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Bowie at The Beeb:
The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72 (2000)

BOWIE AT THE BEEB album cover

BOWIE AT THE BEEB

Four years after the NMC's DAVID BOWIE BBC SESSIONS 1969-1972 sampler was issued and then hurriedly withdrawn from sale, another BBC set from EMI called BOWIE AT THE BEEB: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72 was released on 25 September 2000. 

This EMI 3CD release was made up of the best BBC tracks recorded between 1968 and 1972, and the tracks were personally chosen by David Bowie.  Unlike NMC's planned but never realised DAVID BOWIE BBC SESSIONS 1969-1972 3CD set, BOWIE AT THE BEEB: The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72 was officially sanctioned by David Bowie. 

It included the first-ever live performance with guitarist Mick Ronson and Bowie's 1968 session with the Tony Visconti Trio.  Although the recordings are mainly in mono, they have been mastered to the highest possible sound quality and resolution. The third CD (a bonus CD) initially included with the compilation captures Bowie's performance at the BBC Radio Theatre, Portland on 27 June 2000 before a studio audience, just two days after his Glastonbury Festival appearance.   This show, filmed by the BBC, was edited down to a 1 hour programme and broadcast on BBC 1 to coincide with the release.

The 3CD packaging features track by track/session details along with sleeve notes from BBC radio producers Bernie Andrews and Jeff Griffin who, between them, were responsible for producing seven of the sessions. Griffin and Andrews also supplied personal artifacts/memorabilia for inclusion in the 20-page full colour booklet with research by Kevin Cann and liner notes by Mark Adams.

The cover art is by artist Guy Peellaert, who painted the Diamond Dogs (1974) album cover and was created by reworking a Mick Rock photograph of Bowie recording PINUPs in 1973, and a Sarah McCormack photograph of BBC Maida Vale Studio 3.  Sarah McCormack is the wife of Bowie's friend Geoffrey (Alexander) McCormack who sang at a number of Ziggy Stardust concerts.

The bonus CD artwork is by Rex Ray who also produced the HOURS album artwork, along with singles, posters and the forthcoming Ziggy 2002 art prints. In the future BOWIE AT THE BEEB (2000) will comprise only the 2CDs worth of the 1968-72 BBC material. 

EMI also distributed to radio stations (in late August 2000) an 8-track promotional CD which was stylishly packaged as a reel-to-reel tape (see below).  A limited edition deluxe four LP set was released in October 2000 and included two tracks not found on the 3CD version.

The 1972 Ziggy Stardust BBC sessions

For Ziggy Stardust fans it is CD2  which is of most interest as it contains seventeen tracks that David Bowie recorded at various BBC studios in 1972 as Ziggy Stardust.  To date these have only been available to fans as part of the fore-mentioned NMC DAVID BOWIE BBC SESSIONS 1969-1972 (sampler) and illegally in various bootlegs.

All but one song of the Ziggy Stardust BBC sessions appears in this new EMI release.  The missing song is Bowie's cover of Lou Reed's "White Light - White Heat" from from Sounds of the Seventies (Broadcast: 19 June 1972). To see where these songs were recorded and their history see Ziggy Stardust on Radio, TV, Film & Video

Following the release it was quickly discovered by fans that the two supposedly different versions of "Ziggy Stardust" on CD2 (Tracks 4 and 12) were in fact the very same track. Presumably someone at EMI made a mistake and duplicated the track of "Ziggy Stardust" from May 1972 leaving the earlier version from January 1972 missing.

EMI then stated that anybody who purchased a copy of BOWIE AT THE BEEB (2000) with this mistake was able to claim a free single-track CD replacement containing the missing version of "Ziggy Stardust". Current pressings of the BBC set now contain the correct versions.

BOWIE AT THE BEEB 8-track sampler
EMI BEEBPRO 6872 Released September 2000 (UK)

BOWIE AT THE BEEB sampler box cover
Note this scan is relatively clean but the boxes were produced to look old and watermarked

BOWIE AT THE BEEB Sampler CD face

Tracks: In The Heat Of The Morning/Let Me Sleep Beside You/Amsterdam/Kooks/Hang On To Yourself1/Changes2/Oh! You Pretty Things2/Lady Stardust3.

