More and more today, the collectors market is flooded with new Bowie memorabilia from all corners of the globe. Vinyl aficionados especially, have seen a huge resurgence in picture disc 7″ singles, bootlegs on coloured vinyl and re-issues from every corner of the globe relating to Bowie’s official releases. To be honest, it’s hard to keep up with things these days and more so, since Bowie’s passing, things have gotten a little out of control. What’s more, collecting Bowie is a massively expensive (not to mention confusing) hobby now due to the “supply & demand” market that has been created via social media, limited pressings and the expected surge in popularity after his death just over two years ago now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just wonderful to see our main man back in the spotlight and garnering a new audience (remember the early 90’s when he was on the nose with just about everyone?) but with the good comes the not so good and in 2018, some fans are on the verge of taking out small bank loans just to keep up with it all in an effort to own everything.
Twenty five years ago, it seemed a lot simpler to be a music collector. There was no internet to connect you with the world which left you happily trawling through record stores and mailing lists for the items you were chasing up. One never really knew which items would show up on any given day. Be it a Smiths 7″ white label promo or an early and much sought after Cure E.P or single, there was a certain thrill to being a collector. One of the early Bowie items I managed to get my mitts on was a clear vinyl box set, Sound + Vision, released by North American label, Rykodisc. This was the first great installment of Bowie’s back catalogue re-issue program and came out in mid September 1989. The CD version would go on to sell over 200,000 copies worldwide however, the clear vinyl pressing has always been a firm favorite among the fans and is still, to this day, readily available on the second hand market for a modest price. My copy came via a suburban record store in 1993 called Toombul Music. I remember spending what seemed like an eternity to get there via trains and buses. The trip was worth its weight in gold as the packaging was nothing short of superb. In fact, Bowie and Rykodisc won a Grammy Award in 1990 for the packaging.
The attention to detail was sublime. Each volume was housed in thick gate-fold sleeves, stunningly beautiful artwork, and pressed on clear vinyl (6 LP’s) and I spent many nights at home listening to these albums, being utterly enthralled at the quality of what I was listening to. Jeff Rougvie (the main man behind the re-issue campaign) had spent months upon months to firstly uncover the gems before lovingly restoring all the original artwork to the then unavailable RCA period albums. The Sound+Vision box set was the opening high point of an immaculate reissue campaign. Rolling Stone magazine went as far as labeling the set both “bold and promising”. More importantly, the set was restored in chronological order (the only way in my opinion) to give listeners, old and new, a thorough passageway through Bowie musical journey through a time when everything he touched turned to gold.
My Bowie collection was a big selling point when bringing girls home to impress them and, on the odd occasion, bore them with stories on music. The purpose of this was to weed out the genuine fans and potential girlfriends. I mean, what teenage boy/young man wouldn’t want a bird in his life who was also a music fan? It was also a good folly as I was once a very shy and reserved person who would often struggle to open up with people so I could speak volumes through music and, more importantly, my record collection. One of the best things you could wish to do when you are young is to snuggle up with someone special and listen to albums together, talking your way through them as if they were a lifeline to another world that allowed you to escape the mundane rigors of day to day life which, let’s face it, was never as cool as we would always like it to be.
Some of the major selling points with this release were previously unreleased tracks (8 in all) that had been restored by Rykodisc. Bowie himself had vetoed a large number of tracks from the final cut during the re-issue campaign. What he did leave for release slipped perfectly into the cannon. I’d heard the demo version of “Space Oddity” before but not quite like the quality on this version. And having the much talked about covers of Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” and “After Today” were blessings. Another gem from the archives was a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” which had surfaced a handful of times on bootleg yet, there was something special when listening to the pristine version offered up here. I’d even go as far as sitting by the turntable and watching the vinyl rotate as the songs played or reading the booklet that accompanied the set multiple times, soaking up all the information available. Perhaps it’s the naivety of youth but listening to the Sound+Vision set was almost all I needed in my life at the time. Have you ever sat in the dark listening to “The Prettiest Star” original single version which had Marc Bolan on guitar? That beautiful version is on the box set as well. And it’s the superior version to boot! Well, in my humble opinion anyway. Oh yeah, did I mention the bonus CD- ROM that included “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “Changes” and “The Supermen” recorded in Boston on October 1 1972 that came with the set? There was also a video of “Ashes To Ashes” available on the CD-ROM but I didn’t have a computer to play it on so never actually watched the clip. Bowie the pioneer, always thinking of new ways to bring his visual side to the fans even if most of us didn’t have computers at the time.
My vinyl copy of Sound+Vision still sits in almost perfect quality despite a few wear and tear marks on the cardboard spine and perspex case. Other than than that, it’s all still very much hunky dory and a more than pleasant reminder of how enjoyable collecting once was in an age where most things were reasonably priced and affordable. I’ve said it many times now but I just can’t understand why fans buy releases and leave them in the shrink wrap? Collecting is meant to be enjoyable, fun and most of all, memorable. There are very few memories to be created by shrink wrapped records that sit away in dark cupboards with the ambition of selling them on for larger sums of money down the track.
My nostalgic side has been pouring over some great memories in recent days. Back in a time when I would spend almost every spare penny on my Bowie collection and spend a good deal of time embracing each piece added to said collection. I’d like to explore more items in future articles so fingers crossed this is the first in a long line of memories that might even have you dusting off your memorabilia and looking back through the nostalgic looking glass.