover to the Dawn’ is an early version of ‘Cygnet Committee’, while the fingerpicking nature ‘Ching-a-Ling’ made me think of 1971/2-era McCartney. You could easily imagine Macca on the farm in Scotland (in ‘Hey Diddle’ mode) entertaining Linda and the kids which such a ditty. ‘Space Oddity’ aside, the plaintive demo of  ‘An Occasional Dream’ is the first song which is more or less fully-formed and immediately makes you recall the 1969 album. Despite the limitations of the demo, the quality shines through and David an Hutch’s overlapping vocals sound great.

Disc two – ‘Mercury Demos‘ – features the ten tracks on the expensive vinyl box set. These include more developed versions of the home demos and a new (at the time) song ‘Janine’ (which would end up on the Space Oddity album). It’s the narrative that make these particularly interesting and the chatter between songs as David addresses ‘Bob’ directly (Bob Reno, Mercury Records A&R head) informing him about the songs and details such as how “there is no girl with us anymore” (referring to the departure of Hermione). It’s all very endearing with false starts (on a new version of ‘Conversation Piece’) and a couple of excellent covers  (Lesley Duncan’s ‘Love Song’ and another version of Roger Bunn’s ‘Life Is A Circus’). Don’t be put off by the ‘demos’ tag. These don’t just rest on their historical laurels but are rather well recorded (on Bowie’s borrowed Revox tape recorder) and have quite impressive arrangements, given that most of the time the songs are being performed live by the two musicians.

Shelfie – ‘Conversation Piece’ is similar height to vinyl box sets 

The third CD – called ‘Conversation Pieces’ – is a bit of an ‘odds and sods’ disc and includes a couple of Tony Visconti-produced studio recordings from the Decca era, radio sessions (the two tracks from Dave Lee Travis’ show are repeated from the 2009 reissue of the David Bowie/Space Oddity album), another version of the song ‘Space Oddity’ and various single edits and mono mixes. It’s also where you’ll find the actual studio recording of the song that gives this box set its title, ‘Conversation Piece’. That song was intended for the album but was chopped from the running order and ended up as the B-side to ‘The Prettiest Star’, the 1970 follow-up to ‘Space Oddity’. Visconti restores ‘Conversation Piece’ to his 2019 mix of David Bowie/Space Oddity on disc five of this set (more on that shortly).

Incidentally, why isn’t the 1970 single version of ‘The Prettiest Star’ included here? It was issued before ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ in Bowie’s single discography timeline and was included on disc two of the 2009 deluxe of the album. Featuring the B-side but not the non-album A-side seems like a curious omission (along with both single versions of ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, which were on the 1990 Ryko reissue and Parlophone’s own 2009 double-disc set). It means that despite appearing comprehensive, Conversation Piece isn’t. You need to retain previous reissues to have ‘everything’. ‘The Prettiest Star’ single version (which features Marc Bolan on guitar) was first issued on CD on disc one of Ryko’s Sound+Vision box set, in 1989.

The final two CDs offer the David Bowie/Space Oddity album in original stereo mix and 2019 remix variations. Both come with ‘extras’, which in the case of the former includes three previously unreleased early mixes of album tracks (‘Letter To Hermione,’ ‘Janine’ and ‘An Occasional Dream’). The original album does include ‘Don’t Sit Down’ after Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, incidentally. Tony Visconti’s stereo remix doesn’t, but as mentioned previously, it does feature the song ‘Conversation Piece’ between ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ and ‘God Knows I’m Good’. In some very interesting notes in the book, Visconti says that the song was meant for the album but the record was “very long” because of the seven minute ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, the nine minute ‘Cygnet Committee’ and the six minute ‘Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed.’ He admits that in hindsight he should have shortened the songs but that “long endings were very fashionable in those days.”

