‘Sorrow’ was the only song released from Pinups. It was issued ahead of the album in the UK and US on 12 October 1973.
The single was delayed for two weeks, having originally been scheduled for release on 28 September. The delay is believed to have been to avoid a clash with Deram’s reissued ‘The Laughing Gnome’, which was at its peak of number six when ‘Sorrow’ entered the chart.
David Bowie had been due to perform the song on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on 31 October, but producer Robin Nash was forced to cancel at a late stage. Bowie had intended his performance to feature live vocals and strings, with a new backing track recorded at Trident Studios.
However, the Musicians’ Union judged this unacceptable as their rules required a representative to have been present during the recording. The BBC requested a new backing track to be recorded in one hour, or that the song should be performed entirely live. Bowie considered this an impossible demand, so the appearance was cancelled.
‘Sorrow’ was a major hit for Bowie, reaching number three in the UK. It remained on the chart for 15 weeks, his longest stretch for any single.
It also became Bowie’s first number one single in Australia, topping the charts for two weeks in February 1974.
The single’s b-side was a cover version of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’, which Bowie had performed live since 1968. Some variants of the ‘Sorrow’ single listed the title as ‘Port Of Amsterdam’.
‘Amsterdam’ had been recorded in the summer of 1971, and at one point was to have been the closing track on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. In releasing the song alongside ‘Sorrow’, it became the only time Bowie released a single with a cover version on both sides.
In France, ‘Amsterdam’ was billed as the lead song on the single, with ‘Sorrow’ on the b-side.
‘Sorrow’ was released in 1973 in the UK, USA, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, France, Germany, Holland, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and in 1974 in New Zealand and Portugal.
The Spanish edition of the ‘Sorrow’ single had the Aladdin Sane song ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ on the b-side. In Malaysia ‘Sorrow’ was released as the final song on a three-track single, which also featured Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ and Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’.
Pinups was released on both sides of the Atlantic on Friday 19 October 1973, with advance sales of 150,000. Aided by the success of ‘Sorrow’, it became an instant best-seller, spending five weeks at number one in the UK – just as Aladdin Sane had done earlier in the year.