Bowie Sound + Vision

The hows & whys of the David Bowie Sound + Vision re-release campaign - 25 years later

It Was 26+ Years Ago Today Part 3 & Maybe 4 & 5, too

Finally, here’s the clarification / rationalization / justification / defense for why each track on the S+V box set was chosen.  It's a long one.

First; sorry this is a day later than promised but, Paris.  One of my favorite places on earth, with many friends living there.  Paris is one of our greatest cities; I wish them peace & look forward to returning.  Vive la France!

Second; following my rant about the inaccurate conclusions presented as fact on the Wikipedia page for the S+V box, there's been some discussion with some very helpful readers who've now edited the Wikipedia page to reference my site.  A heartfelt thanks to them.

I’ve learned much of the disinformation came from the Allmusic page for the box, which is a review.  This is contrary to how Wikipedia is supposed to work, which is factually, from credible sources.  The AllMusic page is one man's opinion, not a researched article.  I can understand how it could've been misinterpreted as such since the writer, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, editor at AllMusic, presents his opinion as fact.  Erlewine's assumptions are based on information he could not possible have access to, with no sources.  It's a review, an opinion, not a scholarly piece.  Until now, only Bowie & I (and a handful of colleagues) knew the logic behind the box set programming.  Erlewine's certainly entitled to his opinion, but let's not mistake it for anything else, especially as he's got it ALL WRONG.

Thanks to the changes, at this point, my only issue with the Wiki entry is a minor semantic quibble.  I suppose the set could be considered a “teaser” (as currently stated on Wikipedia) since it was first in the series.  But “teaser” implies it's purpose was as an advertisement, akin to a movie trailer or preview of the next episode of a TV show. 

Considering the thought and effort that went in to presenting the artist's work in the best possible light, "teaser" could be misconstrued as an exercise in pure crass commerciality, which it most certainly was not.

Anyway, if we're going to use reviews as valid sources of factual information on Wikipedia, I prefer this one from the better-regarded Rolling Stone, written by the better-regarded Jimmy Guterman & published in the October 19, 1989 issue.  Below are a few quotes I really like (for obvious reasons).  Click on the cover for a link to the full review.

 Duckface pioneer.

Duckface pioneer.

"David Bowie has always been one of pop's most frustrating performers, as capable of creating original, barrier-breaking work as he is of pushing lazy, unfocused material. Sound + Vision is the opening salvo in Rykodisc's Bowie reissue campaign, which over the next two years will restore all of the performer's RCA work to the marketplace. Concentrating on the high points, this striking retrospective (three CDs or cassettes, six LPs) gives shape to Bowie's career and makes sense out of an erratic output, much as Decade did for Neil Young. With few notable exceptions, all of Bowie's finest RCA-era work can be heard on Sound + Vision."

"This box isn't a greatest-hits collection (Bowie's biggest hits for RCA, "Fame" and "Golden Years," are both missed), nor is it a rarities collection. Only five of its forty-six tracks were previously unreleased, and none of those is revelatory. Instead, the idea behind Sound + Vision is to bring together familiar and half-forgotten tracks to build a sturdy, coherent set. And with the possible exception of Station to Station, his most consistent album, released in 1976, this is where Bowie's work becomes most lucid."

"With its chronological sequencing – from the demo of "Space Oddity" to its 1980 answer song, the assured "Ashes to Ashes" – Sound + Vision states the case for understanding Bowie's career as one of searching followed by growth. The moves from fey to glam, from soul to experimentation, make sense here as logical steps for a performer insistent on finding something new at every turn."

Finally, Before we start, I want to re-state a few things before we get into the meat of it;

1)    This box was not designed as a “teaser” for the S+V campaign, it was designed as a career overview of the RCA period

2)    The primary point of the career overview was to program a listenable program that flowed and made sense of a career that had considerable stylistic changes over a relatively short period of time, which had alienated some listeners, even though the music was brilliant

3)    It was NOT designed as a greatest hits

4)    The track list leans heavily on the “Serious Moonlight” set list as its backbone

5)    It was assembled in 1989, after what is typically regarded as a low point in Bowie’s artistic career

6)    We knew a lot of fans would buy it regardless of the content (sorry, but this is the sad truth, he said to buyers of 40th anniversary 7” pic discs they’ll most likely never play), so we felt it needed to look great, have rare stuff, and honor the artist & his material

I realize many readers knew some of this long before I launched this site and others are sick of me reiterating myself in previous chapters, but in the interest of clarity, for the benefit of new readers, etc, etc…  I humbly thank you for your time & indulgence.