Visconti’s new stereo mix sounds very good indeed. The song ‘Space Oddity’ has quite an old fashioned stereo mix on the original with all the percussion/drums on the left and Bowie’s vocals (mostly) on the right. There is far more balance with the new mix. ‘Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed’ has a noticeably beefed up rhythm section and Bowie’s vocals in the ‘I’m a phallus in pigtails…” section doesn’t sound as dry as it does on the original mix. The yearning delicacy of ‘Letter To Hermione’ is maintained although there is increased ‘space’ in this new mix with more detail apparent on the acoustic guitars.

‘Janine’ is an interesting one. The original mix sounds a bit like the band were in another room and Bowie’s vocals are quite low in the mix and rather distant. The 2019 is so much better, the bottom end is improved and everything is more ‘present’ than on the original. It’s a massive improvement. Having said all that, Visconti has removed the distinctive mumbling heard over the intro of this song, which I always quite liked!

You can hardly hear the percussion/drums in the original ‘An Occasional Dream’, but while it’s still low in the mix, there’s much more clarity in the 2019 mix of the song and that’s typical of the overall approach. Visconti admits that back in 1969 “as a mixing engineer I still had a lot to learn” but he’s deployed 50 years of experience on the task this time around and he’s done a fantastic job with the 2019 mix of the David Bowie/Space Oddity album.

The 125-page hardcover book exudes quality. There’s a minimal black and white approach enhanced by subtle spot varnishing, echoing the Varasely print with a grid of circles used on non-US versions of the album. This works particularly well on the CD wallets which appear white at first glance, but when they catch the light the grid of ten by ten circles appears, as if by magic.


Spot varnish on the CD wallets is subtle and elegant

Back in 1989 and for the few years that followed, Rykodisc opened the door to David Bowie’s archive with what at the time was a ground-breaking series of reissues with many tracks previously unreleased or previously unreleased on CD. Maybe the door wasn’t wide open, but it was certainly ajar. To the astonishment of most fans, less than 10 years later in 1999 EMI reissued and remastered the albums AGAIN, this time with no bonus tracks at all. It seemed a backwards step at the time (putting aside the fact that the remastering was roundly disliked) and since the new millennium every opportunity to reissue an album has seemed half-baked or ill thought out.

The 30th anniversary of Diamond Dogs in 2004 repeated all the Ryko bonus tracks that fans already had and could only muster up an edit of the title track from K-Tel’s 1980 compilation The Best Of Bowie and a couple of variations of tracks used in films. 2007’s CD+DVD of Young Americans did offer a 5.1 mix, but failed to include outtake ‘After Today’ even though it had appeared on the Sound+Vision box set 18 years earlier and omitted the performance of Footstompin’ on the Dick Cavett show.

Perhaps David Bowie simply denied the record label access to any hidden treasure in his archive, but whichever way you look at it, it has been an inconsistent hit and miss approach.

The reason Conversation Piece works so well is that it benefits from a thorough, methodical approach and it has a clear narrative. It helps that at the beginning of David’s career there were lots of demos recorded, which clearly make putting together such a reissue that much easier. David is no longer with us and despite assurances that he had communicated various plans in terms of his catalogue before he died, one wonders whether this set would exist – to this degree – if he was still around.

The book is truly wonderful, with letters from David and Ken Pitt reproduced, detailing all sorts of engagements and opportunities that presented themselves at the time, along with superb photos and images of tape boxes and acetates etc.

Conversation Piece does a fantastic job of illuminating the path that lead Bowie away from the failure of the Newlyesque David Bowie in 1967 to the success of ‘Space Oddity’ as a single and the release of the album in 1969. Even though Parlophone have shied away from calling this a David Bowie/Space Oddity super deluxe edition, that’s effectively what it is. This is the best album-centric exploration of Bowie’s work probably since the Black Tie White Noise reissue of 2003 and albums like The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory need this kind of attention.

Conversation Piece is out now.

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David Bowie

Conversation Piece - 5CD box set

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David Bowie

Space Oddity album 2019 mix - vinyl LP

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Space Oddity album 2019 mix - CD edition

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Conversation Piece 5CD box set

Titles marked * are unreleased and the two Decca tracks presented here are released in superior quality to that released on the Deluxe Edition of David’s self-titled debut album on Deram. There is also a rare appearance for the full length mono version of Feathers’ ‘Ching-a-Ling’.

