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Album 101: Divine Symmetry Part 2, Disc 2

The second disc of the Divine Symmetry box set features a BBC radio concert put on by Bowie and friends, including the future members of the Spiders From Mars from June, 1971. Although the songs are more or less familiar, the performances — including three in which Bowie is not the lead singer— are not. So, like the first disc, this one achieves the feel of being new, despite being more than fifty years old.

The disc includes nine songs, some of which appear in both mono and stereo format, as well as some of the original dialogue from the radio show. Despite the familiarity of songs like “Queen Bitch” and “Kooks,” the whole of the show comes off as almost amateurish and kind of slap-dash. Bowie was not yet a star and did not come off as if he were (he had already released The Man Who Sold the World, now thought of as a classic, but at the time had been an almost unknown flop).

While familiar songs anchors this disc, the less familiar material makes it compelling. Bowie doesn’t sound like himself in the opening track, “Queen Bitch” but rather sounds like he’s imitiating Lou Reed. The ghost of the Velvet Underground lingers throughout the performance. “Looking for a Friend” seems like a cross between a stereotypical VU song and the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” And then there’s “Andy Warhol,” performed here by Dana Gillespie, who Bowie originally wrote the song for (and who released her own version as a single before Bowie included his version on Hunky Dory).

The disc includes “Bombers,” which while not unknown was never officially included on a studio album, as well as a cover of the Chuck Berry song, “Almost Grown.” In addition to Gillespie singing “Andy Warhol,” “Song for Bob Dylan” is performed by George Underwood, Bowie’s friend who years earlier had punched him in the face, giving him the permanent appearance of having different colored eyes. The final song, “It Ain’t Easy,” is performed by the ensemble.

I thought, while listening to this, of The 1980 Floor Show, which also featured Bowie as well as other performers. Sure enough the book that accompanies A Divine Symmetry makes the same comparison— “the David Bowie and Friends concept was almost certainly a useful embryonic precursors for Bowie’s lavish multi-artists 1980 Floor Show…”

An interesting artifact included in the disc are the comments of the radio show’s host, John Peel. Peel mentions that the performers, including Bowie, were recording as a band called Arnold Corn, which has a single that hadn’t been played on the BBC called, “Moonage Daydream” (and they don’t play it here either). He mentions that his audience might have overlooked The Man Who Sold the World, and that the name of Bowie’s next album might be Hunky Dory. This would have all been news for the audience at the time.

It is all still too much of a rough draft of what’s to come to have enormous replay value, but it sure is an interesting snapshot of a moment in time when Bowie had already been producing genius-level music but before anybody realized it.

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