Abbreviations

Format of Entries

Matrix Numbers

Label Layouts

Release Dates

DAVID BOWIE:
Explanations etc.
Countries of Release and Pressing

Demos and Promos

Counterfeits, Pirate Releases and Bootlegs

Cut-outs

Release Year of German TMWSTW


Top ↑
Abbreviations

Format of Entries ↓

CD compact disc (of album length, i.e. with 5 or more different songs)
CDR compact disc recordable (sometimes used for promo issues)
CDS compact disc single (a CD with 1 to 5 songs, usually remixes)
DVDS DVD single (a DVD with audio and possibly also video content and only 1 to 3 songs)
EP extended play (a 7" or 10" record with 3 to 5 songs)
FOC fold-out cover (= gatefold sleeve)
LP long playing record - what do you mean when you say you guessed that?
NC neutral cover
OBI not an abbreviation, in fact (it's Japanese for "sash"): the paper strip around a record cover (typically a Japanese LP)
OIS original inner sleeve
PS picture sleeve
rpm revolutions per minute (record speed)
TMWSTW The Man Who Sold the World (This album title is just so long...)

Abbreviations ↑
General Format of Entries

Matrix Numbers ↓

artist's name:

Typically, this is "David Bowie", however in the case of compilations, collaborations etc. it might be another name.

title of the record

Self-explanatory. If the record does not have a specific title (as in the case of singles), the A-side title(s) are given.

(record company & catalogue number; country & date of release)

If no record company and/or number is known (as is often the case with bootlegs), then the matrix number - if there is one - has been given in brackets.
See below for more information on matrix numbers.
If no country or exact release date is known, this information has been replaced by question marks. In the case of counterfeits, second pressings etc. the original release date is given in brackets. If both the release date of the original and the re-pressing are known, the former is given in brackets, e.g. 1982 (4/1967).

Format:

Typically 7",12",LP,CD or CDS. However, there are also a number of more exotic formats like 10"EP, 5" flexi etc. Note that one-side LPs (with a side of normal length) are here considered to be 12" singles.

Release notes:

Noteworthy information about the release, e.g. if it's mono, has coloured vinyl, whether it's a promo or not, what kind of cover it has and so on.

There are a number of standard assumptions made here:

Mono or stereo: all records are assumed to be stereo unless noted.
Covers: LPs are standardly assumed to have a single picture sleeve. The kind of cover of vinyl singles is always explicitly given. CDs are assumed to have a picture sleeve consisting of a jewel case with a front leaflet (or booklet) and a back insert. CD singles are assumed to have a CD single case with a single insert. Any deviations from these standards are noted.
Promo or stock copy: all records are assumed to be stock copies unless noted.
Speed: A 7", 10" or 12" single is standardly assumed to run at 45 rpm, an LP (of any size) is assumed to run at 33 1/3 rpm. Deviations are noted.

Tracks:

A single slash with blank spaces around it indicates a change of track. A slash without spaces around it is either simply a slash within a song title (as in White Light/White Heat) or separates the parts of a medley. A double slash (with blank spaces around it) indicates a change of disc side or disc. So the tracks of a double LP are represented as follows: disc 1 - side 1 // disc 1 - side 2 // disc 2 - side 1 // disc 2 - side 2.

[Other notes:]

Other noteworthy information about the record and its tracks. Wether it's a re-issue (and of what), where and when the tracks were recorded etc.

[Collector's notes:]

Information that might be interesting to collectors, e.g. about cover and label variations, how to distinguish originals from counterfeits or the sound quality of bootlegs. Like much on these pages, this is work in progress...

Picture of the record

In most cases, this is a picture of the cover front. If the record has a company cover, then the record is shown inside this cover. If it has a plain white sleeve, then usually the record is shown without any cover. Sometimes, the label is also shown. If the label follows a "standard pattern" of design I do not show it, but put a link to such a label in the "Collector's notes". Furthermore, inner sleeves, unfolded fold-out covers etc. may be shown if their are of particular interest.
See below for more information on label designs.


