David Bowie RCA CDs (1984)



There is a great deal of forum talk about the RCA CD releases of the David Bowie catalogue back in 1984/5.  I coordinated the manufacturing of these releases so can give some insight into how they were put together. Firstly here's a definitive list with their corresponding catalogue numbers.


Cat No
Title

PD80998
Young Americans
PD81327
Station To Station
PD81732
Changesonebowie
RD82743
Peter And The Wolf (With Eugene Ormandy Conducting)
PD83647
Scary Monsters
PD83856
Low
PD83857
Heroes
PD83889
Diamond Dogs
PD83890
Aladdin Sane
PD84202
Changestwobowie
PD84234
Lodger
PD84623
Hunky Dory
PD84653
Pin Ups
PD84654
The Man Who Sold The World
PD84702
Ziggy Stardust
PD84792
Golden Years
PD84813
Space Oddity
PD84919
Fame & Fashion
PD89002
Stage (European version of David Live in Philadelphia)

The Catalogue Numbers
The PD indicates an RCA label, the RD prefix indicates a Red Seal label, RCA's famous classical imprint.  the 80000 number series indicates a US contracted artist (as Bowie was at the latter part of his RCA tenure).  an 89 number denotes it's a multi unit set (in the case of "Stage" a double CD).

Origin
These were all manufactured for European release.  A great number of forum posts I've read indicate that these are German releases only and that is not true, the same product was shipped to all RCA territories within Europe for release - therefore the UK, French, German etc products came from the same production runs.  The origin of this misconception I think is driven in some part by the copyright society badging found on each CD. BIEM (being the European body) and GEMA being the German one.  However, at that time it was agreed that the local society where the CD was manufactured was to collect the mechanical copyright fees.  Therefore on certain releases (as my Motown posts elsewhere) you have the odd situation of products being marked BIEM (Europe) and JASRAC (Japan) simply due to the location of the factory where the products were made.  I guess with CD it was the start of globalisation of products. Of the Bowie's above only 5 were made in Japan (see below).

Timing
These products were released by the RCA European Regional Office.  The European market was 6 months ahead of the US market as CD was launched in October 1983 in the US but in March the same year in Europe.  As with the first Elvis releases there was drive within the European office to get these out before the US company.Whilst Bowie was a US contracted artist we had to seek clearance to release his products on CD from RCA New York.  Once the clearances started coming through the task was to start collecting the component parts and scheduling the releases and plan when they could be made.  The catalogue numbers indicate the order we received clearances but not the order in which they were manufactured or released.  

Mastering
Here's where much typing has taken place debating the merit or disgust at the quality of these CDs.  These are not perfect even by 1984 quality (and pre the fad of "remastered" - whatever that means - there is no standard). I really I think it's down to an individual's ears and requirements. Tapes were requested from the US - who should have been holding the best masters available.  What we were sent (from memory) was digital tapes (U-Matics) of LP masters - but with no work done to clean them up or even clarity or indication of the original sources.

I used engineer, Ben Turner to make production masters, Ben and I had a good understanding and I had worked with him whilst he was at Tape One in Percy Street London, and later when he started his own business, Finesplice.  He was disgusted with the state of the tapes on such an important artist. Agreeing to do something about it I then gathered all the production masters we had within Europe (of which obviously the UK copies were important) and Ben set about making the best he could with what we had.  In hindsight the lack of an answer to the glaringly obvious question "couldn't someone talk to Bowie?" seems crazy. 

Nowadays the mastering/studio work would be commissioned from Tony Visconti and Ken Scott and the other producers of the original works.  This just wasn't done back then and the label wanted to simply push on. Frankly the studio time and the work we did wasn't authorised by anyone at RCA - and I went quietly beyond my remit but Ben and I felt that we could improve on what we had been given to work with.  I have read some forum comments stating the that the European CDs are better than the early US counterparts (which would have possibly used these original "masters" I was sent i.e. without our changes), and this gives me some comfort that we were right. As I say its totally dependent on your ears. I believe we made a small margin of difference. The hindsight of the later masters by EMI then RykoDisc show what you can do when the sufficient thought, funding and effort are used. If only I'd had the knowledge and power to make that call then...

