It’s Bowie Week here, for no other reason than that I’ve found myself digging into his back catalog after having acquired a couple of recordings I’d missed the first time around. I don’t think anything I plan on posting is terribly rare, but I’ll aim for more out-of-the-way stuff: what would be the point of posting “Suffragette City”?
Anyway: to start with, Bowie’s career had a couple of false starts, reaching all the way back to 1963, when he was still “Davy Jones” (no Monkee of that name to compete with yet) and various ensembles such as the King Bees, the Manish Boys, and the Lower Third. The first record released under the name “David Bowie” – and one of his first records that showed glimmers of the songwriter he was to become – is “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” from 1966. While the opening chords are reminiscent of the Who, the chord sequence in the verse that follows is typically Bowie, wandering through some unexpected modulations and moving to a second, pre-chorus section that ups the perceived tempo, by means of the bass playing steady eighth notes.
Over the next couple of years, Bowie recorded several hours’ worth of tracks in a variety of styles, moving beyond the R&B/Stones/Beatles/Who influences of his earliest tracks. While a lot of this material (released on The Deram Anthology 1966-1968) sounds rather gimmicky now – most notoriously, “The Laughing Gnome” – there are also some fine songs in this batch, including some that foreshadowed some of the directions Bowie would take on his “first” album on Philips/Mercury in 1969. (Do the Discographic Confusion: Bowie’s Deram album was self-titled, as was this Philips/Mercury release in its initial configuration – although it was re-titled Man of Words/Man of Music for its initial US release. Eventually, it was re-titled Space Oddity, after its best-known track became a surprise single success three years after its release. Got it?) “Let Me Sleep Beside You” begins with a big fat riff (one that I swear early Captain Beefheart borrowed…am I hallucinating this?) and moves to a bass- and cello-heavy arrangement (a bit muddy in this mono mix) and lyrics which seem to borrow some ideas from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”
Then there’s “We Are Hungry Men.” Although presented in a somewhat farcical style, the song’s lyrics are Bowie’s first go at a sort of science-fictional setting, featuring one of his many dubious messiahs. Plus, thematically it beat The Buoys’ “Timothy” by several years.
Perhaps the best of this early batch of songs is “Silly Boy Blue,” presented here in an epic version (with 14-piece orchestra) from Bowie at the Beeb, the compilation of Bowie’s BBC appearances. The song is apparently inspired by Bowie’s experiences with his Buddhist teacher, Chimi Youngdoong Rinpoche (Bowie adds his name between a couple of the verses here), and the opening low-string drone, with tiny bells, reminds me of the sound of chanting Buddhist monks. (The version here includes a brief interview, primarily about the next track: bad track cueing info!)