The ever-changing face of Bowie

David Bowie is a man of many faces, a fact borne out by the selection of 45 7-inch single sleeves soon to be exhibited at The Vinyl Factory in London’s Chelsea…

David Bowie, Young Americans. RCA, France, 1975. Photography: Eric Stephen Jacobs


David Bowie is a man of many faces, a fact borne out by the selection of 45 7-inch single sleeves soon to be exhibited at The Vinyl Factory in London’s Chelsea

David Bowie, Starman, RCA, Germany, 1972

The exhibition, entitled David Bowie Nacht Musik, follows a near-identical format to the recent Kraftwerk 45RPM show. It will feature the collection of original singles from 1972 through to 1984, co-curated by The Vinyl Factory and Toby Mott (The Mott Collection) which have been mounted in one large frame to be displayed and offered for sale. “We selected the singles based upon their musical and aesthetic interest/influence and how collectively they reflected Bowie’s many phases, musically and stylistically, over the years,” says The Vinyl Factory’s Sean Bidder.

And boy did Bowie have a lot of styles – he made his appearance a huge part of his performances – which goes some way to explaining why his face is on pretty much every one of his single sleeves. I suppose there’s a practical element in that showing Bowie’s appearance kept fans up to date with his ever-changing image but looking at this selection, it would seem that in the mix of appearance and sound, a coherent graphic approach didn’t feature highly in the make-up of brand Bowie.

Here’s a selection of sleeves that will feature in the forthcoming Vinyl Factory exhibition:

David Bowie, Life on Mars? RCA, Germany, 1973

David Bowie, Rebel Rebel. RCA Australia, 1974

David Bowie, Suffragette City. RCA, Germany, 1976. Photography: Tom Kelley

David Bowie, John, I’m Only Dancing. RCA, Netherlands, 1979

The sleeves suggest there wasn’t much (any) continuity or over arching sense of a well-thought out design approach for Bowie’s releases – there’s some terrible type decisions on display. Different territories seemed to have carte blanche to present each single how they pleased, with RCA’s German releases eventually (from 1977 to 1980) exhibiting the most coherent looking releases with the textual information arranged across the top of the sleeves in the simple heirarchical row solution of artist name at the top, then the title of the a-side, followed by the title of the b-side:

David Bowie, Heroes. RCA, Germany, 1977. Photography: Massayoshi Sukita

David Bowie, Beauty and the Beast. RCA, Germany, 1977. Photography: Massayoshi Sukita

Check out the red, white and blue designs on both the English language version of Heroes released in France:

And the French language version of the same single:

Here’s the Japanese release of Soul Love from 1978:

And this single for Ashes to Ashes (German release, 1981) featuring photography by Brian Duffy:

The collection is particularly pertinent given the design of Bowie’s new album The Next Day which explicitly and very definitely rejects this image-centred approach. (You can read a little about designer Jonathan Barnbrook’s approach to the design of The Next Day in his blog post.)

As well as the single sleeves on display, The Vinyl Factory is working with Ditto Press (as they did for the recent Kraftwerk 45RPM show) to produce a limited edition catalogue that documents each of the 45 single sleeves which will be Risograph printed in 2-4 colour stencil prints using special inks. The publication will be housed in a screen printed dust jacket and contain an essay by collector Toby Mott, a pull-out 3-panel print showing all 45 singles, plus a white vinyl 7″ pressing of a David Bowie interview from 1978.

David Bowie Nacht Musik runs from February 7 to March 3 at The Vinyl Factory gallery at 91 Walton Street, London SW3 2HP.

We’ll have photos of the printed exhibition catalogue to share in a week or two (so stay tuned). In the meantime, find out more about the exhibition at

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