On The Record: David Bowie’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star!’ plus Late Slip, Dorsey Burnette, & Bob Wills

An Anthology Chronicles the Creation of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust LP

2015 box set covering David Bowie’s early years included a remastered copy of his landmark 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, as well as a remixed version of that LP, the soundtrack from the movie of the same name, and a variety of outtakes and related obscurities. The film has also been issued separately multiple times, most recently last year in a two-CD-plus-Blu-ray configuration that featured restored video and surround sound. For those who want even more, we now havethe gargantuan new Rock ’n’ Roll Star!.

This new box takes a deep dive into the creation of the ZiggyStardust album, a glam-rock masterpiece about an androgynous singer from Mars that’s awash with futuristic and apocalyptic imagery, potent contributions by guitarist Mick Ronson, intense music, and Bowie’s inspired vocalizing. It features five albums and an audio-only Blu-ray, plus a 36-page reproduction of the singer’s Ziggy-era notebooks and a hardcover, 112-page coffee-table book that offers new notes and interviews, lots of photos, and reviews of the original LP.

Included on the five CDs are 67 songs, among them demo, rehearsal, and alternate mixes and renditions of the LP’s selections and rejected numbers; contemporaneous performances on British radio and TV shows, such as Top of the Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test; and five songs recorded at a 1972 Boston concert. The Blu-ray adds more goodies, most notably a DTS-HD Master Audio surround-sound mix of the original album. 

Clearly, given its contents and steep price tag, this box targets the late rocker’s most ardent fans. Such admirers might already own the 39 songs in this collection that have previously been released; on the other hand, those are just the sort of followerswho will be eager to pony up for the other 28. They’re also the sort of fans who won’t mind that this set includes three, four, or even five versions of some selections.

That said, if you’re a Bowie obsessive, you’ll find lots to savor here. The early demos, which differ dramatically from the famous versions, will fascinate anyone who loves the 1972 LP. Other highlights include previously unavailable session outtakes and a cover of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” that’s faster and more stripped down than the version in 1973’s Pin-Ups. Perhaps the biggest attraction, however, is the Blu-ray’s 5.1 mix of the original album, which substantially enriches all its elements.Ziggy Stardust never sounded so good.

Also Noteworthy

Late SlipI Love You.  Though billed as “the first full-length album” from the Brooklyn, New York–based Late Slip, I Love You contains only eight songs and clocks in at just 22 minutes. That’s enough, though, to demonstrate the considerable talents of this retro-pop group, which is led by singer and guitaristChelsea Nenni.

Nenni wrote all the songs aside from an album-closing cover of “Heart of Glass,” Blondie’s 1979 chart-topper. One track offers a love letter to the Big Apple (the mid-tempo “New York City”) while another (the rocking “Mind Your Business”) is a sassy kiss-off; the rest are songs about love won and lost. 

Like Blondie, Late Slip often sounds redolent of 1960s girl groups. The title cut, in fact, opens with a drum part that appears to quote from the intro to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and finds Nenni echoing Ronnie Spector’s trademark “whoa-oh-oh” exclamations.

Dorsey BurnetteThe Rockabilly Years: The Singles & Albums Collection 1955–62. This collection offers an excellent overview of the career of the late Dorsey Burnette, a powerful singer and skilled songwriter whose work has often beenovershadowed by that of his brother, Johnny. 

Note, however, that the title of this 63-song, two-CD anthology is a bit misleading – which is good news, because the set is more wide-ranging than you might guess. Though it well represents the singer’s rockabilly years, some of its material has little or nothing to do with that genre. Also, while it includes Dorsey’s singles and selected album tracks, it additionally makes room for more than a dozen numbers from his brother’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio, of which he was a member.

Rockabilly standouts such as “Let’s Fall in Love” and “Eager Beaver Baby” are here, but so are many of the pop performancesthat Dorsey began offering around 1959. Among them are the excellent “Hey Little One,” which produced a minor hit, as well as a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rainin’ in My Heart” and “The Biggest Lover in Town,” a sentimental song that’s cut from the same cloth as Elvis Presley’s early ballads.

Bob WillsIda Red Likes the Boogie. The enormously influential Bob Wills popularized Western swing, an upbeat country subgenre that owes debts to jazz and other genres and moves listeners to dance. He released a ton of great musicduring his career, which stretched from the late 1920s to shortly before he died in 1975. 

This anthology’s 30 tracks, which are not chronologically arranged, were recorded between 1937 and 1969. They’re permeated with the high spirits and consummate musicianship that built Wills’s huge fan base and left a mark on artists such as Merle Haggard, Asleep at the Wheel, and Waylon Jennings (who once titled a song “Bob Wills Is Still the King”). 

The album, which comes with extensive liner notes and track information, provides an excellent introduction to Wills’scatalog. Don’t expect it to offer a definitive career overview, however. The set delivers just a small taste of his catalog, and its title cut, which reached No. 10 on the U.S. country charts in 1950, is the only one of his many hits included in the program.

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.