Sunday, 27 September 2015

"[Five Years 1969-1973]" by DAVID BOWIE [featuring Mick Ronson, Marc Bolan and Tony Visconti] (2015 Parlophone 12CD Box Set – Ray Staff and John Webber Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Twig The Wonder Kid..."

I suspect David Bowie fans will be elated and peeved at this release at one and the same time. I've lived with "Five Years" for a full day now and I must say immediately that the AUDIO absolutely rocks for starters - in fact it may even be a little 'too' clean for certain palettes. That good news aside - there's precious little by way of 'unreleased' or outtakes when there was room on both of the new "Re:Call" CD compilations for plenty of it - only 4 of the album titles are 2015 Remasters ("David Bowie", "The Man Who Sold The World", "Hunky Dory" and "Pinups") - most of the rest are from previous Anniversary Editions except the 2015 Remasters on the new "Re:Call" CD compilations (see list below) - and there are piffling packaging anomalies that are bugging the crap out of me. And that's before we talk about the hefty price tag that hurt my Debit Card this a.m. - way more than it should have done. There’s a Hell of a lot to get through so once more unto the Spacemen floating around in Tin Cans...

UK and USA released Friday, 25 September 2015 - "[Five Years 1969-1973]" by DAVID BOWIE on Parlophone DBX 1 (Barcode 0825646284085) is a 12CD Box Set with a 128-Page Hardback Book and pans out as follows (there is a Vinyl version, but no Auto-Rip or Download):

Disc 1, DBX1-1 - "David Bowie" [aka "Space Oddity"] 2015 REMASTER (46:18 minutes):
1. Space Oddity
2. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3. Letter To Hermione
4. Cygnet Committee
5. Janine [Side 2]
6. An Occasional Dream
7. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
8. God Only Knows
9. Memory Of A Free Festival
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "David Bowie" – released 14 November 1969 in the UK on Phillips SBL 7902 and in the USA as "Man Of Words/Man Of Music" on Mercury SR-61246 but with slightly altered artwork. It was reissued in the UK in November 1972 - again with altered artwork. Photos of the original US LP and the British repress are featured on Page 6 of the Hardback Book. Each of the CDs in this Box Set comes in a rounded protective plastic housed inside an exact repro of the British LP sleeve. "David Bowie" has a matt gatefold card sleeve and even sports a paper repro of the Inner Mercury Records protective LP Bag. The CD is a new 2015 Remaster.

Disc 2, DBX1-2 - "The Man Who Sold The World" 2015 REMASTER (41:16 minutes):
1. The Width Of A Circle
2. All The Madmen
3. Black Country Rock
4. After All
5. Running Gun Blues [Side 2]
6. Saviour Machine
7. She Shook Me Cold
8. The Man Who Sold The World
9. The Supermen
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "The Man Who Sold The World" – released 4 November 1970 in the USA on Mercury SR 61325 and 10 April 1971 in the UK on Mercury 6338 041. The US, UK and GERMAN releases all famously sported different artwork. The single-sleeve British issue is housed in what's commonly known as the 'Dress Sleeve' - which is what the CD here uses (complete with its textured feel). The Cartoon Drawing of the US original and the 'Flying Bowie Face' artwork of the German LP are reproduced in the booklet - as is the British October 1972 UK LP reissue on RCA Victor LSP 4816 – again with different artwork (the black and white photo of Bowie kicking his leg in the air). The CD is a new 2015 Remaster.

Disc 3, DBX1-3  – "Hunky Dory" 2015 REMASTER – 38:37 minutes:
1. Changes
2. Oh! You Pretty Things
3. Eight Line Poem
4. Life On Mars?
5. Kooks
6. Quicksand
7. Fill Your Heart [Side 2]
8. Andy Warhol
9. Song For Bob Dylan
10. Queen Bitch
11. The Bewlay Brothers
Tracks 1 to 11 are the album "Hunky Dory" – released 17 December 1971 in the UK on RCA Victor SF 8244 and in the USA on RCA Victor LSP 4623. The CD cover artwork for some reason has a 'Parlophone' logo in the top left corner when it should read RCA on the left with VICTOR on the right. The correct artwork is pictured in the booklet with a rare alternate rear sleeve where Bowie has hand-written all the credits including the musicians. The lyric insert that came with all original LP copies is also reproduced and the CD is a new 2015 Remaster.

