Released: November 1973
Chart Peak: #23
Weeks Charted: 21
With everyone from the Band to Don McLean doing oldies albums, the Who revisiting the Mod era, and David Bowie's guitarist Mick Ronson's obvious brilliance in the genre (as evidenced by his one-man Yardbirdmania on "Jean Genie"), the idea of an album re-creating mid-Sixties English rock classics seemed perfect. And every song included has been a personal favorite for years.
To Bowie they have been more -- they are representative of a phase of the London scene he was very much a part of as leader of Davy Jones & the King Bees. He had the roots, perspective and proper motivation to make this album a success. Unfortunately, something went wrong in the execution.
But comparison with the originals is unnecessary, since they will be unfamiliar to most who listen to the album. In that light, many of the cuts do rate somewhat higher. Ronson & Co. turn in good raving tracks for the Pretty Things' "Rosalyn," the Yardbirds' "I Wish You Would," and the Kinks' "Where Have All the Good Times Gone."
But all have been underproduced. The songs were originally conceived as trashy, instant pop fodder, and their simplicity demands a rough edge to give them the punch they need to be effective. That edge is missing, since the tracks are mixed down to make way for Bowie's voice. And therein lies Pinups' true failure.
In the past, the vocals in this genre would scream for attention from the very center of the tracks' blast of pure noise. But Bowie's vocals float carelessly above the music, and his excessively mannered voice is a ridiculously weak mismatch for the material.
I have always thought Bowie more than merely avant-garde, and credit him with the best of intentions. And while Pinups may be a failure, it is also a collection of great songs, most of which are given a more than adequate, and always loving, treatment. Maybe the fairest conclusion to draw is that Bowie can't sing any other way, did the best he could, and the result isn't all that bad.
- Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 12-20-73.
Bowie offers his own version of a nostalgic trip, playing in a style of rock from the mid-1960's. Simple riffs back him on "Here Comes the Night." There's none of the pseudo-intellectual mod-rock that has characterized his previous RCA works. There's humor in this music if you want to take it as a look back in musical time. "Everything's Allright" recalls Presley spinning on stage. Bowie's sextet lays down the sounds in an appropriate fashion.
- Billboard, 1973.
When David Bowie turned his knowing head, and gave the wink of approval to Lou Reed, many people who had never considered buying a Lou Reed album before bought one and made the man the star he always deserved to be. When Bowie salvaged Mott The Hoople from the depths of despair they re-surfaced strong and healthy and more creative than they'd ever been before. Then Bowie moved over to the infamous Iggy Pop and even though the kid still has no obvious talent (other than his ability to maul himself in public) he is now receiving more press than he did in all his years with the Stooges. Now Bowie has taken a large step backwards in time and rediscovered and re-worked many of the previously overlooked musical gems recorded and released between 1964 and 1967. Does this mean that The Pretty Things, The Merseys, The Mojos, The Yardbirds and The Easybeats may still have a chance? One would certainly hope so because their versions of these songs were far superior to David's versions.
Starting off side one is "Rosalyn," a track from the first Pretty Things album in 1964. This band of art students had shoulder length hair, played funky blues and were far raunchier than the Rolling Stones. One New York D.J. at the time got on the air and announced that he heard these strange dirty boys carried pocketbooks and he would never play their record again. The song was "Don't Bring Me Down," one of the best singles of the time. Bowie does it justice -- just listen and marvel. If you don't remember the Irish group, Them, you're bound to recognize the name Van Morrison. He originally sang lead with Them and "Here Comes The Night" had been his brightest moment. "I Wish You Would" sounds really unusual if you've ever heard the original by The Yardbirds. Bowie's arrangement finds Mick Ronson playing the harmonica part on his guitar.
Pink Floyd have gone through many changes in their six year career. "See Emily Play" was their first major success in England and personified the summer of acid rock and psychedelia for English kids. Bowie kills the song. Sorry David, I know you didn't mean to do it, but it's just plain awful. Stu James and the Mojos never came to America though they were very popular in England. This group of Liverpudlians recorded an original composition called "Everything's Alright" and it went straight to the top of the charts. They were energetic rockers and quite advanced for their time. In fact, the lead singer sounded very much like our friend Mr. Bowie on this particular track. I understand Stu James is working for CBS Records as a promo man. Maybe this will get him on the stage again (he's only about 26 years old).
"Sorrow" is the single. It was a famous record in 1966 when Billy Kinsley and Tony Crane, one half of the Merseybeats changed their name to The Merseys and went right to the top. George Harrison sang this song at the end of "It's All Too Much," but it never sounded this bad.
Bowie does strange versions of "Shapes Of Things," "I Can't Explain," and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," "Friday On My Mind" and closes the set with the Kinks' "Where Have All The Good Times Gone," which, in this case, is an interesting question. A good experiment David, more power to you for trying, but it only half-worked.
- Janis Schacht, Circus, 1-74.
If David Bowie didn't wear leotards, he'd probably be delivering pizza. After listening to this latest stroll down cacaphony lane, it's doubtful he could even do that right. Forsaking the last traces of Ziggy Stardust creativity in favor of trowls of lobotomized versions of old rock and roll, David comes across with as much verve and gusto as last Thanksgiving's main course. Sounds like Joel Gray at the Fillmore. Covering the Who, the Pretty Things and the Easy Beats, this opus is an insult to the intelligence.
- Ed Naha, Circus, 1-74.
The idea of reviving these British oldies is a great one, but most of those fanatic enough to know all the originals aren't very excited. I know half and I'm not excited either. I mean, it's good to recall the screaming-frustration-on-the-nine-to-five of "Friday on My Mind," but when Bowie screams he sounds arch. And that ain't rock and roll. Yet. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
It's a noble conceit, rerecording some mostly obscure creations from the groups who made London the center of the pop music world in the mid-Sixties. His choices are interesting, ranging from the well-known -- Pink Floyd, the Who, Them, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds, to the marginal -- Mojos, Pretty Things, and the Merseys. It's just that Bowie's versions really add nothing to the originals, other than attention, which isn't all bad -- it's quality material. The Rykodisc CD includes two bonus tracks from entirely different sources: a previously unreleased Bruce Springsteen cover, and a B-side Jacques Brel cover. The sound quality is very good, but not quite up to some of the other Ryko Bowie reissues, in that it displays a bit of compression. C+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
Bowie covers a selection of personal favorite songs from the '60s by the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, Pink Floyd, and more. It's an affectionate tribute that makes more of a case for Bowie's excellent taste than for his ability to transcend the original versions. It contains the hit, "Sorrow." * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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