CD 1 – Home Demos

April’s Tooth Of Gold (2.29) *
The Reverend Raymond Brown (Attends the Garden Fête on Thatchwick Green) (2.15) *
When I’m Five (3.18) *
Mother Grey (3.00)
In The Heat Of The Morning (2.59)
Goodbye 3d (Threepenny) Joe (3.19)
Love All Around (2.49)
London Bye, Ta-Ta (3.31)
Angel Angel Grubby Face (version 1) (2.31)
Angel Angel Grubby Face (version 2) (2.37)
Animal Farm (2.21) *
Space Oddity (solo demo fragment) (2.39)
Space Oddity (version 1) with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (4.02)
Space Oddity (version 2) with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (5.00) *
Space Oddity (version 3) with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (5.10)
Lover To The Dawn with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (3.50)
Ching-a-Ling with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (2.58)
An Occasional Dream with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (2.49)
Let Me Sleep Beside You with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (2.54)
Life Is A Circus with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (4.50)
Conversation Piece (3.47) *
Jerusalem (4.19) *
Hole In The Ground with George Underwood (3.29) *

CD2 – The ‘Mercury’ Demos (with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson)

Space Oddity (5.28)
Janine (3.53)
An Occasional Dream (3.18)
Conversation Piece (3.31)
Ching-a-Ling (3.35)
I’m Not Quite (aka Letter To Hermione) (4.00)
Lover To The Dawn (5.01)
Love Song (4.08)
When I’m Five (3.13)
Life Is A Circus (5.33)

CD3 – Conversation Pieces 

In The Heat Of The Morning (Decca mono version) (2.51)
London Bye, Ta-Ta (Decca alternative version) (2.36)
BBC Top Gear radio session with the Tony Visconti Orchestra, recorded 13th May, 1968
– In The Heat Of The Morning (3.01)
– London Bye, Ta-Ta (2.39)
– Karma Man (3.07)
– When I’m Five (3.14)
– Silly Boy Blue (4.32)
Ching-a-Ling (2.51)
Space Oddity (Morgan Studios version – alternative take) (4.22)* with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson
Space Oddity (U.K. single edit) (4.42)
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (single B-side – mono mix) (4.54)
Janine (mono mix) (3.23)
Conversation Piece (3.06)
BBC Dave Lee Travis Show radio session, recorded 20th October, 1969
– Let Me Sleep Beside You (3.20)
– Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed (4.03)
– Janine (3.03)

CD 4 – 1969 stereo mixes

The original David Bowie (aka Space Oddity) album (2009 remaster)

Space Oddity (5.14)
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (inc. Don’t Sit Down) (6.51)
Letter To Hermione (2.32)
Cygnet Committee (9.31)
Janine (3.21)
An Occasional Dream (2.54)
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (4.46)
God Knows I’m Good (3.17)
Memory Of A Free Festival (7.09)

The Extras

Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (single B-side stereo mix) (4.56)
Letter To Hermione (early mix) (2.32) *
Janine (early mix) (3.23) *
An Occasional Dream (early mix) (2.54) *
Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (full length version) (5.14)

CD 5 – 2019 mixes (all previously unreleased)

The Space Oddity album

Space Oddity (5.20)
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (6.18)
Letter To Hermione (2.32)
Cygnet Committee (9.28)
Janine (3.21)
An Occasional Dream (2.57)
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (4.50)
Conversation Piece (3.11)
God Knows I’m Good (3.16)
Memory Of A Free Festival (7.14)

The Extras

Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (single version) (4.59)
Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (5.20)

Spaced Oddity 2019 mix vinyl LP

Side 1
1. Space Oddity (2019 Mix)
2. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (2019 Mix)
3. Letter To Hermione (2019 Mix)
4. Cygnet Committee (2019 Mix)

Side 2
1. Janine (2019 Mix)
2. An Occasional Dream (2019 Mix)
3. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (2019 Mix)
4. Conversation Piece (2019 Mix)
5. God Knows I’m Good (2019 Mix)
6. Memory of a Free Festival (2019 Mix)