Format of Entries ↑
On Matrix Numbers

Label Layouts ↓

Almost every vinyl record has matrix numbers. I don't want to go into too much detail on how vinyl records are made, but the final records are "negatives" in a sense. So there have to be "positives" (one for each side) from which the records are pressed. These are the so-called matrices (usually coated with chromium). To distinguish one matrix from another, there is a number in the innermost area of each matrix. On the final record, this number can be seen (as a "negative", i.e. as an indentation) in the innermost area where there is the run-out groove. This area is sometimes called the "dead wax". In other words:

The matrix numbers are the numbers pressed into the "dead wax" close to the labels of the record:


Machine-stamped matrix number on first US issue of TMWSTW
(To make it more easily visible, I had to change the contrast and brightness of the scan.)

The matrix numbers are not always easy to detect. Sometimes you have to hold the record under a bright light to see them.
Why could these numbers be important to record collectors? Well, they sometimes helps to identify different pressings of a record. Usually, the numbers are machine-stamped, but sometimes they are hand-scratched. But this is not always a reliable criterion to distinguish originals from counterfeits or re-issues, since especially in the USA the numbers are often hand-scratched - even on perfectly legal, original records. However, there are cases in which the matrix number is the decisive criterion. There is no general rule, though!
Moreover, when the matrix of a record is worn out, a new one is used. Usually, it has got a different number then. It may seem logical to give the first matrix used for pressing the A-side of a particular record the number "A1" (or something like that). Some collectors have turned this into a kind of religion: they try to collect records with the matrix number combination "A1/B1" or so. However, when several copies of a record are pressed simultaneously, then several matrices must be used. So right from the beginning, matrix "A1" might have been used at the same time as "A2".
Ultimately, matrix numbers might help to distinguish first pressings from later pressing, but there is no general rule concerning the number system.
By the way... if several matrices were made, who can tell which one the workers at the pressing plant decided to use first: "A1" or "A2"? So "A2" might even have been used before "A1".
To sum up: there are cases in which the matrix numbers are helpful to distinguish different issues of a record, but apart from these few cases I wouldn't care too much about them!


Matrix Numbers ↑
On Label Layouts

Release Dates ↓

In the introduction to his Bowie singles discography, Jarman writes: "My original intention was to illustrate EVERY record. It didn't take long for me to realise that the book would be the size of the Tokyo telephone directory!" Originally, I also decided not to show the labels of every record, but ultimately, I changed my mind, which means, you'll have to live with a lot of time until all the pictures are visible.
So, strictly speaking, this section has become obsolete, but it might nonetheless useful to say a few words on label designs. On websites you very often find offers claiming that a particular record is an original because it has, say, an "original orange label". Well, there were some countries with a very "conservative" policy concerning label design, such as Germany, which had almost identical RCA labels from the early 1970s to the early 1980s:


Early 1970s RCA Germany label

Early 1980s RCA Germany label
"Identity" of design is a tricky term, though. Even the above example shows that there is always some minor variation - in this case concerning the label moulding (the groove pressed into the label) and the label code (LC) number, which is not present on the early 1970s record. All in all, all you can do is check the labels of a record very carefully to find out whether it's an original or not. Here's a - not necessarily complete - list of the label details that might be relevant to the question of whether a particular record is an original or not:

- the label colour
- the typeface of the text
- the exact spacing and position of the text
- additional information on the labels, like label codes "LC...") on the labels of German LPs
- the copyright company listed on the labels (like "GEMA", "BIEM", etc. - often in a square box), and, if there is more than one such company listed, the order in which they are listed
- the details of the text running around the label margins
- the width of the space between that text and the label margins
- the label moulding (i.e. the way that grooves are pressed into the label) - which is why I also show white labels (of bootlegs, for example)
- and possibly other things I can't think of at the moment...


Label Layouts ↑
On Release Dates

Countries of Release and Pressing ↓

The first rule is: never trust the label or the cover of a record. That is... do not always trust it... sometimes it might actually be helpful.
The label and/or cover of a record often bears a "Printed" date, indicated by a capital "P" in a circle. The "Printed" year does not necessarily indicate the year the record was actually released - very often it is the year in which the record or its songs were originally released. In other words, re-issues usually (but not always) have the same "Printed" year as the original. Furthermore, many records have a "Copyright" date on the label or cover (indicated by the symbol ©). In the case of compilations, this is often the year in which the album was released, but then again, re-issues of compilations sometimes have the same year. Finally, some records have further information concerning the year (and sometimes month) on the label/cover: there may be a "Depósito Legal" date (as on Spanish records), fineprint by the company that printed the covers, etc. And in some cases, there may even be conflicting information on the cover and on the label. However, I have never heard of any record that was released before the date on the cover/label. This wouldn't make any sense: why should a record be antedated?

