Various Artists

Oh! You Pretty Things: The Songs of David Bowie

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It's well-known that David Bowie was a struggling musician long before superstardom arrived in the form of Ziggy Stardust in 1972, and it's also well-known that after he became a rock & roll star he helped many of his idols, producing records by such icons as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. That said, he's not usually seen as a songwriter, somebody who is often covered by other artists or a writer who gives away songs, perhaps because his music always seemed so thoroughly an outgrowth of his persona. This, of course, is a bit misleading, as he penned songs for friends, associates, idols, and protégés at the peak of his career, giving Mott the Hoople their signature hit "All the Young Dudes," shepherding albums with Lou and Iggy, writing for his Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, and even seeing that Lulu had a single with "The Man Who Sold the World" -- and this doesn't even count the years past this first prime peak, when Bauhaus turned "Ziggy Stardust" into murky goth or when Nirvana found the haunted soul in "The Man Who Sold the World." That's not the era that Castle's 2006 set Oh! You Pretty Things: The Songs of David Bowie concentrates upon: it is all from the '60s and '70s, primarily songs recorded between 1971 and 1974 -- or, in other words, the prime period of Ziggy mania. Much of these songs may date from that time but few of these sound like Ziggy, and that's not even counting the six openers all drawn from Bowie's early Anthony Newley phase (including Oscar's "Over the Wall We Go" and Ronnie Hilton's take on the notorious "The Laughing Gnome"). Only Mott's "All the Young Dudes," Lou's "Wagon Wheel," Simon Turner's "The Prettiest Star," three Mick Ronson tunes, and Donovan's virtual replica of "Rock 'n' Roll with Me" share similar glammed-up sonics. Outside of that, the 23 songs veer wildly from Peter Noone's slicked-up, straightened-out oblivious version of the title cut to some seriously nasty disco-rock by Ava Cherry and her subsequent outfit, the Astronettes. Bowie had a direct hand in the Ava-related productions, as he did with Dana Gillespie, an old friend of his who cut "Andy Warhol" originally with the backing of Bowie and his Spiders, as he did with Lulu, who he guided through surprisingly kinetic versions of "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Watch That Man." Those song titles alone suggest that Oh! You Pretty Things isn't exactly heavy on rare unheard Bowie tunes, but there are some here: Gillespie co-wrote the quite great, quite florid "Backed a Loser," and the Ava Cherry stuff is all penned by Bowie (notably the quite vulgar "I Am a Laser" and "People from Bad Homes"), as is the Ronson material. So, there's a bunch of interest here, but it's interesting primarily as pop archeology, since these recordings effortlessly evoke their time. It also almost goes without saying that in order to find this stuff interesting you have to be a pretty big Bowie fan -- and someone who appreciates that this disc shows Bowie as an artist who belonged to his time instead of transcending it.

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