Onward!

There was never any doubt in my kind that the box was going to be chronological.  It needed to show the journey and make digestible sense of the progressions.

Disc 1

Disc 1 is obviously the line from folkie to glam alien to killing off Ziggy.

"Space Oddity" (demo version)

Previously unreleased

This had to be the first track.  Bowie delivered it separately from the rest of the vault, although he left me to assembling the track list & sequence.  He didn't specify it as the first track, but later confirmed he'd hoped we'd start with it.  Considering we had the RCA stuff and nothing else, it made sense to start and end with Major Tom and the spoken intro only made it more delicious.  Even though his intent at the time he recorded it was different, it's simple earnestness showed a side of Bowie most people never imagined. His words served as the perfect welcome to the box.

Come in & see if you like what you hear.

Perfect.

 

2. "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (single version)

B-side of “Space Oddity”

I wasn't crazy about using multiple versions of the same song on their parent albums and this song nicely showcases the hippy-dippy side of Bowie that "Man Of Words" represented, but with a foreshadowing of the large scale drama to come.

3. "The Prettiest Star" (Marc Bolan mono single version)

Non-album single

This recording with Bolan feels (to me, anyway) like a pivotal, transitional moment - when Bowie's glam switch flipped, even if it took a couple more years to flower.  His relationship with Bolan is key to that.  As a bonus track, it would’ve been (stylistically) an odd fit with the album it would be associated with chronologically.

 

4. "London Bye Ta Ta" (Mono)

Previously unreleased

Like “Prettiest Star”, this track felt like it would be stylistically out of place on "Space Oddity" or MWSTW.  It's got an uncharacteristic (for this period of Bowie's career, anyway) mod feel.  When EMI took over the catalog, they got their hands on a stereo version that was not in our tape inventory, which they replaced on the re-issue of the box.  They were kind of dicks about it, too.

 

5. "Black Country Rock"

The Man Who Sold the World

Kurt Cobain rightly recognized this album as having a number of great songs, but at the time it was historically kind of a dud in the catalog, sales wise.  This track feels like another step toward the stripped down, less prog/folk songwriting that would lead to Ziggy.

 

6. "The Man Who Sold the World"

The Man Who Sold the World

Just a great song.  When Nirvana recorded it for "unplugged" sales of the album increased threefold.

 

7. "The Bewlay Brothers"

Hunky Dory

Because this is about David's relationship with his brother - a weighty subject, with long-vibrating repercussions in his work - I felt it should be included.  There are so many great tracks on HD you can’t really go wrong, but that's why I picked this one.

 

8. "Changes"

Hunky Dory

Straight up regular version.  I felt like the newbies needed familiarity after a lot of material the casual fan would only be peripherally familiar with, if at all.  Plus, it's fucking “Changes”.  One of his greatest in my book; in anyone’s book.

 

9. "Round and Round"

"Drive-In Saturday" B-side

This seems like a toss off to me - a loving tribute and a great version, but including it on Ziggy seemed wrong, it was too outside the whole thing.  That said, if it had been part of the body of the original album, it could've made sense.  Tagging it on at the end didn't seem right.  I’ll discuss this in depth when I get to my proposal for a 25th Anniversary Ziggy Box Set.

 

10. "Moonage Daydream"

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Pre-Guardians of the Galaxy, this was not a massive Bowie track.  But it's undoubtedly a great, dramatic one.  So here it is.  And thank you, James Gunn!

 

11. "John, I'm Only Dancing" (Sax version)

Non-album single

I love this version & it's a beautiful bridge between “Ziggy” & “Aladdin”.  I knew we were going to use one on “Ziggy” so I didn't want to have two versions as bonus tracks on consecutive releases.  In hindsight, if I’d’ve known we were using all the (available) “Aladdin”-related rarities on the box, leaving us without anything for the “Aladdin” album, I might’ve had a re-think.  C’est La Vie!

