Bowie’s Cocaine-Addled Duke, Presley’s Vegas Best Revived: CDs

David Bowie as the Thin White Duke
David Bowie plays the part of the Thin White Duke in March 1976. His character in a Nic Roeg film, pictured on the ``Station to Station'' cover, had now added a Dukedom and become a crazed cross between fascist robot and aristocrat who wanted to be a dictator. Source: Andrew Kent/ Isolar-EMI Music via Bloomberg.

David Bowie’s diet in late 1975 consisted of peppers, milk and cocaine.

The singer was rake thin, obsessed with European electro-pop and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and seeing visions as he stumbled into a Los Angeles studio. Staying up for days on amphetamines, Bowie knocked out a 10th studio LP.

The title track “Station to Station” meanders for more than 10 minutes. The lines “it’s not the side effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love” are followed by the “it’s too late” chorus.

“TVC15” takes five minutes to absurdly lament a fictional girlfriend who is surreally eaten by a television.

It may sound like a train crash, but it’s one of Bowie’s best. The case is reinforced with the 1976 album’s reissue today in remastered form, with extra tracks from a concert at the Nassau Coliseum.

Bowie, now 63, has said he can’t remember much of the recording session. The LP starts with him announcing “the return of the thin white duke” -- the title of the first chapter of a planned autobiography.

“Golden Years,” a song that was offered to Elvis Presley, reprises the sound of Bowie’s 1975 “Young Americans” while “Stay” limbers up the pulsating rhythms of his Berlin phase that followed.

The highlight is the crooning “Wild Is the Wind,” a Sinatra-style reading of a ballad originally done by Johnny Mathis as the title tune for a 1957 movie. Rating: ****.

Elvis, Miles

Elvis fans marking the 75th anniversary of his birth already have had “On Stage,” which expands the original with material from “Elvis in Person” and rehearsal shows from 1969. There’s a fine run-through of “The Wonder of You.” The Vegas gigs had the energy of the TV-special comeback that Presley did just before and none of the bloated excess that later marked his dinner performances before swooning matrons. Rating: ***.

Orders are being taken for “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters”: more than 814 recordings, including 103 rarities on 30 CDs over 35 hours with a 240-page book and a price tag of about $749 for shipping on or before Oct. 19.

Miles Davis devotees have the Legacy 40th anniversary edition of his 1970 fusion of rock and jazz, “Bitches Brew,” including a DVD of a Copenhagen show from the same period. For those with fatter wallets, “The Genius of Miles Davis” 43-CD set comes in a trumpet case on Oct. 26, with a T-shirt, Davis lithograph and trumpet mouthpiece. It also costs $749.

The Davis and Presley box sets contain the cornerstones of contemporary rock and jazz, though there are tighter greatest-hits collections that are better introductions to both artists.

R.E.M., Cure

For those with less time and cash to spare, reissues include beautifully done remasters of two indie-rock pearls.

R.E.M.’s third album, in 1985, broke with the band’s habit of recording at its base in Athens, Georgia. “Fables of the Reconstruction” now comes with the simple U.S. demos of the songs it later polished in Britain. Rating: ***.

The Cure’s “Disintegration,” the eighth studio album by Robert Smith’s band, appeared too gloomy for airplay in 1989. Now it’s lovingly augmented by unreleased tracks from Smith’s home studio and a longer version of “Entreat,” a live disc recorded at Wembley Arena. Rating: ***.

The David Bowie album is on EMI and released in the U.S. today, priced at $34.98 for the three-disc version or $165 for a deluxe box with 5 CDs, a DVD and three LPs.

“The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” is on RCA/Legacy and available from Also available in limited edition is “The Genius of Miles Davis” from Columbia/Legacy at, $749 each.

The special editions of “On Stage” and “Bitches Brew” are from Sony Legacy, “Fables of the Reconstruction” from EMI and “Disintegration” from Rhino Records at prices starting at $16. Download fees vary across services.

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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