Disc 4, DBX1-4 - "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" 2012 REMASTER (38:37 minutes):
1. Five Years
2. Soul Love
3. Moonage Daydream
4. Starman
5. It Ain't Easy
6. Lady Stardust [Side 2]
7. Star
8. Hang On To Yourself
9. Ziggy Stardust
10. Suffragette City
11. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
Tracks 1 to 11 are the album "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" – released 16 June 1972 in the UK on RCA Victor SF 8287 and in the USA on RCA Victor LSP 4702. This CD is the 2012 Digital Remaster.

Disc 5, DBX1-5 - "Pinups" 2015 REMASTER (34:01 minutes):
1. Rosalyn [The Pretty Things cover]
2. Here Comes The Night [Them cover]
3. I Wish You Would [Billy Boy Arnold cover]
4. See Emily Play [Pink Floyd cover]
5. Everything’s Alright [The Mojos cover]
6. I Can't Explain [The Who cover]
7. Friday On My Mind [The Easybeats cover] - [Side 2]
8. Sorrow [The Merseybeats cover]
9. Don’t Bring Me Down [Johnnie Dee cover]
10. Shapes Of Things [The Yardbirds cover]
11. Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere [The Who cover]
12. Where Have All The Good Times Gone [The Kinks cover]
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Pinups" – an entire LP of cover versions released November 1973 in the UK on RCA RS 1003 and in the USA on RCA Victor APL1-0291. The CD repro has the insert that came with original LPs and the CD is a new 2015 Remaster.

Disc 6, DBX1-6 – "Aladdin Sane" 2013 REMASTER (41:47 minutes):
1. Watch That Man (New York)
2. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) (R.H.M.S. "Ellinis")
3. Drive-In Saturday (Seattle - Phoenix)
4. Panic In Detroit (Detroit)
5. Cracked Actor (Los Angeles)
6. Time (New Orleans) – [Side 2]
7. The Prettiest Star (Gloucester Road)
8. Let’s Spend The Night Together
9. The Jean Genie (Detroit and New York)
10. Lady Grinning Soul (London)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the studio album "Aladdin Sane" – released 13 April 1973 in the UK on RCA Victor RS 1001 and in the USA on RCA Victor LSP 4852. The card repro has the original gatefold sleeve, inner lyric card and the 'Fan-Club Invite' that came with some original copies of the vinyl LP. The CD is the 40th Anniversary RAY STAFF REMASTER issued in 2013.

Disc 7, DBX1-7 – "Live Santa Monica '72" 2008 REMASTER (74:20 minutes):
1. Introduction
2. Hang On To Yourself
3. Ziggy Stardust
4. Changes
5. The Supermen
6. Life On Mars?
7. Five Years
8. Space Oddity
9. Andy Warhol
10. My Death
11. The Width Of A Circle
12. Queen Bitch
13. Moonage Daydream
14. John, I'm Only Dancing
15. Waiting For The Man
16. The Jean Genie
17. Suffragette City
18. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
Tracks 1 to 18 were recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Los Angeles, 20 October 1972 – officially released worldwide 30 July 2008 as "Live Santa Monica '72" on EMI BOWLIVE 201702. The Inner sleeve is reproduced and this CD is the 2008 Remaster.

