skip to Main Content

Week 45 | Pin Ups (1973)

By this point in Bowie’s career, he was churning out at least one album per year— this was his second in 1973 (the first being Aladdin Sane).  And while this is a thoroughly enjoyable album, I have long thought that this was kind of a knock off.  It features Bowie’s high pitched, nasal and squealing glam-era vocal style in full bloom, but it is totally devoid of one of the other major attraction of a Bowie album— his writing.  Pin Ups is a total cover album.  That’s the conceit.  

Bowie was never afraid of recording covers.  A compilation of all the other covers he added to all his other albums would itself be a stand-alone album longer than Pin Ups (“Tonight” is almost a cover album in itself).  Actually, a compilation of all the other covers he performed, recorded for other artist’s albums or recorded but never released would also constitute a stand-alone album.  So why not something like Pin Ups?  

All the songs are from the 1960s.  A few of them are well known— two from The Who, “I Can’t Explain,” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Shapes of Things” by the Yardbirds and “Where of All the Good Times Gone” by the Kinks.  “See Emily Play,” my favorite song on the album, was originally by the Syd Barrett version of Pink Floyd, but I don’t think it is particularly well known.  I don’t think most of the other songs are especially well known from their original versions, at least not today.

For some reason, the one song released as a single from this collection and repeatedly performed by Bowie even well beyond the early 1970s was, “Sorrow,” by the Merseys (maybe because nobody has ever heard the original?)

Bowie makes them all sound glam, and most of them raunchy.  Listening to his, “I Can’t Explain” is a virtual sexual experience.  He makes full use of a saxophone suitable for a burlesque show striptease throughout the album, and he punctuates his singing with squeals, sighs, and at the beginning of, “Here Comes the Night,” something that sounds like a yodel.  Given that Bowie could not make a claim to the authorship of any of these songs, he performed them almost as a pastiche of his own music from the time.  And he seems to be having fun doing it.

Pin Ups is indeed a fun album.  There’s not much to contemplate, and it seems to go quickly.  Unlike most of his other albums, there seems to be little meaning in the song sequence, so it works well on shuffle.  It’s greatest value is as a showcase for what can be called Bowie’s Ziggy-era voice.  On his next album, “Diamond Dogs,” Bowie begins to show a wider vocal range, but the center of gravity moves toward the deeper end.  Soon, the squeals would be gone form his music, his standard pitch would be lower, and the glam period would be over.  

Away from the music, the album cover is very much part of Pin Ups’ identity.  It is the second of three albums (the others being Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs) on which Bowie appears as Ziggy Stardust.  In this case, he’s leaning in, staring anxiously at the camera, with the then ubiquitous model Twiggy leaning against him.  Both wear face make-up with outlines, suggestive of masks.  The pop-art style lettering is itself iconic.  Twiggy has nothing to do with the music, and unless there’s some meaning in the apparent (fake) masks, the cover says nothing about the contents, but it is one of Bowie’s most striking album covers.  

One other note, about my version of the album.  As with most of the Rykodisc reissues, Pin Ups comes with bonus tracks.  As I’ve written before, I’m not a big fan of bonus tracks because they disrupt the flow of the album.  That’s not as much of a problem on Pin Ups, and one of the two bonus tracks, Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up,” is a welcomed addition.  But the other, “The Port of Amsterdam” sounds out of place and, I just don’t like it very much.  

On the whole, I very much like Pin Ups, but its nature renders it in the category of one of Bowie’s minor works, albeit on the top of that particular list. 

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top