David Bowie "Bowpromo" (2017 Record Store Day special release)

As of this writing, we are still awaiting the complete official list of special releases for Record Store Day 2017. However, details of some of the releases have been reported. Two David Bowie recordings have been excavated from the vaults, and will be issued on limited edition vinyl by Parlophone. One of them, titled Cracked Actor, is a previously unreleased 3-LP set documenting a 1974 live show performed in Los Angeles. (The concert figured into a 1975 Bowie documentary film of the same title, which aired on the BBC). The other Record Store Day item is a reissue of a rare 1971 promo LP called Bowpromo.

Thr RSD edition of Bowpromo is a single-sided 12-inch LP, limited to 5,000 copies, containing alternate mixes of seven Bowie songs from the early ‘70’s: five songs that were released on his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory, an outtake (“Bombers”) from that same album, and “It Ain’t Easy”, Bowie’s glam-rock rendition of Ron Davies’ blues song which was released on the 1972 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album.

“It Ain’t Easy” sounds the same to my ears as the Ziggy Stardust version, but the Hunky Dory songs are notably different than the versions on the album. “Oh! You Pretty Things” and especially “Eight Line Poem” have “unfinished” sounds, noticeably missing a production layer or two: the difference in the former is not significant, but the latter has a different vocal track, and has a Velvet Underground-like feel without its production sheen. On this mix of “Kooks”, Bowie’s vocals and the instrumentation both sound farther away – not necessarily a bad thing, because this version of the song has a warmer sound than the album version, and has its own Kinks-like likability. Bowie’s vocals on “Queen Bitch” also have a farther-away sound – not exactly a good thing, because he is overpowered by Mick Ronson’s guitar raunch and the song loses a bit of its attitude.

Surprisingly, the last two tracks actually sound far superior to the versions that were released. The ballad “Quicksand” has a mix that draws more attention to the orchestration and to Rick Wakeman’s piano, giving the song a whole new level of ethereal beauty that belies the surreal pessimism of the lyrics. The outtake “Bombers”, which has a faster tempo than most Hunky Dory tracks, eventually turned up as a CD bonus track on the 1990 Rykodisc edition of that album. The Bowpromo mix has clearer and more appealing sound than that other version, and the added effects help Bowie’s final high note come across better at the end. A snippet of the intro from “Andy Warhol” can briefly be heard at the end.

So, why are all seven tracks crammed onto one side of this LP? The original pressing of Bowpromo dates back to 1971. It originally had no official title, although "Rough Mix" was scrawled on the plain white sleeve; "Bowpromo" was part of the matrix number imprinted in the dead wax. The disc reportedly only had 500 copies pressed, and was used to promote Bowie’s work to record labels before he was signed to RCA. The seven Bowie tracks were contained on the first side, while the second side contained five tracks by English singer/actress Dana Gillespie. These five songs turned up on Gillespie’s 1973 album Weren’t Born A Man and/or her 1994 compilation CD Andy Warhol: The Best of the Mainman Years.

It may seem exploitative to turn the disc into a strictly-Bowie title for this Record Store Day edition, but Gillespie’s tracks were not likely to be of much interest to Bowie fans, especially in America, where Gillespie is not well known. The exception would be the song “Andy Warhol”, which Bowie wrote for Gillespie. Gillespie’s version of the song is livelier and more straightforward than the odd version Bowie recorded for Hunky Dory, and the Bowpromo mix was even better, without the excessive production effects of her album version.

How were Gillespie’s other Bowpromo tracks? “Mother Don’t Be Frightened” sounded the same as her album version (which was produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson); it’s a heartfelt ballad built on piano and strings, made strong by Gillespie’s soulful vocals. The same description applies to her album version of “Never Knew”, although the Bowpromo mix sounded like a demo, with piano but no orchestration. The Bowpromo mix of “Lavender Hill” also sounds like a piano-based demo, with awkward vocals; the much-improved studio version was not heard until it was released on the Andy Warhol compilation in 1994.

David Bowie - Bowpromo

David Bowie “Bowpromo” (Parlophone) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Oh! You Pretty Things
2. Eight Line Poem
3. Kooks
4. It Ain't Easy
5. Queen Bitch
6. Quicksand
7. Bombers / Andy Warhol Intro

David Bowie & Dana Gillespie “Rough Mix” (Gem BOWPROMO 1A-1/1B-1) 1971

Track Listing:

1. Oh, You Pretty Thing/Eight Line Poem (Bowie)
2. Kooks (Bowie)
3. It Ain’t Easy (Davis)
4. Queen Bitch (Bowie)
5. Quicksand (Bowie)
6. Bomber (Bowie)
7. Mother Don’t Be Frightened (Gillespie)
8. Andy Warhol (Bowie)
9. Never Knew (Gillespie)
10. All Cut Up On You (Gillespie)
11. Lavender Hill (Gillespie)