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Pin Ups
David Bowie

RCA 0291
Released: November 1973
Chart Peak: #23
Weeks Charted: 21

David BowieAs a commercial phenomenon, David Bowie has been remarkably successful, having made the transition from private pet of the rock avant-garde to large-public pop idol in a relatively short period of time. As a serious artist, however, he has been the target of more than a few raspberries. The shoddiness of his Aladdin Sane album wasn't exactly gratifying to his supporters, and many old fans have been crying "sell-out" ever since his rise to fame -- and with some reason, for Bowie the songwriter hasn't yet been able to match his uncanny The Man Who Sold the World several years ago.

His new album, Pinups, is something of a departure from his previous offerings. He wrote none of the songs, the material having been culled from the repertoire of the early days of the British Beat Boom (1964-1967), and those he has chosen show him in a far different light from that he has customarily disported himself in. Here Darling David is singer, arranger (adding his still distinctive touch on synthesizer, harmonica, and saxophones), and interpreter, but he seems curiously stripped of substance and is left only with style. That style is, to be sure, often striking, but unfortunately it is just as often inappropriate; he misinterprets songs more than he does anything usefully original with them.

David Bowie - Pin Ups
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But one can still give him some credit simply for undertaking a project of this kind; many of his fans, after all, aren't overly familiar with the recorded work of such Sixties masters as the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, and early Pink Floyd. If only he'd had the guiding hand of a Sixties producer like Shel Talmy or Andrew Oldham to show him the way....

Bowie does particular justice to the Pretty Things tracks "Rosalyn" and "Don't Bring Me Down," sticking close to the guitar-based sound of the original versions and adding a minimum of Bowie-isms and other vocal hanky-panky. We fare far less well with the Yardbirds' material, however, for his affected accent is out of place in "Shapes of Things" and Mick Ronson's guitar is not biting enough in "I Wish You Would." The album's major disaster is "Friday on My Mind," so arranged that it is heavy in all the places it should be light and vice versa -- it cannot compare with the superb original by the Aussie Easybeats. "Here Comes the Night," too, is execrable; Van Morrison's vocal delivery (on the Them original) communicated the purest kind of personal anguish, but Bowie just sounds as if he's trying to unload it all on the listener.

The Who songs here are half successful, half not -- odd, since part's of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album were so clearly influenced by that group. "I Can't Explain" just might have worked -- the basic arrangement is okay -- but in the end it drags terribly. Its faults are, ironically enough, thrown into considerable relief by Bowie's masterly performance of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"; he outdoes Roger Daltrey as lead singer here, and the new arrangement delivers a lot more punch than the original.

The album's single, "Sorrow," is a ballad, a song more like one of Bowie's own than any of the others here. Its string-laden arrangement is a natural for him, and he does very well by it. The Kinks' "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" and the Mojos' "Everything's Alright" are likewise stylistically congenial -- they would, in fact, have been right at home in Aladdin Sane, probably improving it in the bargain.

And then there's "See Emily Play," a tune Bowie is perhaps spiritually very close to. Written by Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, it reflects the schizophrenic mind warp that has been such an important part of Bowie's image from the beginning. There were those of us who thought of him, before his meteoric rise, as just another station on Barrett's wavelength. Perhaps he still tunes in, sometimes, and that is why this version of "See Emily Play," while not sticking very close to the original, seems somehow to capture the feeling of Pink Floyd's reading of it.

On the whole, Pinups is a novel and perhaps even noble idea (think of all those compositional royalties Bowie is foregoing!), but it can be considered an artistic success only if that is what you call an album in which seven out of twelve rock tunes work and the rest are miserable failures. Considering the material he had to work with and the quality of the backing musicians, Bowie should have produced a little masterpiece. He didn't. But perhaps, at least, he now has all this out of his system, and can move on to an album of all-new material as exciting as Ziggy Stardust, as lasting as The Man Who Sold the World. The way these things go, however, his next album will probably be a live two-record set, so grab a book and siddown. It could be a long wait.

- Jon Tiven, Stereo Review, 5/74.

Bonus Reviews!

With everyone from the Band to Don McLean doing oldies albums, the Who revisiting the Mod era, and David Bowie's guitarist Mick Ronson's obvious brilliance in the genre (as evidenced by his one-man Yardbirdmania on "Jean Genie"), the idea of an album re-creating mid-Sixties English rock classics seemed perfect. And every song included has been a personal favorite for years.

To Bowie they have been more -- they are representative of a phase of the London scene he was very much a part of as leader of Davy Jones & the King Bees. He had the roots, perspective and proper motivation to make this album a success. Unfortunately, something went wrong in the execution.

Although many of the tracks are excellent, none stands up to the originals. That might be understandable when dealing with the Who (I doubt if they could equal their own "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" today) or Pink Floyd. But even in 1965, any of a thousand bands could have done "Everything's Al' Right" as well as the Mojos, and even the McCoys did a better version of "Sorrow" than the Merseys or Bowie.

But comparison with the originals is unnecessary, since they will be unfamiliar to most who listen to the album. In that light, many of the cuts do rate somewhat higher. Ronson & Co. turn in good raving tracks for the Pretty Things' "Rosalyn," the Yardbirds' "I Wish You Would," and the Kinks' "Where Have All the Good Times Gone."

But all have been underproduced. The songs were originally conceived as trashy, instant pop fodder, and their simplicity demands a rough edge to give them the punch they need to be effective. That edge is missing, since the tracks are mixed down to make way for Bowie's voice. And therein lies Pinups' true failure.