Disc 8, DBX1 - "Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars – The Motion Picture Soundtrack" 2003 REMASTER
CD1 (40:34 minutes):
1. Introduction
2. Hang On To Yourself
3. Ziggy Stardust
4. Watch That Man
5. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
6. All The Young Dudes
7. Oh! You Pretty Things
8. Moonage Daydream
9. Changes
10. Space Oddity
11. My Death

CD2 (42:57 minutes):
1. Introduction
2. Cracked Actor
3. Time
4. The Width Of A Circle
5. Let’s Spend The Night Together
6. Suffragette City
7. White Light / White Heat
8. Farewell Speech
9. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
Recorded 3 July 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London - original mix UK released October 1983 as a double-album on RCA Victor PL 84862(2). This version is the 2003 "30th Anniversary" Remaster released 1 April 2003 on EMI ZIGGYRIP 3773.

Disc 9, DBX1-10 – "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (2003 Mix)" (38:29 minutes):
1. Five Years
2. Soul Love
3. Moonage Daydream
4. Starman
5. It Ain’t Easy
6. Lady Stardust [Side 2]
7. Star
8. Hang On To Yourself
9. Ziggy Stardust
10. Suffragette City
11. Rock 'n' Roll Suicide
Tracks 1 to 11 first released in 29 September 2003 in 5.1 on the SACD of "Ziggy Stardust" on EMI 521 9002. First released in Stereo at 48Hz/24bit on 4 June 2012 on the EMI 40th Anniversary DVD/LP Edition of "Ziggy Stardust". First time on CD outside of those two previous versions. 2003 Remaster.

Disc 10, DBX1-10 – "Re:Call 1" (Non Album Singles, Single Versions & B-Sides)
CD1 (40:09 minutes):
1. Space Oddity (Original UK Mono Single Edit)
A-side of a UK 7" single released 11 July 1969 in Mono on Phillips BF 1801
2. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Original UK Mono Single Version)
B-side of "Space Oddity" – it's a different earlier version to the one re-recorded for the LP
3. Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola
An Italian Version of "Space Oddity" recorded in the UK in December 1969 (after the release of the album) and released February 1970 in Italy on Philips 704 208. It came in a very rare Picture Sleeve that is reproduced in the hardback book. The title translates into English as "Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl".
4. The Prettiest Star (Original Mono Single Version)
Rrecorded in London in early January 1970, it was released 6 March 1970 in the UK as the Mono A-side to Philips MF 1135. Tony Visconti plays Bass and Marc Bolan of T.Rex plays second guitar.
5. Conversation Piece
Non-album B-side to "The Prettiest Star" (as per Track 4) - features Mick Wayne on Guitar, John Lodge on Bass and John Cambridge on Drums (all from the band Junior's Eyes) 
6. Memory Of A Free Festival Part 1
March 1970 re-recorded 'electric' version of the album track from the "Space Oddity" LP – released 26 June 1970 as the Stereo A-side to a UK 7" single on Mercury 6052 028
7. Memory Of A Free Festival Part 2
Stereo B-side of Track 6. Song features Mick Ronson on Guitar and Solo backing Vocals, Tony Visconti on Bass, Ralph Mace on Piano and John Cambridge of Junior's Eyes on Drums.
8. All The Madmen (Mono Single Edit) –
9. Janine (Mono)
Tracks 8 and 9 were a planned US 45 on Mercury 73173 but was cancelled (demos exist on Mercury DJ-311 with the mono edit of "All The Madmen" on 'both' sides). The A-side (track 8) is a Mono Edit of the longer Stereo cut on the LP and "Janine" is a Mono version of the full Stereo LP cut.
10. Holy Holy (Original Mono Single Version)
Non-album single – the Stereo A-side was recorded November 1970 and UK released 15 January 1971 on Mercury 6052 049. Its flipside was "Black Country Rock" from "The Man Who Sold The World" LP. Alan Parker from Blue Mink, Rumplestiltskin, CCS and Ugly Custard played Guitar, Herbie Flowers (later with Sky) played Bass and Barry Morgan from Blue Mink played Drums.
11. Moonage Daydream (The Arnold Corns Single Version)
12. Hang On To Yourself (The Arnold Corns Single Version)
Tracks 11 and 12 are credited to THE ARNOLD CORNS and are early versions of two tracks that would be on the 1972 "Ziggy Stardust" album. They were recorded February 1971 in London and UK released 7 May 1971 on B&C Records CB 149.
NOTES: Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are MONO while 3, 6 and 7 are STEREO - all 2015 REMASTERS.

