The Challenge: I have bet that I can buy a full set of David Bowie‘s albums (in their original vinyl and 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 for a day.
With brow furrowed, I called in to see Bob at my local used record store, Leigh Records. Bob saved my bacon last time, and I knew from popping in to Bob’s shop from time to time that he had a good selection of Bowie records for around a fiver.
I had a quick flick through the “B” section, but something was up. The stocks of eighties and nineties Bowie vinyl were still plentiful, but there was no “Heroes”, “Low”, “Diamond Dogs”, “Hunky Dory“, “Aladdin Sane“, “Ziggy Stardust“ etc – in fact most of the Bowie vinyl had gone. This was a bitter blow: Bob was my “banker”. I was certain I would be able to pick most things up in there for around £5. I asked Bob what was up.
“Since Bowie released his comeback single, I’ve had a load of people buying Bowie, and no-one’s brought any in.” Bob told me.
“I’m hoping for a laminated “Hunky Dory” to come in one of these days”, he continued, “I had one a few years ago…” he mused wistfully. Truly – only vinyl could get men of a certain age looking romantically skywards. Or was it money? “I suppose that’s a few quid is it?” I asked. Bob chuckled and looked at me pityingly. “With no “Mainman” logo and with the lyric sheet? About three hundred…”
I gulped. “So what about those versions that you used to have for a fiver? What were they?”
“Oh, they’re still pressings from the same year – just a bit later. After the first batch they stopped laminating the covers – and “Ziggy Stardust” was released only six months after Hunky Dory, at which point Hunky Dory got a new lease of life and released in a matt cover – so you ought to be able to pick up one of those copies with a lyric insert for not much more than a tenner.” I breathed again – it might still count.
I asked Bob about “The Man Who Sold The World”. He confirmed the Dress Covers were expensive – and didn’t have one. “You know there’s a third cover don’t you?” he said.
I gave Bob my usual blank stare, which some have likened to that of a goldfish.
“The record was released in America on Mercury records – naturally the Americans weren’t going to have a man in a dress on an album cover, so someone at Mercury came up with “The Cartoon Cover”. Bob started to resemble a magician who has just produced a dove from mid-air…. “As luck would have it, I have a copy in stock. It’s in great condition too.” Bob pulled out the record from the garish sleeve. “Look at the sheen on that”, he continued, showing me the lustrous finish on the forty year old record, which suggested it hadn’t been played much.
“How much?” I asked, suspecting the answer would be closer to a hundred pounds than five.
Then Bob dropped a minor detail into the mix.
“Technically the “Cartoon Cover” is the very first pressing as the record was released first in the USA.”
This was good. It might stretch the budget, but not half as much as the Dress Cover. I decided to splash the cash – £35 – and left the shop with four albums under my arm – the other three each costing £5 and all first pressings:
First was Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in a gatefold sleeve,
…then Lodger – in a nice laminated gatefold sleeve and with an all-important lyric sheet. Lodger is that very rare item: an underrated ’70’s Bowie album. The last of The Berlin Trilogy too, even though it was actually made in Montreaux and New York.
Lodger contained that amazing single “Boys Keep Swinging” which has a startling (and potentially career ending) video. If you have never seen it, then do check it out now.
Bowie’s live performance is enhanced by his being his own backing singers – a trick Phil Collins doubtless had in mind when he made the video to You Can’t Hurry Love. The two videos have little else in common however: Bowie is dressed as three different female backing singers who hilariously rip off their wigs and smear lipstick over their faces…Except the last one who just hobbles on with a walking stick. All very bizarre. When it was aired on Top of the Pops at 7pm on a Thursday night, it put the nation off their collective teas sufficiently for the song to actually go down the charts – an almost unprecedented event. On the same episode of Top of the Pops that night was Gary Numan with ‘Are Friends Electric‘. Numan’s single made number one…
The album contains typical Eno experimentalism: song Move On is actually “All The Young Dudes” backwards, which sounds unlikely, but check out this “Move On Bowie Backwards” YouTube video for proof.
“Young Americans” completed the haul. I had spent more than half my budget now, but was still only halfway through – and with a week of the challenge left. The Westlife T-Shirt forfeit was looking a very real possibility…