Originally released on CD in 2000, Bowie at the Beeb has at last got the vinyl box set treatment, including some added bonus extras: the incredible 1971 rendition of “Oh! You Pretty Things” with Bowie and Mick Ronson performing as a duo, and the previously unreleased version of “The Supermen”.
It’s not difficult now to assume that this collection of his early BBC sessions is a posthumous cash-in, however the announcement of this release came in December 2015, just a few weeks before Bowie’s death. So was this all part of his beautifully choreographed stage exit? While the majority of his fans studied his latest album Blackstar for clues in the wake of his passing, it may also be worth questioning why Bowie had wanted to release these early sessions knowing his life was coming to an end.
Possibly this is nothing more than a show of thanks towards the organisation whose faith in him as an artist during the early stages of his musical career had never wavered. Some time later Bowie recalled the moment he failed an audition to work at the BBC, who stated, “This vocalist is devoid of personality and sings all the wrong notes.” However this didn’t stop them giving him another chance, as Bowie said: “So in your inimitable manner and with tremendous enthusiasm you got me back on for another audition, which I passed the second time around, which gave me freewheeling access to a lifetime of singing all the wrong notes.”
This collection spans from Bowie’s second session at the BBC in 1968 until Spring 1972, which became his last recording with the organisation until almost twenty years later in 1991. During the 19 years between recordings Bowie’s fame rose dramatically.
So it would seem that nothing about this release was coincidental. From the time the announcement that Bowie at the Beeb was to be released, Bowie wanted to connect with the BBC one final time before his death. His last round of Twitter follows include BBC 6Music and a few of the radio station’s DJs (plus a cheeky parody account: God). The music industry now is very different to how it was back when Bowie made these recordings, with no single organisation being responsible for the fame and success of an artist. Perhaps this is the message Bowie wanted to send?