 

12. "Drive-In Saturday"

Aladdin Sane

I know a lot of people love “Aladdin” (no pun intended) but I'm not a huge fan.  As an album it feels a bit like an unfocused rush job follow-up, albeit with some really amazing songs.  Considering how it was recorded that's no surprise.  It was hard to pick an album track that was illuminating, and I knew I wanted to use the live version of “Cracked Actor” (I think it's got an edge the studio track does not).  This one feels like it was left off “Ziggy”; it certainly speaks to Bowie’s futuristic / post-apocalyptic / sci-fi leanings.

 

13. "Panic in Detroit"

Aladdin Sane

Great, and somewhat unsung, song (at the time).  I felt it reflected DB’s exposure to and better understanding of the greater whole of America he'd seen touring, and speaks to his relationship with Iggy, too.  It's feels like something of a protest song, which isn't typically in Bowie's oeuvre.

 

14. "Ziggy Stardust" (Live)

Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

I had to include “Ziggy” as it was the final public Ziggy gig.  Listening to it I’m still looking for clues; did DB know the destruction of the Spiders was minutes away, or did he made a snap decision in the moment?

15. "White Light/White Heat" (Live)

Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

Nice way to reference Lou and the VU, obviously a huge influence, and this had been (deservedly) a single.  I really wish the Spiders had cut an album of glammed up VU covers.

 

16. "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" (Live)

Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

Of course.

Ziggy was over, thus endeth disc one and the journey from fey 60's folkie to fully formed glam alien is complete.

There was a lot of stress getting the “Ziggy: MoPi” tracks as they were still controlled by RCA (with only months left on the deal), so we had to license them in a very short period of time.  RCA were obviously not excited about losing the catalog and took this moment to quote somewhat extortionary fees.  Our crack business affairs team found a way to make it work – they pulled my ass out of the fire many times and were always a blast to work with.

Not that it’s relevant to the box, but as an aside, I believe if you’re a creative person in someone’s employ, you have to assimilate the legal side.  It’s stunning to me how few of my colleagues (not at Ryko, but in the industry at large) were mind-bogglingly clueless about contracts, IP law and similar.  You can do a better job and be far more productive if you grasp these concepts.  I’m still not a lawyer (don’t have the discipline to pass the bar, I think) but was able to absorb a lot.  As a result, I have an above average grasp of IP law and do a lot of work as an expert witness in regard to music business legal matters.

 

Disc 2

Disc 2 is the metamorphosis from popstar to something grander and more experimental. Yes, I’ve seen the cover of Pin-ups, but, to me anyway, it is not a Ziggy album – it’s a tentative first reach away from the thing that made him huge, a kiss goodbye to his old influences before next phase. I mean, he’s got the Ziggy mullet on the cover of Diamond Dogs, but you can’t consider that a Ziggy record, right?

The goal here was to navigate from shaking off the Ziggy character through the first major stylistic change in Bowie’s career since his breakout – the Philly Soul period, hopefully creating a logical thread that leads to the Berlin Years in the process.

 Not your daddy's Ziggy Stardust..

Not your daddy's Ziggy Stardust..

1. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"

2. "Sorrow"

3. "Don't Bring Me Down"

Pin Ups

The “Pin Ups” tracks are, to me, the kiss goodbye to Ziggy.  That story is over, but here's a little look back at what inspired it.  It's a fine, but minor record in the RCA canon, more a blowing off steam project than a real album.  The Who cover that opens the disc feels like a declaration of intent, as if Bowie is anticipating and telegraphing the stylistic evolutions to come.  It always surprised me that the track choices here stirred up so much discussion.

 

5. "1984/Dodo"

Previously unreleased

This one I may have hung onto for the regular disc of DD, but it was a hint at what was to come in terms of unreleased material and I loved that it spoke to the original 1984 concept, and to songs that did eventually make it in the album, albeit quite differently.  Plus if I’d included it, it breaks my multiple versions rule (sort of).


6. "Big Brother"

Diamond Dogs

A strong album track, it again wasn't widely known but illuminates DD and the vocal performance is killer, I think.