As a general rule, then, any date given on the record is the earliest possible date the record might have been released, but it might also have been released later.

So the information given on the records themselves may be helpful sometimes, but to actually determine the release date of a record, you have to confer further sources. Jarman, for example, studied the music magazines (etc.) of the time to determine the month of release. Not surprisingly, I didn't do that, but mainly relied on second-hand data (and occasionally on my own memory). My main sources were Jarman and Jarman & Stöcklin (for 7" singles up to 1981), Pegg, Thompson, Carr & Murray (for early US LPs), and the various books by Frifelt (for bootlegs). Online sources I have used include Bassman's David Bowie Page, the Illustrated db Discography, the David Bowie 7" Singles website, and even the various Amazon websites. See the "Books and Links" section for a more complete list.
If there was conflicting information, I have chosen the date that (for whatever reason) appeared to be most plausible to me. Very often this is pointed out in the "Collector's notes". If I couldn't find any information at all, I have just listed the record at the place where... it seemed plausible.
The result is not perfect, of course. But even Jarman, who probably did the most impeccable research into release dates, had to file some "exotic" releases under the release dates of the issues from "major" countries...


Release Dates ↑
On Countries of Release and Pressing

Demos and Promos ↓

Until the late 1980s, there was hardly any problem concerning the origin of a record: usually, records were pressed in the country in which they were intended to be sold. And in most cases, the country in which a record was pressed could be found on the label and/or the cover. Occasionally, copies were exported to other states, but the bulk of them remained within the borders of the country of manufacture. The only exception were real export pressings, that is, records that were pressed without any intention to sell them in the country in which the pressing plant was located. Such records can be identified by an unusual catalogue number (such as the Diamond Dogs US single) or an unusual label design (like the US export issue of the Sorrow single. Usually, I have filed such records under the country of manufacture, and pointed out any relevant further information known to me.
A special case are releases that combine a disc and a cover from different countries. On the one hand, it wasn't unusual for smaller European countries to import records from Britain and house them in their own covers (see, for example, the Danish Laughing Gnome single). On the other hand, Austrian copies of The Best of Bowie were sold in imported UK covers. But by and large, such cases were exceptions.
From the mid-1980s onwards, it became more difficult to determine the exact origin of a record: due to the continuing internationalisation of the record industry, expecially European releases were more often distributed all over the continent. Frequently, labels did no longer give any information concerning the country of manufacture, but simply bore an imprint like "Made in EC" or "Made in EEC". However, in most cases the exact country can be identified by more detailed information on the cover, or by the copyright association on the label. Otherwise, I have simply filed such records under "EU".
Bootlegs and counterfeits are a special case. Since the producers of such releases do not normally want to be identified, they often try to conceil the country of manufacture or even give wrong information. Sometimes the origin of a bootleg or counterfeit is known, but sometimes I had to fall back on dubious information such as the label design or information found on the record. So be warned: my statements on the origin of bootlegs and counterfeits are not very reliable, but have to be regarded as "work in progress".

