Monday, January 18, 2016

January's Picks: David Bowie

This month's picks are devoted to a dedicated to David Bowie. All posts are credited to David Bowie unless otherwise indicated.

1. DAVY JONES- "Baby Loves That Way" U.K. B-side ("You've Got A Habit Of Leaving") Parlophone R 5315 1965
With it's feedbacking power chord intro from guitarist Dennis "Tea Cup" Taylor, cool backing vocals and Shel Talmy production Davy Jones and The Lower Third could not help escape comparisons to The Who. But the number has a lot more going for it.  It's bouncy enough to be a late era Applejacks 45 but the lyrics are unusual for the mid 60's as it's basically about a loose girl who despite her indiscretions still "treats me good each and every night" and Bowie actually pulls off a few soulful vocal moves after the distorted solo before it all fades outs. His last 45 before he became David Bowie it was also his last working with Shel Talmy.

2. "I Dig Everything" U.K. A-side Pye 17157 1966
David Bowie did not actually live in London for long periods as an adult until moving in with manager Ken Pitt in 1967. His swinging London was observed from dossing on people's couches or floors in between sneaking back home to the relative safety of mom and dad's semi detached in Bromley. He croons convincingly about it in the mod/boho/Swinging London Summer of '66 without a care (no doubt aided in youthful optimism and possibly by substances) and observes that "I've had more friends than I've had hot dinners, some of them are losers but the rest of them are winners".  While Bowie sings with wide eyed, hopeful appreciation and a devil may care saunter producer Tony Hatch lays on all the 60's kitschy trimmings: soulful organ, some congas/guiro giving it a Latin feel and a jazzy flute that ties it all up in a cosmopolitan mod gift.  But the public didn't care and Pye records sent him on his way which led him to....

3. "The London Boys" U.K. B-side ("Rubber Band") Deram DM 107 1966
Props to Decca A&R man Hugh Mendl who saw something in a demo (the track was previously rejected by Tony Hatch and Pye as a fourth single for the label) by David Bowie and The Buzz called "The London Boys". This Deram version was recorded at the famous R.G. Jones studio in Morden, Surrey with a session trumpet player (with woodwinds later added upon signing with Decca) it is musically minimal but brilliant.  "The London Boys" is the (literal) amphetamine comedown of "I Dig Everything" and it's "new in town /watch out London here I am" optimism. It's an admission of failure to make it big in the bright lights of the city with "in" crowd living in squalor and too proud to retreat home with an ending full of resignation but with nowhere else to turn "now you wish you'd never left your home, you got what you wanted but you're on your own..". As the brilliant but subtle horns play on mournfully and the organ whirls like something from a radio soap opera serial Bowie belts out "now you've met the London boys" like the Francis Albert Sinatra of modernist Bohemia.

4. "Ashes To Ashes" U.K. A-side RCA BOW 6 1980
"Ashes To Ashes" and it's David Mamet directed video was once again a litmus test for street cred by the Thin White Duke which he passed (as usual) with flying colors. Embracing the Blitz kid/New Romantic movement in it's infancy before the mainstream picked up on it by featuring a bunch of Blitz club punters (including the late Steven Strange of New Romantic darlings Visage) in the promo video and creating a bleak, synthesizer painting on an otherwise unknown canvas proved Bowie was the Godfather of New Romanticism while he cavorted in face paint and a ballerina cum clown costume effectively showing the creator mixing freely with his creations and before it went bust he was long gone reinventing himself to a whole new audience.  Imagine The Who digging up a bunch of mods in late 1978 and featuring them in a video for "Who are You?" long before the '79 mod scene was nary a whiff?  The last minute of this number has always been endearing to me with it's spooky wash of synths and Bowie's "my mama said to get things done you better not mess with Major Tom" mantra beating Ultravox and Gary Numan to it.

5. "Right On Mother" unreleased demo 1970/1971
Ex-Herman's Hermits front man Peter "Herman" Noone cut this unreleased Bowie composition in October 1971, six months after scoring a hit (#12) with "Oh You Pretty Thing" (yes original pressings say "Thing" not "Things") as a flip side to "Walnut Whirl". Bowie's demo has never been legitimately released but it's a fun track with just him on piano and vocals and would not have all been out of place on "Hunky Dory".  One would presume it was written about his mother's reaction to him living with Angie, though by the time it was written they'd already presumably tied the knot.

