Released: 12 October 1973
David Bowie: vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, tenor saxophone
Mick Ronson: electric guitar, vocals
Mike Garson: piano
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Aynsley Dunbar: drums
Geoff MacCormack: vocals
Ken Fordham: baritone saxophone
Session musicians: violin, viola, cello
‘Sorrow’ was the only single to be released from Pinups, David Bowie’s seventh studio album.
Pinups was a collection of twelve cover versions, mostly by British groups from from the 1960s mod scene. It was Bowie’s final collaboration with producer Ken Scott, and his last to feature guitarist Mick Ronson until 1993’s Black Tie White Noise.
Pinups was really my way of shaking off Ziggy completely, while retaining some excitement in the music. It really was treading water, but it happens to be one of my favourite albums. I think there is some terrific stuff on it.
‘Sorrow’ was originally recorded by the McCoys, a rock group formed in Indiana in 1962. It was the b-side of their 1965 version of ‘Fever’.
In 1966 it became a UK hit for the Merseys, peaking at number four in the UK charts. It was the band’s debut single.
The Merseys were formed by Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley after their previous band, the Merseybeats, split up. Their version of ‘Sorrow’ was faster than the McCoys’ original, and became the template for a number of subsequent cover versions.
In 1968 George Harrison twice sang the line “With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue” on the Beatles‘ song It’s All Too Much. It was recorded in May and June 1967, and released in January 1969 on the Yellow Submarine film soundtrack.
In the studio
David Bowie’s version of ‘Sorrow’ was recorded in July 1973 at Château d’Hérouville in Hérouville, France. Bowie recorded all of Pinups at the studio, and also much of 1977’s Low.
My favourite song on the album turned out to be ‘Sorrow’. It just worked so well. We overdubbed strings in France and Ronno once again did the arrangement, but had an interesting time trying to communicate with French string players whose English wasn’t very good.
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust
Mick Ronson adapted his arrangement of ‘Sorrow’ from the Merseys’ version. The earlier recording had opened with a bowed bass guitar, played by Jack Bruce. Ronson transposed this up to be played by a violin.
Bowie performed 12-string guitar on ‘Sorrow’, the only instance on Pinups. The song ends with a new piano melody by Mike Garson, which was faded in and out during the mixing by producer Ken Scott.
I have this habit, when someone in the studio is just noodling around, I move their fader up and down quite quickly, giving a tremolo effect. Mr Garson was noodling, I was messing around, David heard it, liked it and then I had to move that damn fader up and down fast for the whole song. However, it does work.
Five Years (1969-1973) book