Many artists over the years have decided it would be a
wonderful idea to collect some of their favorite songs, cover them, and then
release them onto their fans for consumption. Some have done this with great
success. Joan Jett’s ‘Hit List’ from 1990 put a great new spin on some of
her favorite tunes, and Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ gave Ferry
the perfect outlet to show off his lounge lizard thing.
Other times it does not work so well. The desperate attempt
by Mettalica to get back some street credibility after losing it with their two
terrible albums ‘Load’ and ‘Re-Load’, their horrific collection of
covers called ‘Garage Days Re-visited’ (1996), more or less went straight
from the sales racks to the second hand stalls for those who were unfortunate
enough to have bought it.
‘Pin Ups’ was one of the front runners of this vogue,
and really, with the results perhaps it should have been the last. In between
the albums ‘Alladin Sane’ (1973) and the magnificent ‘Diamond Dogs’
(1974), David Bowie split up his backing band, although he used them to record
this motley collection of music. Why? I have no idea.
The talents of the ‘Spiders from Mars’ are so far put
down in the mix, they are hardly audible. The one thing that this record
screams out for is some fiery guitar licks from the platinum haired ‘Spider
from Mars’ Mick Ronson; instead he is so far down in the mix he is barely
The same applies to the rest of the band. The rhythm section
that was so solid on ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ sounds as
though they have had their amplifiers stolen. Mike Garson’s piano is used
only to help fill out the chorus. The only lead instrument that blares forward
at the front of the mix on almost every song is David Bowie’s saxophone,
blowing up a very amateurish storm. What a waste.
Maybe the biggest problem with ‘Pin Ups’ is that these
ten songs, probably David Bowie’s most favorite songs from the early sixties,
may not necessarily suit his style? And can he pull it off? (Don’t forget,
David Bowie and ‘The Spiders from Mars’ did a marvelous cover of the Stones
classic ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ on the band’s previous album
‘Alladin Sane’). The answer to both questions is definitely “no”.
The song selection is second to none, but with the
instruments pushed so far down in the mix, all the songs rely upon Bowie’s
voice. In parts it works. The re-hash of the Merseys ‘Sorrow’ is a lovely
little love song, which gave David Bowie a Top Ten hit and much needed writing
royalties to the ‘Merseys’ songwriters
Feldman/Konrad/Stavely/James/Karlson. Bowie even manages to out weird Syd
Barret on Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’.
But these are the only two songs in the positive column.
When David Bowie tries to sing the songs of some of Britain’s finest
vocalists like Roger Daltrey of the Who, Phil May of the Pretty Things, and the
great Van Morrison, who in the sixties led ‘Them’, then there is no doubt,
Bowie just has not got the chops for it.
The two Who songs should have Bowie up in musical court for
murder. The Pretty Things anthem ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ does bring you
down in Bowie’s hands. One wonders ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’
when Bowie launches into this Kinks classic, such is the lack of enthusiasm of
all those involved. And this was the song left to close the set before two
wretched bonus tracks were added for the CD release. If you are a Bruce
Springstein fan, please do not listen to Bowie’s version of ‘Growin’
The ultimate disaster, though, is reserved for the Yardbirds
classic ‘Shapes Of Things’. The song sounds as though, having lost the
services of Eric Clapton, the rest of the Yardbirds decided to replace Clapton
with not Jeff Beck, but the Camp Kenneth Williams from the Carry-On series. Has
to be heard to be believed.
The artwork for the cover says a lot, a nice picture of
David Bowie with Twiggy on the front cover. Then inside more pictures of the
man himself mostly with the offending saxophone or wearing the most ludicrous
pair of trousers. But - tellingly - no mention or picture of any other musician
connected to the album. Probably they did not want to be associated with it.
The following year Bowie came out with the magnificent
‘Diamond Dogs’ and all was forgiven, but ‘Pin Ups’ was a positive
disaster. Best to avoid this little bump on Bowie’s rise to superstardom.