Ziggy Stardust-era
1 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Sounds of the 70's, January 18, 1972
2 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Show, May 22, 1972
3 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Sounds of the 70's: Bob Harris, May 23, 1972

 

BOWIE AT THE BEEB Limited Edition 3CD
EMI 7243 528958 2 3 Released 25 September 2000 (UK)
Catalogue number TOCP-65497/8 (Japan)
Catalogue number 07243 5286292 4 (Germany)

BOWIE AT THE BEEB album cover

BOWIE AT THE BEEB rear cover

TRACKS

CD1 In The Heat Of The Morning/London Bye Ta Ta/Karma Man/Silly Boy Blue/Let Me Sleep Beside You/Janine/Amsterdam/God Knows I'm Good/Width Of A Circle/Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed/Cygnet Committee/Memory Of A Free Festival/Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud/Bombers/Looking For A Friend/Almost Grown/Kooks/It Ain't Easy

CD2 The Supermen/Eight Line Poem/Hang Onto Yourself1/Ziggy Stardust1/Queen Bitch1/Waiting For The Man1/Five Years1/White Light White Heat2/Moonage Daydream2/Hang Onto Yourself2/Suffragette City2/Ziggy Stardust2/Starman3/Space Oddity3/Changes3/Oh! You PrettyThings3/Andy Warhol4/Lady Stardust4/Rock 'N Roll Suicide4

CD3 Wild Is The Wind/Ashes To Ashes/Seven/This Is Not America/Absolute Beginners/Always Crashing In The Same Car/Survive/Little Wonder/The Man Who Sold The World/Fame/Stay/Hallo Spaceboy/Cracked Actor/I'm Afraid Of Americans/ Let's Dance

Ziggy Stardust-era tracks and their BBC sessions  
1 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Sounds of the 70's, January 18, 1972

2 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Sound of the 70's: John Peel, May 16, 1972
3 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Show, May 22, 1972
4 David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Sounds of the 70's: Bob Harris, May 23, 1972

PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL

To mark the release of BOWIE AT THE BEEB, Dotmusic, in association with EMI and the BBC launched a special micro-site at www.bowieatthebeeb.com/dotmusic/  with a competition with prizes including a signed print of the BBC cover art, albums, t-shirts, posters and subscriptions to www.davidbowie.com, a free Bowie screensaver, and a Bowie at the Beeb Winamp skin.

PROMOTIONAL ITEMS

RECORD COLLECTOR (December 2000) listed three DAVID BOWIE items from the EMI 'Bowie At The Beeb' campaign in their list of top 20 collectables. At #1 with a price tag of 200 was the promotional 10" radio microphone crafted in the form of an old style microphone which came packaged in its own picture box and even has a custom 'Bowie At The Beeb' logo which lights up when the radio is switched on. At #7 was the reel-to-reel type promo CD valued at 50 and at #16 was the white labelled single-track Ziggy Stardust replacement CD worth 20.  Other EMI Bowie At The Beeb promotional items include a Bowie print, a Zippo lighter and t-shirt.

REVIEWS

Grand Dame's Route to Stardust by Andy Gill (MOJO Magazine)

TEMPORARILY BULKED out with a third disc of the recent BBC Radio Theatre show that effectively reprised his headlining Glastonbury set, this 2-CD compilation collects Bowie's earliest sessions from various Top Gear, In Concert, Johnnie Walker and Sounds Of The Seventies shows recorded between May 1968 and May 1972, tracking his progress from Anthony Newley wannabe to the brink of Aladdin Sane, offering a handy aural frieze of his surprisingly arduous climb to superstardom, culminating aptly in the Ziggy-killing Rock 'N' Roll Suicide.

It's interesting to recall Bowie's callow beginnings. The poppy organ and ambitious arrangements of In The Heat Of The Morning and London Bye Ta-Ta are redolent of the Swinging '60s, as are lyrical references to "the ragged soldier catching butterflies". The prissy strings of Karma Man further expose the earnest nature of the hippy years, while solo acoustic versions of God Knows I'm Good and Jacques Brel's Port Of Amsterdam capture the future progenitor of glam in a rather ill-fitting Euro-Dylanesque mode.

Other Space Oddity material finds him in transition: the urgent vocal style and rough, spindly guitar work makes Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed sound like Dylan with a Diddley beat, which wins the praise of laid-back John Peel. He is rewarded with a balls-aching eight minutes of wordy Cygnet Committee, complete with flamenco flourishes and "I want to live" drama queen finale.

A 1970 Sunday Show performance of The Width Of A Circle captures a pivotal moment in Bowie's early career: the first public appearance of Mick Ronson. It's not an exceptional performance. But he gets into his stride on the disc two which, apart from pulsating covers of I'm Waiting For The Man and White Light/White Heat, focuses almost entirely on Bowie's last few rungs up the stardom ladder with Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, including two virtually indistinguishable takes each of Hang On To Yourself and Ziggy itself. The quality of both performances and recordings is exceptional for the time, with elegant versions of Starman and Oh! You Pretty Things affirming the confident new direction of Bowie's pop sensibility, and muscular renditions of Suffragette City, Queen Bitch and Changes. It wouldn't all be downhill from here on, but Bowie had clearly reached a rarefied plateau from which further ascent would prove difficult.

