David Live or Cracked Actor? It's an impossible choice. I've just spent the weekend with both albums and I really can't choose. On an individual track-by-track basis it is sometimes easier to come down on one side or the other but taking each album as a whole it is much more difficult to decide.
David Live has always been a special album for me. I feel like it's burnt into my very soul. Stark, icy and beautiful. As alien as Bowie has ever been. I clearly remember hearing it for the first time and, in truth, my reaction was both positive and negative. In 1977 I discovered Bowie for the first time and had such a wonderful time delving into his back catalogue. Being on meagre pocket money it was always a struggle to decide which album to buy next. I used to go to the local record shop every week and stare at each cover and consider the track listing before finally deciding which album to buy next.
The decision came down like this: Heroes-Space Oddity-Low-Hunky Dory-Aladdin Sane-TMWSTW-Diamond Dogs-David Live. These were all purchased over an 8 month period, so were still "fresh" when I heard David Live for the first time. Initially, I was turned-off by the radical reworking of some of the songs - Changes, in particular was hard to fathom (sapped of all joy to my ears), but other songs just clicked straightaway - Moonage Daydream, Sweet Thing, Suffragette City, Aladdin Sane, All The Young Dudes, Cracked Actor and Rock'n'Roll Suicide. Bizarrely, my introduction to the Ziggy songs was via David Live. The Ziggy Stardust album was my final back-catalogue purchase (bought after Station to Station, Young Americans and Pin Ups). By this time, I'd played David Live hundreds of times, and for me, these were the definitive versions of the Ziggy songs. The Ziggy album seemed tinny and light-weight in comparison when I finally got to hear it, and it took me a long time to get comfortable with that particular album.
All these years later I still find David Live a joy to listen to and it's probably my most consistently played Bowie album. The Cracked Actor album is a wonderful compliment to David Live and I can't over-state how amazing it is to finally hear it in such great quality after all these years. Particular stand-out tracks for me are 1984, Sweet Thing, All The Young Dudes, Rock'n'Roll With Me, It's Gonna Be Me, Space Oddity, Rock'n'Roll Suicide and John I'm Only Dancing (Again). Obviously, it's impossible to listen to this album without the visuals of the Cracked Actor documentary bleeding into the experience and each time I hear the first few bars of Space Oddity I still get a shiver up the spine and the hairs on the back of my neck rise. The sound bites are also ever present in my mind:
"He's from his own universe".
"I'm just the space cadet. He's the commander"
"There's a fly floating around in my milk"
"So, David Bowie becomes a soul singer"
David Live and Cracked Actor. Who could ask for anything more? Cracked Actor is, for me, the most significant release from the vaults to date and I hope this is only the start of it. A Soul Tour release would complete the 74 experience for me.
Rebel Rebel (DL)
Moonage Daydream (DL)
Sweet Thing (can't decide)
Suffragette City (DL)
Aladdin Sane (CA)
All The Young Dudes (CA)
Cracked Actor (DL)
Rock'n'Roll With Me (CA)
Watch That Man (DL only)
Knock On Wood (DL)
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (DL only)
It's Gonna Be Me (CA only)
Space Oddity (CA)
Diamond Dogs (can't decide)
Panic In Detroit (DL only)
Big Brother (CA)
The Jean Genie (DL)
Rock'n'Roll Suicide (CA)
John I'm Only Dancing (Again) (CA only)
So, what about packaging? The David Live artwork has always been awesome IMO and the cover of the re-issued vinyl is a thing to behold. In contrast, the packaging of Cracked Actor is let down by some awful photography. Perhaps this is intentional though, so that newbies are guided to David Live as the definitive record of the 74 tour?
Finally, a special mention to the Bureau Supply release Glass Asylum. The packaging on this is amazing for a bootleg release and I really like the way it mimics the David Live artwork. I'm not sure how often I'll play this album now I have Cracked Actor but it's good to have as a definitive record of the evening (maybe you like the Big Brother outro accidentally being played at the start of Time?).
One more thing - Tony Visconti has done a great job of mixing Cracked Actor. The sound quality is fantastic and the audience noise has been retained, making the record a warm and exciting listen. If you're a Bowie fan, you need this album in your life.
White and Dressed to Kill.