In around 1986 Ben was asked to speak at a conference in London on Digital mastering and used the Bowie's as a case study of how easy it can go wrong.

Labels
Station to Station /German
Our standard RCA labels were used for the releases.  There are three differences.  Firstly the release of "Peter And The Wolf" was on the European Red Seal (classical) label.  This is very similar to the US version but with the BIEM/JASRAC legend as above and obviously European numbers. The standard label for pop/rock releases was different from the US counterpart having a silver starburst effect as seen here. The colour and texture of the printing differs between the German and Japanese versions with the Japanese being more grainy to the touch and in appearance.  The (P) dates reflect when the songs were first published (as in mechanically).  

ChangesTwo/Japanese


I had a real bug about timings.  As CDs are digital products I felt that it was laughable that many companies simply carried forward inaccurate timings from the equivalent analogue releases.  I think the LC number was a code used by European (possibly German or French) radio stations to identify the owner of the recordings - RCA's code being LC0316.

Artwork
All European RCA pop CDs at that time had a graded blue stripes on each spine of the inlay card.  Red Seal had red ones.  





All releases had the RCA CD spectrum logo added to the front cover.  There's a whole debate to be had here about branding - were buyers of Bowie CDs (or of any other popular artist) actually interested in the corporate logos of the label being all over the original artwork - already reduced in size in the new format? But it was the company line. 


The general supply price from PolyGram (our main supplier) was for a CD in a jewel box with a single four page booklet with inlay.  The label colours had to be chosen from a palette that they provided of (say) 30 colours.  Anything differing from this cost more and provided a delay.

Most of the CD booklet covers came from films we were provided from the US company. These had simple 4 pages with little or no track details included and the inside back cover blank.  It was agreed (not by me) that this blank page would be used to advertise other RCA CD releases.  All of the timings noted on the covers and inlays were wrong (no one had referenced the timings listed on the masters).  We had to add European barcodes and price codes (QB/RC650), distribution details and a "printed in..." legend.

The films supplied by the US were "combined" meaning you could not make changes to them - this led to some really bad amendments (see the "Hunky Dory" back booklet where we had to add a white box to include the catalogue number).  Where we could we removed the "digitally remastered" logo as it meant nothing and was misleading (see FAQ below) - we couldn't do this on "Fame and Fashion" so it remained.  We added our version of the RCA spectrum CD logo which we had reshot (the US films were simply duplicating the logo so the resolution deteriorated with every release until we did our own).

I no longer have a full set of these but from what I have and from my memory we made a number of other changes.  For "Changestwobowie" - we added the sleeve colour to the inner pages. We reshot, re-touched or masked areas of the covers of "Young Amercans", "Diamond Dogs", "Lodger" and others where the US source films were awful. We added the lyrics to the booklets for "Aladdin Sane", "Hunky Dory", "Young Americans" and others. We created all the materials for "Space Oddity" from album artwork etc as the US films took too long to come over.  

On some releases (see below) the additional pages were helped by the fact that the inlays and booklets could be printed in Germany whilst the CDs were being pressed in Japan. PolyGram would not start pressing a CD without all the parts being present (including finished booklets). The additional time allowed for the required typesetting and printing to take place simultaneously with the CD pressing itself. Assembly was then done at Bertlesmann's Sonopress factory in Gutesloh, West Germany (where all RCA vinyl was made by then). This accounts for the mix of BIEM/JASRAC on a label and "printed in Germany" on the inlay and booklet.

What Was Manufactured Where?
All of the list were manufactured at PolyGram's Hannover plant except "Peter and the Wolf"; Aladdin Sane"; "Changestwobowie"; "Pin Ups" and; "Golden Years".  These were all pressed by Nippon Columbia (Denon) in Tokyo.  The European masters for these releases may have been used for the US versions of the same titles later.  The US pressed all their initial CDs with Nippon Columbia with New York providing them with masters (I assume the same ones I had been so disappointed with) which is possibly why some listeners beleive there are soud quality differences between the US and German pressed versions.  I do not know if they ever thought to use the European masters we had already lodged with Nippon Columbia - clearly if there is a difference in the sound quality they did not and we have a straight comparison with what they all could have sounded like (the US ones) and how much difference our work in London made (the European releases).

