IN THE FIRST OF TWO FEATURES, CLIFF McLENEHAN CHRONICLES THE COMPLEX TALE OF DAVID BOWIE’S UNRELEASED WORK FROM HIS PRE-“ZIGGY” YEARS
…..Some enterprising individuals recently released two four-CD box sets of out-takes and demos from the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” album. Whether or not you agree with the ethics of such a release, it’s a fascinating document – and merely the tip of the iceberg as far as unofficial Stones recordings go. It’s a similar story for the Beatles, Dylan and Hendrix collectors. But Bowie? Despite a 30-year-plus career, there are barely four CDs’ worth of his studio material currently in circulation.
…..That doesn’t mean the material doesn’t exist, just that his studio sessions and demos haven’t tended to leak out to collectors. In a way, this is a tribute to Bowie’s ability to retain a tight control over his career, and to win the trust and respect of the musicians and producers he’s worked with. Of course, a reasonable quantity of out-takes emerged during the course of the Rykodisc/EMI reissue campaign of Bowie’s RCA albums, most of which included some previously unheard or rare material. In retrospect, though, that series looks increasingly like another opportunity missed, because as this two-part feature will show, there are plenty more fascinating demos and out-takes lurking about.
The first documented Bowie out-takes date from December 1964, when he was a member of suburban R&B band the Manish Boys and still using the name Davy Jones. After one single, “Liza Jane“, issued on the Decca subsidiary Vocalion and credited to Davie Jones & the King Bees, two further songs were recorded, probably for Decca, at Regent Sound Studios in London. “Hello Stranger” was written by “Baby I’m Yours” soulstress Barbara Lewis; “Love Is Strange”, a hit for the Everly Brothers in October 1965, was not a Jones/Bowie original. Neither song was released, or has yet emerged on the collector’s circuit.
…..Shortly after this episode, the Manish Boys were picked up by Parlophone for whom they recorded their first and only single with David, the earthy “I Pity The Fool“, produced by Shel Talmy and issued in March 1965.
…..None of Bowie’s bands from the early-to-mid 60s lasted long. Within a few days of the release of the Manish Boys 45, he quit the band and teamed up with the Lower Third, with whom he issued three singles for Pye. In May 1965, the band entered Central Sound Studios and cut at least one track, “Born Of The Night”, a Bowie original which was announced as an imminent single. In fact, it got no further than demo stage: on hearing the song, Shel Talmy rejected it.
…..Around the same time, the band went into R.G. Jones Studios in Morden, Surrey, on 20th May 1965 and recorded some commercials for American radio. At least one of these was for ‘Youthquake’ clothing. These recordings also seem to have gone AWOL.
…..Despite rejecting their first effort, Talmy persevered with the Lower Third, and a few scratchy acetates survived in his collection. Five of these, two full band arrangements, and three vocal and guitar demos, were included on Rhino’s superb “Early On (1964-1966)” collection, issued back in 1991.
…..It’s easy to see why this material progressed no further: “I’ll Follow You” and “Glad I’ve Got Nobody“, the two band workouts, are derivative slices of 60s pop, with nods to the Beatles and the Who respectively. The three basic demos feature erratic vocals from Bowie: on “That’s Where My Heart Is“, he ends up sounding like Gene Pitney, while “I Want My Baby Back” features a Bowie falsetto and probable vocal accompaniment from Dennis Taylor. “Bars Of The County Jail“, a strange hybrid of British folk and music-hall elements, is probably the strongest song. And it was those elements which came to play a major role in Bowie’s music over the next few years.
Whether these Talmy demos were taped at R.G. Jones is uncertain, but the studio records suggest that David recorded more than just commercials there. On the 9th and 10th June 1965, he was booked in with ‘the David Jones trio’ (probably the receptionist’s interpretation of the Lower Third’s name), though the second of these sessions was cancelled. He returned, this time definitely with the Lower Third, for a four-hour session on 31st August, and a further two-hour stint the following day. It’s likely that the contents of those last two visits were pressed onto acetate for the band’s guitarist, Denis ‘Tea-cup’ Taylor, who picked up the disc on 3rd October, 1966, long after the Lower Third had ceased to exist. It’s quite possible that at least some of these songs were the ones which turned up on the Rhino set.
