Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie
By David Bowie
Vanity Fair, November 2003
From his collection of 2,500 vinyl LPs, the rock star has selected his greatest discoveries, and some record-buying memories as well. One way or another, he writes, he has had to get these on CD.
There is really no way to do a list of my favorite albums with any rationality. I do only have about 2,500 vinyls. There is a possibility there. I’ll look through the albums and pull together a list of those I have re-bought or am in the process of re-buying on CD. I have little time, and there are just too many to sort through. So, I’ll keep pulling stuff out blindly, and if it’s too obvious (Sgt. Pepper, Nirvana) I’ll put it back again till I find something more interesting. A lot of the rock stuff I have is the same as everyone else’s, and I have so many blues and R&B albums that it would topple over into trainspotter world if I went that route.
O.K., no rules then. I’ll just make ’em up as I go along. I’d say half of this list below is now on my CD racks, but many are finding impossible to trace. The John Lee Hooker album, for instance, or The Red Flower of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere. I have done the only thing possible and burned them to CD myself, reduced the cover art down to size, and made reasonable simulacrums of the originals.
If you can possibly get your hands on any of these, I guarantee you evenings of listening pleasure, and you will encourage a new high-minded circle of friends, although one or two choices will lead some of your old pals to think you completely barmy. So, without chronology, genre, or reason, herewith, in no particular order, 25 albums that could change your reputation.
The Last Poets
The Last Poets
One of the fundamental building blocks of rap. All the essential “griot” narrative skills, splintered with anger here, produce one of the most political vinyls to ever crack the Billboard chart. While talking rap (what?), I can piggyback this great treat with the 1974 compilation The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Flying Dutchman), which pulls together the best of the formidable Gil Scott-Heron works.
(1982, Rough Trade)
Not an album, a 12-inch single. A vinyl nonetheless. A well-thought-through and relentlessly affecting song co-written by Elvis Costello, and Wyatt’s interpretation is the definitive. Heartbreaking—reduces strong men to blubbering girlies.
The Fabulous Little Richard
Unusually subdued, these performances were recorded by Richard at his first Specialty sessions, mostly in 1955. It was sold to me discount by Jane Greene. More of her later.
Music for 18 Musicians
Bought in New York. Balinese gamelan music cross-dressing as Minimalism. Saw this performed live in downtown New York in the late 70s. All white shirts and black trousers. Having just finished a tour in white shirt and black trousers, I immediately recognized Reich’s huge talent and great taste. The music (and the gymnastics involved in executing Reich’s tag-team approach to shift work) floored me. Astonishing.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Velvet Underground
Brought back from New York by a former manager of mine, Ken Pitt. Pitt had done some kind of work as a P.R. man that had brought him into contact with the Factory. Warhol had given him this coverless test pressing (I still have it, no label, just a small sticker with Warhol’s name on it) and said, “You like weird stuff—see what you think of this.” What I “thought of this” was that here was the best band in the world. In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play “I’m Waiting for the Man” as one of the encore songs at our last gig. Amusingly, not only was I to cover Velvet’s song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that’s the essence of Mod.
John Lee Hooker
By 1963, I was working as a junior commercial artist at an advertising agency in London. My immediate boss, Ian, a groovy modernist with Gerry Mulligan–style short crop haircut and Chelsea boots, was very encouraging about my passion for music, something he and I both shared and used to send me on errands to Dobell’s Jazz record shop on Charing Cross Road knowing I’d be there for most of the morning till well after lunch break. It was there, in the “bins,” that I found Bob Dylan’s first album. Ian had sent me there to get him a John Lee Hooker release and advised me to pick up a copy for myself, as it was so wonderful. Within weeks my pal George Underwood and I had changed the name of our little R&B outfit to the Hooker Brothers and had included both Hooker’s “Tupelo” and Dylan’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” in our set. We added drums to “House,” thinking we’d made some kind of musical breakthrough, and were understandably gutted when the Animals released the song to stupendous reaction. Mind you, we had played our version live only twice, in tiny clubs south of the river Thames, in front of 40 or so people, not one of whom was an Animal. No nicking, then!