In honor of David Bowie’s 76th birthday, I sat down today to listen to the Divine Symmetry box set. It is a mountain of material — 72 tracks and almost 4 hours — but pretty light on actual “new” songs (and most of those have long been bootlegged anyway). Mostly it’s made up of demo, alternate, live, and radio versions of songs from Hunky Dory.

What strikes me most is how different this music (all from 1971) is from what immediately preceded it. There’s no trace of the metallic leanings of The Man Who Sold the World; it’s almost like, having split (for the first but not last time) with producer Tony Visconti, Bowie rewound to 1968 and went in a different direction from there.

It worked out. Hunky Dory was David’s first bona fide classic album, and its songs still beguile and befuddle more than a half-century on.

I doubt I will make it through all of Divine Symmetry in one day; I don’t think I even want to. But in the space below I will point out a few highlights as I hear them; then I will click “Publish” and probably take a nap.

  • “Tired of My Life” was not released at the time but parts of it would be repurposed nine years later for “It’s No Game”:
  • “Shadow Man” was later rerecorded for Toy. It’s a good tune but not quite the Great Lost Bowie Song — I see can why it was left off the album; David is capable of more.
  • There’s a nice solo acoustic version of “Waiting for the Man” recorded in a hotel room in San Francisco. For the nonce you really feel like you are there with him.
  • I quite like this demo of “Queen Bitch.” I may even like it better than the album version, which I always find exciting for about 30 seconds, then kind of boring. This version has more nuance and you can actually hear the words, which is nice.