They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but leave it to David Bowie to never do anything quite the way you'd expect. His album of mid-'60s rock covers, Pin Ups, was not quite an imitation when it was released on Oct. 19, 1973.
At the time, it seemed that Bowie couldn't get any bigger in his native England. During the week ending July 28, 1973, his last five studio albums - from 1969's Space Oddity to that spring's chart-topping Aladdin Sane - were all in the Top 40. But even a musical chameleon like Bowie was enduring some growing pains of his own: just weeks before, the singer announced during a gig at London's Hammersmith Odeon that it was "the last show that we'll ever do." Luckily, he only meant the retiring of his Ziggy Stardust persona and the break-up of his backing band The Spiders from Mars - but it came as a shock to most of the members of the band.
A week later, Bowie reconvened in a French chateau with Spiders guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist Trevor Bolder (re-hired at the last minute when Jack Bruce of Cream was unavailable), touring pianist Mike Garson, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar for a different kind of album session. This time, he was revisiting favorite British pop/rock singles from the years when he began his own musical career in earnest. Tracks by The Who ("I Can't Explain," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere") and The Kinks ("Where Have All the Good Times Gone") mingled with tunes by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd ("See Emily Play"), The Easybeats ("Friday on My Mind") and even a take on the chart favorite "Sorrow," a hit for both The McCoys and The Merseys.
While all the songs were beloved at home, most of them were lesser known to American audiences - making Pin Ups mean different things to Bowie's international fan base. "For Britain...Pin Ups was a nostalgia record," Chris O'Leary wrote in his Bowie reference guide Rebel Rebel. "For America, where only three of the original singles had reached the Top 40, Pin Ups was essentially a new Bowie album." In his 2012 memoir, album co-producer Ken Scott suggested that at least one original tune was considered for the album, but ultimately was kept to all covers; a planned sequel devoted to American acts never materialized, either.
Pin Ups, with its striking album cover (featuring a photograph of Bowie with British model Twiggy) continued Bowie's frenzied British chart takeover. It debuting on top of the album chart and staying there for five weeks straight. (Aladdin Sane was still in the Top 10 at that time, with three other Bowie LPs in the Top 40.) In the States, where Aladdin Sane had reached the Top 20 and gone gold, Pin Ups reached a respectable No. 23 and primed Bowie for three straight Top 10 albums in the U.S. over the next three years. While critics were not as impressed with the stopgap release, expressing wishes that Bowie had brought something dramatically different to his interpretations of the songs, some looked on the bright side.
"It is...a collection of great songs, most of which are given a more than adequate, and always loving, treatment," Rolling Stone wrote in its original review. "Maybe the fairest conclusion to draw is that Bowie can’t sing any other way, did the best he could, and the result isn’t all that bad."