Release Dates
Again a subject of a great deal of debate and I cannot give you the definitive answer but can give you the background.  Firstly all but one of the titles were manufactured during 1984.  I would guess later in the year.  I suspect also that "Stage" was manufactured in early 1985 but would stand corrected if anyone knows differently.  Due to the huge success of CD in Europe we were constantly in a short supply situation.  With PolyGram being the first (and for some time, only) manufacturing plant in Europe, each major was given a monthly manufacturing allocation often only three months in advance.  When I arrived at RCA in June 1983 we could make between 20-30,000 per month (and remember this was for the whole of Europe). 

To give it some context the last month I worked there in January 1987 we made 1.6 million.

There was a very long lead time from the initial idea to release a back catalogue item to actually getting it to the shops.  This was due to the legal requirements of clearances (approval to pay artists royalties based on LP and not CD prices) through to the actual manufacturing process itself.  With the lack of pressing capacity we would then often have a number of products ready and have to choose to delay them simply because we couldn't make all we could sell.

The national marketing companies became reluctant to advertise and set up marketing campaigns only to find that the CDs were then not available.  They therefore adopted a process where they only embarked on marketing and setting release dates once they had the stocks.  Whilst all companies received each title at the same time the dates they actually were released country by country may well differ. If anyone has more details on this aspect i'd be pleased to hear from them.

Deleted
the whole series of releases were deleted when his RCA's rights to Bowie's works expired in 1988.

Q&A


Q. Who did the artwork for the additional parts you added to the films? I used a London based design house called Ranel (later called Pointbanc).  This wasn't really design as such on these titles, just really using the collateral from the albums and trying to incorporate it where and if we could.
Q. Can I determine the order of release from the advertised titles in the back of each CD booklet? No you can't as some artwork came together earlier than others and a simple inclusion of a page with other titles will only be an indication of when we had the artwork ready but certainly not proof of an order of release.
Q. What about the catalogue numbers? The catalogue numbers were allocated as we received the legal clearance to go ahead with the releases. But only then would we go about collecting the component parts (masters, artwork etc) and the delays and timing after clearances to manufacture varied wildly.
Q. What's wrong with "digitally remastered" and why did you want to remove the logo? The logo was misleading. Remember this is in 1984.  My feeling was that a CD is digital - To make the best possible CD you have to convert from best tapes you have to digital at some stage.  Later, after my period of doing this (and currently) artists and producers use new technologies to improve the sound or to give it clarity.  To do this they go back to the source - this is true remastering.  It certainly wasn't happening then to my knowledge.  Simply taking an LP or cassette production master and making a digital copy certainly isn't re mastering it's simply making a perfect copy. (and I had to try to educate people of that premise).  If you copy the output from an LP to your PC or Mac and produce a CD of it - does that make you a remastering engineer? There was an industry attempt to clarify this using the AAD code (Analogue or Digital) referring to recording, mixing and mastering.  For CD the last one will always be D.  but if the original tape is awful you will only make a true copy - therefore an awful CD.
Q. Why does the "David Bowie" on the cover of "Aladdin Sane" appear on the left hand side when on the LP cover it is o the right?  I have no idea - I hope its a mistake rather than a decision I made.  It could be from an art error (here or in the US) but there is no real way of knowing.  The only clue is the RCA CD logo going in its place.  Worth checking a US japanese manufactured one from the 1984/5 - if it's like it there then it happened in the RCA New York art department (or their film supplier) if not then it happened on my watch and i'm horrified.
Q. Why do some titles have (c)1981 as the artwork copyright date and not the year of the original release? This is basically a mistake, and one I realised after my time at RCA. I suspect this happened at film separation stage (post artwork approval) where the wrong line has been added into the combined films. That said it was my job to do a final check before they went to the printer so it really down to me.  This seems to be on the titles where we created (re-created) the artwork from the beginning (that is definitely true of "Aladdin Sane" and "Changestwo").
Q. How much are these worth? I've just reviewed these titles through ebay and some of them are up for around as much as £100.
Q. (from Jens Doepke) We've recently found an old RCA Europe 1984/85 CD catalogue. Is there any reason why the Bowie CDs are presented in that particular order? Could it reflect the (actual or intended) order in which they were released or is it just arbitrary? No this catalogue (see here) was originated by the team at RCA and the order of titles has no relationship to when they were released (sorry)
Q. (Jens) You wrote that the Red Seal releases ("Peter and the Wolf", as far as Bowie is concerned) had red stripes on the spine. I know that such copies of "Peter and the Wolf" exist, but they are very rare. My copy and, in fact, all other copies I've personally seen have blue stripes - just like the other Bowie CDs. Could it be that only the early copies of that CD had red stripes, and that the design was soon changed? (Which would also explain the rarity of red stripe copies). Any copies with blue shading must be an error as all Red Seal releases both European and US had red shading.  Possibly the blue shading was added by someone on Europe when production moved from Nippon Columbia in Tokyo to Sonopress in Germany around 1986/7.
Q. (Jens) "Ziggy Stardust", "Young Americans" and "Fame and Fashion" have "Printed in West Germany" on the artwork, whereas the other CDs have "Printed in Germany". Was there any reason for this difference, and was there any particular point of time when this changed? I'm not sure on this - and I would remember if there was a conscious change - we probably made the change on one release then carried it forward but i'm not sure whether "West Germany" or "Germany" came first.
_______________________________________________________________________

