Monday, May 10, 2010

David Bowie 24: Sound + Vision

Rykodisc scored a major coup when they acquired the rights to reissue Bowie’s RCA catalog, a rollout that was prefaced by a box set. Sound + Vision was fairly advanced for its time, being one of the first superstar box sets and one that included a visual element, both in the packaging and the inclusion of a disc with video content. The sound was hailed as “better” than the earlier RCA CDs, but somehow it seemed incomplete. Looking back, it’s obvious that this was not destined to be a hits collection, as many of the hits were included in alternate renditions. It served as a good teaser for the individual reissues, most of which had bonus tracks, none of which repeated rarities from the box. (Moreover, many of the rare tracks included here have yet to be reissued as part of the box set campaign in the next century.)
The approach is obvious from the start, with a demo of “Space Oddity” followed by some early singles. Two songs each appear from The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, interspersed with more B-sides and outtakes. The disc ends with three tracks from the final Ziggy concert.
Things get more interesting for casual fans on the second disc, starting with three tracks from Pin Ups, a couple of rarities from Diamond Dogs and three inexcusable selections from David Live. Young Americans is represented by the two tracks plus one of its outtakes; they were saving the better ones for the CD itself. Two tracks from Station To Station are prefaced by an unreleased cover of Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”.
The third disc begins appropriately with the Berlin era, and includes three songs from each of the remaining albums in the RCA deal. It’s a great way to get acquainted with some of his more challenging material, although the inclusion of the German version of “‘Heroes’” is maddening if you don’t speak German.
The first edition of the box set included a disc in the CD-video format, which included three live recordings from 1972, and the video for “Ashes To Ashes”. That particular format never took off, so a later edition of the box included a CD-ROM in its place. When Rykodisc redid the box again in 2003, they not only added a fourth disc, but maximized the capacity of the first three discs by pushing everything back, so there was a total of 100 minutes of material not on the first edition. (By this time, the live tracks on the original fourth disc had ended up on the expanded Aladdin Sane anyway.)

David Bowie Sound + Vision (1989)—4
2003 reissue: same as 1990, plus 24 extra tracks (and minus 4 tracks)


  1. "The sound was definitely better than the earlier RCA CDs". That is highly debatable! The RCA Aladdin Sane in particular is one of the finest sounding CDs I have ever heard.

    All the same, this is, without question, a superb blog. I share many of your musical passions, and find your reviews stimulating and enjoyable.

  2. The problem with "Helden" is that when you translate lyrics like this:

    "And the shame was on the other side
    Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
    Then we could be heroes, just for one day"

    into German, it comes of sounding like speech that Hitler might have given at the Nuremburg Rally in 1934.


  3. At least he didn't include the French version of "Heroes." Henry Rollins HATES the sound of the Rykodisc reissues. Can't remember his rationale, but I've never heard someone sound so angry. Anyway, the Sound + Vision reissue was handled by Virgin/EMI, not Rykodisc. So maybe you can A-B them in your spare time, and solve the sonic mystery. And I imagine the whole catalog will get a re-re-reissue imminently on Sony, now that he is off EMI.