The 10th January 2016 was a dark day in the music world. Singer, songwriter, musical chameleon and legend David Bowie passed away. The strangest thing happened: the people of the internet came together in an outpouring of grief. Grown men cried. Some trolls stopped being angry. From huge fans to casual admirers, Bowie’s death seemed to touch almost everyone in some way. Even people who weren’t fans were more than aware of David’s importance. Love him, like him, hate him: everybody knew something from Bowie’s vast and varied back catalogue.
Right up to the 1980s, things were fairly simple as a music fan. Your favourite bands released singles and albums and, as a loyal fan, you bought them knowing you’d kept to your end of the bargain. Sometimes singles weren’t part of albums and in that case you got something extra. Things started to change in the 1980s when the picture disc started to make regular appearances, thus meaning an occasional extra purchase. Labels like ZTT (run by business-minded Trevor Horn and Paul Morley) were quick to capitalise on marketing strategies – with bands like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, they made sure that different formats had different mixes and different edits. In the case of the fledgling cassette single, they even went an extra step by including unreleased bits and pieces from the cutting room floor, often to fans’ bemusement and eventual delight.
Not everyone was as keen to play the game. Towards the end of the decade, Morrissey – in a spiteful lyrical snide against his then record company’s repackaging of Smiths material – gave us the lyrical legend “reissue, reissue, repackage…re-evaluate the songs, extra track and a tacky badge”. Some bands stuck rigidly to the old model of single release followed by album…and then a couple more singles (often with something extra on the b-side, sure; but once that was done, you knew that was it, at least until the next outpouring of new material in a couple of years).
By the mid-90s, albums would occasionally appear as special editions. This usually involved a bonus disc containing a handful of extra songs (or in the case of The Beautiful South’s excellent ‘Carry On Up the Charts’ anthology, a whole disc of hard to find b-sides) or live material. Another easy choice for the consumer: you chose to buy either the standard release or fork out a few extra quid for that bonus disc – job done, everybody happy. Bon Jovi’s ‘Keep The Faith’ was among the first to mark a shifting tide towards fan-testing, record company greed when the special edition appeared months after the original album’s release. This staggered release ensured almost everyone had purchased ‘Keep The Faith’ already…but would they buy it again? Of course they would – if not everyone, then at least a good proportion of the die-hards would want that extra material. Why wouldn’t they? The floodgates were open.