I'll like to add to these as they come up so feel free to add your observations, comment or ask a question.

Many thanks to Jens Doepke for prompting the post in the first place and for asking the questions above - anyone who can help with Jens' quest to establish the actual release dates can contact him via the comments here.

17 comments:

Alan Morgan said...

This is a wonderful insight in to the early days of CD. Thank you so much for sharing Rob.

A few questions.

1. Golden Years is missing from the RCA 1984/85 catalogue. Was this simply an oversight or could it have been a later release, like Stage?

2. Many sources say the RCA CDs and LPs were deleted in 1986 and I haven’t found any RCA Bowie back catalogue LPs with the RCA lightning bolt logo introduced by BMG in 1986. Was the RCA contract extended for the CDs?

3. Do you know why the proposed David Live (PD 80771) and Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture (PD 84862) CDs were cancelled when the RCA contract still had 3 years to run?

4. We know that RCA US released it’s final 6 Bowie titles in February 1985. Ignoring Stage and possibly, Golden Years, do you remember if RCA Europe did release it’s Bowie titles before RCA US?

BoyRed said...

Thanks Alan for your comments. My compliments on your website dedicated to the Bowie discography. In answer to your questions above.
1. Golden Years (PD84792) - I have a vague recollection that it could well have been released later (as Stage as you suggest) it's absence from the catalogue suggests so as well. I think it's a fair bet that this was issued in the first half of '85.
2. I was at RCA until January 1987 and we were still supplying the CDs to the national companies then. The change to the lightning strike RCA logo was due to the RCA corporation selling their remaining interest in the record label to Bertelsmann (after the RCA Corp was itself bought out by GE in the US)Ge would not allow BMG a licence to carry on using the logo. I have read elsewhere that the CDs were still on sale until 1988 but the change could have been a "no further manufacturing" measure as they would not have wanted to waste stocks.
3. The production schedule (like a progress report) that I still have is dated 28 October 1986 and neither of these two titles were listed as potential CDs at that time but they could have been prepared after my departure. I do remember the preparation of the Ziggy soundtrack for vinyl and cassette but we were not given clearance in my time for a CD. Is there a CD of this on RCA in existence?
4. RCA Europe definitely released the titles on my master list above before the US. This would have been simply that RCA US was slow to prepare for the launch of CD in their market (October 1983). So much so that Europe was able to take over their manufacturing capacity in Tokyo as they had no titles to press during the end of that year then he start of 1984 would have been filled with other (i think possibly more mainstream) titles. We were in short supply with a market crying out for stock. We even released the first Elvis Presley before the US company did (November 1983).

Alan Morgan said...

Many thanks Rob, this really is appreciated.

Before I respond, I should probably mention that I don’t own the illustrated-db-discography.nl website, I only contribute to the forum.

2. It occurred to me that RCA Japan also re-released Ziggy and Young Americans in Japan in May and June 1986 and they probably wouldn’t have done that if the Bowie contract only had a few more weeks to run.

