David Bowie is universally recognised as a cultural icon, who continually pushed boundaries in his art.
He is known for his experimentation in both music and fashion, and for his thoughtful reflections on life.
As well as his cultural influence, Bowie’s commercial success was huge. During his lifetime, he created a total of eleven chart-topping albums, selling over 140 million records worldwide.
As a cult-status artist, and one of the most adored musicians of the twentieth century, a number of his records have naturally become collectors’ items.
A selection of his most valuable records are worth thousands of dollars, taking the form of quirky variants, limited pressings and global releases.
As you will see, a fair few of the most-coveted rare Bowie records are Japanese exports, and come with a distinctive “Obi” strip.
Let’s dive in and find out more about some of the rarest Bowie records out there.
7. The Man Who Sold The World – Dress Cover (1971)
Approximate value: $2,200
The Man Who Sold The World is Bowie’s third studio album, the first to feature guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick Woodmansey, who later became members of the “Spiders from Mars.”
The record marked a shift towards hard rock with elements of blues – its lyrics much darker than on previous releases.
Along with the title track ‘The Man Who Sold The World,’ some other notable tracks include ‘She Shook Me Cold,’ ‘The Width of a Circle,’ and ‘The Supermen.’
This rare first issue was withdrawn. Known as the “dress cover,” its sleeve features Bowie sprawled across an antique seat whilst wearing a long, flowing dress. It was deemed controversial and, in the US, eventually replaced by a cartoon design featuring a cowboy motif.
Copies of the original “dress cover” record are typically worth around $2,200.
6. Hunky Dory – “Gem” Label Preview Pressing (1971)
Approximate value: $2,500
Released in 1971, Bowie’s fourth studio album Hunky Dory was the follow up to the previous year’s The Man Who Sold the World. Compared to the guitar-driven hard rock sound of his earlier work, Bowie opted for a warmer and more melodic piano-based pop rock/art pop style.
The record features some of Bowie’s contemporary songs such as ‘Changes,’ ‘Oh! You Pretty Things,’ and ‘Life on Mars?’
Preview pressings of Hunky Dory on Dutch based record label “Gem” are deemed most valuable as they were specifically made available a few months before the album’s official release.
There are now only a handful of these early release copies known to exist, making them worth in the region of $2,500.
5. Self Titled – Later Known As Space Oddity – First Pressing (1969)
Approximate value: $6,800
Space Oddity – originally called David Bowie – was his self-titled second album from 1969. It has a distinctive cover featuring a headshot of Bowie complete with a mane of curly locks and piercing stare.
Over the top of the image sits a manic motif of blue dots, coupled with a reasonably formal title font displaying the words “David Bowie.”
Some of the record’s hits include ‘God Knows I’m Good,’ ‘Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,’ and ‘Space Oddity.’ The album was subsequently reissued as Space Oddity – the title with which it has become most commonly known and associated with.
The first-pressings of this record, especially the ones released under the original name David Bowie, are deemed most valuable, with only a small number in circulation.
In 2016, one of these rare copies fetched $6,800.
4. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars – Japanese Obi (1972)
Approximate value: $10,000
Released in 1972, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is David Bowie’s fifth studio record. The record played heavily on Bowie’s new stage persona, Ziggy Stardust.
Ziggy Stardust was distinctive image that soon became a signature style for future Bowie works, and is still associated with a period in which his music excelled.
Loosely described as a concept album and rock opera combined, the original version of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars introduced eleven of Bowie’s all-time most-famous songs to an adoring public, including the likes of ‘Starman,’ ‘Suffragette City,’ and ‘Rock & Roll Suicide.’
The most valuable iteration of this work is the Japanese Black ‘Obi’ style first pressing released on the RCA label.
The record comes with a bold black Obi stripe down the left side of its front sleeve with vibrant red Japanese writing. In 2016, a copy of this rare record sold for around $10,000.
3. David Bowie – Deram Records Japanese Obi (1967)
Approximate value: $12,600
David Bowie is Bowie’s debut studio record. It boasts a distinctive ‘baroque pop’ style that fuses a music hall sound with rock.
Its cover features a medium close-up of a fresh faced Bowie with a long blonde mod haircut and the words “David Bowie” in a playful, vibrant light blue text.
One particular version of this record has become especially coveted amongst collectors – the pressing with a red ‘obi style’ stripe down the left hand side of the record with the phrase “VOCAL” at the top and Japanese writing running vertically down the length of the front sleeve. This edition also comes with an extensive lyric sheet.
Back in 2016, a copy of the vinyl commanded around $12,800.
2. David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (1978)
Approximate value: $14,000
The unique and charming David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf contains Bowie’s narration of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition Peter and the Wolf.
Released on the RCA Red Seal label, the record was produced by Jay David Saks, with music performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Eugene Ormandy. On its B-side is a recording of Benjamin Britten‘s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Bowie delivers the well-known fable in his usual eloquence and infectious style, giving instructions at the beginning for young listeners, to help them understand how the music corresponds to characters in the story.
In 2013, a copy of this rare vinyl sold for upwards of $14,000.
1. Diamond Dogs – Alternate Cover (1974)
Approximate value: $16,000
David Bowie’s eighth studio album Diamond Dogs caused notable controversy when it was released in 1974. Its sleeve artwork, when unfolded, features the full-body image of Bowie as a half-man and half-dog hybrid creature.
There exists a version with the dog’s lower half left uncensored, and as a result, the animal’s genitals are clearly in view. A certain number of copies still found their way into the world before label RCA eventually withdrew the cover completely. An alternate design with the offending area airbrushed out and darkened was released to replace the original design.
The select few originals that still exist sell for remarkable amounts when auctioned – in 2019 a copy sold for $16,000.
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