Released for the first time on vinyl, Bowie at the Beeb, is a compilation featuring a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s BBC radio appearances during his early years, and it has been long overdue. The great vinyl reissue company Rhino Records released it last Friday as a four-disc set. It was originally planned for release in 2000 when Virgin Records put out a CD version of it. It was never to be. I wrote about it after receiving a preview copy of the set for review in “Goldmine Magazine.” The renaissance of vinyl records was a few years away. Now, 16 years later, Rhino has amended what Virgin Records failed to deliver.
Below you will find my original review of the compilation where I explore the quality of music the Bowie-curated compilation featured. It includes references to some of the glitches that had to be corrected after release as well as a paragraph about a third CD featuring a 2000 BBC concert that came as bonus disc with the initial release, marketed as a limited edition held together by a slipcase cover. This concert is not part of the vinyl set, which would have probably added two more vinyl slabs to the already big four-disc box set. I have yet to hear the vinyl version of this set (it’s in the mail!), but I have faith in Rhino, which has long released excellent quality records. As for the music, it’s a brilliant retrospective of Bowie’s formative years, and I get into in detail in the original “Goldmine” review. Without further ado, here’s my archival piece as originally submitted to my editor at “Goldmine” (I’ve only made a few tiny tweeks):
Bowie at the Beeb (Limited Edition)
Virgin/BBC (7243 5 28958 2 3 / 7087 6 15778 2 2)
Providing one of the most comprehensive insights into the development of David Bowie in his early years, Bowie at the Beeb is probably one of the greatest retrospective collections on the legendary musician available. The only retrospective that could possibly stand above it is the now out of print Sound + Vision box set, which heralded the beginning of the re-release of Bowie’s then out-of-print back catalog by Rykodisc, in 1989. But that collection even lost momentum by the third disc, omitting many a rare track. Bowie at the Beeb is all about the rare tracks—it’s David Bowie recording exclusively for the BBC, from his pre-“Space Oddity” era to his Ziggy Stardust years.
The recordings on Bowie at the Beeb are so dynamic, and so rich in importance as an indication of where Bowie was in development between albums, it would be hard to avoid commenting on every single track. The retrospective opens with the never-before bootlegged sessions from 1968, a year which saw Bowie mostly immersed in Buddhism and mime—not in the recording studio. Though recording since 1964, Bowie had not achieved any form of stardom yet and was in limbo after his fifth failed record contract. Bowie himself had to provide the tapes for this one, as the BBC had lost the original masters. Fans have reason to rejoice Bowie’s modest decision to release these tapes, as he has often been protective of officially releasing early recordings he felt were below par. But these selections are some of the better songs Bowie wrote in an era often maligned for its easy-listening, sometimes cheesy quality.
A session from 1969, easily found on bootleg though never broadcast, follows, including one of Bowie’s greatest sixties songs, “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” A lengthy, though abridged, concert from 1970, hosted by John Peel, comes next. It is in this session that Bowie publicly introduced Mick Ronson. Ronson and Bowie are also presented in rare form as a duo, performing “The Supermen” and “Eight Line Poem,” in a 1971 session that kicks off disc two.
Bowie at the Beeb is a fantastic tribute to not only David Bowie but his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, whose presence can be felt as early as the last third of the first CD. But it’s CD two that is pure Ziggy-glitter heaven, including covers of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and “Waiting for the Man,” among a variety of different Bowie cuts. Only two songs are repeated, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust,” but in distinctly different versions, as they are culled from different recording sessions. Owing too a production error, the “Ziggy Stardust” track from the 1/18/72 session is duplicated in the 5/16/72 session. An estimated 25,000 copies were shipped before the error was caught. To make up for the missing track, Bowie, being the internet-friendly artist he is, has offered a free download for those who purchased the album prior to the error correction at www.musicmatch.com/get_music. To get the track you need to download and install the MusicMatch Jukebox software (for free), then load any Bowie at the Beeb CD into your CD-ROM drive. Once your CD is verified, you will be given the opportunity to download the correct version of the song.
If you’re wondering about the overall quality of the recordings, it’s safe to call them incredible, considering the shoddy bootleg versions already out there. Though the sessions here omit some tracks, making the more comprehensive bootleg versions still valid, the superior sound quality and the expertly selected track selections by Bowie himself, make this a definitive, well-paced compilation.
For a limited time, Bowie at the Beeb will be released in a sturdy slip cover with a bonus CD of Bowie’s intimate June 27, 2000 BBC Radio Theatre concert. The energy of the show is undeniable, including such gems at “Ashes to Ashes,” “Cracked Actor,” and “Stay,” and even a few hits like “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.” Bowie’s band, including veterans like pianist Mike Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, provide a stellar back-up. Pick up this limited edition version of the compilation while you can: this bonus concert CD is an extraordinary performance, capturing a rare live moment, as Bowie has eschewed any traditional touring this year. This third CD will be discontinued later this year, as Virgin will replace the 3 CD package with a double CD of the 1968-1972 sessions, which will also be made available as a four LP vinyl limited edition set including two bonus tracks not included on any of the CDs (Ed: until now! From davidbowie.com, those tracks are detailed as follows: “Oh! You Pretty Things” from the Sounds of the 70s Bob Harris session, broadcast in September 1971, which was previously exclusive to the Japanese release of the CD. This performance features Bowie and Ronson as a duo. Completely exclusive to this collection, and making its debut, is the once lost “The Supermen” from the Sounds of the 70s Andy Ferris session, broadcast in March 1970, and performed with The Hype).
Images from top to bottom: courtesy Rhino Records, the Virgin Records promo poster, Brian Ward shot from inside the original booklet, bonus CD cover art from www.teenagewildlife.com.