 Timeline inaccurate, but I'll have 10 anyway.

Timeline inaccurate, but I'll have 10 anyway.

7. "Rebel Rebel" (U.S. single version)

Diamond Dogs

I far prefer this version, but it's not the hit, which had to be on the album.  Even though this was the single in the U.S., not many were exposed to it on mainstream radio, probably due to the Latin underpinnings.  AOR was not nearly as cool as it thought it was in 1974.  So great.

 

8. "Suffragette City"

9. "Watch That Man"

10. "Cracked Actor"

David Live

All classic Bowie tracks in my book, and these are cracking versions.  This little section lays waste to the idea that David’s live albums, while not highlights in his catalog, are hardly total duds.

 

11. "Young Americans"

Young Americans

In 1989 “YA” was the best-selling non-compilation album in the RCA Bowie catalog, and this is an awesome track.  But furthermore, coming out of post-apocalypse Bowie into soul-period Bowie is a jarring transition.  An actual hit helps the listener flow right along with the switch up.  Familiarity is your friend.

 

12. "Fascination"

Young Americans

This is a slightly different version to the album track.  There were lots of iterations of YA in the vaults (as we know, this record evolved through many stages with two tracks yanked & replaced at the last minute).  Under the deadlines we were facing, we didn’t have time to ascertain the subtle differences.  I don’t recall picking this version because it was different. It’s just a great YA track that hadn't been played to death, it speaks to David’s development as an artist lyrically, and in my view, it’s the most authentic Philly Soul track on the album.

 

13. "After Today"

Young Americans

I was very, very taken with this outtake.  The rough mix Northeastern Digital knocked out was only intended as a listening reference, but we used it anyway.  I liked the aggressive sax placement and the overall roughness, compared to the rest of “Young Americans”, which plays the Philly Soul thing largely on the smoother side.  I don’t think the track was fully finished (there was no final mix, just the multi-tracks).  Because of the aggression, it felt out of place as a bonus track.  The guys at NDR were somewhat mortified that David & I wanted to use it as is. NDR asked us to give them a shot at remixing it to fit the overall sound of YA and we did.  I felt the result took the edge off and Bowie did too.   If there had been more to work with, the sweeter mix may have worked, but the tracks were just too raw.  So we used this version, and the engineer asked his name be taken off the mixing credit, but I love it as is.

 

14. "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City"

Previously unreleased, 1975

This just does not fit anywhere.  As a Philly Soul version of a Springsteen song, it doesn’t quite fit on YA (and honestly, it feels a bit forced), but as a curiosity it’s stunning.   DB sensed that Springsteen was a major new talent well ahead of the curve.  I imagine David thought Bruce would become the new Lou Reed - not an unreasonable conclusion, based on the first couple of records.  Obviously Bruce took a different turn.

 

15. "TVC 15"

Station to Station

Unsung classic from “STS”.  God bless the 8 track.  There's an app we need; one that inserts 8-track style breaks in our mp3s!

 

16. "Wild Is the Wind"

Station to Station

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of this track but DB seems to like it and it made sense as a transition to the berlin stuff inasmuch as it shares some of that stark sense of foreboding.

 

Disc 3

This is really designed to show America where they got it wrong; to highlight the most appealing songs of one of his most innovative and creative periods, and to give (in the US at least) an opportunity for fans to either discover this wonderful music for the first time, or to re-evaluate it’s influence in the wake of history.  So much of the contemporary musical landscape preceding the box was derived from the seeds planted here that I felt listeners who’d initially dismissed the records could be compelled to reconsider them.  Conversely, new listeners would find material that felt like familiar friends, even as they were hearing them for the first time.  With “Scary Monsters” there was less of a mission; in the US, it was the start of his climb to a new commercial height.  And of course, it brings closure to the decade with the death of Major Tom.

1. "Sound and Vision"                     

Low

Maybe his best song, it completely defies conventional song structure, but is incredibly satisfying.  Because the Berlin records had been so poorly marketed / failed to go over with the U.S., there was a sense within the company that we had a mission to make sure people got it this time.  We branded the series of releases and the box "Sound + Vision" - how could this track NOT be included?