…..Another unreleased demo from 1965 was the Tony Hatch-produced “London Boys“, taped by Bowie and the Lower Third at Pye’s Marble Arch Studios around September/October. Bowie revisited the song months later with the Buzz, when it was issued as a solo single by Deram.
…..By February 1966, Davy Jones – restyling himself David Bowie had teamed up with a new band, the Buzz, who were soon playing with him uncredited. Returning to the R.G. Jones Studio, Bowie taped a two-track session, subsequently immortalised on an Oak label acetate, and consisting of “That’s A Promise” and an early version of “Silly Boy Blue“.
…..This pairing was pressed as a bootleg 45 in the early 80s, and has more recently appeared on the “Pierrot In Turquoise” CD of 60s out-takes. “That’s A Promise” betrays a strong Kinks influence and Bowie’s increasing confidence. “Silly Boy Blue”, which bears different lyrics to those on the later Decca version, is another of his suburban London vignettes. Note that the surviving acetate is damaged, hence the jump 1’20” into “That’s A Promise”.
…..One further Buzz-era out-take, “Over The Wall We Go“, survives, again on a bootleg 7”. It’s most notable for being the first Bowie lyric to incorporate a camp/gay element; and for the earliest appearance of his ‘character’ voices, which have been a feature of his studio work ever since.
…..The track was taped by Bowie and the Buzz around July 1966, and though it was broadcast on Radio London shortly after, the planned single release never happened. The song was later picked up by Peter Nicholas, then beginning his career, who issued it under the name Oscar. A simple guitar and vocal demo of “Over The Wall We Go” was discovered tagged onto the end of the “Ernie Johnson” tape, auctioned at Christie’s earlier this year. This has yet to find its way onto the collector’s market.
…..Around the same time as “Over The Wall We Go”, Bowie taped a demo of “Love You Till Tuesday“, one of his best-known pre-“Space Oddity” songs. This version, which appeared on bootleg 45 during the early 80s, was also tucked away at the end of the “Ernie Johnson” tape. This solo demo features Bowie, a scratchily-played electric guitar and a foot stomp to keep the rhythm consistent. You can almost imagine him sitting on his porch in suburban Bromley! A short bridging verse here was edited out of the final lyric though that’s hardly a catastrophe.
…..Incidentally, a 7″ EMIDISC acetate coupling “Love You Till Tuesday” and “When I Live My Dream” (in English/German language versions) turned up at a Sotheby’s auction in 1988, though little more is known about these recordings.
…..On 19th October 1966, Bowie and the Buzz were back at the R.G. Jones Studios, where they taped three titles: “Rubber Band“, “The London Boys” and “Please Mr. Gravedigger“. Decca (via its Deram subsidiary) released the first two on 45 in December 1966, though this particular version of “Please Mr. Gravedigger” went missing from Decca’s vaults (the take which appears on Bowie’s self-titled debut album was recorded later). It does survive among collectors, but has yet to appear on vinyl or CD.
…..Bowie’s first album, taped between November 1966 and February 1967, has yielded very few out-takes, although alternate versions of most of the songs are still held in Decca’s vaults. Two songs left off the album, “Pussy Cat” and “Funny Smile”, are carefully guarded by a Bowie collector, though these full band efforts are said to be in the style of “She’s Got Medals” and “Join The Gang” hardly classics, in other words.
…..Interestingly, neither title is mentioned in Ken Pitt’s memoirs, ‘David Bowie The Pitt Report‘, or in John Tracy’s sleeve notes for the Deram LP’s CD reissue, but then neither are Bowie’s versions of “Waiting For The Man” and “Little Toy Soldier” from this time.
