Some time ago, I ran into a couple of albums by Biff Rose. Rose (if you recognize the name at all) is best known as the writer of the not-exactly-best-loved Bowie song “Fill Your Heart” (on Hunky Dory). Rose is sort of an eccentric hippie (that’s not redundant: I mean he’s more eccentric than your average hippie) but with a bit more sarcasm and sheer bizarritude than you might expect. In fact, he’s still around – although he mainly seems to be interested in painting on women’s breasts these days. Anyway.
Turns out he’s a key influence on Bowie in those days. Every critic of the early Bowie feels compelled to mention Anthony Newley – true enough – but “Kooks” (also from Hunky Dory) is pretty much a big fat sloppy wet kiss on Biff’s lips, and a lot of Bowie’s vocal phrasing at the time is similar to Rose’s.
For someone as seemingly of-his-era as Rose, a couple of his songs are almost presciently relevant these days: witness “American Waltz,” about consumerism and the plague of fat, and “Evolution” (sort of about the same…and a record that I suspect Daniel Smith of Danielson (Famile) might have heard. You’ve been warned…). No one is going to accuse Rose of having a powerful singing voice, and for me, his rinky-tink pianner playing is just this side of the annoying end of camp…but there’s just enough of an edge to his lyrics that he’s still interesting to me. I doubt I’ll listen to him that often – but a song like “Son in Moon” is downright pretty. Certainly, someone should have covered it.
All three of these tracks are from his 1969 release Children of Light. Note also some very early synthesizer playing, programmed (as seemingly every early synth was) by Beaver & Krause and played (or so AMG says) by Van Dyke Parks.