Tuesday, January 19, 2016

David Bowie - Love You Till Tuesday ("Soundtrack" & Film)

It's been a week-plus now since David Bowie's death . . . and it still feels weird. I don't want to overplay the "end of a era" thing, but that's sort of the way his passing feels. And most of the tributes and commentaries that followed in the wake of his death have all, either overtly or not, mentioned the same feeling. The man was one of a kind, and it may be a long time before someone with his creative gifts, innate intelligence, and puckish wit ever passes this way again.

In the past week, Bowie's latest album Blackstar has shot to the top of the U.S. and several international charts, and NINE of his earlier albums also reentered the Billboard 200, including two more in the Top 40: The Best Of Bowie at #4 and The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars at #21. Radio stations around the world have held week-long tributes - since last Monday, Radio NZ has played nothing but Bowie hits. And music bloggers all over the Internet (myself included) have fallen all over themselves writing about the man and artist and trying to come up with obscure, hard-to-find tidbits of Bowie-ibilia to make themselves stand out from their peers.

I was going to try to avoid doing that . . . but in reviewing the artist's offerings made available on various sites over the past few days, I noted that one interesting artifact appeared to be missing - an artifact that I happen to have in my possession.

In the mid-60s, a teenaged David Jones passed through a series of unsuccessful bands - The Konrads, The King Bees, The Manish Boys, The Lower 3rd, The Riot Squad - most of which recorded non-charting, poorly-received singles. With the emergence of another English David (Davy) Jones, a member of the American pop group The Monkees, Jones
changed his name to David Bowie in late 1966 to differentiate himself. Not that the change in moniker did him any good; he released a solo single in April 1967 (the weird and wonderful/embarrassing (depending on who you ask) children's song "The Laughing Gnome") and his debut album, David Bowie, that June (the same day Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released), both on Deram Records.

The problem with David Bowie especially, in my opinion, is that it's all over the map - on it, Bowie does folk tunes, Anthony Newley-type show tunes, baroque pop, etc.; none of them written especially well. Buyers just didn't know what to make of him; was he 'for real', or just a novelty artist? The result was that they stayed away in droves - neither the single nor the album charted. This would be the last music Bowie released for more than two years (Deram dropped him a couple of months later).

In the interim, Bowie began an intensive course of study in dance and the dramatic arts under renowned choreographer Lindsey Kemp. He immersed himself in lessons in mime, Medieval Italian comedy and avant-garde performance, and began his first serious exploration into creating a distinct persona/personae for himself. David also started performing again, in a folk/Merseybeat combo with mime interludes and poetry readings mixed in, with his new girlfriend Hermione Farthingale (God, how 'English' a name can you get?) and friend John Hutchinson. And through his connection with Kemp, he got a couple of small uncredited parts in British movie and TV productions. Here he is (blink and you'll miss him) as an extra in the 1969 movie The Virgin Soldiers:

Around the same period, Bowie got a new manager, Kenneth Pitt, who believed in David's talent but was annoyed and frustrated by his lack of wider recognition. Pitt wracked his brains to figure out some way to bring Bowie's gifts to the masses. A chance encounter with a West German television producer in late 1968 provided him with what he thought was an answer: Pitt would put together a short promotional film showcasing Bowie's talents. The professionally-produced short would include not only music from David's 1967 album, but also dramatic and mime bits. The German producer broadly hinted that, once completed, he would air the film on Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), the country's public broadcasting station, the equivalent to the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Pitt figured that that sort of exposure might break Bowie out in Europe, with that fame subsequently translating back to Britain. He suggested his plan to Bowie, who also thought it was a boffo idea.

