Sunday, 17 January 2016

V.9221. Or CPDR.33318. Just for the record.

I like David Bowie. And I like records. Once upon a time, in a happy land far, far away, I combined both these interests to become that most peculiar of creatures: The David Bowie Collector.

I don't collect any more, though I still have a LOT of records. Economic necessity, coupled with a phenomenon you could call the "Diminishing Return of the South American 7" single" (the Mexican pressing of Blue Jean in its joyless EMI paper sleeve is barely discernible from the Brazilian one - but the collector needs to own both and they're going to cost twenty quid a pop), knocked the expensive collecting game on its head for me.

But while deep in the throes of my obsession, hoovering up rarities from friends, record fairs, mail order companies and Record Collector private ads, I was like a cat in a Whiskas warehouse. I had hundreds of Bowie LPs and hundreds of 7" singles. And hundreds of eight-tracks, too. Catalogue numbers on labels, matrix run-out information on the dead wax, tiny print on the corners of picture sleeves... these were my manna. I was sitting on a pretty decent collection, right up there with the more serious of my collector peers. Clearly, we were obsessed.

I've held onto one copy of each UK album release, from the 1967 Deram debut onwards, and have shifted the rest. That's right: my Yugoslavian Never Let Me Down is no longer in the house.

So it goes. But I have my memories. And here are ten of my favourites to be going on with:

1) Station To Station (France RCA 7", 1976). Who'd be mad enough to try to make a single edit out of the epic, wandering Station to Station title track? Those gaga cuckoos at RCA France, that's who. This carved-up edit was withdrawn (probably at the behest of David himself, I should think) and only a handful of jukebox promo copies escaped the pressing plant. I found a copy for £2.50 at Brighton Record Fair, where the dealer had it labeled as 'France TVC 15 (the song on the b-side), picture sleeve missing'. Bargain.

2) Ziggy Stardust LP (UK first pressing, 1972). The very first pressing, with matrixes ending in -1E on each side. This is the one with the slightly different mix of Starman. The 'Wichita Lineman' bit is quieter than later pressings. This one sticks in my mind because of where I found it: at Woolworth's in Exeter, around 1979. It had clearly been sitting in the racks, unlooked at, for all those seven years, so immaculate was its condition when I bought it.

3) Knock On Wood (France RCA 7", 1974). Snapped up from a record shop in Brussels, this one stands out for its unique and very attractive picture sleeve: a live shot from the Diamond Dogs tour, David looking moody and mean in a Shakespearean cape.

4) The Prettiest Star (Germany Mercury 7", 1970). The original version, with Marc Bolan on lead guitar. The Germans released this in an aesthetically wonderful picture sleeve - a live action shot of our David, curly-haired and shiny-suited, clutching a 12-string guitar. Lovely stuff.

5) David Bowie Special (Japan double LP, 1976). A compilation album with a unique full-face cover snatched from a scene in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Japanese lyric inserts are always great entertainment, especially when the words are transcribed from guesswork, and Japanese pressings are always king. For such a determinedly throwaway society, our Japanese friends sure know how to build a record to last.

6) The Konrads - I Didn't Know How Much (Canada Decca 7", 1965). OK, so this is not a David Bowie record. He's not on it. But the record is interesting because it was uncatalogued until I managed to unearth a copy. This I did by searching for Konrads on eBay every bloody week. When this title, and the also-unheard of 'I Thought Of You Last Night' on the flip, turned up on a Canadian single and then an American promo, I really thought I had struck gold. Twice. Not quite, it turned out, but this post-Bowie Konrads single, seemingly rushed out without the band's knowledge all those years ago, was an interesting find nonetheless.

7) Drive-In Saturday (UK RCA 7", 1973). Nothing madly rare about this one... but the b-side, Bowie and the Spiders rocking through Chuck Berry's Round and Round? Spectacular! Mick Ronson's guitar solo is peerless on this.

8) Memory of a Free Festival (UK Mercury 7", 1970). Fantastic, hippy-free reworking of the fantastic and epic song on David's second album. This organ and guitar-heavy release was helpfully split into two parts. That's a very sixties thing to do (just about hanging on into the seventies).

9) Low (UK RCA LP, 1977). Just look at that sleeve. It's like... how more orange could it be? This delicious-looking record, with the song titles and credits confined to a tiny sticker on the back, is so bright and so seventies it can be seen from space. Almost. And, my God, it's a fantastic album.

10) Davie Jones and the King Bees - Liza Jane (Vocalion UK 7", 1964). In actual fact, I never owned one of these. It's always slipped through my fingers. It's David's official debut on record, and it resonates with me because it's my official debut too: I was born and the record was released on the same day, Friday June 5, 1964. Thanks mum. You done good!

Naturally, Liza Jane on Vocalion has always been a top dollar record. And I've always been too skint to buy one. But one day I might just bring my collector self back into play, and snap one up. One day. One day.

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