When David Bowie rose to stardom in the early 1970s, he and his band the Spiders from Mars were overnight sensations. Along with T. Rex, Sweet and Slade, Bowie and the band were one of many successful bands during glam rock’s peak in popularity. During this time in Bowie’s career, guitarist Mick Ronson served as Bowie’s axeman. After leaving Bowie in 1974, Ronson embarked on a solo career – under the management of MainMan.
Ronson – the MainMan years
Ronson’s years with MainMan have been assembled on Only After Dark, a new 4-CD box set coming from Cherry Red Records. On this box set are the two studio albums Ronson released with RCA Records, along with a plethora of live recordings and demos.
Only After Dark is packaged in the familiar clamshell packaging from Cherry Red Records releases, complete with a booklet with insightful liner notes. Given that this is a box set of albums, I will go through this set album by album.
Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974)
Released the same year as Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Slaughter on 10th Avenue is a splendid debut album. Produced by Ronson himself, the production is top notch here, sounding like something Bowie could’ve released during his glam era. Even with only seven songs to offer, Slaughter is a pretty diverse album: there’s the guitar driven “Only After Dark,” the pleasantly poppy “Growing Up and I’m Fine” and the jazz fusion-ridden “I’m the One.” Bowie’s influence can also be heard throughout the album- especially on Ronson’s haunting cover of “Love Me Tender” and the string-laden “Music is Lethal.” Ronson’s backing band on the album includes bassist Trevor Bolder and keyboardist Mike Garrison- both of whom were with Ronson in the Spiders from Mars. Every Bowie fans owes it to themselves to listen to this album.
Bonus tracks: mostly live cuts recorded at the Rainbow in London in 1974 and another couple from 1979. The first four bonus tracks on the previous release of Slaughter on CD while everything else- including an interview with Teen Beat- are new additions.
Play, Don’t Worry (1975)
While not as fun as Slaughter, Ronson’s sophomore effort is still a solid album. Ronson’s guitar playing is featured throughout the album- especially on songs such as “Angel No. 9” and the title track. Most of the songs on Play are cover tunes- interpreted by Ronson. While pretty faithful to the originals, Ronson’s takes on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and Little Richard’s “Girl Can’t Help It” are fun and energetic. Of the covers on here, Ronson’s glam rock take on Pure Prairie League’s “Woman” is impressive- considering the original was a country tune. Ronson has a few originals on here, my personal favorite with glam pop of “Billy Porter.” With Trevor Bolder and Mike Garrison playing in the backing band, Play sounds like the natural successor to Slaughter.
Bonus tracks: the nine bonus tracks on Play are the same as the ones featured on the previous CD release of the album. A majority of the bonus tracks are demos from the album’s sessions, along with the B Side only “Seven Days.”
Just Like This (recorded 1976, released 1999)
Ronson’s third album for RCA was rejected by the label due to the poor sales of Ronson’s first two albums. Until his death in 1993, Ronson would remain a sideman and producer for other recording artists. While not advertised as such, the third disc (and some of the fourth discs) in this set is the 1999 compilation Just Like This– a collection of studio recordings meant for Ronson’s third RCA album. While this is a good set of tunes, it’s hard to listen to this as an unreleased Mick Ronson album. With the main 12 songs, the album has a run time of an hour- making it unlikely the album would’ve stayed like this back in the day. Also, some of the songs don’t sound like they’re complete- most likely due to the fact this was rejected.
Still, Just Like This is a great collection of songs- with a handful of catchy hard rockers such as “Hard Life” and the title track. Ballads come in the form of “I’d Give Anything To See You” and the hypnotic “Crazy Love” while Ronson gets bluesy on “Roll Like the River.”
Bonus tracks: Demos of eight songs
The remaining seven songs on the fourth disc are live tracks from a Mick Ronson Band concert at the Century Theatre in New York in 1976. These seven song are the first seven tracks on the posthumous live release Showtime (1999). These are not the only songs from Showtime on the box set, as three of the bonus tracks on Slaughter were also taken from that release. As to why the rest of Showtime isn’t on here is most likely due to the fact that those remaining songs were recorded during the late 1980s and early 1990s- at which point Ronson wasn’t with MainMan.
Overall, Only After Dark is another great release from Cherry Red Records. If you’re a stranger to Mick Ronson’s solo work, this’ll give you your money’s worth. While I don’t know if I see myself going back to some of the bonus tracks, I can see me going back to these albums in the future.
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I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.