In choosing which songs to feature and dramatize in the film, Pitt and Bowie selected four from David Bowie, along with two new songs David had recently written with Farthingale and Hutchinson, "Ching-A-Ling" and "When I'm Five". Added to these selections was "Let Me Sleep Beside You", a single recorded and rejected by Deram shortly after the 1967 album was released and shortly before the label released him (Bowie wrote this song with a new friend of his, a young American expat record producer named Tony Visconti). Pitt enlisted a Scottish friend who had spent considerable time in the U.S., Malcolm Thomson, as the director, and arranged for a week's shooting at a studio in Greenwich in late January 1969; the schedule was delayed due to Bowie's participation in The Virgin Soldiers, shooting earlier that month.

David arrived at the Greenwich studios that January 26th ready to go in every aspect but one; his hair was unfashionably short, cut to regulation Army length for the war film. Pitt and Thomson were aghast, but quickly improvised by finding a suitable long-haired wig for Bowie to wear throughout the shoot. Bowie also arrived with another piece to include in the production; an unfinished outer space-themed song that he and John Hutchinson had been working on during the prior week called "Space Oddity".

The filming ran into difficulties from nearly the very beginning. Pitt and Thomson began to clash over content, quality and subject matter. I think that Pitt was looking for more of a quickie showreel done relatively cheaply, where Bowie's songs were the standout/featured attraction. Thomson, on the other hand, wanted to add more costumes, camera movement, and artistic nuances into the production. A major point of contention between the two centered on plans for "Space Oddity"; in particular, Thomson wanted to make the part where Major Tom cavorts with the "space maidens" considerably more
sexy and risque than what may have been permitted for German television. Also, a considerable amount of time and effort was expended on Bowie's mime segment, titled "The Mask". As a result of all of this, studio time had to be extended, and the overall cost of the film began to mount.

Finally, after nearly two weeks of filming, the film (entitled Love You Till Tuesday) wrapped on February 7th. Here's a list of the performance pieces on it:
  1. "Love You Till Tuesday"
  2. "Sell Me a Coat"
  3. "When I'm Five"
  4. "Rubber Band"
  5. "The Mask (A Mime)"
  6. "Let Me Sleep Beside You"
  7. "Ching-a-Ling"
  8. "Space Oddity"
  9. "When I Live My Dream"
Pitt immediately contacted his West German friend, to let him know the short was ready for airing . . . but found that the producer had moved on from ZDF, and no one else there was interested in showing a music film by some unknown English artist. Bowie's manager found he had spent all of his money for seemingly nought. Desperate now, Pitt began shopping the showreel around to various British networks and record labels, but no one was interested in anything about it . . .

Well, that is, ALMOST no one.

Ken Pitt was given an audience with representatives from Mercury Records' British subsidiary Philips in the early spring of 1969. The reps found little of interest in the film . . . except for "Space Oddity". From that modicum of interest, Pitt was then able to negotiate a one album deal (with an option for another one or two albums) for Bowie with the label. David was rushed into the studio; "Space Oddity" was recorded that June 20th, and released as a single on July 11th, 1969, just in time to take advantage of the Apollo 11 mission (the first lunar landing) nine days later. The single proved to be a hit in Britain, where after a slow start it peaked at #5 (it did nothing in America on its initial release, stalling at #124 - but on its re-release in 1973 in the wake of Ziggy Stardust, it reached #15, his first U.S. hit single).
This song, and the subsequent album David Bowie (aka Man Of Words/Man Of Music in the States) released in November 1969, launched David's career.

As for the film: apart from its use to secure the Mercury/Philips deal, Pitt found no immediate further use for it and filed it away, where it sat unseen for years. But in the early '80s, with the advent of home video, Bowie's former producer (the two split in 1971) realized he may have something golden on his hands. He contacted Polygram (by
then the holding company for Philips) and made a deal for its release; Love You Till Tuesday went on sale in VHS format in May 1984. Not to be outdone, Deram Records, the label holding most of the material used in the movie, released a "soundtrack album" (actually, just the versions of film songs recorded for David Bowie, along with non-film singles from the same period) that same month. Here's the song lineup:
1. Space Oddity
2. Love You Till Tuesday
3. When I'm Five
4. Ching-A-Ling
5. The Laughing Gnome
6. Rubber Band
7. Sell Me A Coat
8. Liza Jane
9. When I Live My Dream
10. Let Me Sleep Beside You
11. The London Boys
Looking at the film nowadays, it's hard to properly consider it for its standalone artistic and musical merits in the context of its time. It's very much a time capsule of late '60s "Swinging London" styles and attitudes, and as such, in this day and age it's an effort to take it all seriously. For example, it is difficult to watch Bowie, the dapper young puka-beaded gentleman, lounge suggestively on pillows while warbling the title track and resist the urge to shout "Yeah, baby!" in a cheesy Austin Powers accent:

(Did you hear him briefly snicker halfway through the video?  David knew full well what the story was, and what he was doing . . .)
All in all, there's nothing in Love You Till Tuesday, either the album or the film, that's particularly deathless or essential in Bowie's career. Other than "Space Oddity", which was considerably revamped for its summer 1969 release, most of the other tunes here are either lightweight or forgettable. But both works of art stand as interesting artifacts in the early design and development of David's sound and vision of himself to come. The seeds of Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Pierrot from Scary Monsters, and the otherworldly/alien Bowie can be found in his performances here.

And what's also great to see and hear here is Bowie as a young man - full of energy, life and happiness, presenting his compositions and ideas to the world with a knowing smile on his face and absolutely no fear whatsoever. No matter what other changes he brought to his act and career, that part of him always stayed consistent and true. Thank God for that.

So, for your consideration, here's:
  • The album Love You Till Tuesday, released by Deram Records on vinyl and cassette in May 1984 (not released on CD until 1991);
  • The film Love You Till Tuesday, produced in 1969 but released by Polygram in May 1984. The complete 30-minute film is exceedingly difficult to find on the Web; so here it is, in .mp4 format.
I promise that this will be my last Bowie post for the foreseeable future. So enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:
Love You Till Tuesday (album): Send Email

Love You Till Tuesday (film): Send Email

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - Station To Station (Deluxe Edition) (3 Discs) (RS500 - #323)

I was up fairly late last night - I've recently been having a little trouble falling asleep before midnight. At around two a.m., I received a Skype call from my old buddy Rob, who'd just returned to Christchurch after spending the past few days mountain biking near Arthur's Pass. I've mentioned Rob on occasion in this blog; he's been one of my best friends for over twenty years now, and in that time we've had some hilarious adventures and fun experiences together in both New Zealand and America.

In addition to being my friend, Rob is one of the most rabid, knowledgeable David Bowie fans I know. He was into Bowie before he reached his teens; the first album he ever owned was Changesonebowie, given to him by his mother on his birthday in 1976. By his own admission, this introduction to Bowie's music changed Rob's life. He quickly morphed into a dedicated follower, and fell in with a small but selective group of hard-core Bowie fans in Christchurch, cutting his hair and dressing in flares in emulation of his musical idol (much to the amusement of his infinitely patient and devoted mother . . . and the chagrin of his staunch, straight-laced career Air Force father, who didn't have the faintest notion as to why his son was acting so "crazy"). Rob was amongst the crowd who attended the legendary concert at QE2 Stadium on November 29th, 1978 on the Australasian leg of his Isolar II Tour that year, Bowie's sole South Island show for the entirety of his career.

In the years that followed, Rob's fandom never waned. He managed to assemble quite a Bowie collection, probably the best in New Zealand - rare albums and bootlegs, books, photographs and lithographs. His travels around the world have taken him to places renowned in Bowie-lore; Rob has posed in front of the gate to Château d'Hérouville in France, where most
of Low was recorded, and made a special trip to Berlin to tour the Hansa Tonstudio and stand in the exact spot where "Heroes" was recorded. For over forty years, he remained a devoted Bowie fan, and over time he has greeted each new release, no matter how poorly reviewed, with genuine adoration and enthusiasm. Just as The Fall are my all-time favorite artists, David Bowie has long been Rob's Number One.