Space Oddity 2019 mix CD edition

1. Space Oddity (2019 Mix)
2. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (2019 Mix)
3. Letter To Hermione (2019 Mix)
4. Cygnet Committee (2019 Mix)
5. Janine (2019 Mix)
6. An Occasional Dream (2019 Mix)
7. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (2019 Mix)
8. Conversation Piece (2019 Mix)
9. God Knows I’m Good (2019 Mix)
10. Memory of a Free Festival (2019 Mix)

60 responses to David Bowie / Conversation Piece review

  1. Glenn says:

    Enjoyed seeing your ‘shelfie’ Paul. Would be interesting to see an SDE video of you showing us your music collection.

  2. Stevie B says:

    Great Review. At the end of the day it’s about the music though… Conversation Piece is like polishing a turd. Very little of the content that hasn’t already been released prior to those endless ‘demo’ sets are worth listening to.

    Buy the remastered album if you like the main album itself but the rest of the actual musical content is weak. Sticking it in a lovely box and waxing lyrical about it. Great.

    So now it’s on CD it’s EASIER… and it’s suddenly now BETTER music? and you are therefore now going to BOTHER listening? What a strange concept.

    It’s dodgy demos in the main. A money making exercise. Like the recent releases on vinyl. It’s shameful, but at least you’ve got one more ‘Pretty Thing’ to add to the Bowie canon.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      If I’d listened to all the vinyl box sets then I would have reached the same conclusions about the music, but bringing everything together across five CDs is a better way of presenting it. I hate that ‘polishing a turd’ phrase. If you think demos of Space Oddity and other early Bowie represents a ‘turd’ then we’ll have to disagree.

      • Stevie B says:

        I do think 75% of what’s on the CD’s &/or Vinyl is not something many people will go running to listen to time and again.

        So a ‘Space Oddity’ EP with the demos and various ‘remixes’ ‘remasters’ or whatever they are calling them… FINE…that would have been justifiable.

        The majority of this stuff I don’t believe the man himself would ever have released other than if it was to protect/ extend copyright.

        The stuff on here is what ‘bootlegging’ was invented for, back in the day. This is ‘scraping the barrel’ A beautifully presented barrel, but a near empty one as far as MUSIC FOR PLEASURE goes.

  3. Mikey Roberts says:

    Fantastic review Paul, superb attention to detail. After reading it I just bought one too! It would indeed be really great if Hunky Dory was to receive this level of attention: my fave DB album, and one of my faves by any artist. And hard to believe it’s nearly 4 years since he left us.

  4. Norrie MacLean says:

    Excellent freview Paul. I will definitely buy this but will wait for a suitable deal (hopefully).

    Keep the reviews coming”!

  5. Eric says:

    Great review I might consider buying it although I have bought every album ten times or so
    But I am a little bit pissed off that for the high price for 5 cd of the reissue we don’t get “everything ” and there are still omissions… maybe for the 60 th birthday we will have don”t sit down 2029 remix?

    Anyway it’s amazing that DB kept every docs in 68/69..he had a plan !

    Anyway

    Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing we can do

  6. Glen Withonen says:

    Nice review Paul, but I must agree with Mark regarding those ‘missing’ tracks.

    I’ll bet my house that the 1970 versions of the MofaFF & Prettiest Star singles will appear on a 50th celebration of a The Man Who Sold The World album box-set sometime next year – perhaps called All The Madmen or something like that…

    As much as I’d like them to continue with the ‘era boxes’ into Bowie’s 1990s output (with the Tin Machine material included or as a separate release), I have to say I’m surprised by how impressed I am with the presentation of the Conversation Piece set; the book is beautifully illustrated & a fascinating summation of a specific period, with great pictures, memorabilia scans, artwork & informative notes – it really is an interesting window into Bowie’s life/career during 1968-69. I really hope Parlaphone can maintain this level of quality with future issues.