Bowie At The Beeb by David Quantick (Q Magazine)

The BBC's decision to let its many sessions go free has been the curse of the bootlegger and the delight of the rock fan who wants to hear great old music from his/her record collection in a raw, tinny fashion. Bowie's BBC sessions have long been available illegally, but now these reasonably cleaned-up recording - from 1968 to 2000 - are available to all.

The early tunes are a strange mix of Scott Walker-influenced pop (In The Heat Of The Morning, Let Me Sleep Besides You), hippy-pop (Memory Of A Free Festival, Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed) and the partially formed rock of Width Of A Circle, recorded within a few days of guitarist Mick Ronson joining Bowie's band, and Bombers a song that sounds like a template for the imminent Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album.

CD1 is thus the sound of Bowie working out who he's going to be (and also the sound of John Peel talking like Price Lord Hippy Arse). By CD2, Bowie is both sucking up to DJ Brian Matthews like a good 'un and sandpapering the face off rock 'n' roll. Here we have the best of both the Ziggy Stardust album (two crunching versions of the title track) and Hunky Dory, plus a brilliant, Lou Reed name-checking White Light / White Heat. The songs here are rougher, louder and often more exciting than their "official" versions, not least Moonage Daydream where Ronson's guitar sounds like it's ripping transatlantic cable out of the seabed. Disc Three, a limited edition item, features a Bowie show from the BBC Radio Theatre earlier this year, meaning that guitarist Earl Slick may well have played to some old ladies who thought they had tickets for News Quiz.  Songs as old as Fame and new as the superb Seven are featured and Bowie's current punter-wowing tour is thus captured for ever - albeit without all the bits between songs faded out for some reason, like on Stage. ****

Rolling Stone Review by Greg Kot

David Bowie didn't start out as a "phallus in pigtails," as he sings with self-deprecating amusement on "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed." That would come later. On the first half of the double CD Bowie at the Beeb, which collects BBC performances from 1968 to 1972, he is an earnest folk-pop singer still grappling with his boyhood influences -- music hall, cabaret, Anthony Newley, Bob Dylan -- while dabbling in blues rock and psychedelia. (There's also a superfluous limited-edition bonus disc, containing an entire concert recorded last June.) Bowie wanted little to do with the dominant counterculture of the day, as he makes clear in tunes such as "Cygnet Committee" and "Changes" ("Look out, you rock & rollers"), and these discs offer a fascinating glimpse into the years when he transformed his words into a persona: Ziggy Stardust, the first anti-rock star. With the addition of guitarist Mick Ronson, Bowie's music flirts with rock grandeur on the second disc, but the fey theatricality of "Starman" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" allows him to subvert it. It's only the first of many roles Bowie would later play, but here's where the fun started. 

Review of Bowie at the Beeb by Andy Barding

THE Seventies and early Eighties were great for the Bowie collector. Life was simpler then - cheaper, certainly - and many of the great artefacts that we take so much for granted today could still be filed under "hot poop".

Newbies might find it hard to believe that Santa Monica 72 was ever UNofficial. Or that we used to salivate over the recurring rumours that maybe - just maybe - the Hammersmith 73 or Love You Till Tuesday films might just see the light of day. Back then - when "box set" could only have meant a clique of inhabitants of a village near Bath and "compact disc" would have required six months of lying motionless on a plank - we were grateful for whatever tidbits could be squeezed, stolen, co-erced or even faked from the seemingly bottomless (and certainly always double-locked) vaults. Pride of place in my collection of such naughty things, sandwiched between my official RCA LPs and Dollars In Drag, were Ziggy 2 and My Radio Sweetheart.

Inauspicious and inappropriate in design, bloody expensive and tough to track down, these illicit LPs were scratchy, tinny and hissy as hell - but lovely for it. Pressed into their grey-black grooves, somewhere under the copious surface noise, were exciting off-air recordings of some of Bowie's early radio sessions - glamorously stripped versions of the tracks we already knew off-pat from Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory, with the occasional guest vocalist and frequent flashes of brilliance from the Spiders. As time rolled on, more and more of these bizarre rush-recorded sessions would come to light, usually with conflicting theories about recording dates and sources. A 1969 session with Junior's Eyes was a hell of an eye-opener when it cropped up on a Radio One nostalgia programme, and the emergence of a 1970 session with the heaviest, hardest and sexiest version of Waiting For The Man to ever grace a bootleg LP surprised everyone - even David Bowie, who admitted at the time that he had forgotten even recording it!