Anyway, last night, Rob began to tell me about his weekend and a minor sports injury he suffered while riding around, but our Skype chat was interrupted when he received a call via his regular phone, so he asked me to hold for a couple of minutes. I whiled away that time sifting through my email messages and browsing the news on the Web, nothing major or out-of-the-ordinary, just another night. So I was jolted when I suddenly came across the headline "David Bowie Dead at 69".

I instantly thought "This has got to be bullshit." After all, David's latest album, Blackstar, had just been released two days prior on his birthday, to rave reviews. Plus, there hadn't been the slightest hint or warning in the news that he had been ill. I figured that it was a album release publicity-driven hoax, and began to dismiss it from my mind . . . but I started checking into the story anyway, just to be sure.

It didn't take long to find that the news was not specious, but accurate - David Bowie had died a couple of hours earlier. "Jolted" is an inadequate word to describe my initial thoughts and feelings once I received confirmation of this story . . . with my second thought being, "How am I going to break this to Rob?" I knew it was potentially devastating, heartbreaking news, and I wasn't looking forward to telling him . . . but he had to know, as soon as possible - and it's always good to find these sort of things out from your friends. I sent him a quick text message telling him to get off the phone as quickly as he could, as there was some important news I had to tell him . . .

When Skype resumed, I told Rob the news, in a way that let him know I wasn't screwing around or pulling his leg. I've known this guy a long time . . . and I have to say I've never seen him more stunned. We spent the rest of the call reminiscing, commiserating, and reflecting on the life and work of Bowie, and what he's meant to us over the years.

To be honest, I didn't know that much about David Bowie until I was well into my teens - my first full-on encounter with all things Bowie occurred in late 1979, when I saw him perform on NBC's Saturday Night Live. As I alluded to an earlier post, in much of America of the 1970s, Bowie was considered a "weirdo", a cross-dressing English fop with a flair for flamboyant, garish makeup and outlandish rock 'n' roll alter egos. Of course, by the late '70s, he'd long left a lot of that stuff behind - Bowie was constantly modifying and experimenting with his sound and his look. But the majority of Americans didn't keep up with his ever-changing moods, methods and influences - in this country, first impressions meant a lot. And the impression that the majority of Middle America still had of Bowie - the otherworldly Major Tom and Ziggy of the late '60s/early 70s - was the impression that still lingered as the Eighties approached.

But long before his SNL gig, Bowie had begun taking steps to make himself more accessible and acceptable to the American public at large. The original concept behind his 1973 album Pin Ups was to present an album of cover songs by '60s British rock and pop artists (The Pretty Things, The Merseys, Them) to an American audience that might not have been aware of them. This was to have been followed by another album covering American artists from the same period (the second
part of this plan was eventually scrapped). After 1974's Diamond Dogs, Bowie permanently moved away from glam and on his next album, 1975's Young Americans, he began showcasing his latest musical influences, American R&B and Philly soul. His plan seemed to be paying off here; Young Americans went Gold in the States and produced his first U.S. #1 hit "Fame".

And of course, a big move was his appearance on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas holiday special on 30 November, 1977. As I mentioned in an earlier post:
"People forget nowadays, but back in the mid-70s Bowie was considered to be an out-and-out freak by most of Middle America . . . so it was somewhat of a shock and an enlightenment for a lot of people seeing the friendly, polite, 'normal' family man Bowie warbling Christmas carols with Mr. Wholesomeness himself."
So the stage was pretty well set for him to continue his assault on the U.S. market through his Saturday Night Live appearance, his first national television performance. David made the most of this opportunity.

