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Week 46 | Rare (AKA Bowie Rare) (1982)

When I set off to begin this project, I decided I would only comment on albums connected to Bowie in some way that I had heard in their entirety at one point or another. I have no recollection of listening all the way through to “Rare”. I think I have a tape of a tape of it from the 1980s, and I almost certainly listened to it at the time.  I know the songs on this album because, despite the name, they are not so rare these days.  Though for the most part, they should be.

Today “Rare” is itself, rare.  My understanding is that no CD version was ever issued of this compilation.  Most of the songs would appear as bonus tracks on future Bowie reissues or on other albums.  As most of the songs were recorded at different times, for different purposes, there is no theme or even sense of progression in this collection, except of course, that the songs are not among Bowie’s greatest hits.  Actually, even that isn’t wholly accurate.  Included is the American single version of “Young Americans,” which is identical to the album version except for a missing verse.  I actually recently heard this version of the song on the radio.  Also familiar is “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)” which I think has become pretty familiar in the years since 1982.

Most of the other songs are oddballs— the Italian version of “Space Oddity,” the German version of “Heroes,” a live version of “Panic in Detroit,” and a version of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” originally recorded for the “Ziggy Stardust”  album (but didn’t make the cut).  It also includes a variety of songs familiar to anyone with the Rykodic reissues of Bowie’s 1969-1980 catalogue— “Amsterdam,” “Holy Holy,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Moon of Alabama,” and the instrumental, “Crystal Japan”.  

Bowie thought the collection, which he had no part in curating, was “atrocious.”  Though no one of the individual songs are among the very worst things Bowie ever created, on the whole he’s right, as evidenced by the complete lack of interest I had had in listening to the album in three decades.  The foreign language versions of familiar songs are interesting to hear once or twice, but there’s nothing about them that is more compelling than the English versions.  The same goes with with live version of “Panic in Detroit.”  I like “Round and Round” and “Crystal Japan” but can go elsewhere to hear them.  As for the rest— there’s a reason they didn’t make the cut on original studio albums.  

Bowie chronicler Nicholas Pegg wrote that this album was a “cynical grab” by RCA.  And so it probably was.  I do give RCA credit for putting this type of collection together at all, though it would soon become obsolete.  I do think there is a future album, or even box set that could be made of Bowie B-sides and guest appearances.  Alas, this is not that.  Nearly 40 years after it was released, it is little more than an obscure historical footnote, and a recording on a tape of a tape boxed up in my basement.  

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