 

2. "Be My Wife"

Low

This felt shockingly contemporary and the structure is pretty traditional.  It seemed like it would go down well with the newbies.  Plus great guitar stuff.

 

3. "Speed of Life"

Low

This is one of Bowie’s greatest instrumentals, all of which are vastly underappreciated, I think.  He must’ve felt the same as we pressed up the original “All Saints” two CD Holiday promo set for him (reports of it’s edition size are widely reported inaccurately).

 

4. ""Helden""

"Heroes"

If this was really remixed, it was done by Bowie and delivered to us that way – although my recollection is that we sourced it from the “Rare” master.  Included here because it’s great, and had yet to become the anthem it is today.  German version as I was hoping to steer clear of multiple versions of the same song on the parent album (not always an attainable goal).

5. "Joe the Lion"

"Heroes"

6. "Sons of the Silent Age"                         

"Heroes"

Both of these “”Heroes”” tracks felt like digestible highlights for newbies, and are filled with album-worthy drama.  Also, it probably goes without saying that flow from song to song was a consideration.  But there, I said it anyway.

 

7. "Station to Station" (Live)

Stage

I would've included the studio version, but again, I think this smokes it, in terms of intensity.

 

8. "Warszawa" (Live)

Stage

I realize sterility may have been part of the plan in Berlin, but this has warmth and more humanity that's missing from the studio version, which I find is frequently the case with live instrumentals (yes, I know he sings, but the voice is used as another instrument here) – it’s practically heartbreaking in this incarnation.   It spoke to Bowie's break from tradition, and to the quality of the source album.  Also it’s kind of ballsy to include a nearly 7 minute live instrumental, right?

 

9. "Breaking Glass" (Live)   

Stage

Again, what I consider a superior live interpretation, especially the second half.

 

10. "Red Sails"

Lodger

“Lodger” was virtually an instant cut-out in the U.S. so I tried to pick tracks that, again, benefitted from traditional song structure.  Only “Boys” & “DJ” had any exposure in the U.S. and even that was mostly in the form of late night video play.  The mighty hook of this song was especially highlighted on the less-angular “Lets Dance / Serious Moonlight” tour version, and certainly weighed in my choice.

 

11. "Look Back in Anger"

Lodger

Just an amazing track.  One of his best vocal performances too.

 

12. "Boys Keep Swinging"

Lodger

The song plays into so much Bowie mythology, I couldn’t leave it off.

 

13. "Up the Hill Backwards"

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Great track of course, but Scary Monsters is full of them.  I liked how the lyrics explore looking at history and moving forward at the same time, yet in a comforting way.  Plus Fripp.

 

14. "Kingdom Come"

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

I like Tom Verlaine and Bowie acknowledging the Television frontman (and therefore early NYC punk) felt like an important connection to make.

15. "Ashes to Ashes"          

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Because coming back to Major Tom is the perfect circle.  I lobbied to license the original version of Cat People and Under Pressure because I love them both so much but it seemed unlikely given our deadlines. In retrospect I'm happier they landed on the Singles collection than here.

CD-Video/CD-ROM

1. "John, I'm Only Dancing"

2. "Changes"

3. "The Supermen"

All three live at the Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA October 1972

These tracks ended up here because I wasn’t planning to use live tracks as bonuses on the albums AND we didn’t have the rest of the show to do a full album release.  Again, maybe these would’ve been better on “Aladdin” as luck would have it, they nearly perfectly fit the audio-only time-limit of a CD-V, so maybe that was a sign.

4. "Ashes to Ashes"

(Video/single edit)

We did our best to contextualize all aspects of Bowie’s career, both the audio and visual side (again, “Sound + Vision”).  The box itself, the booklet design, and then, in a unique opportunity we had in that brief window when it looked like CD-V might be a thing, a music video.  Bowie was of course lauded for his music videos.  But, while the earlier videos were groundbreaking and he looks great, 1989 was the height of MTV and compared to the multi-million dollar productions by lesser talents ranging from Michael Jackson and Poison, they looked clunky.  Hence, “Ashes” which was the most contemporary looking video in our vault.  Since you needed a laserdisc to watch it, I doubt many did, anyway – but Ryko was always about early adoption of technology and we had no idea if the format was going to thrive or survive.