David Bowie had a quite incredible run of albums in the seventies. Whether it was the space folk stylings of The Man Who Sold The World, the pop perfection of Hunky Dory, Ziggy’s incredible entrance, Bowie’s soul period on Young Americans or the Berlin trilogy, it’s fair to say that the decade belonged to the Starman. That said, one album that isn’t given nearly enough praise is his covers record Pin Ups, a project released on October 19th 1973.
Ever since its release, the LP has been given a pretty rough ride. Released during Bowie’s peak rock overlord moments, it sees Ziggy and Co. deliver a quite beguiling reimagining of some of the most beloved songs of Bowie’s life in London during the late sixties. So while it’s easy to say that the covers don’t match the originals, it would be missing the point to expect anything so ‘expected’ from David Bowie.
The album was conceived as Bowie tried to capitalise on his growing fame following the explosion of Ziggy Stardust. It meant that the record company were keen to hear anything new from Bowie put down on record and released as soon as possible. It includes a load of fellow English bands with whom Bowie had a deep affection for or, as he puts it in the liner notes of the LP, “These songs are among my favourites from the ’64-’67 period of London.”
At that time, Bowie was Davy Jones and struggling to find himself as an artist but searching the scene he soon found bands and fellow artists with whom he shared a kindred spirit. It meant when he finally did hit the big time, Bowie was keen to share some of those contemporaries in a brand new way.
The Starman wasn’t the first rock act to provide a covers album but it certainly was one of the first to make a real impact. It was also one of the last times Bowie gathered his band the Spiders from Mars to record together. Naturally, the singer didn’t aim for easy hits when he released the LP, instead, he picked tracks from across his own musical spectrum, breathing new life into the creaking songs.
What Bowie had on some of the other artists covered in the record is that studio techniques (something Bowie was a big fan of) had been advanced remarkably. Bowie was able to use multitrack recording as well as stacks upon stacks of Marshall amps that add to his band’s archetypal astro-rock sound.
It allowed Spiders guitarist Mick Ronson, in particular, the license to unleash his sleazy rock sound on the classically written songs. It may have only been several years since the original songs had been released but Ronson and Bowie made them sound like they had landed from outer space while Trevor Bolder brought the LP’s bass to the fore.
There are covers of The Kinks and their track ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’, of Pink Floyd’s classic ‘See Emily Play’, The Who’s ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ to name just a few. All of which have been given a double injection of Bowie’s glittered-glam grit. It may well be Bowie’s band at their peak before he took himself into as many different directions as he could find later in the decade.
Bowie may well have been introducing his audience to a set of what he considered to be the best bands of the last decade but he did it through the medium of Bowie himself. He doesn’t simply sing the songs but there’s a huge feeling of performance that permeates every note of this record. He allows himself to pulsate through the entire piece and therein lies the crux of the album.
This isn’t David Bowie bringing you the hits of the sixties, this is a trip into the internal monologue of David Robert Jones. A trip around the brain of Bowie performing his favourite songs. If you imagine listening in on Bowie in the shower then we think it may well sound like Pin Ups.