CD2 (40:43 minutes):
1. Changes (Mono Single Version)
2. Andy Warhol (Mono Single Version)
Tracks 1 and 2 are a USA 7" single released 7 December 1971 on RCA Victor 74-065 - 7 January 1972 in the UK on RCA Victor RCA 2160.
The B-side "Any Warhol" is in Mono and edits out the studio chatter that's on the "Hunky Dory" LP version
3. Starman (Original Single Mix)
Remixed by he original Producer Ken Scott in London in March 1972 - released 28 April 1972 with the "Ziggy Stardust" album version of "Suffragette City" as its B-side
4. John, I'm Only Dancing (Original Single Version)
Recorded in London with Mick Ronson on Guitar and Mick Woodmansey on Drums on the 26th of June 1972 - it was released 1 September 1972 as a UK (and European) 7" single on RCA Victor RCA 2263 with the "Ziggy Stardust" album version of "Hang On To Yourself" as its B-side. It was considered 'too risque' for the American market (oh dear)
5. The Jean Genie (Original Single Mix)
Recorded and Mixed in October 1972 in New York and Nashville - it was UK and US released 24 November 1972 on RCA Victor RCA 2302 in the UK and RCA 74-0838 in the USA. Ken Scott later remixed it again for inclusion on the 1973 album "Aladdin Sane"
6. Drive-In Saturday (German Single Edit)
Released 6 April 1973 around the world as a 7" single - however - the German version on RCA Victor 74-16321 was a unique 'edit'
7. Round And Round
A Chuck Berry cover version originally recorded during the "Ziggy Stardust" album sessions - turned up as the non-album B-side to "Drive-In Saturday" released 6 April 1973 in the UK on RCA Victor RCA 2352. Features Mick Ronson on Guitar and Mick Woodmansey on Drums
8. John, I'm Only Dancing (Sax Version)
Recorded in London on the 20th of January 1973 - this 'Saxophone' Version eventually replaced the first pressings of RCA Victor RCA 2263. Ken Fordham plays the Saxophone.
9. Time (U.S. Single Edit)
A unique 'edit' of the longer album version - issued in two territories - 1 June 1973 in the USA on RCA APBO-0001 with "The Prettiest Star" as its flipside - and with "Panic In Detroit" as its B-side in Japan on RCA SS-2299
10. Amsterdam
A Jacque Brel cover version with English translation lyrics by Mort Shuman. It was recorded during the "Ziggy Stardust" album sessions and considered for release on that album - but eventually showed up 12 October 1973 in the UK as a non-album 7" single B-side to "Sorrow" (from the "Pinups" LP)
11. Holy Holy (Spiders Version)
A re-recording of a 1971 single - turned up 14 June 1974 in the UK on RCA Victor APBO 0283 as the non-album 7" single B-side to "Diamond Dogs"
12. Velvet Goldmine
A "Ziggy Stardust" outtake finally released 26 September 1975 on RCA Victor RCA 2593 in the UK along with "Changes" as a B-side on the 3-track 'Maximillion' single for the reissue of the album version of "Space Oddity"
NOTES: Tracks 1 and 2 are MONO while all others are STEREO. All tracks are 2015 REMASTERS except 3, 4, 5 and 8 which are 2014 REMASTERS that first turned up on the 2014 "Nothing Has Changed" 2CD and 3CD sets.

PACKAGING:
I don’t know why they attach a page to the back of these glossy boxes that will obviously fall off the second you remove the shrinkwrap and leave you with no info but the bare sleeve – but once again that's what you get here. On first opening the set I was underwhelmed by its 6-inch Cube size (weighty though) – but once inside the pull out glossy tray reveals a perfectly lined-up set of 5" Card Repro Sleeves nestled beside a chunky Hardback book. Aesthetically – the look is classy.

