Expect to hear a lot of David Bowie in the coming days — next Saturday would have been his 75th birthday. Of course, if you get tired of listening to all those hits, you could always check out next week’s sole this box set spotlighting his famously unreleased album:
THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: On Jan. 7, the day before David Bowie’s birthday, Toy will receive its long-awaited official standalone release in Toy:Box, making the legendary unreleased album available on three CDs or six 10” vinyl records. Toy was recorded following David’s triumphant Glastonbury 2000 performance. Bowie entered the studio with his band — Mark Plati, Sterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Earl Slick, Mike Garson, Holly Palmer and Emm Gryner — to record new interpretations of songs he’d first recorded from 1964-1971. David planned to record the album old school with the band playing live, choose the best takes and then release it as soon as humanly possible in a remarkably prescient manner. Unfortunately, in 2001 the concept of the surprise album release and the technology to support it were still quite a few years off, making it impossible to release Toy, as the album was now named, out to fans as instantly as David wanted. In the interim, David did what he did best; he moved on to something new, which began with a handful of new songs from the same sessions and ultimately became the album Heathen, released in 2002 and now acknowledged as one of his finest moments.
Now 20 years after its planned release, co-producer Mark Plati says, “Toy is like a moment in time captured in an amber of joy, fire and energy. It’s the sound of people happy to be playing music. David revisited and re-examined his work from decades prior through prisms of experience and fresh perspective — a parallel not lost on me as I now revisit it 20 years later. From time to time, he used to say ‘Mark, this is our album’ — I think because he knew I was so deeply in the trenches with him on that journey. I’m happy to finally be able to say it now belongs to all of us”.
The seeds of Toy were first sown in 1999 during the making of an episode of VH-1 Storytellers. David wanted to perform something from his pre-Space Oddity career, so he reached back to 1966 and dusted off Can’t Help Thinking About Me for the first time in 30 years. The song remained in the setlist for the short promotional tour for the hours… album, and in early 2000 David and Plati compiled a list of some of Bowie’s earliest songs to re-record. Included in Toy:Box is a CD of alternative mixes and versions including proposed B-sides, later mixes by Tony Visconti and more. The third CD features Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric mixes of 13 tracks. Says Plati: “While we were recording the basic tracks Earl Slick suggested that he and I overdub acoustic guitars on all the songs. He said this was a Keith Richards trick — sometimes these guitars would be a featured part of the track, and at other times they’d be more subliminal. Later while mixing, David heard one of the songs broken down to just vocals and acoustic guitars; this gave him the idea that we ought to do some stripped-down mixes like that and that maybe one day they’d be useful. Once we put a couple of other elements in the pot, it felt like it could be a completely different record. I was only too happy to finish that thought some two decades after the fact.”