3. Neither David Live nor Ziggy The Motion Picture exist as CDs, but the UK’s Record Collector magazine said they did when it commented on the RCAs in June 1989. From memory, they apologised later citing “trade press reports” as the source of the error. Any thoughts on where the catalogue numbers came from?

4. I can also confirm the short supply in Europe in 1983-84. Most of the shops only stocked a few titles and I had to join a lending library to hear the latest pop and rock releases!

Colin McIntyre said...

Hi Rob,


Great article and recollections of the Bowie RCA CD catalogue. I sure that the work that you did, trying to make them as good as possible, is still appreciated by many, myself included.


I think I can clear up the confusion about the 1981 copyright on some of the titles, and why the swap from right to left on Aladdin Sane. In short, you didn’t make a mistake, but worked with what you were given and what was available.

Judging from the catalogue numbers of the CD in your article, the numbers themselves (not the prefixes) all align with what was available on record at the time from RCA in the USA, which as you’ve pointed out, was who the contract was held with. Those with numbers different from the first US issue often had very butchered artwork – they had been modified previously and some instances several times; hence your need to reshoot the covers, using albums on catalogue at the time.

In the case of Aladdin Sane (US source LP AYL1 – 3890) the song titles had additional information next to them – the localities where the songs were written – which on most issues worldwide were only on the disc label, if at all. The then current UK issue on the RCA International label, with sleeve copyrighted 1981 (lower rear cover), was probably your source photo/film, as that issue also has the swap of the artist name from left to right on the front cover. An image of this can be seen on the Illustrated David Bowie discography at:
http://www.illustrated-db-discography.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10009#p10009

Below is a list of the US catalogue numbers for RCA LPs, in allocation sequence, from the 1971 Hunky Dory album. The budget “best buy” series , prefix AYL, were mostly all issued prior to CD, as indicated by the later number of the 1981 Changestwobowie album, and were the issues (and artwork) that RCA US would have supplied. The prefixes in brackets are later issues, retaining the same number.


Those marked ** were on catalogue in 1982/3 and would most likely be the source of the US material sent to you

LSP 4623 (AFL1 4623) Hunky Dory
LSP 4702 (AFL1) The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…..
LSP 4813 (AFL1, AQL1 **) Space Oddity
LSP 4816 (AFL1 **) The Man Who Sold The World
LSP 4852 (AFL1) Aladdin Sane
APL1 0291 (AFL1, AQL1**) Pin Ups (or is it “Pinups” as per the inner sleeve??)
CPL1 0576 (AFL1) Diamond Dogs
** CPL2 0771 David Live
APL1 0998 (AFL1, AQL1 **) Young Americans
APL1 1327 (AFL1, AQL1 **) Station to Station
APL1 1732 (AFL1, AQL1 **) Changesonebowie
CPL1 2030 Low
AFL1 2522 “Heroes”
ARL1 2743 Peter and the Wolf (organised by the classical division)
** CPL2 2913 Stage
AQL1 3254 Lodger
** AQL1 3647 Scary Monsters….
** AYL1 3843 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…..
** AYL1 3844 Hunky Dory
** AYL1 3856 Low
** AYL1 3857 “Heroes”
** AYL1 3889 Diamond Dogs
** AYL1 3990 Aladdin Sane
** AFL1 4202 Changestwobowie
** AYL1 4234 Lodger

It would approximately be at this point, between the budget reissues of Lodger and Pinups that the tapes and artwork from the USA would have been sent to you for the CDs, as the CD of Pinups uses the original number (0291).

AYL1 4653 Pinups
AYL1 4654 The Man Who Sold The World
AFL1 4792 Golden Years
CPL2 4862 Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture
AFL1 4919 Fame and Fashion

In summary, seven of the US albums were at the time of your CD preparation on a budget series, with only David Live, Stage, Scary Monsters and Changestwobowie being available with their original catalogue prefix and number.

As a footnote, RYKO, when preparing their CD and LP series some years later also used the budget series as the basis for some of their releases – for example the rear cover colour of Low matches the AYL1 early 80’s issues, rather than the original 1977 colour.

Colin M

Colin McIntyre said...

Despite the proof reading an error slips through. :(

It's the budget best buy issue of The Man Who Sold the World (AYL1 4654) that was used, not the full priced issue.

And therefore it's odd that the Best Buy Pinups (AYL1 4653) wasn't also used as well...

