By Dave Thompson
Oh shut up. Nobody’s making you buy it, are they?
That’s always the answer, in the end. Nobody’s making you buy it. No matter that you’ve spent two-thirds of your life devotedly picking up everything released in the name of such-and-such a star; no matter that you’d sooner walk down the road with no clothes on than allow the collection to be besmirched by a loudly accusing void. Nobody’s making you buy it, so don’t buy it.
We heard it a couple of years ago, when Sgt Pepper turned 50, and our already-impoverished Beatle wallets were assaulted by... oh, what was there? The remix, the mono mix, the out-takes, the cut-out-and-keep Macca mustache and the Ringo signet ring. Or a few years before that, Pink Floyd released their Immersion boxes, and weighted down the CD content with a shelf’s worth of trinkets from a ’60s drugstore toy shelf. Ah! The Syd Barrett Secret Code Book with built-in Roger Water Pistol.
Actually, you hear it every time an anthology is released, and someone groans about the price tag, the content, or the fact that it doesn’t include those three songs that nobody’s ever heard, that they read about on an Internet forum. Or “Carnival of Light.”
Nobody’s making you buy it.
David Bowie fans are probably pricking up their ears about now. It’s been a few years since the man himself left us, but his catalog has been swelling ever since. Goldmine is not feeling especially catty today, so we will not question the insistence that he really did spend his last few years making lists of all the old LPs he wanted someone to remix, rerecord, reinvent or whatever. But we’ve had a few of those anyway, and they’re in the two shelf-bending box sets that have appeared since his passing.
There’s likely a third on its way, as well, in a still-only-rumored, and format-unknown Space Oddity 50th that is odds on compulsory listening sometime later this year. In fact, we may already have had a sneak peek of it, in the form of Tony Visconti’s just-unveiled remix of the title track. Which seems an odd thing for him to have done, given his much-publicized dislike of the song in the first place... in fact, he hated it so much that he refused to even produce the original record.
Oh well, maybe he changed his mind, and you can hear the outcome of that on one of the two 45s included within the Space Oddity 50th anniversary 2x7” box set, released earlier this year. Which is not to be confused with—deep breath—the Clareville Grove Demos3x7” box set, released earlier this year. Or the Spying Through a Keyhole 4x7” box set, released earlier this year. Or the Mercury Demos one LP box set, released earlier this year. That’s a lot of box sets, and the year's not over yet.
Which means, there’s still time to pick up the limited edition Space Oddity colored vinyl album reissue, the wax artistically spattered by fashion designer Paul Smith. To visit the Space Oddity x Unlock The Moon Experience website. To view the new video, to download the David Bowie Is app, to... to...to... and hey! We’ve not even mentioned the officially licensed Barbie doll, dressed in a full Ziggy Stardust outfit. Well, GI Joe already had the astronaut costume sewn up.
That’s a lot of Space Oddity. Pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, in fact, we have seen more fanfare surrounding this one particular anniversary than for any past Bowie milestone, and only a true churl could possibly complain at the sheer variety of material that has been made available.
Not one track on the first two boxes had previously seen the light of official day, and some had not even been bootlegged. The majority of the Mercury Demos album was likewise previously unissued, and even the “Space Oddity” single box boasted the original mono mix of the 45, alongside the Visconti concoctions. That’s 29 tracks that you have probably never heard before, at least not in this quality, ranging from unique one-offs through to the progressive development of individual songs across a variety of works-in-progress.
Taken altogether, it’s a fascinating listen; more than that, it’s an offering that is more or less unique, even in the modern world of archival deep sea diving. What concerns people is the fact that those 29 tracks needed to be spread across nine singles and an LP, when even the most generous appraisal of their import would probably have considered a double CD to be sufficient. And an awful lot cheaper, as well.
Yes, there’s plenty of opportunities to buy your music at discount prices, but with a total retail cost in excess of $225, that’s still a lot of dough to drop on what is essentially David Bowie Sings Six Different Versions of “Space Oddity,” plus 23 Other Fab Demos, Excerpts and Sketches. Add the Paul Smith picture disc, and (you know you want it) Barbie to the bill and you’re looking at $300, without even having a clue what other Mastercard-melting jewels are awaiting us later in the year.
The Space Oddity album itself turned 50 on November 4; the Italian language translation “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola” and the unreleased U.S. follow-up “Janine” both have birthdays on the horizon, too. And this, one assumes, is only the beginning. Next year will see Man Who Sold the World turn 50, and in January 2022, Hunky Dory hits its half-century. To be followed six months later by Ziggy Stardust.
Meaning, if you think this year has made excessive demands on your Bowie budget, you’ve not seen anything yet.
Still, nobody’s making you buy it, are they?