    From what I’ve heard – & I sincerely hope this is true! – Parlaphone intend to issue a series of archive releases concentrating on Bowie’s 1970s output. Now if these rumoured box-sets were to follow the Conversation Piece 50th anniversary album style format: a colourfully illustrated book with unreleased/rare archive audio cds in wallets held inside the book covers, I’ll be a very satisfied fan! Even if the label were to combine a couple of albums from the same anniversary year/era into a single set (such as Low & Heroes), as long as it’s logically & consistantly presented, I’ll happily purchase them.

    If we are really lucky we might get a 50th Hunky Dory book/box in 2021, a similar deluxe Ziggy Stardust set in 2022, a combined Alladin Sane & Pin Ups set in 2023, and so on – a book/box-set every year for the next decade would be a dream come true! I also don’t see why such a schedule would preclude the label/estate from resuming the ‘era box-set’ releases if they wish – I believe there’s likely to be demand for both types of deluxe Bowie releases every year.

    Please Parlaphone make this happen!! :-)

  7. Keith Sower says:

    David Bowie was simply unique. a one off.
    Often copied but will never be equalled.
    To me, he was my sun,my moon, he was my inspiration throughout my life.
    The icon of icons..a Generalist of the highest proportions.
    He came…He saw….He Conquered.

  8. Nass Khan says:

    If anyone could make comments regarding the sound quality I would be interested.

    I dont like the front cover at all it looks like a collage prospectus.

    I am alone in liking the 1970s Rca Ziggy repakaged Lp cover version which definately inspired a few Punks to spike their hair. ( Paul Siminon in particular)

  9. Brad Breault says:

    Paul thanks for this thorough review of this set. For the last few years my girlfriend has blessed me with each of the DB box sets for my birthday up until the ones released this year. She thought they looked pretty pricey for what you got with them and since I don’t currently have a turntable she also thought it kind of dumb that some vinyl sets have more stuff in them than the CD sets (good to have a different perspective in the house sometimes….). Seeing this info and pictures, maybe this will be worth having after all. I am however looking forward to having a 1990’s box, a Tin Machine box and potentially a 2000’s-and beyond box created. It’s actually nice to have just the albums together in one place(s), and I have to believe all the unreleased material between the different publishers & labels will eventually be compiled in their own separate box sets so folks like us can grumble about them (but buy them anyway).

    • Tyler says:

      Given that the Tin Machine era is just two albums, I wonder if they will be released in a format similar to this or one of the ‘era’ boxes. I guess it could go either way?

  10. Adey says:

    Nice box set, but shame its not the same height box as the other cd boxsets.

  11. WILLIAM ENGLAND says:

    I hope that Parlophone sent you a free copy – look at all the extra sales you’ve generated with your review…

  12. bruce kelso says:

    if he was still alive I wonder if he would of approved of all this material being issued. and if he did his input to it be interesting to say the least.

  13. J says:

    I have not purchased any of the Box sets (who can I be now, etc) since they do not offer much in terms of unreleased material. Having read this review I am inclined to purchase this one though since it is reasonably priced (US $78 on Amazon), has a lot of unheard material and has a good review from a reputable source (That would be you, Paul). I can only hope that Hunky Dory is next and that the rest of the catalog will see similar treatment.
    J

  14. Tim Abbott says:

    Good review. I’m not a fan of warts-and-all releases with demos and unfinished outtakes (it cheapens a legacy and removes some of the magic of the proper recordings for me), but have a soft spot for this album as it was the first Bowie album I heard. Likewise, I’ve enjoyed Visconti’s remix of Lodger and I know (despite the armchair critics bleating to the contrary) that he’s the best choice to make any adjustments if they’re needed.

    So, despite not being that keen before, it looks like I’ll have to order a copy of the standalone album!