6. "Width Of A Circle" LP cut "Man Who Sold The World" Mercury 6338 041 1970 
At 8:09 "Width Of A Circle" borders on pointlessly long but it's an incredibly structured track that is not at all dissimilar to something you'd have heard on King Crimson's "In The Court Of the Crimson King" meets the late 60's Moody Blues if they'd had a madman on lead guitar. Bowie's lyrics are at their most oblique and the chord changes are insane and one wonders what this number must have sounded like live. Mick Ronson's solo is interesting to compare with an unreleased track he cut in 1967 with his group The Rats "The Rise And Fall Of Bernie Gripplestone" as it borders on indentical.

The Riot Squad (David Bowie top center) March 1967

7. THE RIOT SQUAD-"Little Toy Soldier" Acid Jazz E.P.  AJX329S 2013
For a very brief period  Bowie (March 1967 to be exact) was involved with The Riot Squad , a band who had a varied line up history and more recently lost their record contract with Pye and their producer Joe Meek (who one month prior took his own life). Bowie had recently ceased live work with his backing band The Buzz and was awaiting the release of his debut LP with Deram.  His  manager Kenneth Pitt had previously brought Bowie back an acetate copy of what would be The Velvet Underground's debut album. It had more than a profound effect on him as he and the band crept in on the sly to  Decca's studio with engineer Gus Dudgeon on April 5, 1967 to record a few tracks. Among them was a cover of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and this "original". With it's chorus borrowed from a line in the Velvet's "Venus In Furs" it's a perverse tale of a girl who has a toy soldier in which she winds up to whip her and not satisfied with his degree of sadism continues to wind him so tightly he flays her to death.  Musically it would have been not at all out of place on his first LP but lyrically it would certainly have been too much for the staff at Deram to abide by (in fact neither his manager nor producer Mike Vernon were aware of the session). In 2013 Acid Jazz released four cuts from the session as a 7" E.P. including "Little Toy Soldier" and "I'm Waiting For the Man" (both previously only available on bootlegs).

8. "Round and Round" U.K. B-side ("Drive In Saturday") RCA 2352 1973
Chuck Berry's "Around And Around" (re-titled by Bowie as "Round And Round") is best known for Mick Ronson's Nigel Tuffnel style guitar solo at the end. Cut during the sessions for "Ziggy And The Spiders From Mars" it was utilized as a flip for "Drive In Saturday" over a year later and is certainly one of the less common '72 era cuts. It sounds somewhat half baked but also seems to convey what a good time they were all having doing it and in the end if it's rockin' who cares? A live version guest starring Jeff Beck closed the Ziggy "farewell" performance on July 3, 1973 but due to Beck's disapproval it was left off the D.A. Pennebaker "Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" film.

9. "In The Heat Of The Morning (Live BBC 5/26/68)"
In 1968 David Bowie was shit out of luck.  Deram rejected his recordings of "Let Me Sleep Beside You" and "In The Heat Of The Morning" and after three singles and one LP he was sent packing as he'd been with Pye little over a year prior.  Someone up there someone liked him because he was accorded a radio session for John Peel's "Top Gear" program where he cut 4 numbers with a full orchestra (conducted by Tony Visconti) and a host of session musicians including Herbie Flowers on bass and Mr. Mohawks/K.P.M. supremo Alan Hawkshaw who's funky organ work gives this cut some serious chops.

10. "Life On Mars" LP cut "Hunky Dory" RCA SF 8244 1971
Beneath Rick Wakeman's beautiful piano work (described by Wakeman in fascinating detail in the "Five Years" documentary, currently available here in the States on demand on Showtime) and sweeping strings Bowie croons about disaffected youth through the eyes of a young girl seeking refuge in the cinema (or so I've always liked to believe). Born out of Bowie's failure at writing an English lyric for "Comme d'habitude" (later gaining fame with Paul Anka's English lyric as "My Way") "Life On Mars" is accented by some incredibly beautiful chord changes and is easily his most sophisticated arrangement since leaving Deram.

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