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.
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…”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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