1968-72-Bowie at the Beeb: Limited Edition Import, Box set
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Comprehensiveness isn't always a virtue, as this three-CD set proves. It gathers together everything David Bowie recorded for the BBC between the years referenced in its title, plus a third disc taken from a June 2000 London concert for the famed British radio broadcasting company. Head first to disc two, which focuses on Bowie's in-studio recreations of material from Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, and marvel at the glam-rockabilly heat generated by Bowie's Spiders from Mars band. By comparison, the other two discs are a disappointment. The first reveals a musical chameleon uncomfortably changing his spots, from music-hall entertainer to free-festival folkie to sub-Dylan sage. The third and final disc betrays a different problem. By 2000, Bowie had calcified into a very slick entertainer. His performances here, particularly of later material such as "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "This Is Not America," are technically fine but a little bloodless--disappointingly human instead of wonderfully alien. --Keith Moerer
Top Customer Reviews
Bowie's early stuff ( pre-Ziggy ) sounds anodyne and twee. The conversations you hear on the CD make Bowie seem genuinely nervous but pleasantly friendly. Of course he might not do one song " because to do it would be possibly over everyone's budget." You could take that as nerves if you will but this is the BBC we're talking about. Their budgets at the time were not astronomical.
I've said this before that when you see " Live At The BBC " it doesn't really mean it's really *live* if you've ever heard BBC radio presenters like John " that was quite tasty " Peel or any others you'll know that they say " and we have [musician's name] here live in the studio." It's in a studio and it will never give you a live feel for the songs. It's just BBC engineers working on Bowie's songs and in return you could I suppose think of them as session outtakes from his album. But one thing should be made clear - if you haven't got Bowie's version of Jacques Brel's Amsterdam, this is where you can get it. It's passion almost matches Le Grand Jacques in it's intensity
As the second CD moves and the classics come in you begin to think " this is more like it " and Bowie seems more at ease with everything.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Each era has its own appeal. True fans (at least, true British fans who've listened to the BBC in the past three decades) will be familiar with the folksy acoustic sound and lyrics, replete with Cockney accent, of recordings of songs such as "Karma Man" and "Janine" on the early disks. They reflect a plethora of influences - Dylan, the Beatles, Jacques Brel, who knows what else. Some of the material is only of historical interest; and some of it is really strong - notably "Let me sleep beside you", which would fit comfortably on the recent album "Hours...". The recordings sound as you'd expect them to - polished jam sessions - interspersed with annoying dialog from various BBC hosts ("... my mum thinks this one's dirty"). And "Kooks", dedicated to the then newborn Bowie junior, is charming.
Still more appealing, though, is the third disk - a vibrant mix of songs spanning 30 years. It opens with a brilliant rendition of "Wild is the Wind" , on which Bowie's vocals come closer to the 1976 studio recording than they ever have done before. Onwards through crowd pleasers such as the Lennon joint venture "Fame" and Nirvana-influencing "Man Who Sold the World" (of which Bowie justifiably admits to being very proud), and - best of all - great rarities such as the Pat Metheny collaboration "This is not America". The eighties weren't a complete waste of time, then!
One or two of the very recent tracks do inevitably stand out as less than inspired songwriting. Still, the band, which includes long-time collaborators Mike
Garson and Earl Slick, treats every song like a long-lost family member: with respect and love, getting the sound astonishingly close to the studio originals.
Only a performer of Bowie's stature and confidence could release this eclectic a compilation. It's not the ideal introduction for the new fan (I'd rather recommend one of the singles compilations). But anyone who wants proof of how a performer can mature, grow in stature, and not become dull, should make this the centerpiece of his year 2000 collection.
I'm a very big fan of Bowie's early work (reference my review of Images 1966-1967 if you're interested), but the earliest sessions on this collection are the least fulfilling. Disk one holds interest to Bowie-philes for historic reasons, but it is disk two that presents the artist in full flight. Working with Mick Ronson, his Ziggy Stardust-era songs shine brilliantly here, in some cases rivaling the album versions. "Hang On to Yourself," "Suffragette City," and "Ziggy Stardust" all rock with authority and grace. "Queen Bitch" has more energy than the version on Hunky Dory, while the songwriting brilliance of songs like "Changes" and "Oh You Pretty Things" come through loud and clear. Most telling are the two Velvet Underground songs performed here. Both "White Light/White Heat" and "Waiting For My Man" are definitive, surpassing all Bowie versions that were previously available and perhaps even surpassing Lou Reed's original versions.
