David Bowie: Divine Symmetry: The Journey to Hunky Dory (Parlophone/Warner Music, 4 CDs+ Blu-ray audio). As with the song “Changes,” Bowie’s fourth studio album, “Hunky Dory,” released Dec. 17, 1971, on RCA Records, marked “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” in Bowie’s career. After years of false starts and myriad styles, Bowie’s songwriting finally came into focus and his partnership with guitarist Mick Ronson started blooming, soon to result in “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” the following year, but which was mostly written in 1971. This set includes 49 previously unreleased tracks, including a complete Sept. 25, 1971, concert during which five of the 11 “Hunky Dory” tracks were debuted.

Interestingly, this box set only presents the original album (41:50) in its 2015 remaster on the Blu-ray audio disc. Also, on the Blu-ray is “A Devine Symmetry: An Alternate Journey Through Hunky Dory” (44:35), which presents the songs either in their “BOWPROMO” mixes (4, from a 1971 promotional album), 2021 alternate mixes (6) or original mixes (2), including the addition of “Bombers.” The Blu-ray adds a bonus mix of “Life in Mars?” (stereo and 5.1 surround) and the 7-song Sept. 21, 1971, BBC recording session for the Bob Harris show.

“Hunky Dory” itself is a classic, containing the career-changing hit “Changes,” which signaled what Bowie’s career would be like going forward, as well as the classic songs “Life on Mars?” which is often heard in films and spawned two TV series of that name – both songs feature Yes’ Rick Wakeman on piano, as do four other tracks – and “Oh! You Pretty Things” (a song that became a hit for Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone, who also covered “Right On Mother,” which is included here as a Bowie demo). “Life on Mars?” has a great cinematic arrangement. Other highlights are “Kooks,” written advice to his newly born son Zowie; “Andy Warhol,” with Ronson’s guitar and its catchy chorus (the other person song is the lesser “Song for Bob Dylan”). Ronson also shines on the Lou Reed-styled “Queen Bitch,” about sexuality and gender, a recurring theme throughout Bowie’s career going forward. There also is a lovely chorus and nice strings throughout “Quicksand,” the song whose lyrics include “divine symmetry.”

Here, Bowie has put behind his earlier incarnations as a folk hippy and an Anthony Newley-sounding all-round entertainer. This is the Bowie who would change pop music and youth culture during the next decade. A 1971 trip to New York City, where he met Warhol and Reed, was a great influence.

The other CDs here survey the year leading up to the album’s release. Disc one contains 16 songwriting demos as Bowie practices, tries out lyrics and works out different arrangements. The cruisey “Looking For a Friend” and “Shadow Man” were later rerecorded for the “Ziggy Stardust” album, but then dropped and never have been released. There is a hotel-recording cover of Reed’s “Waiting For the Man” and Bowie’s “How Lucky You Are” was written with Tom Jones in mind. “Right On Mother,” which Noone recorded, is about his mother’s support of his marriage to Angela Barnett. Some of the demos would evolve into later songs. Part of “Tired of My Life” became the chorus of “It’s No Game” in 1980’s “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” and “King of the City” evolved into “Ashes and Ashes.”

Next is live material. Disc two is a June 3, 1971, recording by Bowie and friends for John Peel’s BBC Radio show. There are nine tracks in mono – four from the upcoming album – and seven also are presented in stereo. Here, “Kooks” is more of a lullaby. Late in the show, Bowie turns over the lead vocals to others. Disc three includes the Bob Harris show found on the Blu-ray, plus a complete Sept. 25, 1971, show at the Friars club in Aylesbury. The show starts with five acoustic numbers featuring only Bowie and Ronson, then turns electric with full band, including five “Hunky Dory” songs. The show opens with two Biff Rose songs and closes with covers of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” and the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man.” The sound quality is rough, particularly on the full-band songs. After the crowd chants for another encore, Bowie pleads that they don’t know any more songs, but says they will return soon with more songs, which they did four months later as the first “Ziggy Stardust” era concert.

Disc four contains all six “BOWPROMO” mixes, six alternate mixes and seven 2021 mixes of alternate and early versions.

There also is a 100-page hardcover book with facsimiles of primary documents, period photos, insights from insiders like co-producer Ken Scott and liner notes by Tris Penna. Additionally, there is a separate softcover booklet in Bowie’s own hand that gives an intimate look at his process through sloppy footnotes, scrapped chords and fashion doodles. Grade: box set A+

Neil Young’s “Harvest” box opened. Courtesy Reprise Records.

Neil Young: Harvest — 50th Anniversary Edition (Reprise, 3 CDs + 2 DVDs). “Harvest,” Young’s fourth studio album (37:10), was released on Feb. 1, 1972 (a week before I began my music column). It basically falls into the category of country-rock – after all, Young was in the Buffalo Springfield – and yielded the hits “Old Man” and the chart-topping “Heart of Gold.” The best-selling album of 1972, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. Other highlights include “Are You Ready For the Country?” and a live “The Needle and the Damage Done,” about losing people to drug deaths, including Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten. The album rocks out on “Alabama” – which famously provoked an answer from Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama” – and “Words,” which turns into a guitar workout, something that Young would include on his next several albums.

Much of the album was recorded in a barn at Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch in California, with other sessions in Nashville, New York, and England, as the London Symphony Orchestra performs on both “A Man Needs a Maid” and “There’s a World.” Many of these recording sessions are captured in the two-hour documentary “Harvest Time,” which debuts here. The film also includes interviews with a very laidback Young. There are three lengthy jams with Young and his then-new band The Stray Gators. We see him working out arrangements during the LSO sessions and working on the chorus vocals for “Words” with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. David Crosby and Stills are shown recording vocals for “Alabama.” There also are Young interviews on Nashville radio and with a young boy in the radio station reception area.

Not present in the video are James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, who sing backup on “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and the midtempo “Bay Day of Loneliness,” one of the three outtakes included on the second CD. The other two outtakes are “Journey Through the Past” and “Dance Dance Dance,” which are both also performed by Young during his Feb. 23, 1971, eight-song solo concert (32 min.), which makes up the third CD and the second DVD. The BBC show is very well recorded and features an amiable and chatty Young performing before a small audience. He does five songs from “Harvest,” as well as “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” He chats in a long bit about how he has to carry different harmonicas in his pockets, while he also discusses U.S. cars as manhood symbols. Young plays two different guitars and piano.

The mini-box set also comes with a foldout poster and a 56-page hardcover book with lots of vintage photos; an essay by Joel Bernstein, who sadly points out how many, including all The Stray Gators, have passed on; and the lyrics. Grade: box set A

Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Noise & Flowers (Reprise CD, 74:46). This live album was recorded during a nine-city European tour in 2019, just after the death of Elliot Roberts, Young’s manager of more than 50 years. The 14 recordings come from eight of the dates. The songs start way back with “Mr. Soul” from his Buffalo Springfield days, his early solo hit “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and the harmonious “Helpless” from his Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young days. From “Harvest” (see above), he plays “Alabama” and “Are You Ready For the Country?” Other highlights are three lengthy rockers: “Throw Your Hatred Down” (8:59); “Rockin’ in the Free World” (9:59); and “F*!#In’ Up” (7:17). An unexpected, but welcome addition is “On the Beach” (7:35). The much younger backing band of Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s son Lucas on guitars and vocals, is a solid match with Young, making him sound as vital as ever. Grade: B+

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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