Every now and then Tommy Vance or John Peel would repeat a track or two from a 1972 sesh, giving us hope against hope that maybe we would get something we hadn't already heard and catalogued on tape.  Occasionally, Tommy would strike a rich seam - but more often than not it'd be the same old version of Ziggy Stardust and the same old version of White Light White Heat.  Undaunted, we forged on into the 80s. Collectors gagging for more and more BBC stuff swopped tapes with like-minds until, ooh, a whole C90 could be filled up with scruffily edited, variable quality tracks. Somewhere in there, a boot called "No More Sleeping With Ken Pitt" threw the collecting community into understandable panic, giving us as it did almost a whole live set from 1970 and an absurdly early (almost straight off the Hull train) appearance by Ronson - albeit in barely listenable quality and cruelly clipped between each and every damn song.

The CD generation moved the session obsession up a (top) gear. For the first time, this stuff was available in knocking-on pristine quality, and a Bowie at the Beeb broadcast gave us a handful of dates to be going on with and a dribbly taste of the previously unheard bookend sessions from December 67 and June 72.  And so we plodded, happy as pigs in proverbial, until a few years back when the whisperers started to mutter stuff about an official set. The thing was shelved, of course - but not before a very tasty taster could leak onto the market with a couple of unheard June 72 tracks "to be going on with".

That was that, then. Right up to today, September 25, 2000. Now we have Bowie at the Beeb. Two CDs worth of stunning archive material from three decades ago. Where does it leave us? Apart from feeling old, that is?  In a word, sated. From an anorak's point of view, this great new collection - as well as upgrading that iffy-sounding 1970 stuff by about a million per cent - succeeds in filling each and every hole in the "collector's collection". We had been missing the 68 session, with the exception of When I'm Five. Bowie at the Beeb gives us every last missing peep and squawk. The 1970 concert special had been missing Memory Of A Free Festival. Here ya go, fella. Indeed, the public domain now has every session song recorded by DB at the BBC - even (if you look hard on your Radio Hype bootleg CD) the Oh! You Pretty Things live version chopped out of the June 71 buddy-bash.

Aesthetically, the set is more than delightful. Luckily for us, Bowie and Visconti are better at looking after their stuff than Auntie - whose regular spring cleans through the years have meant the wholesale wiping and slinging of important video and audio archive material. Indeed, it's the stuff that the BBC hasn't deemed important enough to keep that holds the most interest for yer actual Bowiephile. The experimental nature of the 68 material, from a super-swinging London Bye Ta Ta to an ethereal Silly Boy Blue and a cosmic-karmic Karma Man, makes for essential listening. And while the proficiency and confidence of the 1970 live set is astonishing considering the speed of turnaround, a simply sensational standout recording of Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud shows how the young Bowie had - by the tender age of 23 - already honed the performance magic that would soon propel him beyond the beyond.  It's CD2 that will get the most attention, understandably. Kicking off with two songs from a wonderful but shortlived Bowie-Ronson acoustic duo period, it quickly slips into Ziggy overdrive with a heap of searing, fun-filled blasters from the first half of 72 that defy their in-and-out-again enforced immediacy.

There's nothing the collector hasn't heard before on this disc, but boy does it sound great in this ultimate quality. Moonage Daydream, always a favourite track anyway, is a sensational foil for Mick Ronson's finger-slashing axework. If anything on this album conjures a picture of the Spiders in full-throttle, it's this. Especially when played, as the saying goes, at maximum volume.  By June of 1972, of course, Bowie was earning a decent crust as a full-time alien and the Beeb were unable or unwilling to drag his god-given ass and carrot frightwig back into the studio. Which is a shame in a way. Can you imagine what sort of miracles could have emerged from a 73, 74, 76 or 77 session? Exactly.

As a stand-alone artefact, then, Bowie at the Beeb is a cracking piece of work and wickedly good fun. Take it in the context of the RCA recorded work from the same time, and you've got yourself a cogent and clear picture of the artist in action and in development. Whatever purpose these recordings originally served (shifting units - or records, as we used to call them - presumably), their position in the 21st century is no less important. These are confusing, fractured times - and up close and personal at the birth of Ziggy is as good a place as any to lose oneself.

---This page last modified: 19 Jan 2007---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)