Written by 5:45 am Audiophile Music

Bowie At The BBC – Necessity or Not?

Mark Smotroff succumbs to Bowie-mania…

I’ll admit that I was oddly thrilled when it was announced shortly after his passing that the David Bowie set Bowie at the Beeb was going to finally see the light of day on LP.  Previously only on CD, this is something of “holy grail” (if you will) for Bowie fans who like vinyl records, containing best-quality-to-date archive recordings from Mr. Bowie’s many appearances on BBC Radio from his (arguably) most desired early peak period between 1968 and 1972.

AR-BowieBBCCover225.jpgThe package replicates and expands on the CD packaging, with a lovely high quality, glossy-print, full album sized booklet with loads of pictures and details on the sessions.  The pressings in my copy are nice, thick, probably 180-gram, jet black vinyl, dead quiet and perfectly centered on all discs. The albums were manufactured in Europe somewhere

How does it all sound? 

You know…  for recordings that were made for (essentially) a one-time broadcast on the radio, in general they sound wonderful. Obviously, the earlier recordings made in the 60s when David Bowie was a relative unknown, just before his first ever hit record called “Space Oddity,” sound a bit thinner. But by the 1971-72 period of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, the recordings sound arguably “album quality.”  

But really, kids, the thing here is the performances and you hear David Bowie and his nascent Spiders From Mars unleashing the beast of rock and roll with all their might — they know they are on the radio and reaching a potentially enormous listener base.

AR-BowieBBCSpiders225.jpgLets make this one the keeper take, mates. No overdubs. No retakes. This is it. We’re live without a net. 

A topic I’ve brought up in other reviews regarding albums that initially debuted on CD making the transition to LP again applies here : Bowie at the Beeb is a much better listening experience on LP than CD.  

Why, you ask?  Well, because there is just SO much material here, presented chronologically, that putting on a CD for 70-plus continual minutes is a difficult prospect for most of us time-constrained listeners.  So by putting the music on to four long playing vinyl record sides, you can absorb the music in smaller chunks of approximately four songs per side. That means you have to get up every 15-20 minutes to flip the disc and it is this breathing space (if you will) that I find beneficial, giving your ears and mind a chance to soak in all you’ve just heard and are about to hear.

AR-BowieBBCPlaying225.jpgThis versus a non stop barrage of one archive gem after another, where everything starts to blur. This is particularly important when you get to the Ziggy era tunes on discs three and four : all of a sudden we are presented with an alternate view of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, with the band killing it live in the studio. 

It has that same sort of energy that has made The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow album such a fan favorite, many preferring those live-on-the-BBC versions of the songs over their original studio recording counterparts.

So, going back to the headline of this review, is this new issue / reissue a necessity? If you are a Bowie fan and love the CD and want a best-yet version, then yes.  If you are satisfied with your CD, that is cool (but you’ll be missing out on the two newly discovered tracks, “Oh You Pretty Things” and “The Supermen” from the Sounds of the 70s sessions).  

AR-BowieBeckLookPic225.jpgBottom line, there is something very nice and comforting about hearing this seminal live Bowie music played back via the format that was prevalent at the time it was recorded. It all just feels right. 

Oh you pretty things…

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