Countries of Release and Pressing ↑
On Demos and Promos

Counterfeits, Pirate Releases and Bootlegs ↓

First of all, there is no difference between demos and promos. What's called a "demo" in the UK is a "promo" in the USA. That's all. I have generally used the term "promo" to refer to all such records.
A promo is a record that is not intended to be sold (as opposed to a stock copy), but to be distributed to radio stations, music critics, business partners and/or other relevant people. Naturally, the number of promo-copies is particularly large in the USA with its numerous radio stations. Generally speaking, there are two different types of promos: promo-copies of regular records and promo-only items that are produced to promote a record that is not identical. Since promos were often produced in much smaller numbers than the corresponding stock copies, they are usually much rarer than the latter, and a natural object of interest to collectors. Note, though, that there are also cases in which the promo is much commoner than the stock copy. This phenomenon occurred when hardly any stock copies were sold (as in the case of the US issue of The Laughing Gnome) or when the stock copy was withdrawn after the promos had been distributed (see, for instance, the All the Madmen US single).
Promo copies of regular records can normally be distinguished from their commercially available counterparts by a different catalogue number and/or a different label design. In many countries (for example Germany, Spain, Italy) they had white labels, but sometimes other colours and designs were used. RCA promos of Bowie records from the early 1970s had yellow labels, and from 1973 onwards they had cream labels - but most of the latter played the same song on both sides, and were promo-only records, anyway. However, there were also other ways to mark promos: sometimes promo-copies only have a sticker on the label (in which case they are not so rare, as one might expect), a promo-imprint on the cover (this is often the case with American albums), or some print on the label that indicates the promo status.
Most promo-only records were issued by the record companies that had the respective artists under contract, but in the USA there were also independent companies, such as Westwood One and DIR/King Biscuit Flower Hour, that issued promo-only radio shows (with the consent of the artist's record company, of course). These records are of special interest to collectors, because they often contain otherwise unavailable material (like live recordings or interviews) or particularly interesting combinations of tracks.
Promos are particularly prone to being faked. Their natural rarity and the fact that they often come with a white label (which is easy to reproduce) and without a cover make them interesting to producers of counterfeits (see here for more information on counterfeits and pirate discs). There are, for example, cleverly made counterfeits of the first Space Oddity US promo-only 7" and the An Evening with David Bowie LP. In fact, it took me some time to realise that one of my copies was a counterfeit... Sometimes these counterfeits can be distinguished from the originals only by a careful look at the matrix numbers, the label design or the details of the cover (if there is one). The most extreme case are "counterfeits" of promos that might not even exist: there is a Teenage Wildlife US promo-EP that some people consider to be a fake - that is, all circulating copies are pirate discs! Since I don't have a copy myself, I don't feel qualified to make any claim about the authenticity of the item.
To sum up, promo-records are a fascinating area for collectors - but be careful...

Demos and Promos ↑
On Counterfeits, Pirate Releases and Bootlegs

Cut-outs ↓

1. On official and unofficial records
Usually, an artist (or his representatives or heirs) signs a contract with a record company and in this way entitles the company to release his music. The exact nature of the contract can vary, of course. Sometimes it comprises only music recorded especially for that company, sometimes it also comprises older music of which the artist holds the rights. Sometimes the contract expires after a number of years (so that the rights to release the music go back to the artist), sometimes it entitles the company to (re-)release the music practically forever. But in any case the artist has explicitly authorized the release of his music by means of a contract. So let's define the term "official (or authorized) record" as follows:
An official record is one released by people who the artist had explicitly authorized to do so by means of a contract.
This needn't mean that the artist must be happy with every release. When, for example, Deram Records re-issued The Laughing Gnome at the height of the Ziggy-craze, Bowie was certainly not happy to hear himself on the radio singing a duet with a gnome. But this doesn't turn the record into an unofficial release, because Bowie had once authorized them to re-issue his music ad infinitum. The fact that he had once been a poor artist who had no other chance than signing such a bad contract doesn't change the status of the record.
We can now also define the term "unofficial (or unauthorized) record" by reversing the above definition:
An unofficial record is one released by people who the artist has never explicitly authorized to do so by means of a contract.
Sometimes all unofficial releases are simply called bootlegs, but among collectors it has become the standard to distinguish between bootlegs, counterfeits and pirate releases. It's easy to say what all these have in common: they are all unofficial releases in the sense of the above definition. But it's more difficult to define the differences... Let's begin with counterfeits.

2. On counterfeits
Let's start from the following preliminary definition: counterfeits are unofficial imitations of officially released records. Some people consider only those items to be counterfeits that are actually meant to trick collectors into thinking that they are buying the real thing. Good examples of counterfeits that can easily fool unexperienced collectors are the counterfeit of the US mono Deram LP, the fake German TMWSTW round cover LP, and the 2014 issue of the UK TMWSTW dress cover LP. However, the restriction that a counterfeit must be so well-made that it can fool collectors is a bit too strong in my opinion. Consider for example the Italian counterfeit of the TMWSTW dress cover LP. It is standardly classified as a counterfeit, despite the fact that the labels are so different from those of the original that no serious collector of Bowie records could ever be fooled by that record. In fact, when I first found that record in the 1980s I didn't regard it as an original for a second, but I was quite happy to have it, nonetheless, because it was the first "dress cover" version of TMWSTW in my collection. So sometimes collectors buy counterfeits to serve as a kind of placeholder in the collection - or simply because it is interesting to have an item that is very similar to a rare original release. So I would like to give the following definition of counterfeits:
A counterfeit is an unofficial record that looks (near-)identical to an officially released record and is attractive to collectors because of its close similarity to the original item.
This covers both the collector-cheating counterfeits and those that are deliberately bought for fun. You might consider this lengthy discussion on how to define counterfeits a bit pedantic, but that is necessary to distinguish counterfeits from pirate releases.

