Monday, November 18, 2013


Back in the old days, when everybody still bought music in stores and stuff, record collectors were considered the oddballs.  Many artists disliked their intense interest and annoying habits of knowing every obscure song and the name of the bass player in their high school band, and the music industry didn't spend an enormous amount of time worrying about them either.  They knew they didn't have to put a lot of work into selling to them, they'd buy anything that had their favourite musician's name on it.

A funny thing happened around about the time the internet darn near killed the record labels.  With profits dropping everywhere else, the one place companies could still rely on was their catalogue division.  And those collectors were still buying.  What used to be chump change for the labels was now all that was keeping them in the black.  The ability to sell the same music over and over again to largely the same people, by clever repackaging, is a much-valued business model.  All those deluxe sets, super deluxe sets, greatest hits, boxed sets, 25th anniversary editions, they are all marketed at collectors.  And who's behind the vinyl boom of the past couple of years?  Old, and new collectors, as another generation of lifelong purchasers is indoctrinated into the club.

Remember 45's?  Who's still playing them?  I'm not really sure if they're playing them, but collectors are buying them, new ones.  Those Record Store Days, half the sales are in 45's, Jack White has his own label for them, they're getting as hot as LP's.  Of course, collectors have loved 45's for years, with a big boom coming in the late 70's, when punk and new wave artists started putting out tracks just for the 7-inch.  Back in the day, we used to hunt out any British import we could, for the rare b-side, and the picture sleeve.

That brings us back to today, with a wise old 70's artist doing the same thing with the same music he was doing then.  David Bowie has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of his great 45's by reissuing each one as a special, limited-edition 45.  Every few months, to coincide with the actual 40th release date, another arrives, in the same format:  a gorgeous picture disc 7-inch, with a colourful shot of Bowie on one side, and a nice in-action photo on the other.  The A side is the single in question, the AA side (no B's for Bowie) is a live version of the same, previously unreleased.  Man, they've thought of everything here, getting all the collectors excited.  It's worked, too.  These limited-edition singles have completely sold out in the last year, with some now going for $75 on eBay.  For a 45!

There are two out right now, lots of copies available, grab them now if you're worried about missing out.  Bowie's cover of The Pretty Things song Sorrow was more a British hit, taken from his covers album Pin-ups, and I've always loved his more spacey version.  The live b-side comes from a 1984 concert in Vancouver, a decent funky take from the Let's Dance years.  The other was a song forced out in England thanks to the huge demand for his songs at the peak of his Ziggy years. Life On Mars? had been an album track on 1971's Hunky Dory, but Bowie couldn't record new stuff fast enough, so it was pulled for a single.  The British public loved it just the same, as it reached #3 on the charts.  Here the b-side comes from a more vintage source, a 1972 Ziggy-era concert in Boston.

Prices are not stable on these discs, with the new releases going anywhere from ten to twenty bucks at different stores.  Oh, they're pretty things though; you'll be hard-pressed to walk away, even though that voice in the back of your head is reminding you that you already own the song, probably two or three times.  You know you want it though.  Collectors are pathetic.

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