Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
‘Pin Ups’: How David Bowie Created A Model Covers Album
In Depth

‘Pin Ups’: How David Bowie Created A Model Covers Album

Tapping into the energy of mid-60s London, ‘Pin Ups’ found Bowie looking to his 60s past to inspire his post-Ziggy future.


David Bowie’s decision to retire Ziggy Stardust onstage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973 wasn’t taken lightly. Having experienced Ziggy-mania to the nth degree, he was convinced he needed to kill off his extraordinary alter-ego to survive – but he had no master plan to fall back on. Indeed, when he announced that his next release, Pin Ups, would be a collection of covers, he was buying time while he worked out where his future lay.

Listen to ‘Pin Ups’ here.

“That’s what Ziggy did – so I had to do it, too”

Bowie also had to deal with the fallout from dropping the Ziggy bombshell: a declaration which sent shock waves through his fanbase, but also blew back into his inner circle. Prior to addressing his adoring public at Hammersmith, Bowie had discussed his intentions with guitarist Mick Ronson, but, upon hearing the news along with the rest of the venue, The Spiders From Mars’ rhythm section were as gobsmacked as the crowd.

“I know I really pissed off Woody [Woodmansey, drums] and Trevor [Bolder, bass],” Bowie conceded in a 1993 interview with Select. “They were so angry, I think, because I hadn’t told them that I was splitting the band up. But that’s what Ziggy did – so I had to do it, too.”

Bowie regretted the collateral damage but, to stay ahead of the game, he knew he had to distance himself from the Ziggy Stardust phenomenon – and fast. He put plans in place to begin recording Pin Ups just days after the Hammersmith show, while he and Mick Ronson were still in residence at London’s Hyde Park Hotel.

“These are all songs which really meant a lot to me”

Bowie decided that the new record would include his interpretations of songs from the heyday of London’s 60s mod era. With this in mind, he sifted through a stack of records to earmark the titles he wanted, enabling himself to hit the ground running when the Pin Ups sessions began in earnest.

“These are all songs which really meant a lot to me then,” Bowie told Melody Maker. “They’re all very dear to me. These are all bands which I used to go and hear play down the Marquee between 1964 and 1967. Each one meant something to me at the time. It’s my London of the time.”

In contrast to its London-centric song selection, however, Pin Ups would be put together in France, at the Château D’Hérouville: a residential complex where Elton John had recently recorded his US chart-topping Honky Château with help from Bowie’s producer and engineer Ken Scott.

“I think there is some terrific stuff on it”

“The studio was in a small village 30 minutes outside of Paris,” Scott recalled in the liner notes to the Five Years (1969-1973) box set. “It was known by different names: Strawberry Studios, Château D’Hérouville and the Honky Château. I had already recorded two albums there and was quite comfortable with the choice. There was a small amount of recording done back at Trident [Studios in London] to complete the project and then, as usual, I mixed there, too.”

Bowie had already decided to retain Mick Ronson and pianist Mike Garson’s services for Pin Ups, and also recruited drummer Aynsley Dunbar for the sessions. Despite The Spiders From Mars’ dissolution, bassist Trevor Bolder returned to play on the album when Bowie’s first choice, Jack Bruce, proved unavailable.

Though Bolder was still processing the recent events, his playing was bang on the money; indeed, Bowie’s whole band played tightly and with power to spare during the Pin Ups sessions. This ensured most of the recordings were done and dusted by the end of July 1973 – barely four weeks after Bowie had made his shock announcement onstage at Hammersmith.

“‘Pin Ups’ was really my way of shaking off Ziggy”

As Bowie had hinted, the Pin Ups songs were drawn from that pivotal mid-60s period when London started to swing in style. As the lean, hungry and angular versions of mod/R&B staples such as The Pretty Things’ Rosalyn, The Who’s Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere and The Yardbirds’ Billy “Boy” Arnold-penned I Wish You Would all proved, Bowie treated the originals with respect, though he wasn’t shy of putting his own stamp on the material.

To this end, he significantly ramped up the drama inherent in Them’s Here Comes The Night by adding tempo shifts and crescendos, while he instilled The Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind with a little of the quintessentially English whimsy redolent in his own material circa his self-titled 1967 debut album. Elsewhere, Bowie’s update of Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play retained much of Syd Barrett’s childlike wonder, but – with help from lush strings, Ronson’s amphetamine riffs and some liberal dashes of Garson’s avant-garde brilliance – it morphed into something truly otherworldly.

Adding the ideal final touch to the sonics contained within, the album came housed in a striking sleeve featuring an alluringly androgynous image of Bowie with the English model, Twiggy. A longtime fan, Bowie had previously paid homage to Twiggy by name-checking her on Aladdin Sane’s Drive-In Saturday (“She sighed like Twig the wonder kid”). As it turned out, the iconic model was more than happy to reciprocate by appearing with Bowie on the Pin Ups cover.

