Well, I pity the fool I said I pity the fool You know I pity the fool I said I pity the fool She'll break your heart one day Then she'll laugh if she walks away Yeah, I pity the fool Well, look at the people Guess you wonder what to do They're just standing there Watching you making a fool out of me Ah, look at the people Bet you wonder what to do Well, they're just standing there Watching you making a fool out of me Yeah, I pity the fool I said I pity the fool Ooh, I pity the fool Well, I said I pity the fool She'll break your heart one day Then she'll laugh as you walk away Well, I pity the fool Well, look at the people Guess you wonder what to do They're just standing there Watching you making a fool out of me Yeah, look at the people Bet you wonder what to do They're just standing there Watching you making a fool out of me I pity the fool I pity the fool that falls in love with you Oh, I pity the fool I pity the fool
The beginning of the year 1965 marked a significant step in the career of the young and ambitious David Jones and his band, the Manish Boys. Due to their supporting acts for the Kinks in December 1964, Leslie Conn brought them in contact with 24-year old American record producer Shel Talmy who was the man behind The Kinks’ and many other aspiring bands’ records (such as The Who, The Bachelors, and Manfred Mann).
Upon their first meeting Talmy liked David right from the start and was of the opinion that he was “ahead of the game”. The result was that David and the Manish Boys had their first actual deal to produce a single, this time with EMI Parlophone. Talmy made them a promising offer they just couldn’t refuse: the A-Side being ‘I Pity The Fool’, a classic charting hit from 1961. ‘Take My Tip’ was designated to be on the B-Side – David’s first self-written song to appear on a single.
‘I Pity The Fool’ was chosen by Shel Talmy himself to be on that single. Later on, the Manish Boys’ organist Bob Solly was quite sure that they never would have been allowed to record at all if it wasn’t for Talmy’s pick. He added: “We thought it was OK because it incorporated the saxes and was what we’d call a ‘builder’.”
The song itself was a cover version of the same Bobby “Blue” Bland soul hit (the songwriting being credited to Deadric Malone which was a pseudonym for Duke Records owner Don Robey), a piece of black popular music and a high charting hit in the US R&B charts in 1961. There were some British R&B bands that leaned on black American soul hits during the mid-60s, among those most successful were The Animals and The Rolling Stones with their hit ‘Little Red Rooster’. The 1961 version of ‘I Pity The Fool’ – probably the biggest hit of Bobby „Blue“ Bland’s career – is sung with such an impudence showing the singer’s contempt and empathy for the next “fool” whose heart would be broken one day by this man-eating kind of woman he has fallen for.
The recordings for ‘I Pity The Fool’ and ‘Take My Tip’ took place at 7pm on 15th January 1965 at the IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place. Before the recordings, around 2.30pm that day David had a short meeting with Shel Talmy at 2i’s Coffee Bar where they rehearsed the songs. During that occasion Talmy introduced him to then-unknown Jimmy Page who listened to the band rehearsals. Page was eventually scheduled to contribute to ‘I Pity The Fool’ as lead guitarist and also by using his new fuzzbox for the solo*. “He was widely excited about it”, Bowie remembered in 1997.
Due to time constraints Shel Talmy only allowed two recordings for each song. This ist he reason why there exist two marginally different versions of ‚I Pity The Fool’ and ‚Take My Tip’. Two band members, Bob Solly and Paul Rodriguez, were not satisfied with the recordings at all. Comparing their version to Bland’s 1961 hit, Rodriguez found that Talmy “ignored some of the best bits […] which was tragic, and we thought the whole bass riff was crude in the extreme. It had a counter-riff which Shel destroyed and it sounded crude and tasteless compared to the original.”
However, the recording was completed and the single scheduled for release on 5th March 1965. The Manish Boys talked Conn out of giving David an individual credit for the single. Instead the single is credited officially only to The Manish Boys – a reason leading to David’s departure from this band later on.
In my opinion, 18-year-old David Bowie made quite a good job on this one. ‘I Pity The Fool’ would not be the last time when he got into black popular music: he would return to the black Philly soul (plastic soul) in his Young Americans album about ten years later. I think this song shows his soulful skills and also demonstrates how he interpreted Bland’s 1961 hit with a little twist. He sings the slow passages around “Well, I pity the fool” in such a nice arrogant and howling way before he starts screaming out “Well, look at people.” I immediately liked this song when I first heard it. It’s straight-up soul.
In order to promote the single David picked up on a publicity scam that he had already begun during November 1964 when he had created the imaginary ‘Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Long-Haired Men’ and made it to a funny TV interview on the Tonight show on 12th November. Now he worked out a scam to raise attention as he said to the Daily Mirror he wasn’t allowed to be invited to the show Gadzooks! It’s All Happening because of his long hair. On the day of the release of ‘I Pity The Fool’ the Manish Boys were photographed in front of the BBC Television centre by the Daily Mirror. The Manish Boys gave a performance on Gadzooks!. David was also interviewed about the single on Ready, Steady, Go!. Unfortunately, neither a video nor the audio tape of the interview have survived over the years.
As mentioned before, two versions of this song exist, the original single version and a demo version. The latter has a somewhat different intonation than the single version. Here you can compare these two versions:
* During the recording sessions Jimmy Page actually inspired Bowie to use a certain guitar riff which he himself didn’t have a use for yet. Bowie would repeat that riff in 1970 for ‘The Supermen’ on his third album The Man Who Sold The World and in 1997 for ‘Dead Man Walking’ on Earthling.
- Vinyl I Pity The Fool (A-Side) / Take My Tip (B-Side) 3/1965
- Vinyl The Manish Boys / Davy Jones & The Lower 3rd EP 1979
- Vinyl Bowie 1965! EP 2013
- CD Early On (1964-1966) 1991
- Davie Jones (vocal, alto saxophone)
- Paul Rodriguez (tenor saxophone, trumpet)
- Woolf Byrne (baritone saxophone)
- Johnny Flux (lead guitar)
- Bob Solly (keyboards)
- John Watson (bass)
- Mick White (drums)
- Jimmy Page (lead guitar)
- Produced by Shel Talmy