Saturday, April 13, 2019

David Bowie-"Spying Through A Keyhole"

Parlophone has issued a new nine track David Bowie collection of demos from 1968 cut with his former backing band The Buzz's lead guitarist John "Hutch" Hutchinson titled "Spying Through A Keyhole" (the two along with Bowie's then girlfriend Hermione Farthingale would, for a time, perform as a trio called Feathers). The tracks are spread out over four 7 inch 45's set up to look like acetates housed a a box with a bonus 4 X 6 b&w photo (see below). The quality is surprisingly good considering the tracks are 51 years old and were recorded on reel to reel tape in Hutch's apartment! Here's a breakdown of them tune by tune:

I could easily imagine the psych-pop band Turquoise performing this track! Lyrically it owes a bit to "Mother's Little Helper", though certainly more sympathetic to it's overloaded domestic protagonist. It's an unusual number for a David Bowie track because it features some harmonica, but it has potential to be incredibly heavy which is not something you would expect for David Bowie at this period, and the multiple layers of guitars almost going into the red recalls Keith Richard's cassette recording guitar sound on "Street Fighting Man".

Interestingly this demo was recorded between a December 1967 Top Gear session version orchestrated by Arthur Greenslade and the more well known spring 1968 studio version produced by Tony Visconti (which would not see the light of day until Decca's 1970 compilation LP "The World Of David Bowie") so it is obviously NOT the original demo version. It doesn't really offer much except that Bowie sounds like he is straining at the top of his key to get through it in parts and the lyrics are the ones used a few months later in the better known Visconti produced version.

Not to be confused with “Threepenny Pierrot” (see below) this track is quite unremarkable and no doubt explains why none of us have ever heard it before.

Another unremarkable track sounding somewhat like a watered-down Cat Stevens Island Records era tune.

Hear "Goodbye Threepenny Joe" and "Love Is All Around":

Pairing different lyrics from the various "finished" versions available this number takes its name from a conversation David Bowie claims he heard from a departing West Indian family at a Victoria Station or maybe he was confusing it with hearing Paul McCartney discuss the similar origin of "Ob La De Ob La Da". This demo version is rather interesting as it's completely sparse and there's two verses not found in subsequent later versions. The melody was also utilized in a number “Threepenny Pierrot” a track he wrote for a Lindsay Kemp production "Pierrot In Turquoise" around the same time.

David at Tony Visconti's flat, 1968

Here's another one that to my ears is pretty unremarkable. It bears a slight resemblance to something you might have found among the weaker tracks on his second long player.

Same track as above delivered at a more somber softer pace with slightly different lyrics next….

This is quite possibly the very first demo version of the now famous hit single! The lyrics are quite different in places showing the Major Tom of this version to be quite a reluctant participant in his space voyage (“can I please get back inside now if I may?”) and perhaps presaging the Major Tom of “Ashes To Ashes” and his nihilistic view on life on Earth (“though I'm past 100,000 miles I'm feeling very still and I think my spaceship knows what I must do and I think my life on Earth is nearly through”) leading to a far darker characterization of what amounts to suicide by space travel, lyrics that no doubt would have been too "dark" for commercial success.

Hutch, Christian and David, Clareville Road, 1968

This version has lead vocals by David Bowie's companion John Hutch Hutchinson at the introduction with Bowie coming in after the countdown section. It also contains some Stylophone which adds an eerie effect to accompany the acoustic guitars, also noticeable in the background occasionally are the sounds of Hutch's toddler, Christian (Hutch can be heard at the beginning of the track asking "Chrissie, don't talk"). By far this is the most amazing track on the box and contains an interesting melody not found in the final original take but utilized in the primitive version heard in the promotional film “Love You Till Tuesday”. The ending is interesting as the key keeps changing higher and higher and there's a Morse code being tapped out on the Stylophone at the fade out.

Hear both versions of "Space Oddity":

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