3. On pirate releases
One year after the release of the above-mentioned 2014 counterfeit of the dress cover version of TMWSTW an issue in green vinyl was released. No sane collector would confuse this item with an original release, and to say that it's attractive because of its similarity to that original doesn't make sense, either, since the green vinyl ruins any similarity. This is an example of a record that I call a pirate release. All the music on it is also easily available on official records, and it does not closely resemble any official release. Numerous pirate issues of this kind have turned up over the years - my favourite is a 2013 pirate issue of TMWSTW that pretends to be an Argentine Mercury dress cover LP - no such original record has ever existed!
Note, though, that pirate releases needn't always be copies of records that have been officially released in a different form. There are also unauthorized compilations of easily available material, for instance the 1990 South Korea compilation Best of the Best or the 2018 Italy album Davie Jones... and Other Stories, which is a compilation of officially released early material. So I would like to define a pirate release as follows:
A pirate release is an unofficial record that contains only easily available officially released material, but doesn't look (near-)identical to any officially released record.
This definition doesn't rule out any borderline case, such as the above-mentioned Italian counterfeit (pirate?) of TMWSTW, but I think it is a definition that allows a classification of most of the records in question.
You might wonder why I insist on the fact that the music on a pirate release must be "easily available". This criterion is necessary to distinguish pirate discs from bootlegs.

4. On bootlegs
When thinking of bootlegs most people think of unreleased live recordings and unreleased studio material such as demos and outtakes. In fact, bootlegs with that kind of stuff are the commonest ones. But, as in the case of counterfeits and pirates, things are not as easy as they appear at first sight. Consider, for instance, the 1978 single Memory of a Free Festival. It is a straight copy of a 1970 single and it has a cover that even resembles the covers of some European issues of the original single. It doesn't qualify as a counterfeit, though, since there is too little similarity to any of the original releases. However, if this record was released nowadays, it would clearly have to be classified as a pirate release, since you can easily get these tracks in a record shop (or at least on a second-hand copy of some CD or vinyl record on the internet).
However, back in 1978, the situation was completely different. The original singles had sold poorly in 1970, and had been out of print for eight years. And there had been no re-issues (in fact, the first official re-issue of these tracks came twelve year later). So in 1978 it was practically impossible to find these tracks on any official record! This is why I classify this record as a bootleg. So I would like to give the following definition of a bootleg:
A bootleg is an unofficial record that contains material that is not easily available on any officially released record at the time of release.
I think this definition matches most records that are standardly considered to be bootlegs.

5. Are all unofficial releases illegal?
Many people think that unofficial releases are generally illegal, but this is not true. For a long time they were, and in the 1970s and the 1980s busting bootleggers was one of the primary hobbies of the record industry. However, the reason for the illegal status of most bootlegs is that they contain copyright-protected material, and copyright can expire... This first happened in the late 1980s in the case of the so-called "protection-gap bootlegs". The exact length of copyright-protection of a recording depends on the laws of individual countries, and in some European countries, e.g. Germany, Luxembourg and Italy, the copyright of certain recordings (studio recordings might be treated differently than live recordings, recordings made outside Europe might have a different status than those made in Europe, etc.) expired. This lead to the release of several Bowie albums such as Letter to Hermoine and Live USA, which were perfectly legal items in their respective countries of manufacture, and were available at regular record stores. However, due to the free trade inside the European Union they were exported to other countries where copyright law was different and where these albums were, strictly speaking, illegal. To end this confusion the "protection gap" was closed around 1992, and these records were proclaimed "illegal" retrospectively. This strange legal arrangement makes it problematic to re-sell such items nowadays. I've never heard of anyone getting into trouble for selling a Bowie album of that kind, but be careful if you want to sell a Metallica "protection gap bootleg" - you might hear from their lawyers!
For about twenty further years the situation was clear again: unofficial releases were illegal, but from about 2010 onwards the "protection gap" started to open up again. Obviously, the copyright of certain recordings, especially TV and radio broadcasts, had expired again, so that now (2021) you can buy a considerable number of Bowie bootlegs from online shops like Amazon! In fact, some of these are not bootlegs in the above sense, but even pirate releases: for example you can buy a triple album of the Montreal 1987 show that competes with the official release of that show. And it seems to be perfectly legal. Despite this, I sometimes call such items "semi-legal" releases, to point out their strange nature.
Counterfeits are still generally illegal, but, after all, it's just a matter of time until the copyright of regular albums will have expired, too. So in a few decades you will probably be able to buy a home-made Ziggy-album at a regular record shop...

