Space Oddity (2019 Mix)

Space Oddity (2019 Mix)

Tony Visconti always listens to Space Oddity, the first album he produced for David Bowie, with trepidation. “I hear things,” he tells Apple Music. “Things that if I could’ve done them better, I would have done them better. The music is great, but the mixing was really bad. I was a novice—a decent musician, but not very good at running production.” That’s why remixing the album for its 50th anniversary was something of a catharsis. He sweated over the process in his New York studio, where a framed drawing of Bowie hangs over the spot where rock’s great chameleon would sit while the pair worked on his final albums, The Next Day and Blackstar. “I have this second chance to do something right about that album, and I’m terrified that I might do something wrong,” Visconti says. “So, during the mixes, I turned to that space quite a bit and I said, ‘Well, what do you think, David?’ Not that he answered me, but I just feel like he’s never really left us.” The duo’s bond was strong enough that Visconti can feel confident Bowie would approve of the job he’s done here. He’s excavated what he calls “hidden treasures”—notes, sounds, vocals—that had been buried in the original mix, and created a brighter, bolder Space Oddity. Here, he guides us through it, track by track. Space Oddity (2019 Mix) “[In 1969] I couldn't see the wood for the trees. We had just had all these orbits around the Earth, something that was in the news every day. All I saw was David cashing in on that. I called it a cheap shot. Right to his face. We were brutally honest with each other. That's what made us good friends. The job that Gus Dudgeon [the engineer who stepped in to produce the track] did was fantastic. I tried to bow out after that. I said to David, ‘I suppose you’re going to stay with Gus.’ And he said, ‘No, I've got that out of the way. Now I can make the album that I want to make.’ I think I’ve made it sparkle and explode a bit more. I think the mix actually makes your body move. Like, you don't realize that the drummer and the bass player were really grooving—the kick drum was always buried in the original mix.” Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (2019 Mix) “[David] was in a good space when he wrote this. He wasn't afraid to be politically incorrect. And he would really go for the jugular. [On 1967’s David Bowie], he wanted to be in show business. He was thinking about himself at 40 or 50 years old—king of the musical theater. He told me that. I asked him, in recent years, ‘What would you have done if you weren't a rock star?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I’d do music hall. I'd be writing musicals.’ But on this album, he was speaking for his generation. He was 22 years old, and he was feeling it like the rest of us were feeling it. This was the first song we recorded for the album and it was quite messy, really loosey-goosey playing. I don't mind that, but it made the original mix harder to do because the levels were jumping and there are a few blatant errors. So I tightened up the arrangement and was able to control the dynamics a bit more. There's some brass at the end that was never really poking out much in the original mix but is there now. Everything that is here was [originally] intended to be present.” Letter to Hermione (2019 Mix) “I just wanted to make it a bit more floaty, a bit more dreamy. It's a beautiful, beautiful song. She [Bowie’s former girlfriend Hermione Farthingale] is very proud of that song. He was crushed when they split up. I've never seen him be so crushed, with any other split-up or any other woman. Hermione was a big thing in his life. She actually helped him a lot, to have a little more self-esteem. And she was a good cheerleader for him.” Cygnet Committee (2019 Mix) “This is almost 10 minutes long, and the other challenge [with remixing it] is, there aren't many instruments on it. It doesn't have brass or anything. It was an anthem of youth, of the time—about oppression and all kinds of obstacles, and not wanting to make the mistakes of your elders. Trying to build a better future. But it’s kind of a bleak message, put across in a bleak way. And he really cracked up at the end. If my memory serves me well, he burst into tears after he sang that whole ending.” Janine (2019 Mix) “This was a lot of fun to play, both in the studio and to play live. And I don't actually know who Janine is. You always have somebody in mind when you write a song. [Bowie once suggested it was someone his friend George Underwood was seeing at the time]. Yeah, there was a girl, yeah. I can't remember her name. Janine? I don't think so!” An Occasional Dream (2019 Mix) “This is so beautiful. It's the epitome of his folk rock. A gentle, gentle song with a nice pokey little rhythm section behind it. Tim Renwick and I played the recorders. The recorder makes an appearance on almost every David Bowie album I produced—so it was a beginning of a thing between us. It was an eight-track recording, and we used to bounce things together because we knew we were going to run out of tracks. Both his lead vocals are on the same track, so it was almost impossible to do anything about that. But I was able to make a distinction between the two voices. I couldn't alter that track very much, but I made it sound pokier and more immediate.” Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (2019 Mix) “We only got one take, but we had the blessing of a three-hour rehearsal. David was the rhythm section. He sat right in the middle of the orchestra, with his 12-string, keeping the time. There's a little bleed of his 12-string, even though we had baffles around him to keep the sound out. He was shaking like a leaf at the beginning of the session. By the time the three hours was up, he was very calm about it, and it was a great take. I think Nigel Reeve of EMI told me David said this was his favorite song on the album. I can see why—it’s a masterful performance from him. I don't play piano, so I was writing all [the orchestra’s] parts, from my classical guitar—five sleepless days, just writing. The main thing to do was to get David's vocal in a better place. Get a nicer reverb on his voice. And get a little more depth out of the orchestra.” Conversation Piece (2019 Mix) “This was really hard to leave off [the original vinyl]. That was a tragedy. We had three very long tracks—‘Cygnet Committee’ ate up the space of three songs—and on vinyl, you only had 20 minutes before you hit the out groove. If you went over the 20-minute mark, you would get one dB lower, for every minute over. This is a very, very sad song. Only years later, I realized that the person in the song who tells the story jumped off a bridge and drowned. That made me make a more sad mix. I was in a space like, ‘This has got to come off with a lot of gravity in the mix,’ even though it's kind of bouncy. There’s a way of mixing a bouncy song a little sadder. Not make it so bright. It’s one of my favorite, favorite songs. I loved playing it live.” God Knows I'm Good (2019 Mix) “I made it sound a little more roomier. Like it’s in a bright large room, and with David's voice being intimate, but the guitars sound really crisp. Keith Christmas was the other lead guitarist. He played great, so he's featured more on this. It's one of my favorite tracks. The story [about an elderly woman caught shoplifting] is so sad. Oh my god. That's a real weeper, for me. It must have just touched a nerve with him, to even write it in the first place. He must have actually witnessed that.” Memory of a Free Festival (2019 Mix) “We did this on the same day as ‘Cygnet Committee.’ The bass player was playing for so long, and so hard, his bridge kind of collapsed and almost every note was clicking and buzzing. So that was a job, to get that to sound decent on the remix. David's intro is still as beautiful as ever, with just him on the harmonium. He's underrated as a harmonium player. It's a live recording and he didn't make one mistake. When we did the backing vocals, I invited Marc Bolan to sing the ‘sun machine’ part. He's in there somewhere. You can hear him if you listen closely…I mean, really closely. We had everyone we knew, all our gang from the Three Tuns [pub] in Beckenham. Girlfriends, boyfriends, friends of friends, maybe 40 people in the studio. A few months later, we did it all over again when we did the single version. I really liked the single version a lot better—because by then, I knew what I was doing.”

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