>> Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Oh, bless you Rykodisc. How did we go on without you?
Seriously, though. There was vinyl, and one of the things about vinyl (and we love the warmth, yes, and the kinesthetic qualities of putting the platter on the spindle, swinging the tone arm into place) was that you got around twenty-three minutes a side, a little more or a little less depending on how closely the grooves were cut, and that depended not just the technical limitations of the cutter (hey, in the 1960s, that was about 18 minutes a side, and you're gonna like it) and also the dynamics of the recording. As in, literally, a record in which the grooves contained a lot of violent uppity-and-downity-ness meant that the needle could hop out of the groove and you might not notice if the groove was wide enough (we're talking a magnifying-glass diamond-tipped scale, here, natch), but if the grooves were reallyclosetogether because you were trying to fit more music onto the plate, weeeellll, not good.
But then CD came along, and you could get around 72 minutes onto the readable part of the disc, and that was mostly terrible, actually. Because if the problem with vinyl was that artists like David Bowie had to leave this version of "Candidate" on the cutting room floor (see, all this crap is relevant to the subject after all), the problem with CDs was that nobody bothered taking anything off if the record was too long, and that's how you ended up with a lot of shitty-way-too-long albums in the late '80s and early '90s. Why, they didn't even worry too much about song order, which was a big deal when you had to figure out not just the optimal way to organize your songs into twenty-ish-minute blocks, but you knew someone was going to have to flip the thing over halfway through, so there was an art to making the middles of albums really good so that Side One ended on just the right note and Side Two lifted off with another right note, and the sides could have actual moods and themes.
But here's where I contradict myself and bless one of the worst things CD did to the album: bonus tracks. Bonus tracks were a terrible innovation. What happened, if you're younger than a certain age, is the labels figured if they wanted to sell you the same record you already owned, or if they wanted you to pay $16.00 for a $12.00 (or even $8.00) record (CDs used to be expensive), they needed to sweeten it up with an extra track or two or three to incentivize you. (Am I using that word right? Is anyone?) So not only did you lose that art of balancing the sides (like Yoda would), but there'd be a disturbance in the force because now, say for instance, Violent Femmes eponymous debut (1983) didn't end on the perfectly sweet perfect note of "Good Feeling", it ended on "Gimme The Car", which is a great date-rapey song, but also one that clearly goes between "Prove My Love" and "Promise" if it goes anywhere.
But then there's Rykodisc. Rykodisc was all about the swank reissues. Re-mastered. And here the bonus tracks... I know, I just cursed them, right? But Ryko's bonus tracks were sweet. They had bonus tracks like the hopping, bouncing, totally-belonged-on-Diamond Dogs-but-damn-you-vinyl "Candidate" (not to be confused with the cromulent but completely different "Candidate" that actually appeared on side one of the original vinyl). And when Ryko did their 1990 reissue of Diamond Dogs on Compact Disc--well, we got this prize, almost twenty years after it was buried in the vault. And for that? Hooray, Rykodisc! Hooray bonus tracks! I take back any mean thing I might have written about you in a previous paragraph!*
I don't know why this wasn't on the original album. Except, maybe, that it's nearly three minutes longer than the released version and side one of Diamond Dogs (1974) comes in at more than twenty minutes already. And it's a pretty vibrant record and that vinyl-cutting tech was still coming along in the early '70s, a little more precise than what you had in, say, 1965, but maybe not so nice as what you could get away with by 1983, say. Point being, I guess he had to lose three minutes. And everyone would have thought it weird, even for Bowie, if the song just cut out two minutes in. ("Sorry, out of room on s.1," the liner notes could say.)
Also, as jaunty and groovy as the alternative "Candidate" is, as much as I love those sludgey guitars, as great as the lyrics are ("I make it a thing, when I gazelle on stage to believe in myself / I make it a thing, to glance in window panes and look pleased with myself"), I don't know if it's a Diamond Dogs song. Diamond Dogs was--you may know this--the result of Bowie's unlicensed attempt to write a musical based on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (the Orwell estate was not amused by the idea of a twenty-something pansexual alien pop star staging a rock musical based on... oh, hell, they probably weren't amused to discover someone like Bowie had read the damn thing). Dogs is apocalyptic and brutish, and the cheerfully snarky "Candidate" (this one, not the one on the original album) isn't really a fit for the rest of the material, even with guitar fuzz that makes it an obvious cousin of the title track.
Indeed, lyrically it's almost a better fit for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), which kind of puts it in a weird place overall (and maybe further justifies its status as an outtake): Ziggy-ish lyrical themes with a Diamond Dog-ish musical groove makes it a song that wouldn't belong on either album, when you get down to it.
But I love it. Did I convey that? And did I thank Rykodisc? Thank you, Rykodisc!