Friday, November 13, 2015

David Bowie 37: Five Years

Every couple of years it seemed somebody would come up with another reason to remaster some element of the David Bowie catalog, sometimes as part of an anniversary, or sometimes just because. This time, it appears the people in charge wanted to streamline things somewhat, and thus began the third major overhaul of what we’ll call the RCA catalog.
Five Years is a handy title for a set that covers the initial trajectory of Bowie stardom, starting from the Space Oddity album through Pin Ups, which bade farewell to the Spiders From Mars. Six albums are presented in their original sleeves and sequences, complete with replica labels and inner sleeves, with all but Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane getting modern sonic overhauls. A nice book includes new notes and reproductions of contemporary reviews and ads, and somebody felt it necessary to include the Ziggy Stardust album a second time, in its 2003 mix by original co-producer Ken Scott, which most fans apparently hated. (The alternate cover art nicely credits Rick Wakeman and Dana Gillespie for their contributions to “It Ain’t Easy” for the first time.)
Because they were both official albums, Live Santa Monica ‘72 and the Ziggy concert soundtrack fill in the picture further. While similar in setlist, they show the difference nine months made; the earlier show leaned more on Hunky Dory since Aladdin Sane was still in progress, while by the time he got to the Hammersmith Odeon, he’d become a sensation. (Personally, the earlier show is a little more intimate, and less flashy, but just as powerful when the band is playing full speed.)
Because the albums didn’t tell the whole story, two extra discs dubbed Re:Call 1 helped to mop up many of the period’s standalone singles, B-sides, and single edits. They’re in chronological order, making it easy to track the progress from “Space Oddity” through such alternates as “The Prettiest Star” with Marc Bolan, the Arnold Corns versions of two Ziggy songs, and both versions of “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “Holy Holy”. Nothing recorded before 1969 is included, and a handful of songs from the same period that had been bonus tracks on the Ryko CDs and/or other anniversary reissues are MIA, to more gnashing of teeth.
What helps, of course, is that these albums were so good to begin with. This era is one that most Bowie fans agree brought out some incredible music, and that fact becomes even more astonishing when it’s all heard together. Unless one has everything already, it’s a great place to start.

David Bowie Five Years 1969-1973 (2015)—4

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