Bowie's appearance on SNL was in many ways a concise summation of his career up to that point. He and his band (supplemented by up-and-coming (but then generally unknown) New York performance artists Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi) opened with "The Man Who Sold The World", from his 1970 album of the
same name (The Man Who Sold The World is regarded by many music critics as "where the [Bowie] story really starts", with the artist abandoning much of the folky, acoustic music of his first two '60s albums and moving into the hard rock/glam rock genres). Later in the show, he blazes through "TVC 15", off of 1976's Station To Station (by this album, he left behind his early '70s glam rock personae of Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane and the "soul boy" funk leanings of his previous album, 1975's Young Americans, and began forging a
hybrid sound combining his earlier influences with that of German electronic music). And the song Bowie closed the show with, "Boys Keep Swinging", from Lodger released earlier that year (Lodger was the last of Bowie's celebrated "Berlin Trilogy" (along with Low and "Heroes") of abstract, minimalist albums with collaborator Brian Eno, but was considered the most accessible and commercially successful).

Here's a clip of the first song from the show, "The Man Who Sold The World":

I thought the costume that Bowie wore for this song was amazing; basically a rigid Bauhaus/Dada-inspired shell tuxedo that held him immobile - Arias and Nomi had to carry him out to
his place on stage. Apparently, I wasn't the only one affected by his getup; Nomi was reportedly so impressed with the costuming that he adopted a variation on the huge plastic tuxedo Bowie wore as his own signature look, wearing one on the cover of his first album, 1981's Klaus Nomi, and performing in it until his death from AIDS in 1983.

What followed later in the show was "TVC 15", with another stunning and androgynous costume change that Bowie pulls off flawlessly, a 1940s-style Lennon Sisters wide-shouldered dress suit and sheath skirt:

And who could forget the pink poodle with the monitor in its mouth, and the herky-jerky backup singing?

The strangest performance occurred at the very end of the program, just before the host/cast farewells and closing credits. For "Boys Keep Swinging", Bowie's head is shown atop what appears to be a man-sized wooden puppet body, which during the performance cavorts and bounces around the stage in a very weird, off-putting yet mesmerizing way:

Bowie was pissed that the NBC censor bleeped out the "other boys check you out" line during the song, but he got his revenge and the last laugh - take a close look at what happens to the puppet's pants at the end of the tune! All in all, it was truly a strange, surreal "WTF?" moment in television history. I didn't know what to make of it; you can tell by the studio audience reaction that they didn't know what to make of it all either.

In any event, as strange as it was to see unusual performances like this on American national TV, I was entranced and impressed by Bowie's art, and finally realized what I'd been missing all those years. December 15th, 1979 at 1:00 AM was the moment I finally became a David Bowie fan - a decision I've never regretted.

I spoke with Rob again for a bit this afternoon. "Mate," he said, "I don't normally like to admit this, but I'm feeling a little . . . weird and vulnerable since I heard the news last night." I know exactly what he means. The passing of an entertainment icon is normally a cause for acknowledgement, appreciation and tribute from fans and contemporaries. But in the vast majority of these instances, this "moment of reflection" is just that - a short-lived moment, and after which, we all go on with our lives. Perhaps all of this is too recent to make a truly subjective determination, but David Bowie's death feels . . . different, as though something has definitely changed in the world.

I've had conversations with other friends today regarding his passing, and they all feel the same way. The recent deaths of Lemmy and Natalie Cole were sad, but they haven't been lingered over, analyzed and eulogized in the press and on social media as Bowie's has been. I think that may be due to the nature of the man and what he brought to the world for the past fifty years. To quote Rob: "Bowie didn't write music; he made accessible art." In those words lies the essence of what made Bowie so great, why he will be missed, and why his absence will leave such a void.

During our conversation late last night, Rob and I asked one another not what our favorite Bowie album is, but even more narrowly, what our favorite Bowie SONG is. Here's mine - the 1973 alternate demo version of "Candidate", included as a bonus cut on Diamond Dogs:

Rob's all-time fave is "Always Crashing The Same Car", from Low:

Enough of all of this - there have been more than enough tributes today, and there are certain to be tons more coming in the next few days. I don't expect my reflections and memories of David Bowie will have that much import or impact in the grand scheme of things. I just felt the need to pay a small tribute to a visionary artist who is now no longer with us. We may not see the likes of David Bowie again . . . but isn't it great that, in the millions and billions of years that this planet has existed, we all were lucky enough to share this planet at the same time with him?