…..Bowie first discovered the Velvet Underground via an acetate of their debut album, brought back from New York by Ken Pitt, who’d visited the Warhol crowd in November 1966. The impact was apparently instant, and it’s highly likely that Bowie recorded his first version of “Waiting For The Man” during the Deram album sessions, predating the release of the Velvet Underground’s debut.
…..His polite beat group treatment, featuring saxophone and harmonica, was idiosyncratic but was not a great success, and far removed from the powerful versions he cut later with the Spiders for BBC Radio.
“Little Toy Soldier” is even more bizarre. It plunders the Velvets’ “Venus In Furs” for its chorus, and even shares the subject-matter sado-masochism. But while the Velvets’ song reeks of decadence, Bowie’s is presented in music-hall style, along the lines of ‘What the butler saw’.
…..1967 was a troublesome year for Bowie. Despite the release of his debut album, his career was still struggling to take off. Decca’s attitude didn’t help, either. In May, he demoed three titles, which were passed on to Manfred Mann producer John Burgess. Of those, the opportunist “Summer Kind Of Love” has disappeared completely, while “Everything Is You” was subsequently picked up by the Beatstalkers, though again, Bowie’s version is lost. A third, “Going Down”, recently emerged on the “Ernie Johnson” tape. Described by Peter Doggett in these pages a few months back as “fragmentary” and “possibly incomplete”, its discovery at least gives hope that further tapes may be tucked away in attics awaiting discovery.
…..A signed EMIDISC acetate, coupling “Everything Is You” with the previously unheard of “Social Girl”, recently sold through the pages of this magazine for £1,500, though the level of interest suggested that it could have gone for more.
Also recorded during May 1967 was a demo of “Silver Tree Top School For Boys“. Again, this was snapped up by the Beatstalkers, but like the rest of his May ’67 work, the original demo remains beyond the grasp of collectors.
…..Bowie’s problems with Decca boiled down to a lack of promotion and their constant rejection of his material. In September 1967, he recorded “Karma Man” and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” for release as a potential single, a session which marked the beginning of his professional relationship with producer Tony Visconti. Although they held up better than most of his work for Decca, the label rejected the tracks. His next move was to couple “Karma Man” with a new version of “When I Live My Dream” (which turned up in remixed form on Decca’s 1984 vinyl soundtrack for the ‘Love You Till Tuesday‘ film), but this was again rejected. The first two tracks were eventually issued on “The World Of David Bowie” compilation, while all three have since appeared on bootleg 45s.
…..Late in 1967, Bowie demoed “C’est La Vie”, which was then offered to “Let’s Dance” hitmaker Chris Montez. He passed on it. A candidate for a planned second Deram album, “C’est La Vie” was consigned to oblivion until 1993, when an acetate of Bowie’s demo was sold at Christie’s. It’s now in the hands of a German collector who has not yet allowed the recording to circulate.
…..Towards the end of 1967, Bowie linked up with Lindsay Kemp and his mime troupe for a production called ‘Pierrot In Turquoise’, for which he performed five songs. These may have included two new versions of “When I Live My Dream”, though not the acoustic “The Mirror” and “Columbine” (both probably bootlegger’s titles rather than Bowie’s own), which were written for the ‘Pierrot’ production filmed for Scottish Television in February 1970 under the title ‘The Looking Glass Murders’. Likewise one final new song, “Threepenny Pierrot“, a piano-based ditty which utilised the same melody line as “London Bye Ta Ta”.
…..None of these recordings is particularly exciting, all of them being subservient to the needs of the performance. They’re most easily sampled on the “Pierrot In Turquoise” bootleg CD issued a couple of years back.
…..By far the most remarkable discovery on recent years has been the “Ernie Johnson” tape, which was put up for auction in June Christie’s. The first mention of this came in Ken Pitt’s book, when he refers to it fleetingly as “a four-page project … which tells the story of Ernie’s suicide party”. The tape and lyrics reveal that “Ernie Johnson” was a thirty-minute-plus mini rock opera, probably intended for film or TV.