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that the "Scary Monsters" LP originally had an APL or AFL prefix.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting to me,
BoyRed. Generally, the European RCA Bowie CDs are the best sounding Bowie CDs to this day. (You and Ben Turner did an outstand job, especially under the circumstances.) Thank you for the outstanding work!

I have some points that I am still curious about:

1) Were any of these US U-Matics used in the European releases?
2) Were European production masters used for all of the European releases?

Thanks,Dino

BoyRed said...

Hi Dino
thanks for your comment. To answer your questions in one. The US masters we received were all reviewed and tweaked the way I have described and yes they were all used for the European releases. The US releases made in Japan would have used the original US masters (although there is a possibility that they used the European master lodged with NCC). This last point seems to be a possibility but unlikely given forum comments about the difference between the European and US issues ofteh same titles.
cheers
RED

Anonymous said...

Thanks BoyRed!

Tim Anderson said...

I don't fully understand this bit:

"I then gathered all the production masters we had within Europe (of which obviously the UK copies were important) and Ben set about making the best he could with what we had."

Does that mean that in some cases you did not use the US masters you were sent as the source, but substituted other tapes?

Tim

BoyRed said...

Tim
apologies I missed your comment at the time. Yes I guessed that we might have earlier generation tapes within the UK for some of the earlier albums (as the first masters would have been delivered to RCA in the UK) I gathered what we could find and we assessed the best quality for each.
ReED

Anonymous said...

Hello BoyRed, thank you for this information for all of us who would like to hear David'd work to its best effect.

'Scary Monsters' has been part of my life since the day of its release three decades past, and it was with great sadness that I read yesterday's news of David's passing. The ability of recorded music to connect us with those we never knew continues to floor me at times like this, as I discovered with Frank Tovey, Syd Barratt and Mick Karn.

I hope that someone at Universal (is it they who own the rights now?) finally does David's body of work justice with flat SHM-SACD transfers of the original master tapes.

Sadly Yours,
EF

http://flogbok.blogspot.co.uk/ said...

Hey there, I hope you're still checking in on this blog because I'm editing a project I'd like you to be a part of.
With Bowie's death of cancer, I am preparing a book of fans' own personal memories and essays of their own connections with Bowie - we're approaching fans, musicians and collaborators. Any angle really. Would you be interested in penning an essay based on your experience of Bowie's work through the CD revolution, as the history of the first batch of RCA CDs is of some interest, and is niche enough to be a valid extra detail?
All the info is here: http://youandwho.weebly.com/me-and-the-starman.html
Please e-mail me gentjames@ymail.com

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm still trying to understand what tapes were used and what was done with them, for your RCA Europe releases.

It sounds like you used *some* but not all of the LP production Umatics sent to you from the US, along with some production masters (made for LP? cassette? 8 track?) existing in Europe. Do you recall which albums used which sources?

Also it sounds like what you did really *was* remastering, since you didn't just digitally transfer the production masters 'flat', you did further work/tweaked the transfers in the studio, which improved their sound.

Anonymous said...

Hi Red Boy

I'm not sure if you have seen this excellent Bowie compilation by Matt Dornan

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4bvtwpc4wx6cbu2/RCA%20CD%20comparisons.pdf?dl=0

Tim Bucknall said...

So happy to find your page, I have a west German fame and fashion and it is quite simply the best sounding cd I have ever heard. Since the latest bowie reissues are a train wreck it looks like I will have to bite the bullet and stump up for a full set of rcas.

Have you any idea of why the lp of changesbowie is so Muddy and dull and does the rca cd keep this strangely muffled sound or extract the full possibility of the original song masters?

At the opposite end, do you have any insight into why the vinyls of fame and fashion and golden years sound so astonishing? Any idea who mastered them? I could also include in that last question the Iggy pop choice cuts compilation from the same time as an exceptional sounding lp.
Thanks for your work back then presenting David's work in the best possible way with the care it deserves
Your cds are the benchmark for digital bowie

wayne klein said...

I'm curious do you know who prepared the Japan for US and Japan for Japan titles? I realize you wouldn't work with them directly (or possibly indirectly) but the quality of the "WG" ones you worked on is, for the most part, strikingly superior (and sometimes different).

Thanks