In honor of the life and memory of David Bowie, for my buddy Rob, for myself, and for you all, I proudly offer the deluxe edition of the 1976 album Station To Station. This is the September 10th, 2010 reissue, which includes not only the original album, but the entire show at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on March 23rd, 1976 (on two bonus discs).

In addition, also offered here are the three performance videos from Saturday Night Live shown above, in .mp4 format. These are notoriously hard to find on the Web; NBC and Lorne Michaels are vicious about keeping SNL content off of free sites like Vimeo and YouTube. The ones included here are burned off of my SNL DVDs I purchased upon their release many years ago; I own the first five seasons of the show, which are really the only seasons anyone needs to care about.

Anyway, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Farewell, Thin White Duke.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:
Station To Station (Deluxe Edition): Send Email

Saturday Night Live performances, December 15th, 1979: Send Email

[Hmm . . . it appears that the performance videos I embedded above aren't being displayed in this post anymore; I guess Blogger.com has an issue with having them be seen here. No matter - the download links are still available, and I'll be happy to send them along to you.]

David Bowie (1947-2016)

"Chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and caricature".

I'm speechless . . . what a loss.

Can't even write about this now.  More later.

Farewell, Thin White Duke.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Clash - Clash On Broadway (The Outtakes)

Well, let's start 2016 off right - with some Clash!

From Sharoma's superb site, reviewing a multitude of Clash bootlegs and rarities, comes the following quote taken from his excellent write-up regarding the super-hard-to-find (except here, of course!) Demos, Outtakes, Alternates (D.O.A.) set:
"Along with Clash On Broadway Outtakes and The Rat Patrol, [you'll] almost have all The Clash demos, outtakes and alternates."
Since the other two mentioned above have long been available on this blog, I figured I might as well post the third and final selection in the band's bootleg triumvirate!

Despite this disc's professionally-produced liner notes and cover, which are identical to the 1991 three-disc Clash on Broadway Legacy Records release, this release is NOT an official part of that set. The original compilation (which included early singles, some live recordings, and a couple of previously unreleased tracks and demos) covered the period from the band's 1977 debut through to 1982's Combat Rock. It notably
included nothing from the critically and commercially reviled 1985 album Cut The Crap, about which I've had more than enough to say about in the past. The Outtakes (or Clash On Broadway (Disc 4), if you will), is an attempt to fill in that missing piece, and also provide fans with additional rarities and demos left off of the box set (which, in my opinion, had a pretty scanty selection).

Sharoma's site only details the last ten tracks for this boot (I stand by his reviews of these songs); I got the extended version from somewhere - I can't quite recall where or when, it's been so long. Here's the back cover with song details:

Highlights from the first half include some live concert takes by the post-Mick Jones Clash in Seattle, Glasgow and Paris (as much as I've badmouthed this lineup over the years, I must say that overall, they didn't sound that bad in concert); radio news reports of the chaos surrounding the Clash's legendary 1981 stand at Bond's International Casino in New York; a full-length version of "Dirty Harry", the early working title for Sandinista's "The Magnificent Seven" (a shorter version of this song is contained on my previous Clash post, Rocker Station); and in my opinion the only decent song off of Cut The Crap, "We Are The Clash". There are a couple of things here that have appeared elsewhere: "Rock The Casbah (with Ranking Roger)" was included on Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg, and "Guns Of Brixton (alt. mix)" was taken off of the Return To Brixton EP. But overall, the selections here are truly hard to find and well thought out.

So, for my first post of the new year, here's Clash On Broadway (The Outtakes), complied in 2002 by an European bootleg label called Scotty Snail. Enjoy, Happy New Year, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Send Email