…..It’s likely that “Ernie Johnson” dates from around February 1968, by which time Bowie was [sic] access to multi-track facilities, which enabled him to overdub vocals, acoustic and electric guitars and some footstomping rhythm on the ten songs. As Peter Doggett said in his analysis of the tape back in June: “The plot couldn’t be described as finely-tuned … Ernie’s staging a suicide party, at which Tiny Tim is one of the guests; Ernie remembers his passing loves from the previous year; he has a racist conversation with a tramp; sings a song to himself in the mirror; rushes off to Carnaby Street to buy a tie for the big occasion of his suicide and there the song and stage directions come to an end.”
…..The ten songs included are as follows: “Tiny Tim” (camp lyrics sung over a variant of the Searchers’ “Sweets For My Sweet”); “Where’s The Loo” (comic, proto-“Queen Bitch”); “Season Folk” (Jimmy Webb-influenced); “Just One Moment Sir” (conversation piece between the tramp and Ernie); and a suite of songs under the collective title of “Various Times Of Day”, marked by some distinctive, multi-layered vocals. These include “Early Morning”, “Noon-Lunchtime” and “Evening”. “Ernie Boy” (monologue), “This Is My Day” and an untitled song which features the strangest music on the tape, bring “Ernie Johnson” to a close. It’s very much Bowie’s lost rock opera, and it would be wonderful if extremely unlikely if it could enjoy a wider audience. As the tape went unsold at the auction, there is little hope that it will be made available, officially or otherwise, in the foreseeable future.
…..Auctions have proved to be something of a boon in recent years. In the same lot as the aforementioned “C’est La Vie” acetate, sold at Christie’s back in 1993, was a two-sided acetate containing “London Bye Ta Ta” and “Angel Angel Grubby Face”. The latter is another song listed for a possible second album for Decca/Deram, and its existence suggests that the planned record progressed a bit further than once thought.
…..To these can be added “When I’m Five“, which was also demoed and recorded early in 1968. Somewhat twee on the surface, but with a disturbing subtext, “When I’m Five” was first aired on a ‘Top Gear’ session. A studio session, recorded at some point during the spring, was used on the soundtrack of the ‘Love You Till Tuesday‘ film, now available on CD.
…..The final break with Decca came after the label rejected another proposed single, “London Bye Ta Ta” and “In The Heat Of The Morning“, produced by Tony Visconti in March 1968. Whereas the other Decca rejects were all later released, this version of “London Bye Ta Ta” remains untouched. That’s because the master tape went missing (though the recording still survives on acetate). It’s nowhere near as rocky as the 1970 version, and contains a Visconti string arrangement that was dropped for the later recording.
…..“London Bye Ta Ta” can be found on either the “Naked And Wired” and the “Pierrot In Turquoise” CDs, the latter also boasting a rough mix of “In The Heat Of The Morning”.
…..After their failure to release “London Bye Ta Ta”, Bowie quit Decca and formed a trio with girlfriend Hermione Farthingale and the Misunderstood’s guitarist Tony Hill. Hill soon left and was replaced by former Buzz member, John Hutchinson, and the group changed its name to Feathers. Bowie’s publisher Essex Music agreed to put money up for an independently-produced single that could be offered to record companies.
…..On 24th October, the trio recorded two songs, “Ching-A-Ling” and “Back To Where You’ve Never Been”, at Trident in Soho, both produced by Tony Visconti. While nothing has been heard of the latter, “Ching-A-Ling” is familiar, being bootlegged extensively during the late 70s/early 80s until it was finally released (in remixed form) as part of the ‘Love You Till Tuesday‘ soundtrack. An earlier mix also circulates on tape, but the quality of the recording is rather poor.
