Rubber Band There's a rubber band that plays tunes out of tune In the library garden Sunday afternoon While a little chappie waves a golden wand Rubber Band In 1910 I was so handsome and so strong My moustache was stiffly waxed and one foot long And I loved a girl while you played teatime tunes Dear Rubber Band, you're playing my tune out of tune, oh Rubber Band Won't you play a haunting theme again to me While I eat my scones and drink my cup of tea The sun is warm but it's a lonely afternoon Oh, play that theme Rubber Band How I wish that I could join your Rubber Band We could play in lively parks throughout the land And one Sunday afternoon, I'd find my love Rubber Band, In the '14-'18 war I went to sea Thought my Sunday love was waiting home for me And now she's married to the leader of the band, oh (spoken) Oh sob... I hope you break your baton
We are now officially entering into Bowie’s Newley-influenced period which lasted until 1968 – long after the release of his debut album David Bowie. The release of his fourth single ‘Rubber Band’ on 2nd December 1966 significantly marks his departure from the Mod scene and forebodes his fascination with vaudevillian theatre themes.
David Bowie’s transition from a Mod to a Newley-esque singer in late 1966 can be explained by the lack of a breakthrough. His preceding Pye singles had all flopped commercially which lead to a termination of his contract with Pye Records shortly after the release of ‘I Dig Everything’. In mid-1966 Bowie was a singer who had been in a handful of bands, with a couple of singles out, but without a real breakthrough – and above all, without a contract. On the positive side, Kenneth Pitt* who had carefully overseen his career that year now got more engaged in pushing Bowie’s career in the right direction. And indeed, Pitt enabled Bowie to have a good shot with the Deram label for which Bowie would soon record his debut album.
By October that year, Bowie was still touring with The Buzz performing most of his songs. He and fellow Buzz bassist Dek Fearnley had envisioned to re-record some of his older songs such as ‘The London Boys’ (a Mod song from way earlier in 1965), and so Pitt enabled them to record a couple of songs on 18th October to approach new record labels. The idea behind this recording was to have enough songs to release an EP with that new label. On that day Bowie and The Buzz (plus trumpeter Chick Norton) recorded two new songs at R.G. Jones’ Oak Studio: ‘Rubber Band’ and ‘The Gravedigger’ (which would later become ‘Please Mr. Gravedigger’, the closing track on 1967’s David Bowie LP). Furthermore, they re-recorded ‘The London Boys’. As was the case with the recording of ‘I Dig Everything’, it also became quite apparent that Bowie and The Buzz were quite inexperienced in terms of a professional arrangement for the recording.** Fortunately, it worked out this time. Fearnley recalled in 1991: “We’d worked out what kind of sound we wanted and had painstakingly written out the notation, but all the timings were wrong. Luckily the musicians interpreted what we had written, and we got through it.”
The recording was a full success, especially because it was well-received when Pitt visited the Decca label on 20th October. Indeed, both head of promotion Tony Hall and album artist manager Hugh Mendl were quite fond of ‘Rubber Band’ when Pitt played the acetate to them. Only four days later, Pitt managed to secure the first album deal for David Bowie when he further met Decca’s in-house producer Mike Vernon. On 27th October it was then decided that both ‘Rubber Band’ and ‘The London Boys’ were strong enough tapes to be released as the first single with the new label.*** Bowie received GBP 100 and GBP 150 for the master tapes of these two songs.
As the official press release above reads, ‘Rubber Band’ was a “love story without a happy ending, it is pathos set to tubas”. Indeed the song reveals quite an extraordinary amount of lyrical and melodic drama. The song features a First World War veteran who misses his pre-wartime girlfriend (who unfortunately is now married to the leader of a brass band). The theatricality, the imagery and the humour is present everywhere in this song: the pun on the term rubber band, the waxed moustache, the Britishness in eating scones and drinking tea, that girlish scream at the end of the song. ‘Rubber Band’ together with further album tracks from 1967’s David Bowie such as ‘Little Bombardier’ and ‘She’s Got Medals’ evoke the brass-buttoned militarism of the Edwardian era, a style that was quite en vogue in 1966/67. Bowie’s military jacket on the cover of his debut album surely add to this effect.
It is furthermore notable to mention that the musical arrangement for ‘Rubber Band’ (and for most of the songs recorded for his debut album) was quite intricate for a musician who mostly wrote rock and blues songs before. ‘Rubber Band’ is very playful with the tempo and instruments: at the end of song the tuba comes to dramatical halt and it appears as if an overly exhausted band is required to stop playing. Just judged by its playfulness the song must be concidered a musical breakthrough for Bowie in 1966. In fact however, ‘Rubber Band’ did not bode very well with the buying audience and did indeed piss off some of his acquaintances in the London Mod scene.