  15. Nigel Day says:

    This has been my purchase of the year. Totally essential and Paul’s excellent review nails it. Now can we have all the other RCA albums and TMWSTW in the same format please.
    Actually, do the first album and a comprehensive package of all the ‘stray’ singles from King Bees, Mannish Boys etc as well.
    If they kept the packaging consistent that would make for a fantastic catalogue

  16. Aubrey says:

    Great review Paul! It’s hard to imagine anyone resisting the urge to buy this after reading…

  17. Kevin says:

    Glad to hear this turned out to be better than anticipated. It does look like a lovely set.
    Given that, since I already have the Five Years box, the 2009 2-disc of Space Oddity, Bowie At The Beeb, and the 2-disc 1967 self-titled, I consider myself ‘good’ on Bowie’s early period. The demos really don’t interest me enough. I will be getting the single cd of the 2019 mix, however. You sold me!

  18. Stephen B C says:

    Now that we have this set, can we have one that pulls together the first David Bowie album and everything recorded prior to its release (including demos and unreleased tracks)?

  19. Stephen B C says:

    By not including The prettiest star and Memory of a free festival single versions on the album, i’m optimistic that each of the forthcoming album reissues will be treated in the same manner with everything from that album and all of the material recorded and released beforehand included. So the Man who sold the world may have a different title, but include that album and these missing singles along with demos and unreleased tracks.

  20. Sean Hewitt says:

    Thanks for this review, Paul. I bought this set earlier this week and am really enjoying it. I also love the new Tony Visconti mix of the Space Oddity album, which I consider a great improvement. It really brings the music to life. I never got the previous demo collections (vinyl and overpriced) but heard here the tracks are an absolute treasure trove.

    Like others here, I’d love to see this kind of treatment for all the studio albums although I would also like a 1990s box as well at some stage.

  21. Tony says:

    Great review Paul, I’ve had this playing in the car today, some lovely demos on here, my default for the more expensive box sets now is to stream, read your review and and then wait for a SDE offer alert. I have 25 cube Ikea Kallax which is just about full now, I’d much prefer a smaller box. I was in HMV Westfield today & got the Space Oddity 2019 vinyl, lad serving me said some had been brought back because they were black & not the limited colours, some people are so cheeky, I’d tell them to do one.

  22. John McCann says:

    Wots the red sealed box at the end of your Bowie boxsets,

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      It’s the Mercury Demos vinyl box.

      • John McCann says:

        Thanks Paul, I presume it it came down to a reasonable price,you weren’t to keen on the£80 price tag it was released at . Cheers

      • WILLIAM ENGLAND says:

        …all that money and they couldn’t be bothered to put the title on the spine?!?!?!

        • frank says:

          To be fair, the title is on the other end. Sort of. The box is made to replicate the original box that the tape was stored in, hence no actual title printed on the spine, but handwritten “Mercury Demos” on the other side from how Paul has his on the shelf.

  23. Shaun says:

    On the subject of Bowie’s archives. Back in the mid 90’s I bought a record collection from a chap in North London. He told me that he had a friend who worked in the RCA archives that are situated underneath Regents Street and apparently run most of the length of Regents Street. He told me that his friend showed him around some of the archive which to quote him was like Fort Knox to get in and out off. Part of the archive that he looked round held Bowie’s recordings for RCA which apparently was/is an absolute treasure trove. He played him some unreleased live material that he described as “out of this world”. One can only imagine what actually exists and wonder whether it will ever be released.

  24. Andrew Richards says:

    Nice to read such an enthusiastic review. (And no tote bag or marbles.)

  25. Steve says:

    Thank you so much for this comprehensive review. I had planned on getting this eventually, but now I’m ordering it right away!

  26. Steve W says:

    I was going to bypass this but I’m defintely interested now. Great review!

  27. spaceboy5367 says:

    Looks like a nice package, just don’t think I need this. I keep wishing Robert Palmer’s catalog will one day get this kind of treatment, especially the Island years.

  28. steve says:

    Great review, thanks Paul. I am certainly enjoying the set. There is something inherently fascinating about listening to a ‘pre-fame’ Bowie at the end of the 60’s reaching for his mojo. I think some of the disgruntlement comes from a certain amount of fatigue amongst fans regarding the gimmicky seven inch vinyl sets and poor design – The Mercury Demo box in particular looks liked it was knocked up by a Parlophone intern’ after a three day photoshop and design course. I’m pleased your review addressed this lack of consistency and I hope Parlophone take note. Here’s to a dedicated Hunky Dory reissue!