The legendary image – one of the finest David Bowie album covers – was thus captured by Twiggy’s manager and ex-boyfriend Justin De Villeneuve during the album sessions, with makeup provided by Pierre Laroche, whom Bowie had retained since his work on the Aladdin Sane artwork.

“The cover made perfect sense as Pin Ups was an homage to the 60s,” De Villeneuve said in a contemporaneous interview. “They were all David’s favourite records from ’64 to ’67, and Twiggy was the face of the 60s.”

“Glam rock’s most cogent expression of nostalgia”

Following a week after the single release of Bowie and co’s courtly version of The Merseys’ Sorrow, Pin Ups was released on both sides of the Atlantic on 19 October 1973, with advance sales of 150,000. An instant best-seller, it spent five weeks at No.1 in the UK, and its reputation as a fan favourite has long been set in stone (Bowie biographer Nicholas Pegg later suggested it was “perhaps glam rock’s most cogent expression of its own inherent nostalgia”). Its creator also retained a lifelong fondness for it.

Pin Ups was really my way of shaking off Ziggy, while retaining some excitement in the music,” Bowie told Uncut in 2001. “It really was treading water in a way, but it also happens to be one of my favourite albums. I think there is some terrific stuff on it.”

‘Pin Ups’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album


Bowie had previous with London garage-rock/psych outfit The Pretty Things before choosing to open Pin Ups with a cover of their debut single, Rosalyn. He’d seen the group plenty of times in London’s Marquee Club in the mid-60s, and had obliquely namechecked them in the Hunky Dory track Oh! You Pretty Things, in a game of lyrical cat-and-mouse that he would return to later in his career (1999’s ‘hours…’ album would feature a song called The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell). Pretty Things frontman Phil May later noted how faithfully Bowie stuck to the script with Rosalyn, simply choosing to supercharge their Bob Diddley-indebted R&B rave-up for the glam era and letting guitarist Mick Ronson loose on some careening slide guitar.

Here Comes The Night

Van Morrison sounds almost numbed by dark thoughts on the original Here Comes The Night, released by Irish rockers Them in 1964. Bowie, by contrast, launches into a full-throated wail from the off, and, drawing on the theatricality of his Ziggy-era stage shows, remains on high drama all through the choruses, dropping into a more measured, if no less stylised, register for the verses of a song about watching a former lover step out with a rival. Maintaining the heartbreak, Bowie finds space in the arrangement for a doleful saxophone solo that harks back to his days with his first band, The Konrads. “We were really pleased with that – we got a real Atlantic [Records] horn sound,” he told Sounds, two years ahead of going full-on soul boy on the Young Americans album.

I Wish You Would

Originally written by Chicago bluesman Billy Boy Arnold, I Wish You Would had featured in the repertoire of another of Bowie’s early groups, The Lower Third, who cut a demo of the song in the mid-60s. The song was also recorded and released by The Yardbirds in 1964, and it’s this faster version that Bowie looked to for Pin Ups, having violinist Michel Ripoche, from French prog band Zoo, double up on Mick Ronson’s pummelling riff before himself wading in on harmonica for his own brief tussle with the guitar. Things come to a halt via an explosive sound effect suggestive of the apocalyptic landscapes of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album, or even his Pin Ups follow-up, Diamond Dogs.

See Emily Play

An avowed fan of Syd Barrett, Bowie picked up where the former Pink Floyd frontman’s psychedelic visions left off for his cover of the group’s hit 1967 single See Emily Play, upping the ante with alarm-raising Moog, dread-filled strings (arranged by Mick Ronson) and layers of varispeed vocals that recalled the disquieting babble of Hunky Dory’s closing song, The Bewlay Brothers. Pianist Mike Garson threw in a quote from Mozart’s The Magic Flute for good measure (responded to in kind by the string ensemble, which nods to Bach’s Partita No.3 In E), making the whole a truly inventive overhaul of the original. Barrett’s influence on Bowie went beyond songwriting to stage presentation, Bowie noting that Barrett was “the first bloke I’d seen wearing make-up in a rock band to great effect”. Bowie would make one of his final public live appearances with Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in 2006, joining in on performances of the group’s debut single, Arnold Layne, and their The Wall-era classic Comfortably Numb.

Everything’s Alright

Bowie’s deceptively simple take on The Mojos’ 1964 Top 10 hit was, Ken Scott later pointed out, the product of a committed studio session. “David working hard again,” the Pin Ups co-producer commented in 2015. “All those totally unique (and campy) backing vocals and all the saxes.” If the high-octane original felt like it was about to fly off its axis, Bowie managed to somehow make his version sound tighter yet even more freewheeling, his voice seemingly chasing itself around the speakers. Clearly a tune he felt fond of, he gave Everything’s Alright a rare live outing for his TV special The 1980 Floor Show, which was being filmed just as Pin Ups hit the shelves.

