Yesterday, we had a look into the magnificent box set that was 1989’s Sound+Vision. Today, I’m heading back two decades prior to look into the wonderful world of Bowie’s early albums. In particular, Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, released in 1969 and 1970 respectively. First off, I want to talk about the American release of TMWSTW cartoon cover. Designed by Michael J Weller, the cartoon cover hit American record stores on November 4th 1970 and sold, well, fuck all copies if I’m being perfectly honest. Shortly after the cartoon cover was designed, Bowie had changed his mind and wanted to go for the “drag cover” which was then rejected by Mercury Records and the original cartoon cover had to be re-employed. As a side note, Weller had taken inspiration for his cover art from a photograph of legendary cowboy actor, John Wayne. The “drag cover” was given the green light in the UK and again, the release there sold in pitiful amounts which has since made both versions highly sought after by collectors. The album only sold 1,300 copies in the United Stated upon release. The same sales as Bob Dylan’s debut LP a few years before.
In 1972, the album was re-issued with a Ziggy era black and white photo off the back of Bowie’s burgoning stardom and remained that way until the Rykodisc two decades later with the “drag cover” and that has stayed ever since. Interestingly, in the blank bubble on the cartoon cover, the original proofs had the term, “Roll up your sleeves and show us your arms” which was deemed to risque by the label. It was revealed the words were a pun on drug and gun usage. In turn, the bubble has been left blank. Of course, there was also a fourth sleeve pressed for the German market (the round cover as it is known) which is perhaps not as unique yet still somewhat effective in a peculiar way. I’ve seen some stunning collections that have included multiple copies of all four versions. It’s something I would like to do myself at some point. Collect all four that is. For now though, I have just the one illustrated here. So how did I stumble over my copy? Let me continue.
Whilst performing my usual rummage through the racks of local record shops, I caught site of this pressing in the winter of 1995 and was a little taken aback at first to see it turn up in a second hand record store. I’d seen it listed in a few auction catalogs over recent years, selling for sums that were (at the time anyway) beyond my reckoning. On this day, the price tag had it listed at just $30 AU. I knew there were fakes doing the rounds but wasn’t sure of how to spot the genuine from the not so genuine at the time. Later on I found that the matrix’s in the run-out space between the label and the grooves are stamped. (the counterfeits are etched/hand drawn) and, the space between the final lyric line of The Supermen and the cartoon bubble “Oh By Jingo” on the rear cover is slightly less than one text line wide (the counterfeits are much wider). A decent edition of the original can fetch upwards of $300 these days depending how the wind is blowing whilst the much more common fake can be found for around $50.
The other vinyl in question is Bowie’s second LP from 1969. The story of this coming into my hands was nothing short of buyers luck. Again, I remember the day every so vividly because it was pouring down with torrential rain and I sought refuge in a second hand clothing store down in the not so nice part of town. Noticing they had a few crates of records going for $1, I thought I should try my luck and see if there were any interesting records to pick up for DJ’ing purposes. You know that kind. ABBA, Bee Gees and disco compilations. The sort of songs you can play to drunk crowds at tacky weddings or use to get rid of of punters from your more serious clubs on a Saturday night.
After a good half hour or so, I was ready to move on as the rain had eased up a touch and I just wanted to get home and have a shower before slipping into something more comfortable with a good book and a hot chocolate. There was still the dilema of one last box to sift through. I’d turned up nothing in the first few so figured there wouldn’t be much in the remaining box. Still, I carried on like a good record buying trooper and began to pull the LP’s back. Just as the box was coming to an end, I noticed something that I didn’t expect. It was an original Australian copy of Space Oddity staring me back, lovingly if not longingly with a yellow sticker in the top right corner that read “Used LP – $1”!
“Holy mother fucking God dam Jesus H. Christ” I squealed to myself, trying hard not to draw attention to my amazing discovery!
It was almost as if i meant to seek refuge from the rain on this day. Sheepishly, I took it to the counter and went to use my bank card to pay as I had no cash and the lady behind the counter refused my card stating the the minimum purchase for cards was $10. For fuck sakes! Not wanting to put my find down for a fleeting moment, I begged the lady to make an exception but she wouldn’t budge so my only option left was to find some more things to buy so I could get my purchase up to $10. The clothes on the racks were all a bit “how’s yer father?’ so I decided to buy some plates and cups for the house. I didn’t really give two fucks by now. All I wanted to do was get the payment processed and get my very own copy of Space Oddity home to lust over. Hmmm, is lusting over records a bit strange? Well, it’s what I do because I am a bit of an odd ball so lust away I shall.
Looking back over almost three decades of Bowie collecting, I’ve had some monumental days out and about in record stores. It’s something that the internet will never be able to replicate in my eyes. That thrill of turning up a rarity in the racks is a feeling words truly can’t describe. Good quality copies of Space Oddity sell for well over the $500 mark these days. It’s a truly beautiful item to own so if you do happen to see one turn up for a reasonable price, do your best to grab hold of a copy. The same goes for original pressings of TMWSTW. Don’t hesitate, just buy them and begin enjoying them.