  29. Tcf says:

    Didn‘t want to buy it. Will do it now.
    Great Review!

  30. Matthew says:

    Great review Paul thanks. I’m a big fan of the Bowie/Hutch era so having these all together will be great. I would say ‘ The Prettiest Star’ is quite different from this album and is better off held back for forthcoming SDE’s (this is the start of a series isn’t it ? Please!) As for the remake of ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ it’s the first Bowie recording to feature Mick Ronson so really does belong to a different era.

  31. christian says:

    Thanks, a great dive into a release that hopefully will see a more thorough look at Bowie’s recording career moving forward.

    Being Parlophone though there are still some strange decisions and one inevitable audio mistake, although in this case it’s a positive one.
    The studio version of London Bye Ta=Ta was listed as an upgrade to an available version, but is in fact a totally new and previously unheard take. It’s not surprising the Parlophone missed this given the historical lack of attention to detail, but it’s a welcome error.

    There’s also the very curious decision to lop off the end of the Mercury demos tape as per the original release earlier this year. It’s just a couple of seconds but for the 30 years the bootleg has circulated, Bowie’s final ‘bye’ has been haunting and the set seems strange without it. There’s no reason that I can think of why this was done and it’s a beautiful moment destined to remain unheard by wider audiences.

    Another unadvertised positive is the inclusion of the original count-ins for four of the five BBC tracks. That adds to the sense of this being an archive exploring a time period rather than a bunch of songs and this lifts those tracks even further.

    Frustratingly, the ‘first demo’ of Space Oddity that was recently heard on a BBC radio documentary is missing. Perhaps it was a licensing issue but it’s odd that it was played on air but isn’t included here.

    What the BBC documentary does reveal though is the amount of mucking about that has been done with one of the demos of Space Oddity, version 2 on this release. Maybe in an attempt to hide some of the audio deficiencies, the stylophone essentially switches on and off during the first minute when it’s audible throughout on the source tape used for the BBC. Given the audience for these recordings and the less than perfect source audio, and the iconic nature of that instrument’s use, why make the problem worse by trying to improve things. Surely a flat transfer of the original is historically more appropriate.

    Saying that, the one track that did need some ‘fixing’ is the demo of When I’m Five which runs way too slow and should have been corrected to reflect how it would have sounded when played. The speed of some other tracks on this set has been corrected from previous releases so why not this one?

    Ironically, the BBC version of When I’m Five has been mucked around with compared to a previous official release, and sounds considerably worse. It’s been horribly compressed and is missing much of the sparkle that can be found on the version included in the David Bowie (1967) deluxe edition. Play the two side by side and you will be scratching your head at that decision.

    It’s a shame that this release doesn’t scoop up all the existing officially released audio from this period. There are two officially released edits of the original Morgan Street version of Space Oddity that are missing. And frustratingly, the 2009 stereo remix of Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola is included on cd4 which is supposed to contain “1969 stereo mixes” when it’s no such thing. It is certainly considerably higher quality that the previously officially released original 1969 mono version, but this mono version should have been included for this set to be historically accurate, particularly given the song’s stereo appearance as a 2019 remix on disc 5.

    All up, this is a significant and welcome improvement on the Five Years boxed sets, and the inclusion of the non-faulty 2009 master of the album is a clear admission of some of the mistakes made on the first one. It’s just a shame that with a little more care and attention to detail, this could have been the perfect release. Fingers crossed this upwards trajectory continues and everything is got right by the time of the next set because these issues aside, this is what Bowie archive releases deserve to be.

    • Dannyhero says:

      Fantastic knowledge. Paul, you better watch out!

      • christian says:

        I spoke too soon.
        I had managed to confuse myself, and i’ve incorrectly referred to the BBC extract as unreleased.
        It is in fact included on this release as demo version 2.