6. Are bootlegs "immoral"?
Legal questions aside, two arguments against bootlegs are often put forward: first, poor quality bootlegs can damage an artist's reputation, and, second, bootlegs take away an artist's control of his own music.
The first argument is mere nonsense. I have never heard of anyone blaming Bowie for the poor sound quality of a bootleg, all complaints have always aimed at the maker of the record.
There is something to the second argument, though. If Bowie had wanted us to hear, say, Tired of My Life, he would have released it, wouldn't he? But then again, it has always been that kind of recording that has kept the "fan spirit" alive during long periods without any new official releases. Sometimes I wonder if bootlegs aren't the best promotion an artist can get... Ultimately, you must decide for yourself if you accept or reject bootlegs and other unofficial releases.

7. A final remark: Anyone can make a bootleg!
Frifelt, who must have an impressive collection of Bowie bootlegs, writes a lot about their different editions. Again, I wouldn't care too much about that. Even using Frifelt's impeccable research on the topic, I haven't been able to determine the exact editions of my two version of the Dollars in Drag album. Bootleggers just take a record and put it in some cover. If they have got records left, but no covers, they create a new cover. And anybody can do that! I have got an album called Göteborg Memories, which is simply one half of the Serious Moonlight in Gothenburg double album. Maybe somebody just accidentally destroyed one of the records and created his own cover for the other...?
To illustrate the point: decades ago I bought a white label album that had "David Bowie" scribbled on one of its labels. Ultimately, it turned out to be half of some version of the Slaughter in the Air double LP. Maybe I should create a nice insert. I could choose a great photo from the time, think up a good title, print out that artwork, make an enlarged copy on a copy machine (computer prints are too easy to identify), put in on a neutral sleeve (maybe even a spare old one from the 1970s)... and here we are: I would have created a mega-rare new Bowie bootleg! I could think up a good story ("Only very few with this insert were made..." - which would even be correct!), and sell the result for 50 Dollars on eBay.
I won't do that - my "collector's pride" keeps me from doing so. But others could...
The fact that anyone can produce a bootleg has lead to another weird development. Bootlegs have always been available in smaller quantities than official records, and there have always been very limited "special editions". But it has usually been the bootleggers' aim to distribute their products to a wider range of fans. In recent years, however, more and more records pop up (in listings, not on the market, that is) that were made in quantities of only twenty or even ten copies. I can't seriously consider these to be bootleg releases, since you can hardly say that something has been "released" if it has been distributed only to a handful of people. It's a bit as if I wrote a text, made ten copies, distributed these to my friends, and then claimed I had published a very rare book...
But of course it's up to you if you are willing to spend large sums of money for such a home-made item (provided you ever get the chance to find one of these)...


Counterfeits, Pirate Releases and Bootlegs ↑
On Cut-outs

German TMWSTW

In the listings of auction sites you often read that a record has a "promo cut" or a "promo hole", which refers to the fact that the cover or the label of the record is damaged in a certain way, and which seems (!) to imply that the record is particularly rare. These damages are usually called "cut-outs", and I know of the following variations:

- a hole has been drilled or cut through the cover;
- there is a saw cut through the spine of the cover (this was even done to the jewel cases - and back inlays - of CDs);
- one or more corners of the cover have been cut off;
- a hole has been drilled through the labels of the record (especially in the case of US singles).