…..As a song, “Ching-A-Ling” is no great shakes I mean, what the hell is a “doo-dah horn”? And to add to Bowie’s woes, the track became something of a problem: in the 26th May 1973 edition of ‘Billboard’ magazine, it was reported that a row had broken out between Essex Music and Bowie with regard to copyright assignation. Bowie had presumably assigned the rights elsewhere and Essex were seeking to get them back. But he did at least get something out of it the melody line was later used for “Saviour Machine” on his “The Man Who Sold The World” album.
…..Tantalisingly, that ‘Billboard’ report also mentions two other Bowie songs in the dispute, “Mother Grey” and “April’s Tooth Of Gold”. It seems reasonable to assume that both songs date from around the time of “Ching-A-Ling”, though neither song is mentioned in Ken Pitt’s book, nor do they circulate among collectors. Recorded versions do exist, for it would be extremely difficult to copyright a song for publishing purposes unless it existed in some mechanical form, that is, on tape or acetate. And right on cue, one such acetate cropped up at a London auction in 1994, where it sold for £400.
Pitt cites further titles in his book which formed part of the Feathers repertoire. Of these, “One Hundred Years From Today” may well be a Bowie song, though it’s not known whether it was ever committed to tape. And a final oddity from ’68 is Bowie’s original lyric for a song that eventually became famous as “My Way”. The song’s French publisher commissioned Bowie to write an English lyric; he came up with “Even A Fool Learns To Love” and recorded a version by singing over the original French disc. Unfortunately, fame and fortune were postponed for another year when the publisher rejected Bowie’s lyric, though it’s not lost: an extract was included in the BBC-2 ‘Arena’ documentary on “My Way”.
…..Following his break-up with Hermione (she left him!), Bowie and ‘Hutch’ continued to work as a duo, recording a nine-song bedroom demo for Mercury Records in (probably) April 1969. The entire tape has since enjoyed wide circulation, initially on “The Beckenham Oddity” bootleg (also on CD) and more recently as the “A Letter To Hermione” CD. Unfortunately, at the time of its initial appearance, a mastering fault entered the process, so all current copies of the tape are marred by a wonky sound. One extract, an early version of “Space Oddity“, turned up on Rykodisc’s “Sound And Vision” box set without this fault.
…..Four of the songs looked forward to Bowie’s debut album for Philips/Mercury: “Janine” (with a neat little “Hey Jude” quote), “An Occasional Dream”, “A Letter To Hermione” (which Bowie announces under its original title, “I’m Not Quite”) and “Space Oddity”. Two songs, “When I’m Five” and “Ching-A-Ling”, dated from ’68; while “Conversation Piece” was cut later in the year and ended up providing the flip to Bowie’s first 1970 single, “The Prettiest Star“. The other two songs were covers: Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” (later covered by Elton John on “Tumbleweed Connection”) and “Life Is A Circus“, from American band Djin, who’d been introduced to the singer by Tony Visconti.
…..What’s remarkable about the tape is the intimacy of the performance. At times, the guitars are a little out of tune, and the delivery somewhat ragged (especially on “Conversation Piece” and “Ching-A-Ling”), but none of this really matters, as Bowie’s between-song patter is informative and full of charm (Roy Harper, Tyrannosaurus Rex and John Peel all get namechecked, as does Mrs. Fahrenheit, the piano teacher upstairs).
Meanwhile, the songs are close to the eventual studio versions, though the blend of Bowie and Hutchinson’s voices, which is especially good on “Love Song”, suggests that Bowie had his eye on developing a folkish duo in the mould of Simon and Garfunkel.
…..Another song demoed for Mercury (and apparently from the same “Beckenham Oddity” tape) has survived on a scratchy acetate. Titled “Lover To The Dawn“, it’s an early version of “Cygnet Committee“, and has turned up on the “Naked And Wired” bootleg CD. It’s another duo performance and is musically close to the finished version, which is remarkable because the lyrics appear to be about Hermione Farthingale. Bowie obviously changed his mind, because the official version is a cautionary tale about radical student politics.
