The David Bowie Bet: Pin Ups, Low and…The Fonz?

David Bowie

The story so far: I have made a bet that I can buy a full set of Bowie‘s albums (in their original vinyl versions – 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. I have seven records so far, having spent around £65. But there are quite a few gaps in the collection – and the deadline is tomorrow. My last chance is Spitalfields Record Fair: can it save the day?

Before setting off to Spitalfields market, I bought Diamond Dogs for £3.50 on eBay from the same seller who sold me ‘Ziggy Stardust’, thus saving on postage. The two records had cost me (including P&P) £16.70. I couldn’t have bought all the albums off eBay or Discogs: the postage alone might have come to nearly £50 with fourteen albums to buy. As it was, I had eight albums for £70.70. I hoped that 70p wouldn’t cost me – I now had six albums to buy for £29.30.

The Diamond Dogs‘ cover was painted by Guy Peellaert (co-collaborator of Rock and Roll Dreams’ with Nik Cohn) and originally was going to look like this:

Guy Peealart

This excellent image is based upon a photo session that Bowie had with Terry O’Neill which produced this photo which you can buy from The Chris Beetles Gallery in London (if you have the cash) and which also featured on a recent picture disc:

Diamond Dogs Bowie

“Diamond Dogs” itself received mixed reviews, but was Bowie’s most successful album in the US to date, peaking at #5. Blending the Stones-ey “Rebel Rebel with a dystopian Orwell-based concept album was never going to be straightforward, although we should be grateful it was 1984 rather than Down and Out In Paris And London that Bowie based some of the tracks on. I’m not sure how well a concept album about homeless people in the inter-war years would have gone down with the glam rock generation.

However, I had more pressing matters on my mind than unlikely concept album ideas. If I didn’t pick up nice copies of the remaining albums for a fiver each not only would I soon have a large bill outstanding at the local wine merchants but perhaps more troublingly, I would have to wear a Westlife T-Shirt for the first (and hopefully only) time in my life – at an age when wearing Westlife T-Shirts is not dignified – indeed it’s a look that only a sex-pest is likely to think appropriate. Leaving such worrying thoughts to one side, I hit Spitalfields early, and soon found several copies of covers album Pin Ups from £3 – although many were in poor condition and didn’t have the insert. The insert was key to the bet – everything had to be included.

Bowie Pin Ups inner sheet

Released at a time when rock was finally old enough to look back at itself, as cover version albums by John Lennon and Bryan Ferry demonstrated, “Pin Ups” was recorded with Spiders Ronson and Bolder (invited at the last minute when Jack Bruce was unavailable) but not Woodmansey. The back cover includes a handscribed note from Bowie acknowledging the bands covered and the clubs they played: indeed Bowie had played at many of the clubs mentioned in the sixties. In many ways it is now more interesting to hear the originals which are in some cases fairly obscure (The Mojos?). As Bowie says in his liner notes “These songs are among my favourites from the ’64-’67 period of London”. Thanks to Spotify, we can do that (with the exception of Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ which I guess most of us will be familiar with) on this playlist:

After 45 minutes of wandering around Spitalfields without finding anything more promising I began to get worried that there was more chance of seeing Bowie do karate with the Fonz as I had of finding all of Bowie’s records for a fiver each. Fortunately….

(Yes this really is a YouTube clip of Bowie doing karate with Henry Winkler on the Dinah! Show)

One of the fun things about record fairs (aside from being elbowed and trodden on by middle-aged record dealers in sub-zero temperatures that would make a penguin’s eyes water whilst you search in vain for a copy of a record that isn’t there) is finding records that you never knew existed. Some of them are terrible of course – I can live without seeing that Portuguese-only release of Celine Dion’s debut album I would suggest. However, there are also some occasional gems: such was the case with Christiane F – the soundtrack to a German film which consists entirely of mid to late seventies Bowie songs, (some with slightly different versions to the album tracks) including a German language version of Heroes – called Helden. I found this 1981 release and snapped it up: not part of the bet, but how cool is that?

David Bowie Christiane F Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo cover

One stall had opened, and people were swarming over it. A dealer was selling all his records for a pound each. It was carnage. I saw one guy buy fifty albums – clearly this was the place where record dealers came to buy stock. Promising. I looked through, but no Bowie. The stall holder explained, “I just bought a guy’s collection and I want rid of them (I assume he had cherry picked the good ones) – the vinyl is good, but the covers are a bit tatty”. It’s all about the condition of the package when it comes to the value of records…

Record collectors at Spitalfields Record Fayre

I then noticed a stall that was still setting itself up, yet also had hoards of people beginning to assemble around it. They all appeared to be record dealers, judging from their chat and banter with each other. As it opened these record dealers swarmed over the stock like a plague of locusts devouring crops, forcing me to stand back.

In fact, as I waited behind these professional vinyl-ferreters I overheard what I thought was quite a touching conversation that spoke volumes about the lure of vinyl records and people’s willingness to go truffling about in all weathers looking for them:

“So if you won a million on the lottery would you still come up here and do this?”

“…..Yeah, I think I probably would….”.

“…..Yeah – me too…”

They’re mad – the lot of them…

Record colllectors at Spitalfields record fair

When eventually I was able to get near, I knew at once this was the stall I had been looking for. There was “Heroes” – in fantastic condition with a tan label: an Italian pressing, but with lyric sheet. That would do. The UK version (with orange label) could wait another day.

Heroes: Tan label
Heroes: Tan label

Behind it was a copy of “Low”, UK pressing complete with insert and sticker on the back. And for less money than at Reckless Records.

“Low” was originally called “New Music Night And Day” – the name change coming so late that some cassettes went out still labelled with the original title. They didn’t have any at the record fair – that would have been a find…

The cover comes from a teaser poster for The Man Who Fell To Earth and it is the first pressings of the album that come with the track listing stuck on the back:

Bowie Low Sticker

Compared to a later pressing like this:

Bowie Low International version no sticker

Which also has a green record label (an international version).

Bowie Low international RCA green label

And finally there were nice clean copies of “Pin Ups”, “Station to Station” and “Hunky Dory”. Success!

David Bowie Station To Station

Just David Live! to go – but could I find it? Just as I was giving up hope, lurking in a box underneath the stall I saw it….for just £5. David Live!

So had I won the bet? How much had I spent? Was that all the albums?

Well, that would be telling wouldn’t it?

Next: The Bowie Bet: Conclusion.





One response to “The David Bowie Bet: Pin Ups, Low and…The Fonz?”

  1. J. Avatar

    I was tempted to look through the archives, but I’m glad I didn’t – I’m on the edge of my seat here!


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