None of these things indicate a rare record, a promo, or anything like this. On the contrary, these damages show that the record is an overstock copy that couldn't be sold at the regular list price. Here's the reason:

A newly released record is sold to customers at a relatively high price. Which is no wonder, since record companies want to maximise their profits. This means that retail stores also have to pay a relatively high list price for the records (let's call this "price 1"). And, of course, the companies must provide a certain number of records because otherwise customers would have problems in obtaining a copy of that hot new record. But what happens if the record isn't a success and all these copies can't be sold?
In many countries, including the USA, retailers had (and possibly have - I can't say) the right to return such copies to the wholesaler and, ultimately, the record company, and reclaim the original wholesale price ("price 1"). There were two things that the record companies could do with such records: either they could destroy them, and recycle the vinyl (which often led to poor quality pressings made from that stuff - especially in the 1960s and 1970s), or they could try to sell them again. In the latter case the records were offered to retail shops at a much (!) lower wholesale price ("price 2"), so that they could also be sold at a very low retail price. Such records were sold to retailers without the right to return them to the wholesalers (and, ultimately, the record companies).
So far, so good. But who could prevent a tricky record store owner from returning a "price 2" copy and demanding the original "price 1" wholesale price? The only way to avoid this was to mark the overstock records in some unique way. The ways they found are listed above.
I'm not sure if this is the entire story. In the early 1980s, for example, Italian cut-out copies of Iggy Pop's Soldier album were available in heaps in Germany. I can't imagine that the Italians expected the Iggy album to be the next chart-topper. So I think that second pressings were sometimes made with the explicit intention to sell them as cut-outs. In this way you could make at least some money with a record the sales of which were below those expected by the record company.
Be that as it may, in any case a cut-out does not indicate anything special, but either an overstock copy or - possibly - a cheap second pressing!


Cut-outs ↑
Why the German Mercury Issue of The Man Who Sold the World Isn't from 1972


The problem

It is still unknown when exactly (that is which month) the original German Mercury issue of The Man Who Sold the World was released, but the standard assumption is that record was issued in 1971, like its Australian and UK counterparts. This assumption has been challenged by a strange piece of information I came across on Discogs. Discogs claims that the album was released in 1972, and the reason is given in the description of the record: "Edition with the small pressing ring around the spindle hole, so not pressed and released prior to summer 1972." An official Mercury album by Bowie released in summer 1972? This sounded so absurd to me that I decided to look into this issue a bit more closely, especially because Discogs has become a quite influential website. And I think I can prove that there's no reason to part with the "traditional" view that the album was released in 1971.

Facts

Let's start with a few facts about the record. As pointed out in my entry for the album, there are two different pressings. First, there is an issue with two large centre rings and the following information in the run-out grooves:
- side 1: 10 AA6338041 1Y 320 plus A1 and 1 in different places
- side 2: 10 AA6338041 2Y 320 plus A1 and 1 in different places, plus a faint scratched A4 575 close to the edge of the label
Then there is a pressing with a small centre ring on side 1 and a large ring on side 2. This issue has the following information in the run-out grooves:
- side 1 (small ring): 10 AA6338041 1Y 320 plus a B in a different place
- side 2 (large ring): 10 AA6338041 2Y 320 plus A1 and 1 in two different places

It is not known if the two versions were pressed at the same time (with different machines) or if they were pressed at different times. If the latter is true, then the variant with two large rings probably came first, since white label promo copies have the same label moulding and the same matrix information as these.
However, does the fact that there are copies with small rings mean that they were actually pressed as late as summer 1972?

The legal situation

Let's consider the legal situation. By September 1971 Bowie's contract with Mercury had been terminated, and the deal included that he was given back the rights to his two Philips/Mercury albums. He signed his contract with RCA around the same time. However, it is not exactly clear when the master tapes of the two albums were returned to Bowie/RCA, and some sources claim that Mercury retained the right to keep the master tapes until September 1972. If this is true, then Mercury could have pressed albums in 1972. It is, however, quite unlikely that they did, as the next paragraph will show.