…..Although Rykodisc’s “The Man Who Sold The World” reissue contained a good selection of bonus tracks, several items were still left untouched. Happily, the 8th January 1970 recording of “London Bye Ta Ta” was excavated for the “Sound And Vision” box, though collectors had been aware of its existence since it first turned up on an unofficial 45 in 1979. This take was faster and stronger than the 1968 version, and yes, Ken Pitt was right: it would have made a better single than “The Prettiest Star” (hmm ed.).
…..Also recorded in January was “Lightning Frightening“, now out as a bonus cut on “TMWSTW”. It has been suggested that the track was an out-take from that album, but it clearly doesn’t feature Mick Ronson on guitar, hence my earlier dating. Oddly, Ryko chose to fade the song in, rather than start at the beginning, so this edited version is some 20 seconds shorter than it should be. For the full unexpurgated treatment, the “Missing Links One Ziggy” CD is happy to oblige.
…..Other alternate “TMWSTW” tracks in circulation include a rough home demo of “The Supermen” by the band. The lyrics are slightly different and drummer John Cambridge is clearly having difficulties with the song’s time signature. Beware a so-called alternate “All The Madmen”, which features different percussion (reproduced almost identically for the 1993 “Buddah In Suburbia” [sic] title track!) it’s a fake.
…..A final home demo, allegedly taped at Bowie’s Beckenham home, Haddon Hall, in May 1970, also exists. The suitably dreary “Tired Of My Life” is essentially an acoustic demo of a song Bowie later rewrote as “It’s No Game” for “Scary Monsters“. Once again, “Missing Links One Ziggy” is the place to find this trio of out-takes.
…..By the end of 1970, Bowie had secured a new publishing contract with Chrysalis Music, and was frequently in Radio Luxembourg’s recording studios cutting demos. Technically, the studio was primitive, but more crucially, it was cheap.
…..One of these demos, taped in December 1970, was “Oh! You Pretty Things“, which was given to ex-Herman’s Hermits vocalist Peter Noone, who enjoyed a big hit with it the following spring. Bowie’s demo isn’t available to collectors, though its existence is confirmed by Bowie’s publisher Bob Grace in Peter and Leni Gillman’s ‘Alias David Bowie‘ biography.
…..Next month: the changing fortunes and faces of Bowie’s rarities during the 70s.
…..Many thanks to David Wells for supplying details of the R.G. Jones studio sessions and, for their advice, to Laurence Hallam, Mark Paytress, Kevin Cann, and to Steve Pafford, editor of ‘Crankin’ Out!’. For information on ‘Crankin’ Out! The International David Bowie Magazine’, send an SAE/2 IRC’s to P.O. Box 3268, London NW6 4NH.
…..[Also included with this feature is the following small article, presented as a newspaper clipping from early 1965 (presumably)]
GET YOUR HAIR CUT
BBC TELLS POP MAN
By DOUGLAS MARLBOROUGH
POP SINGER Davy Jones lost a part in a B.B.C. TV show yesterday because he refuses to get his 15-inch-long hair cut.
…..He said last night: “I wouldn’t have my hair cut for the Prime Minister, let alone the B.B.C. It took nearly three years to grow and it’s part of my stock-in-trade.”
…..Blond-haired Davy was due to appear on Monday in B.B.C. 2’s Gadzooks! It’s All Happening, with his group The Mannish Boys, who have slightly shorter hair.
…..“The B.B.C. got a bit stroppy when I said I wasn’t going near a barber except to say ‘Hello.’ My girlfriend isn’t keen on my hair, either. Maybe it’s because I get asked for more dates than she does when we’re out together.”
…..Producer Barry Langford said: “I’m not against long hair, but kids don’t want it any more in their shows.”
…..Davy, a former commercial artist, lives in Plaistow-grove, Bromley, Kent.