05.08.17

David Bowie’s Sound + Vision deluxe set (Ryko), 28 years on

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 11:34 am by George Smith

Over a weekend I pulled out my copy of David Bowie’s Sound + Vision CD box set on Rykodisc, from 1989. While at the Morning Call newspaper, I’d received it for a big feature the paper published on it. Ryko was probably very happy; the art covered almost the entire front page of the section. It signifies a time when people went for these types of physical extravaganza music packages enthusiastically. They even paid good money for them. I still easily feel the appeal; looking at the art etched on the giant box and photos while listening imparted something you just can’t get from today’s “procedure.” This was there in the room with me, not off in the cloud, streamed like a subscription or glued sketchily together with unavoidable advertisting courtesy of a Google subsidiary. The nerds of tech do no one favors.

Ground control to major Bowie fanatics! On Monday, “Sound + Vision,” a lavishly packaged, three-compact-disc collection containing some of David Bowie’s back catalog, will appear in area record stores.

“Sound + Vision,” which lists for about $60, kicks off Rykodisc’s ambitious program calling for the re-marketing of the Thin White Duke’s work from 1969’s “Space Oddity” to “Scary Monsters” in 1980 on RCA. Although it certainly isn’t difficult to locate Bowie’s music on vinyl and tape in record stores, this will mark the first time that the artist’s vintage material will be available in superlative form, on CD. Most listeners have already forgotten RCA’s subpar CD re-issues from a few years back; those copies which can be found on cassette and vinyl are the last of RCA’s claim on the artist.

From the standpoint of a collector, “Sound + Vision” isn’t quite the proverbial gold mine, but it does feature a number of selections previously unavailable, although not unfamiliar, to Bowie aficionados.

Among the “must-have’s”:

– 1969’s original demo of “Space Oddity.”

– A cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” nipped from the 1975 “Station To Station” sessions.

– A 72-page booklet containing unreleased photos and liner notes by former Rolling Stone magazine editor and MTV’s “Week In Rock” correspondent Kurt Loder.

– A bonus video disc, available only in the box CD format, featuring live work from a Spiders From Mars date in Boston in 1972 and a video of “Ashes To Ashes.” All are playable on standard CD machines regardless of their video capability.

Although fervid Bowie collectors will probably have to purchase the set in two or three of the configurations, Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke says, “To a collector, it’s not a bounty. But for those with the disposable income that this is aimed at, the fact remains that up to now there has been no classic Bowie on CD. If you want ‘Ziggy,’ if you want some ‘Station To Station’ on CD – this is your chance.”

Those with that “disposable income” which Fricke alludes to may find this a package difficult to turn down. Ryko is banking on just that; with a list price of close to $60, the company is hoping that the extravagant title will be just the thing music-conscious yuppies are going to crave through the fall and into the Christmas season. A schedule for the re-release in CD format of the back catalog covered by the breadth of “Sound + Vision” has not yet been established. But the company anticipates the appearance of “Space Oddity,” “The Man Who Sold The World” and “Hunky Dory” early in 1990, depending upon the success of the initial title.

None of this has come easy. Bowie’s RCA catalog has long been recognized as one of the most coveted in rock. Last year, “Changes-OneBowie” and “The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust” were voted the two most wanted CD titles in a Billboard magazine article authored by former Creem editor Dave DiMartino. An artist of Bowie’s stature conceivably could have gone with any label. His choice of the independent Rykodisc confirms that the company has established a reputation for attention to quality, detail and content not rivaled by the majors. Those in possession of such Rykodisc releases as The Mothers of Invention’s “Absolutely Free” (among many other Frank Zappa titles) and Jimi Hendrix’s “Live At Winterland” and “Radio One” already know this.

Billboard’s Los Angeles bureau chief DiMartino unequivocally says, “It’s a victory for the label. A lot of love and effort went into the project; everything has sounded A-1.

“It’s a fact that Ryko didn’t offer Bowie the most money. It was a case, in this instance, of having the best interests of the artist at heart. Also, from a sales standpoint, it shouldn’t impinge upon the success of the later releases. In fact, it kind of makes you want to go back to those original albums and listen to them once again.”