        There is no threat to Paul :)

  32. Jim Vandegrift says:

    What a great read. Thanks

  33. Rajiv says:

    Great review. I agree it is a great set, very heavy book! Bring on “the man who sold the world.”! I just wish I found a silver or gold vinyl version !

  34. Gerbrand says:

    Great review, Paul, thank you. I wasn’t planning to buy this, but will probably reconsider now.

    Someone mentions the Tris Penna alternate mixes from the 2009 reissue. As they were made in 1987 and rather “unnecessary” as I read somewhere it’s understandable they are not included.

    Ching-a-ling (mono) is not listed as previously unreleased although the 2009 reissue has the stereo version. Does anyone know if/where this was previously released.

    • Matthew says:

      Maybe the version originally on the ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ soundtrack? Can’t remember if that was mono or not

  35. Timm Davison says:

    OK, well, I’m sold on getting this now. Thanks for the excellent review, Paul!

  36. James says:

    Excellent review Paul. I, like many, shelled out for the sets earlier in the year and I found myself not really playing them. When this set arrived I was shocked at the size and weight of it and when I started going through it I came away really impressed. They may have painted themselves into a corner with this one as it is now the standard by which all other Bowie releases will be compared. Yes, I would appreciate another (if not two) album collection box sets to complete the series, but if they have a release like this one once a year for every album in his catalogue, that would be gold.

  37. Gisabun says:

    I’m just wondering whether or not we really needed another mix of the Space Oddity album – let alone the 2019 and the original mix. Just how many mixes of the album have come out?
    For a 5 CD edition is it still quite pricey. Should of been either 4 CDs or maybe even 3. Averages out to $20 US per CD. Not cheap. But most Bowie boxes aren’t cheap.

  38. Johnny L says:

    Completely agree Paul! I couldn’t believe the volume of disgruntlement in the run-up to this release – the first substantial issue of unreleased Bowie recordings in a long, long time. It’s a great and lavish box set, and I am also pleasantly surprised by the sophistication of many of the demos where Bowie seemed to already be overdubbing layers to tracks.
    By the way, I think the reason that The Prettiest Star and Memory of a Free Festival single versions aren’t included is because they were released in 1970. I imagine/ hope they’ll feature in the next set.
    More mysterious is the absence of the alternate album mixes of Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and Memory Of A Free Festival that both featured on the 2015 double CD reissue. Still, you can’t have everything!

  39. Phil O. says:

    What a great and thorough review. Thank you. I’ve been hit-or-miss with the last few years’ of boxes (for exactly the reasons you outline – incomplete or “nothing new”), but this one looks like a can’t miss. Not my favorite era of Bowie by any stretch, but I really appreciate things like detailed liners and photos, too.

    (And I’ve heard a bit of the new Space Oddity mix on Google Play, and it sounds fantastic overall).

  40. Fred Smith says:

    I really like the new Visconti mix Paul, it makes the tracks sound more muscular, and now i’ve forgiven him for the awful, bass swollen travesty of ‘Low’ that he produced a couple of years ago.
    It’s a shame that the ‘hooves’ version of ‘London Bye Ta Ta’ wasn’t included because it exists in good quality on bootlegs, even though as the sleeve notes explain the master tape disappeared years ago
    I don’t think that the remake of ”Memory of a Free Festival’ and ‘The Prettiest Star’ are included because they weren’t recorded at the main album sessions, though I could be wrong.
    Great article by the way Paul…

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      That could explain it I guess, although arguably the remake of Memory of a Free Festival shouldn’t really go anywhere else other than on a set that celebrates the 1969 album that the track features on, even if it was recorded after the main sessions.

      • Mark says:

        I think, as the single if MOAFF features the band that went on to record The Man Who Sold The World, it would be more appropriate for it to go on a special edition of that album, much like the Ziggy sessions remake of Supermen being on a Ziggy SE. I suppose we’ll know this time next year.

  41. Mark says:

    A nice, comprehensive review. However, this set is a journey towards and including Bowie’s second album, therefore the singles that followed were recorded after the album, with the exception of Conversation Piece. They have no place in this set.

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