I Can’t Explain

The Who’s brand of amphetamine-fuelled R&B was perfect for the kind of frenzied overhaul Bowie gave to The Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend The Night Together, on Aladdin Sane. Rather than take that same route with I Can’t Explain, Bowie, who had occasionally performed The Who’s breakthrough single live the previous year, and had even taken a shot at recording it after finishing work on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, reimagined the song as something almost sultry, with full-bodied baritone sax and cooing backing vocals he would revisit ten years later, when this mod classic re-entered his live set during the the Let’s Dance era.

Friday On My Mind

The sonic fingerprints of Who producer Shel Talmy were all over the original Friday On My Mind, which was a hit in 1966 when released by Australian group The Easybeats. While that group’s frontman, Stevie Wright, assumed a bratty US garage-band stance for their recording, Bowie reached back into his Anthony Newley kitbag to express these workday blues, delivering a vocal that had more in common with the music-hall affectations of some of his earliest solo recordings than it did the shimmering backing worked up by his band in Château d’Hérouville. Bowie, too, had recorded with Talmy in the mid-60s, the producer helming singles by his early groups The Manish Boys (I Pity The Fool) and The Lower Third (You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving).


The only single released from Pin Ups, Sorrow was one of Bowie’s own personal favourites on the record. With his light falsetto vocal and Ronson’s dreamy string arrangement, this cover of a cover (the Pin Ups take is modelled on The Merseys’ 1966 version of The McCoys’ 1965 original) looks to the soul music Bowie would embrace at various points throughout his career, and it survived into his setlists for The 1980 Floor Show and beyond, going on to find a place in 1974’s Soul Tour and 1983’s Serious Moonlight Tour. “I liked the voice he used on Sorrow – which was just gorgeous,” Marianne Faithfull told Dylan Jones for the book David Bowie: A Life. Faithfull, too, would be part of The 1980 Floor Show, notably joining Bowie on stage while dressed in a backless nun’s habit for a duet on Sonny And Cher’s I Got You Babe.

Don’t Bring Me Down

Of all the songs Bowie paid homage to on Pin Ups, Don’t Bring Me Down is where he played it most straight. Hip-shaking R&B of the sort he embraced for The Jean Genie, it brought out of Bowie an altogether more sophisticated vocal than the one Phil May unleashed on The Pretty Things’ original, released as the follow-up single to Rosalyn. “He was always there, wanting to talk music,” May told Bowie biographer Christopher Stafford of Bowie’s regular appearances at Pretty Things gigs. On one occasion, while writing his phone number in Bowie’s address book, May realised just how big a fan Bowie was: “I couldn’t help noticing that in the left-hand column, where my name should have been, he’d written in ‘God’.”

Shapes Of Things

With a pioneering use of feedback and Indian-tinged melodies, The Yardbirds’ 1966 single Shapes Of Things helped usher in the psychedelic era in the UK, and it inspired Bowie and co-producer Ken Scott to unload a host of studio tricks in keeping with the hallucinogenic vibe, including backwards reverb, wheezing saxophone and goosebumps-inducing violin. Jeff Beck was part of The Yardbirds by the time the group recorded their version of the song, and the British guitar hero had been invited to join The Spiders From Mars on stage during the encore of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust retirement concert, sparring with Mick Ronson just weeks before the Pin Ups sessions began.

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere

Ronson works up some Pete Townshend scuzz for the opening chords to Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, while drummer Aynsley Dunbar plays as if chasing Keith Moon himself around his kit. But though the arrangement of Pin Ups’ second Who cover may not stray too far from the original, Bowie’s vocal edges closer to the soulful inflections he would give full voice to in his “plastic soul” era. He would revisit The Who songbook in the early 2000s, recording Pictures Of Lily during sessions for his shelved Toy project, while Pete Townshend, who had by then contributed guitar to the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) album cut Because You’re Young, would add guitar to Slow Burn, one of the highlights of Heathen, the album Toy eventually made way for.

Where Have All The Good Times Gone

With the hit singles You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night, The Kinks brought guitar distortion into the charts, forever changing the landscape for budding axe heroes the world over. One of the best rock guitarists of his generation, Mick Ronson duly pays tribute with industrial-weight power chords on this cover of The Kinks’ B-side Where Have All The Good Times Gone. Bowie balances things out with a delicate yet wholly effective vocal, capturing all the nostalgia of Kinks frontman Ray Davies’ lyrics while also waving goodbye to his remaining Spiders From Mars cohorts – that is, until reuniting in the studio with Ronson for 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album.

Buy the ‘Pin Ups’ half-speed-mastered vinyl at Amazon.

Original article: 19 October 2021

Updated: 19 October 2023. Extra words: Jason Draper

More Like This

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love
In Depth

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love

Intoxicating and cinematic, Wicked Game is the song that kick-started Chris Isaak’s career, and it endures as a classic to this day.

CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”
In Depth

CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1974 reunion tour had it all: marathon sets, raging egos and unbridled hedonism.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up