Bowie the Mod was gone, enter Bowie the Newley-impersonator.
Once the single was released on 2nd December 1966**** under Decca’s Deram label, Hugh Mendl became quite worried about the decision to grant Bowie an album deal. Mendl remembered in 2002: “It all went wrong for David at the first Decca A&R meeting. I was personally very excited about David’s first single, but when it was played at Geniusville*****, someone said, ‘Sounds like Tony Newley to me’. From the start, that sealed David’s fate at Decca.” So, ‘Rubber Band’ didn’t perform well at all commercially, and additionally radio stations were not too keen on playing the song “because it’s not commercial and too ‘in’ “, as Horton wrote to Pitt in a letter dated 8th December.
Despite the disappointing commercial performance of ‘Rubber Band’, the magazine Disc gave the single an encouraging review: “I do not think ‘Rubber Band’ is a hit. What it is is an example of how David Bowie has progressed himself into being a name to reckon with, certainly as far as songwriting is concerned. He is not the David Bowie we once knew. Even a different voice – distinctly reminiscent of a young Tony Newley – has emerged. Listen to this record then turn it over and listen to ‘The London Boys’, which actually I think would have been a much more impressive topside. But both are worth rethinking about.”
Although the single flopped considerably Bowie decided to re-recorded ‘Rubber Band’ on 25th February 1967 at Decca’s Studio 2 for the inclusion on his debut album. The album version of ‘Rubber Band’ is a tad slower and perhaps a bit inferior to the single version. Furthermore, the album version differs to the single version in that there are two differences in the lyrics. For no apparent reason, Bowie replaced the year ‘1912‘ by ‘1910‘ and also added a spoken line at the end of the song: “I hope you break your baton“. Listen to the album version via the following link:
Two years later by 3rd February 1969 Bowie, who hadn’t really advanced much in his musical career after his first album, was filming for a promotional film containing a couple of songs from the album as well as a handful of new songs (such as ‘Space Oddity’). The promotional film, entitled Love You Till Tuesday, also included his recorded performance for ‘Rubber Band’. As you can see in the video below, Bowie played a mustachioed geezer in blazer and boat hat watching an imaginary brass band and whimsically singing the album version of this song. Truly a gem.
On a personal note, I must say I have always liked this song very much. It’s certainly not his best, but I like the strangeness of it, and the imagery. What a bold move that change from Mod to Newley was.
* Pitt had a huge knowledge about musical theatre, so maybe that is where a lot of the influence on Bowie’s interest in theatricality came from.
** That was actually the reason why The Buzz was completely replaced by some other session musicians during the recording of ‘I Dig Everything’.
*** Ken Pitt also worked on releasing the single in the US. On 10th November 1966 he met Walt Maguire in New York who worked for Decca’s US label London Records. Maguire also liked ‘Rubber Band’ and agreed to release the single but, interestingly, dropped ‘The London Boys’ as B-Side because of the reference to pill-popping and drug taking. Instead he chose Bowie’s new recorded song ‘There Is A Happy Land’ as B-Side. It needs to be added though that ‘Rubber Band’ was never commercially released in the US, but rather sent to radio stations as promotional only release in June 1967. One month after the single’s release in the US Maguire wrote to Pitt expressing his disappointment: “I’m not happy with the results.”
**** Literally on that same day Bowie and his band The Buzz, with which he had still recorded quite a handful of songs for his debut album, parted ways. However, some band members stayed with David and recorded a couple more songs (namely Dek Fearnley).
***** Geniusville: a term coined by Mendl for the weekly Decca meetings of the company executives to listen to the latest recordings.
- Vinyl Rubber Band (A-Side) / The London Boys (B-Side) 12/1966
- CD The Deram Anthology: 1966-1968 1997
- Vinyl David Bowie Album 6/1967
- CD David Bowie – Deluxe Edition Album 2010
- Promo Love You Till Tuesday 1969
- DVD Love You Till Tuesday 2005
- David Bowie (vocal, guitar, saxophone)
- Dek Fearnley (bass)
- John Eager (drums)
- Derek Boyes (organ)
- Chick Norton (trumpet)
- Produced by David Bowie & Dek Fearnley
- Arranged by Dek Fearnley & David Bowie