If you’ve bought the hype or if you’re an inveterate Bowie addict, what are you getting, exactly, in “Sound + Vision”? What you’ll find are three discs which chronicle the period 1969-1980 and not surprisingly, decrease in interest, just as Bowie’s career did as it neared “Lodger.”

The first disc encompasses Bowie’s entry into the marketplace and much of his tenure with The Spiders From Mars. The demo version of “Space Oddity” is refreshing in its own hippie naivete; “Black Country Rock” again reveals Bowie’s fascination with the work of fellow glam-rock traveller Marc Bolan. The inclusion of The Spiders’ rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round,” which originally appeared in 1973 as the B-side to “Drive In Saturday” (also included), is the highpoint of the set in that it reveals just how good a hard-rock band The Spiders From Mars (led by guitarist Mick Ronson) really were. Ronson’s guitar work exemplifies the best of the Ziggy period band: The tone is like no one else’s, blaring and excessive in terms of context but not in terms of actual notes played.

The disc also features “John, I’m Only Dancing,” which was inadvertently released as a single at the time of “Aladdin Sane” (how a single is “inadvertently” released by a record company is anyone’s guess), plus live versions of “Ziggy Stardust,” The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/ White Heat,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” all collected from “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.” The latter selections are curious and somewhat schlocky considering that the band’s best live work occurred in 1972 (the critical pillorying of “The Motion Picture” reflected that fact).

Fricke confirms this when he says, “A bootleg from Santa Monica in 1972 is one of the best examples of Bowie and The Spiders onstage. I’d pay for that on a wax cylinder if I had to.

“However, the live Ziggy from Boston in ’72 (included on the video CD with “Changes,” “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Supermen”) was that prime band.”

The second disc’s stellar cuts are the unreleased “1984/Dodo,” which proved to be Bowie’s last recording with The Spiders; the original single version of “Rebel Rebel,” with the artist himself playing all instruments, including the lacerating guitar signature; and covers of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” (with Aynsley Dunbar’s best Keith Moon imitation) and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” from “Pin Ups.” The remainder of the disc reprises material from the lackluster “David Live,” “Young Americans” and “Station To Station,” including the 1975 Springsteen cover, which qualifies only as a momentary curiosity.

The third disc focuses on Bowie’s collaboration with Brian Eno and although described as “compelling” by Loder in the liner notes, it is anything but. DiMartino sums up by saying, “The work with Eno, which at the time sounded novel, isn’t really so earth-shaking. Bowie has always been a chameleon and with Eno in tow, ‘The Lodger’ sounded too much like The Talking Heads.”

Leery of getting caught in the same binds that plagued the Bruce Springsteen boxed set, Ryko has no plans to overship “Sound Vision,” with initial estimates hovering around 135,000 units split roughly 60, 30, and 10 percent between CDs, cassettes and LPs. The LP box will list at approximately $10 more than the CD version. But it will include clear pressings, direct metal mastering, and rice-paper sleeves. — September 22, 1989, George Smith, the Allentown Morning Call


Imagine: CDs, cassettes, LPs, metal mastering, rice paper sleeves! The CD box is etched with a famous photograph of Bowie with a guitar. For the CD version, the four separate CDs came with booklet art made to mirror and accent the box’s etch through the clear plastic cover when the entire package was assembled.

You just shake your head at what was lost.

2 Comments »

  1. Bill said,

    May 16, 2017 at 5:30 am

    I bought the LP set when it came out and still have it. Rice paper! Whatever became of it? I also remember that Ryko had a Boston address that included the word “Wharf.” Could there be anything more hipsterish than that?

  2. George Smith said,

    May 16, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    No, I don’t think so. ;)

    I suspect the Japanese still make deluxe vinyl with rice paper sleeves.

    Apparently they’re still in some manner of demand.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=rice+paper+cd&oq=rice+paper+cd&aqs=chrome..69i57.5524j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=rice+paper+vinyl+sleeves

Leave a Comment