Take Five: David Bowie’s Pin Ups

By late 1973 David Bowie was at the top of his game. Riding high on the success of a string of albums – 1971’s Hunky Dory, 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane (released in April ‘73) – Bowie seemed incapable of making a misstep. His tours in support of the aforementioned albums had helped catapult him into the highest echelons of the rock world; he now stood aside greats like The Who, Rolling Stones, Elton John and Led Zeppelin in terms of both commercial and critical success.

So what did he do? He went on a busman’s holiday and cut Pin Ups, an album’s worth of covers. Such a move was popular among artists of that era: both Bryan Ferry and John Lennon would release similar collections of oldies. Bowie went one better, though, by selecting songs that – especially in the U.S. – hadn’t all been smash hits in their original versions. His thinking may have been to pay tribute to some of his influences, giving them a bit of exposure and perhaps opening their music up to Bowie’s own fan base. Here are the original recordings of five tunes David Bowie covered in 1973. Pin Ups was released October 19 some fifty years ago.

“Rosalyn” by The Pretty Things
The Pretty Things are one of the groups often cited as examples of excellent British acts who weren’t able to find success during the so-called “British Invasion” of the U.S. (In England they call it the beat era.) Formed when former Rolling Stones bassist Dick Taylor quit that group and switched back to guitar, the Pretty Things sounded a bit like the Stones, only harder, tougher. The band’s debut single released in May 1964, “Rosalyn” almost made it into the Top 40, peaking at #41. The band would later gain notability as one of the first to make a rock opera, 1968’s S.F. Sorrow.

“Everything’s Alright” by The Mojos
Liverpool’s The Mojos enjoyed a brief time in the spotlight. The band’s raucous second single, “Everything’s Alright” soared to the #9 spot on the UK singles chart in 1964, but subsequent singles each sold less than the one before. Between ‘63 and ‘68 The Mojos would release eight singles and an EP, but no albums. The group would break up and reform multiple times before finally calling it a day in 1968.

“See Emily Play” by Pink Floyd
More than five years before they broke through with the juggernaut The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd was a psychedelic foursome led by mercurial composer and guitarist Syd Barrett. His songs about scarecrows, bikes, cats and cross-dressers were unlike anything else coming out of British recording studios at the time. “See Emily Play” was the group’s second single, and reached the top 10 on the UK charts.

“Sorrow” by The Merseys
Originally known as The Merseybeats, this foursome from Liverpool was a fixture of the legendary Cavern Club. They scored a number of hit singles in the UK and Europe. When those played out, they re-formed as The Merseys, covering a song originally cut by The McCoys, a group led by Rick Zehringer (later Derringer). The Merseys’ version soared to #4 in the UK in 1966. Bowie wasn’t the only famous fan of the tune: The song is quoted – words and melody – on The Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much,” a George Harrison composition featured on 1968’s Yellow Submarine.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” by The Rolling Stones
Bowie may have been inspired in part to make Pin Ups after recording this Rolling Stones classic for Aladdin Sane. The original was released as a single in 1967; when the Stones performed it on Ed Sullivan’s variety program, he made them change the lyrics to the tamer “let’s spend some time together.” The song was only a minor hit. Six years later, Bowie’s speedy glam version put the sass and sex back into the song.