The Bowie Bet Part 5 – Aladdin Sane – 40th Anniversary

David Bowie

The Challenge: Buy a full set of Bowie‘s vinyl albums (in excellent condition with all the inserts) from “The Man Who Sold The World to Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). That’s fourteen albums in fourteen days. Total budget: £100. The loser has a heavy penalty: to buy drinks – and wear a Westlife T-shirt. I have a week of searching left.

This is Part Five. Part One of the Bowie Bet is here.

Part Four of the Bowie Bet is here.

I left Leigh Records with four albums: “The Man Who Sold The World”, “Scary Monsters“, “Lodger” and “Young Americans”, to add to the records I already had: “Aladdin Sane, “Ziggy” and “Stage” – making seven albums for around £65. Halfway there, but with nearly two thirds of the budget blown. At this rate, there was more chance of my seeing an intelligent conversation on TOWIE as there was my winning the bet. And I don’t watch TOWIE, which makes that doubly difficult, if that were possible.

I consoled myself with the thought that even if I had to pay £35 for “The Man Who Sold The World” that was still better than £400 – which is what the UK Dress Cover would have cost. From now on all albums would have to cost me no more than a fiver. I also resolved not to tell Chris, the friend with whom I had the bet that I had found a cheaper alternative. As far as he was concerned I would have to spend £400 on that one album or lose the bet. To tell him I had solved the problem would, I decided, deprive him of happiness for the remaining week of the bet. I didn’t want to make him unhappy or spoil his weekend. Yet.

By now my wife was noticing the addition of a few records into the Every Record collection. She gave me a look that she normally reserves for caterpillars if she finds them sharing her bowl of salad.

“That’s a lot of new Bowie albums…. Please tell me you haven’t made another daft bet with Chris…”

“Er, define “daft”…

This was neither Wildean in its wit, nor a particularly robust response. I decided to be more upfront. “It’s just a bit of fun. I’ll bet Phileas Fogg didn’t get suspicious questioning when he made his bet on the steps of the Reform Club and went around the world in eighty days…”

The Reform Club, without the fictional Fogg

The Reform Club, without the fictional Fogg

My wife thought about this. “You’re hardly Phileas Fogg, Victorian Adventurer are you? And given that he was a) a wealthy bachelor, b) fictitious and c) the book wasn’t called “Phileas Fogg shuffles around buying some old records”, I suppose you’re right…”

Nicely put. I had nowhere to go with that. I let it lie.

In the meantime, there was the small matter of the bet. With the 40th anniversary of “Aladdin Sane” coming up later this month (on 13th April) and a new remastered edition of the album being released it is tempting to invest in the new edition. However, there are plenty of inexpensive copies of the original to be had, and as I mentioned previously I had snaffled a couple in the last six months.

Aladdin Sane” was written on the road, and is Bowie’s ‘Ziggy comes to America’ album. Bowie announced the title on the Russell Harty show (part of the interview is in the clip below) in January 1973.

Bowie re-recorded The Prettiest Star – a song about his wife Angie – just as he decided the marriage was doomed, and covered The Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together‘ whilst opening track ‘Watch That Man‘ out-Stoned the Stones. Mike Garson‘s piano added an anarchic edge to the title track with the memorable solo recorded on the first take.

Aladdin Sane” debuted at number one in the UK in May 1973 – bumping The Beatles Red and Blue Greatest Hits albums off the top spot. It stayed at number one for five weeks.

Aladdin Sane” is a lovely package, and there are a few nice quirks with the original vinyl version that are worth seeking out. Firstly, Bowie wrote much of this album on the road, and if you have an early pressing you have details of where the song was written! Look at the two labels below: the first is an early pressing and each song has a place name written after it.

Aladdin Sane Orange label with places where the songs were written

The later pressing beneath rather miserably misses out this excellent detail – presumably in a record-company induced ink-saving and cost cutting initiative.

Aladdin Sane Dynaflex RCA orange label

Aladdin Sane also has a most excellent gatefold sleeve – in early pressings. NB: There are plenty of sleeves with no gatefold. Avoid these record company attempts at cutting costs and spoiling the fun.