Each album comes in its own card repro sleeve (most based on the British releases) – all sporting their various original vinyl accompaniments – the inserts for "Hunky Dory" and "Pinups" – the inner sleeves for "Ziggy" and "Aladdin Sane" – the gatefold sleeve for "David Bowie" – the stippled effect on the withdrawn dress sleeve of "The Man Who Sold The World" – the inner bags for the later albums etc. And the (non-numbered) 128-page hardback book is beautiful to look at and dip into – festooned with a lifetime of fan collected items – concert tickets, rare picture sleeves, posters, trade adverts from the USA and UK as well as NME and New Musical Express reviews of the albums, handwritten lyrics, tape boxes galore, photo shoots in black and white and colour etc. There’s a Ray Davies (of The Kinks) Intro and replacing conventional liner notes - each album credit is followed by a detailed recalling of the recording process by the original album Producers KEN SCOTT and TONY VISCONTI. It's a brilliant and genuinely informative way to enlighten each record – words from those who actually made them. Parlophone have even used Mick Rock photos to create the new "Re:Call" compilations (this is '1' - the next will be '2' as the forthcoming box sets ascend in numbers) – it’s all very classy. But...

While there's tasteful attention to detail on the repros and in the hardback book (the CD labels for the Mercury albums are black to reflect the original LP label look, orange for RCA, "Aladdin Sane" has its Fan-club insert and so on) – there's also some dreadful howlers. The card artwork for "Hunky Dory" and both of the "Ziggy Stardust" card sleeves now have very obvious 'PARLOPHONE Records' logos on their sleeves when it should of course read 'RCA Victor'. To a fan that’s grown up with these classics all three repros look stupid and odd. "Hunky Dory" also has a 'gloss cover' when it was always plain matt on British LPs. The "David Bowie" and "The Man Who Sold The World" repro 'spines' suddenly have 'PARLOPHONE' on them as catalogue numbers (none of the others do) as well. So much for 'painstaking original issue detail'. The otherwise beautifully laid out hardback book inside the box lists both "Aladdin Sane" and "Pinups" as being released April 1973 when it should read April 1973 and November 1973 respectively. 

There are also sloppy exclusions. Parlophone went to the trouble of repro'ing pointless white inner bags for "Pinups" and "The Man Who Sold The World" – but then didn’t reproduce the foldout poster that came with the 1972 reissue of "Space Oddity" as a tasty foldout addition. The lyrics are reproduced on card sleeves, inner sleeves and so on but because they're small - it’s hard to read them. As they're 'not' included in the hardback book - I would have put a separate booklet inside each card sleeve with the words so you can read them properly - lyrics being such an integral part of Bowie's mystique and allure. That booklet could have featured all three cover-variants of "Space Oddity" for instance (UK, USA and German) as a feature. And as you can see from the list above – the box set's own internal numbering system of DBX1-1 to DBX1-10 is all screwed up with "Ziggy Stardust 2003 Mix" and "Re:Call 1" 'both' having a DBX1-10 catalogue number while the Motion Picture double of "Ziggy Stardust" has no extension number at all (just says DBX1). My gripes may be a bit piddly I know – but when you’re paying close to one hundred quid for this sucker (or one twenty dollars) – someone should really have gotten it right. Those 'Parlophone' logos on the two biggies ("Hunky Dory" and "Ziggy Stardust") just grate and definitely feel like the makers of this set are hijacking history to suit their corporate acquisition. Docked a star for sloppiness and an excessive price too...