The rarity of Mercury pressings of TMWSTW

The German Mercury pressings of TMWSTW are extremely rare, and so are all four existing Mercury issues. In decades of collecting Bowie records and visiting numerous German record fairs, record stores, jumble sales etc. I've only ever seen a single copy of the album - namely the one I bought. UK issues are equally rare, and Japanes pressings are so rare that the existence of stock copies has only been confirmed in recent years. The only Mercury version of TMWSTW that is not quite so rare is the US issue. At the time of writing (2020) decent original copies (with machine-stamped matrix numbers) can be purchased for about 100 Dollars (which some people would still consider to be a lot of money for a vinyl record). However, the USA is a much bigger market than the other countries in which the album was released, so it's logical that more copies were pressed. Moreover, it always seems to have been the policy of American record labels to press large numbers, and if the records didn't sell, recycle them or delegate them to the bargain bins, so that in many cases the US copies of an album released internationally are among the least rare. So, for a US album of the time the original Mercury issue is very rare!
How could all this be the case if Mercury albums were still pressed in 1972? Bowie's first album on RCA, Hunky Dory, was released in the UK in December 1971, and around the same time or a bit later in many other countries. It was a critical, though not commercial, success. However, it could have triggered the sale of a considerable number of copies of TMWSTW, if Mercury had pressed them. This argument is even more valid for Ziggy Stardust, released in June 1972: why didn't Mercury press large quantities of TMWSTW if they still had the right to do so? And if Mercury Germany still pressed records in the summer of 1972 (as the Discogs entry claims), why are these records so extremely rare? Quite a few Ziggy fans would have bought them. As of the UK, I've repeatedly read that it was impossible to obtain a Mercury copy of TMWSTW by summer 1972.
All this strongly implies that Mercury actually stopped pressing Bowie album by the end of 1971, and that all Mercury issues of TMWSTW were pressed before 1972. The questions that remains is that of why Bowie's former label insisted on keeping the master tapes for a further year (if that information is correct). I can only speculate on that, but suggest a rather simple answer: they just wanted to make sure that they could sell off all their old stock of the Philips/Mercury albums before RCA could re-issue them.

But what about the centre rings?

Let's return to the original reason for my starting this discussion - the argument that there can't be a German Mercury album with small centre rings pressed before summer 1972. I will show that this is plainly wrong!
First of all, it is not entirely correct that the album has a "small pressing ring around the spindle hole". As I wrote above there are both copies with two large centre rings and copies with a small ring on one side and a large ring on the other. The latter show that small and large rings were produced at the same time.
But still the claim that small rings can't be found before summer 1972 could be correct. However, Mercury wasn't an independent record company at the time but a daughter label of Philips, who made and distributed their records in Germany. So the claim would only be correct if there wasn't any Philips-made record with small centre rings prior to summer 1972. And this is incorrect.
Not only was Philips a label in its own right, but also a major distributor for other labels in Germany in the early 1970s: Vertigo, Charisma and Island (and possibly more) all had their records made and distributed by Philips. This can easily be seen from the Philips-style catalogue numbers: a four digit block always starting with "6" followed by a three digit block, which is in turn followed by a letter (the price code) on the cover (although there are a few exceptions to this pattern).
So to prove the above claim wrong, we must find a Philips-made record that (a) was definitely pressed in 1971 or earlier, and (b) has a small centre ring. And, oddly enough, this is were old Bowie pals Mott the Hoople come into play.
Mott the Hoople's third album Wildlife was originally released on the pink "i" Island label in Germany. The catalogue number was 6339 031 D, so the original pressing was definitely made by Philips. In the course of 1971 (June, according to Discogs) Island changed their German distributor from Philips to Ariola, and the record was quickly re-released on the "pink rim" Island label with a new, Ariola-style catalogue number (86 696 IT). Note that all re-issues and re-pressings of early Island records in Germany were also provided with new Ariola-style numbers. So regardless of wether the change of distributor was actually in June, we can safely assume that all Philips-made copies of Wildlife are pressings from 1971. And the copy of the album shown on Discogs has small centre rings. With respect to the present topic my personal copy is even more interesting: it has a small ring on one side, and a large ring on the other - just like The Man Who Sold the World. So Philips did make records with small centre rings in 1971!

Conclusion

To sum up, then, there are no convincing reasons for 1972 as the year of release of the original German The Man Who Sold the World. On the contrary, there are good reasons to assume that all Mercury pressings of the album, including the German one, were made before 1972.


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