Thirdly, the lyrics are splendidly printed on the fetching blue inner sleeve of these early versions.

Aladdin Sane record inner sleeve

However, if you really want the Full Monty, when you are examining your potential purchase, have a look in the sleeve to see if you have one of these: A David Bowie Fan Club Insert.

Aladdin Sane Fan Club insert

This marvellous card folded in two and had a picture of David, a printed signature under the legend “I love you” (swoon) and on the reverse an application to join David’s fan club. I have had this checked out, and it raises the potential value of your mint copy of Aladdin Sane from £25 (NB you can buy good clean copies for less than this) to £70 according to the 2014 Rare Record Price Guide. Given that not everybody is aware of the insert, it’s well worth looking out for. I have been lucky twice so far and have a couple of copies, neither of which I paid more than £5 for.

Aladdin Sane Gatefold sleeve

All of this was nice, of course, but there were still some pretty glaring gaps in the collection. It was time to see what London’s used record stores had to offer….

Record # 174: David Bowie – Watch That Man



Categories: Rock Music

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12 replies

  1. I absolutely adore the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album. I always claim to prefer it to ‘Ziggy’ but I think that’s a little silly. The latter has, IMHO, one of the best set of bookends an album could ever wish for, with some cracking tracks between. But there are a number of fantastic tracks on AS. My favourite (and it does rank on my list of favourite Bowie tracks) is ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, ‘The Prettiest Star’ is just brilliant too… I assume you will have seen/bought that UNCUT magazine that was a Bowie special, probably about a decade ago. It had a collection of Bowie covers on it. There were some brilliant ones (along with some absolute crud!) including The Gourds and Blackbox Recorder. I remember quite liking the ‘Cracked Actor’ cover on it… Sorry, slight diversion there. lol. I think that Bowie is the artist that I own the most records of… 🙂 Congratulations on your progress!

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  2. I’ve been mostly ignorant of Bowie’s canon. I had no idea about all the little variations. Why would they drop the city names from the label on a later pressing? Were they charging by the letter at the printing plant?

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  3. Just to let you know. The rather excellent 2nd hand record shop in Camden High Street is now a Bagel bar! That should save you a journey.

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  4. Great series! Glad you’re stopping at Scary Monsters….I have a gatefold Aladdin Sane! Do check out my series on remasters if you get a chance http://wp.me/p3i5b3-5s

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  5. I’m glad you mentioned about the Dynafex latter pressings.
    You talked about the cheap looking label, but that’s hardly where the real problem lies.
    The Dynaflex editions where made of thinner vinyl and most importantly recycled vinyl.
    Around 1974 there was an oil crisis, and guess what vinyl and any other plastic is made of- oil, so cost cutting measures were implemented by RCA.
    Recycled vinyl may look no different to normal virgin vinyl, but it gives inferior pressings/ sound an is more likely to get warped and perhaps even crack easier.
    I think I had a first edition- it was certainly much better than my LP of Ziggy Stardust bought around the same time. My copy had so much static over the first minute it actually competed with the percussion from the drums at the beginning of Five Years. I wasn’t impressed. I think it was a local Australian pressing. I soon found a nearby import record shop that were double the price but well worth it quality wise.
    Aladin Sane is one of my favorite Bowie albums, and it was one of the first half dozen or so LPs I bought back around 1973 when I was 14 and constantly being told by my mother to get that poster of that effeminate looking singer off my wall. Back then there was still the shock that Bowie had actually come out and said publicly that he was bisexual.
    When CDs came out I soon sold my well played LP copy for one of the small shiny new discs, but it wasn’t quite the same. I missed the insert and the large fold-out picture of David in his Ziggy/ Aladin costume.

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    • Thanks for the added info on the Dynaflex pressings – and your mum’s reaction to Bowie, which I think was similar to many!
      Re Dynaflex I have been told that not all pressings are bad – it depended upon the mastering, but having thin recycled vinyl was a cost cutting move that had little to do with improving sound.

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