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. The bet is complete, and it is time to see who won:
I met up with Chris to settle the bet two weeks to the day from his challenge. Chris looked pensive. On his mind, I suspect, was my rather fortuitous last minute win the last time we had a bet on those Beatles records. He looked like an expectant father.
“Come on then,” Chris challenged me somewhat suspiciously, “what last minute surprises do you have for me?”
I played along. “Well – first things first: you know you told me that a first pressing of The Man Who Sold The World would cost me £400? It turns out that the first pressing is not the dress cover. That might have been the first UK pressing, but the US version came out a couple of months earlier.” I fished into my bag like an enthusiastic conjurer, “And I have a first pressing of this lovely Cartoon Cover…”
Chris groaned, and swore. “Prove it.”
I was mildly hurt at at his lack of faith, but didn’t let it show. There was a brief pause whilst he looked up the minutiae of Cartoon covers. Chris also perked up a bit when I told him it had cost me £35.
“OK”, he smiled, “so no killer blow – but that’s over a third of your budget. I might have to bring down my sights a bit from a first growth claret, but it sounds like you might have struggled a bit…?”
“Well…”, I continued, “I did find these two for just £4. For both.” I pointed to Stage and Aladdin Sane. “And these were all fiver each.”
“Come on – how much did you pay in total?”
“Wait,” I said. “Let me tell you about the Bowie Live! album.”
I appreciate this is beginning to sound like an Poirot novel, where the detective launches into an extended monologue before revealing the criminal mastermind behind a shooting in the library. But bear with me.
At Spitalfields, you will remember, I found an amazing record stall which had just opened and was crammed with records of every description in terrific condition. I had already picked up copies of Heroes, Hunky Dory and Low in the cases on the table. Underneath these cases were more records – all for £5. I bagged Station To Station and Pin Ups. All I needed was David Live!
And then I saw it – peeking furtively out of a crate like a kitten that has just torn your curtains.
A man had been flicking through the records in the case next to me and in between the Rod Stewart and Jethro Tull detritus these few Bowie albums suddenly caught my eye. First Scary Monsters, then the kicking cover of The Man Who Sold The World. My heart leapt.
But to my utter dismay the man who was flicking through the crate picked it out and added it to a large pile of records he had already selected. A dealer! Then – right behind it – David Live! I immediately pulled the guy back, threw him to the floor and grabbed the record.
No I didn’t. Before I could do anything, or even say Aaaaarrrrrgghh! (although I believe I said it inwardly) he had picked that one up too.
You know the moment in Julius Caesar when Brutus betrays Caesar, stabs Caesar and Caesar says “Et tu Brute?” I imagine Caesar probably felt just as miffed as I did at that moment. To give Caesar his due, he was slightly more eloquent than I was however. I think my language might have startled a ship’s parrot.
This dealer had beaten me to it! I checked the case after he had left, resembling the forlorn Japanese Dog Hachiko that waited at the train station for its master’s return from work every day even after the man had died – but the moment had passed. There was no more Bowie left.
I wasn’t beaten yet. We sportsmen / Bowie vinyl lovers are quick on our feet. I went up to the man and attempted to appeal to his better nature. I said “That Bowie Live album you just picked up: That’s the one record I was after today.” (I stealthily tried to hide the other records I was carrying). “Can I just see if it’s the one I’m looking for and perhaps we can come to an arrangement?” He showed me the record. It was the first pressing with the right inners.
But not all record dealers (he told me he bought it so he could sell it) have “better natures”. This one had ice in his veins. He wouldn’t sell.
And with that, I was defeated. Having seen Bowie Live! for a fiver, I wasn’t going to go elsewhere and pay £20.
Oh, and I probably didn’t mention this before, but I was already over my budget. I had lost the bet anyway.
I told Chris the story, and dipped into a bag and produced this:
We counted the Bowie Live! record at £20 and this made the total £130.70.
“Well done – you have won the bet”, I said, with joy in my heart and a smile on my face. Sort of.
“Er, you’ll probably need someone to help you drink the wine – so I also brought a corkscrew…”
Chris looked very, very pleased with himself.
He’s still deciding when I have to wear the Westlife T-Shirt. His current favourite idea is the Download Festival. As I said before, he can be quite insufferable at times…
Original copies of Low, Heroes and Hunky Dory all cost me £10, with the majority of the rest £5 or less. Ziggy was £12.20 including postage but it was that £35 copy of The Man Who Sold The World that ultimately cost me – and not getting that David Live! album. It turned out the gatefold cover of Scary Monsters was a Greek import – but I found a UK copy with an inner lyric sheet for the same price at the same time – I just preferred the gatefold sleeve. My copy of Pin Ups was Canadian. It doesn’t appear to have affected Bowie’s pronunciation of the word “about” on the record.
Finally, with the whole set of Bowie’s seventies records safely gathered, I felt there was a final piece of the jigsaw missing. Every box set nowadays comes with a glossy book, and Bowie’s albums have one too, in the form of The Complete Bowie Illustrated Record, written by Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray. Published just after the release of Scary Monsters, it is the perfect record-sized companion to Bowie’s records of that period.
A week after I had lost the bet I went to the Southend Record Fair. I know I shouldn’t have looked for Bowie records, but I couldn’t help myself. I found a copy of the kicking cover of The Man Who Sold The World without the poster – but with the inner – for just £5. It wouldn’t have counted but it was nice to find.
Less pleasing to find (if you know what I mean) was Pin Ups (a French copy) for £3 and David Live! for £6. Would it have made a difference? Not quite: I would still have lost the bet…. I also picked up the Greatest Hits ChangesOneBowie for £3.
It is possible to pick up all that fantastic vinyl for less than £100 if you take the kicking cover of The Man Who Sold The World instead of the US cartoon cover version. In these difficult recessionary times what better investment could there be than a complete set of seventies Bowie vinyl? Even if it doesn’t appreciate in value, you can still listen to one of the most diverse, constantly changing, always interesting and incredibly consistent bodies of work in rock n roll history…
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