For those of you who are lucky enough to find it, a limited edition of this package comes with an extra disk of Bowie performing live at the BBC radio theatre in June of 2000. Search it out! The extra disk is extraordinary, featuring some of the best live Bowie ever recorded. The band is phenomenal, playing each song to perfection without sacrificing any energy. This version of "Stay" blew me away, forcing me to recognize the sheer funky power of this band. Just as mind-boggling are the versions of "Fame" (a new, `improved' version!), "Absolute Beginners" and "Man Who Sold the World". Every track on this extra disk is exceptional, making it an absolute must for even casual fans of David Bowie. A- Tom Ryan
The first disc kicks off with a set canvassing the silly portfolio D. Jones Esq. dished up before he went down to the crossroads - or what ever it was he did - and transformed himself from silly Anthony Newley rip-off to Global Phenomenon and Curious Living Work of Art that we all know, love and are periodically bamboozled by. Fundamentally, the "Jones" material is lousy - don't let revisionists convince you otherwise - but oddly is produced and delivered here with a lot more flourish (look mum! a string section!) than the famous material which follows it.
Of the famous stuff, there is a disappointing inverse relationship between the quality of raw material and its presentation on this particular record. The Ziggy Stardust cuts sound horrible - shrill, poorly executed and mixed badly, paling in comparison with the album versions. By and large, there are better versions of all songs to be found elsewhere: Amsterdam, for example, can't hold a match, let alone a candle to the stunning B-side to Sorrow which appeared a couple of years later (available as a bonus track on the (now deleted) Rykodisc presing of Pin Ups), and while the acoustic take of the Supermen beats the album version, there is a better demo of this arrangement available (also on Rykodisc). There are a couple of pretty tough VU covers here, though.
To cut a long story short - this double is great for completists, and Bowieheads like me will find much of fascination, but if you're a beginner, go buy The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust (preferably on Rykodisc if you can find them) and come back to this in six months when it's in the bargain bins if you still aren't satisfied.
At the Radio Theatre, 27 June 2000 (disc 3)
If this July 2000 live album were released by itself, it would be worth ten stars. It is staggering, and will please young and old alike. To my immense excitement it undermines a truism about David Bowie: viz., he is disappointing live. He has always tended to shout, and has frequently made dreadful mistakes in personnel - Peter Frampton, Thomas Dolby, for very good example - and has emphasised visual over aural impact. Er, remember Glass Spider? No? Good.
But the news is all good here - he's in fantastic voice throughout and by no means pulls his punches - kicking off the set with Wild is the Wind, for example, is not for the faint of larynx, but it sounds magnificent, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the set. The band is first rate: Station to Station (and, er, Serious Moonlight)-era guitarist Earl Slick, the pianist who MADE Aladdin Sane what it was, Mike Garson, together with a band which has everything but cold fire (ahem).
And the choice and arrangement of songs will delight all. Yes, he does Fame, Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance for the top 40 punters, but check this out - Always Crashing In The Same Car? Hallo Spaceboy? Stay? Cracked Actor? WOW! Wheeling out such hidden gems sure warm the cockles of this old Bowie-nut's heart, especially when they sound so choice. So, A good new album (...Hours) and a great live band? What ever next? The critics will be saying David Bowie's got good again... No, don't even GO there.
Up until this point I had been somewhat secretly lamenting the passing of his Outside/Earthling phase (I tend to favor his more experimental periods, including the Berlin trilogy he did w/Eno in the late 70's) and, admittedly, had even worried that he might be close to losing his "commercial integrity" as he had once before in the 80's (the idea of performing such crowd-pleasing hits as "Let's Dance" on the previous two tours was not an idea which he would have entertained, for instance, although the inclusion of it here really does not seem too out-of-place luckily).
Having said that, this set is, for lack of a better word, "brilliant". The band is tight, Earl Slick's guitar work feels so good and is a breath of fresh air from Reeves' more abrasive style (the Station to Station tracks on here really groove!), and Bowie's voice, despite the bouts of laryngitis which he had been fighting at the time, sounds fantastic. So nice that we are treated to such less-commonly performed gems as "Always Crashing in the Same Car" and "This is not America" in addition to the more predictable (but still good) material like "Fame" and "Man Who Sold the World" (the latter of which has been transformed back into a version similar to the original, as opposed to the overly-played quasi-Indian/electro versions of '95-'97).
Discs 1 & 2 are the "from the vaults" discs and give us a glimpse into some of Bowie's earliest recordings for the BBC. Highlights are "Let me sleep beside you", "(Port of) Amsterdam" (I wish he had also done "My Death" for the BBC, but alas!), "God knows I'm good", as well as a number of the alternate versions of songs from the HD/ZS period on disc 2 which should thrill any fan of Bowie's "glam" period (as well as fans of the film "Velvet Goldmine", although keep in mind that THIS is the "real deal" kids!).
All-in-all a solid set and well-worth the price, especially with the inclusion of the additional live cd. Buy it while you can (the 3cd package is limited), lest the Glastonbury set disappear forever as Mr. Bowie again takes us to "the edge of time" in the coming months and (hopefully) for many years into the future...
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