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Monday, 28 May 2018
David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)
Released April 1973
Recorded at Trident Studios, London
In the spring of 1973, David Bowie was the name on everyone's lips. As a teenager, I waited with bated breath for that warm early April day when I held his latest album in my hands, took it home and my friends and I sniggered at every schoolboy's favourite line from "Time". Heady days indeed."Aladdin Sane" was the album where the character of "Ziggy Stardust" supposedly "went to America" to make himself an even bigger star. What you get from this transatlantic trip is ten wonderful tracks that sees Bowie at the height of his "glam rock" phase. To this day it is my favourite Bowie album.
1. Watch That Man
2. Aladdin Sane
3. Drive-In Saturday
4. Panic In Detroit
5. Cracked Actor
7. The Prettiest Star
8. Let's Spend The Night Together
9. The Jean Genie
10. Lady Grinning Soul
"Watch That Man". What a start to an album. Yes, Bowie's voice is way further down in the mix than it should have been (intentionally but erroneously so, in retrospect) but do not let detract from what is a barnstormer of a track, wth one of Mick Ronson's killer riffs taking centre stage. The following title track was one which was not so popular with us singles-honed teenagers at the time but in later years I have come to love it dearly, particularly that great bass and piano instrumental passage in the middle. Mike Garson was Bowie's new pianist and his stamp is all over this album.
"Drive In Saturday" was the album's big "new" single ("The Jean Genie" being released several months before the album) - full of doo-wop harmonies, parping sax and great hook lines it blew us all away. One of my own favourites is next, the Latin percussion-influenced "Panic In Detroit" with its "he looked a lot like Che Guevara" wonderful opening line. "Cracked Actor" continues the glam rock, riffy feel with its risque "suck baby suck" lyrics and then it gets even seedier with the monumental "Time". Garson's piano is supreme on this track.
"The Prettiest Star" is slightly incongruous on here though, dating back to the late sixties, but given a 70s boost here. It still sounds out of place though. A lot of people don't seem to like Bowie's energetic cover of The Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together" but I have always loved it. It rocks. Big time.
"The Jean Genie" had crashed into our collective consciousnesses back in December of 1972. I remember one evening at youth club and one of the other boys came running up to me, beside himself with excitement - "what do you think of David Bowie?" he breathlessly enquired. The boy was Pete Trewavas, later to achieve fame as the bass player in Marillion. Sorry about that anecdote but it is true and I always remember it. I went out and bought "The Jean Genie" the next day with my paper round money.
The final track, "Lady Grinning Soul" is a rarely acknowledged Bowie masterpiece of torch song mystery. Simply beautiful.
With regard to the various remasters - "Aladdin Sane" has always been a bit tinny and there is the perennial voice mixing problems - the 1990 EMI/RYKO is somewhat low-fi and muffled, in my opinion. The 1999 is good, but maybe a bit clear and loud for the tastes of some; the 30th anniversary rarity remaster is excellent as is the latest 2013 one, which is probably as good as it is going to get - a nice mix between the essential glam rock loudness and a bit of subtlety too. You can never lose that loudness on "Aladdin". To do so would be a crime. It should hurt your eardrums.
Anyone wanting to know what Bowie was all about in the mid 1970s - start here.