SOUND:
But all of that small change stuff goes out the window once you clap ears on the new RAY STAFF Remasters - beautifully clean and full of genuine presence. Ray Staff handled the stunning 40th Anniversary Remaster of "Aladdin Sane" in 2013 (see separate review) – and has clearly made his mark with Bowie because he's been asked back to cover the Transfers and Remasters on this prestigious release (with some Mastering help from JOHN WEBBER). Playing "Hunky Dory" for instance is a revelation – the whimsy of "Kooks" – the ballsy kick out of "Queen Bitch" - the huge Acoustic sound on "The Bewlay Brothers" and so on. Comparing it with the 2003 Mix – you’d have to say that the Bass and Drums now have amazing clarity and sweetness too. I'm probably going to be shot with a shovel for this but I've always thought 1972's "Ziggy Stardust" was a lesser album than 1971's "Hunky Dory" – but personal opinions aside - you can't argue that the 2012 Remaster isn’t anything but a wonder. I cranked his fantastic cover version of Ron Davies "It Ain’t Easy" (covered by Three Dog Night and John Baldry also) and did the same for the sheer hutzpah of "Suffragette City' - and both knocked my Aural earmuffs off. But as ever – for some reason that guitar riff in the "Ziggy Stardust" track itself always still seems to lack any 'real' punch – it's good – just never 'great'. 

But if I’m honest I think the best sonic improvement is with the underrated covers album "Pinups" – every track seems hugely improved on this 2015 Version - especially his take on "Rosalyn" by The Pretty Things or The Who's "I Can't Explain" and Johnnie Dee's obscure "Don't Bring Me Down" both thumping way above their previous CD weight. Staff has also done wonders with the 2015 remaster of "The Man Who Sold The World" album which now sounds both utterly amazing and like some forgotten masterpiece everyone's let slip by. The guitars on "The Width Of A Circle" are mindblowingly good - as are David's upfront vocals on "Black Country Rock" - and those layered voices on the title track are so cleverly arranged (I'd honestly forgotten how good this album is). And although its pure speculation on my part and without saying so anywhere on the packaging – I can’t help feel that these gold-layered CDs are actually Japanese-pressed SHMs (Super High Materials) used to get the best Fidelity (they play on all machines) – but I'm open to correction on that...

SUMMARY:
Minor packaging rants aside (and I take on board the high cost issue) – the bottom line is this – these 2015 Ray Staff Remasters are the best that Bowie’s catalogue has ever sounded and I’m certain that as I wade through this set in the next week, months and years that I’ll keep returning to these new Audios with a sense of glee and not weariness. And in its high gloss heavy box - it's also beautiful to look at and classily presented - and 'if' they are SHM-CDs in those individual protective plastics - then that will save fans a ton of money when the inevitable Japanese 5" mini LP repros turn up end of the year or in early 2016.

Fans will have to have it of course – but casual buyers should wait until the individual releases are released (probably in jewel cases rather than repro artwork) and pick off what they really want - disregarding the rest. Me – frankly I’m already lusting after the 1974 to 1980 period stuff and the "Re:Call 2" set when it turns up in the next lavish and expensive Space Captain splurge. Twig the wonder kid indeed...

FOOTNOTE (February 2016):
Since his death there's been the inevitable plethora of tributes and assessments but only one has really touched me. In the February 2016 issue of the RECORD COLLECTOR magazine (No. 450 with Black Sabbath on the cover) is a tribute by KRIS NEEDS that gives us 30 reasons as to "What David Did For Us All" (Pages 56 to 61). Articulate, sensitive and heartfelt - the piece eschews the academic and goes straight to the nub of why his death has affected so many and has been felt so deeply. It’s beautifully written, insightful and above all does Bowie’s brilliance the solid it so deserves. If you're a fan or even curious as to what all the fuss is about - you 'must' read it. And as something of a writer and long-time reviewer myself - I humbly nod my cap to Kris for nailing it. We loved this musical and cultural innovator and it hurts way too much that David Bowie is gone leaving us with such a giant-sized hole in our musical lives...

This review and hundreds more like it are in my SOUNDS GOOD Music Books Series available as a download called CLASSIC 1970s ROCK: Exceptional CD Remasters on Amazon at...

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