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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.”

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