In the past, the vocals in this genre would scream for attention from the very center of the tracks' blast of pure noise. But Bowie's vocals float carelessly above the music, and his excessively mannered voice is a ridiculously weak mismatch for the material.

I have always thought Bowie more than merely avant-garde, and credit him with the best of intentions. And while Pinups may be a failure, it is also a collection of great songs, most of which are given a more than adequate, and always loving, treatment. Maybe the fairest conclusion to draw is that Bowie can't sing any other way, did the best he could, and the result isn't all that bad.

- Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 12-20-73.

Bowie offers his own version of a nostalgic trip, playing in a style of rock from the mid-1960's. Simple riffs back him on "Here Comes the Night." There's none of the pseudo-intellectual mod-rock that has characterized his previous RCA works. There's humor in this music if you want to take it as a look back in musical time. "Everything's Allright" recalls Presley spinning on stage. Bowie's sextet lays down the sounds in an appropriate fashion.

- Billboard, 1973.

When David Bowie turned his knowing head, and gave the wink of approval to Lou Reed, many people who had never considered buying a Lou Reed album before bought one and made the man the star he always deserved to be. When Bowie salvaged Mott The Hoople from the depths of despair they re-surfaced strong and healthy and more creative than they'd ever been before. Then Bowie moved over to the infamous Iggy Pop and even though the kid still has no obvious talent (other than his ability to maul himself in public) he is now receiving more press than he did in all his years with the Stooges. Now Bowie has taken a large step backwards in time and rediscovered and re-worked many of the previously overlooked musical gems recorded and released between 1964 and 1967. Does this mean that The Pretty Things, The Merseys, The Mojos, The Yardbirds and The Easybeats may still have a chance? One would certainly hope so because their versions of these songs were far superior to David's versions.

Starting off side one is "Rosalyn," a track from the first Pretty Things album in 1964. This band of art students had shoulder length hair, played funky blues and were far raunchier than the Rolling Stones. One New York D.J. at the time got on the air and announced that he heard these strange dirty boys carried pocketbooks and he would never play their record again. The song was "Don't Bring Me Down," one of the best singles of the time. Bowie does it justice -- just listen and marvel. If you don't remember the Irish group, Them, you're bound to recognize the name Van Morrison. He originally sang lead with Them and "Here Comes The Night" had been his brightest moment. "I Wish You Would" sounds really unusual if you've ever heard the original by The Yardbirds. Bowie's arrangement finds Mick Ronson playing the harmonica part on his guitar.

Pink Floyd have gone through many changes in their six year career. "See Emily Play" was their first major success in England and personified the summer of acid rock and psychedelia for English kids. Bowie kills the song. Sorry David, I know you didn't mean to do it, but it's just plain awful. Stu James and the Mojos never came to America though they were very popular in England. This group of Liverpudlians recorded an original composition called "Everything's Alright" and it went straight to the top of the charts. They were energetic rockers and quite advanced for their time. In fact, the lead singer sounded very much like our friend Mr. Bowie on this particular track. I understand Stu James is working for CBS Records as a promo man. Maybe this will get him on the stage again (he's only about 26 years old).

"Sorrow" is the single. It was a famous record in 1966 when Billy Kinsley and Tony Crane, one half of the Merseybeats changed their name to The Merseys and went right to the top. George Harrison sang this song at the end of "It's All Too Much," but it never sounded this bad.

Bowie does strange versions of "Shapes Of Things," "I Can't Explain," and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," "Friday On My Mind" and closes the set with the Kinks' "Where Have All The Good Times Gone," which, in this case, is an interesting question. A good experiment David, more power to you for trying, but it only half-worked.

- Janis Schacht, Circus, 1-74.

If David Bowie didn't wear leotards, he'd probably be delivering pizza. After listening to this latest stroll down cacaphony lane, it's doubtful he could even do that right. Forsaking the last traces of Ziggy Stardust creativity in favor of trowls of lobotomized versions of old rock and roll, David comes across with as much verve and gusto as last Thanksgiving's main course. Sounds like Joel Gray at the Fillmore. Covering the Who, the Pretty Things and the Easy Beats, this opus is an insult to the intelligence.

- Ed Naha, Circus, 1-74.

The idea of reviving these British oldies is a great one, but most of those fanatic enough to know all the originals aren't very excited. I know half and I'm not excited either. I mean, it's good to recall the screaming-frustration-on-the-nine-to-five of "Friday on My Mind," but when Bowie screams he sounds arch. And that ain't rock and roll. Yet. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

It's a noble conceit, rerecording some mostly obscure creations from the groups who made London the center of the pop music world in the mid-Sixties. His choices are interesting, ranging from the well-known -- Pink Floyd, the Who, Them, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds, to the marginal -- Mojos, Pretty Things, and the Merseys. It's just that Bowie's versions really add nothing to the originals, other than attention, which isn't all bad -- it's quality material. The Rykodisc CD includes two bonus tracks from entirely different sources: a previously unreleased Bruce Springsteen cover, and a B-side Jacques Brel cover. The sound quality is very good, but not quite up to some of the other Ryko Bowie reissues, in that it displays a bit of compression. C+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Bowie covers a selection of personal favorite songs from the '60s by the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, Pink Floyd, and more. It's an affectionate tribute that makes more of a case for Bowie's excellent taste than for his ability to transcend the original versions. It contains the hit, "Sorrow." * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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