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.
Yes, I've read the morning papers Telling me that you've made money Do you think I'm gonna crawl, then think again Though I'm dressed in rags, I'm richer Though I eat from tins, I'm healthier Though I live in slums, I'm purer than you, my friend Too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend Look around and see the friends The ones you left, our friends deserted See the guys that used to talk and drink with you Don't look down your nose at me 'Cause I won't ask your sympathy I won't be your yes-sir man for anything Too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend I would walk with you Talk with you, drink with you If you drop that halo that you're wearing on the ground Too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend I can get my satisfaction Knowing you won't get reaction What makes me the big attraction anyway It's too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend Too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend Oh, it's too bad, I'm not losing sleep [Too bad] I'm just counting sheep [Too bad] I'm not losing sleep, my friend
The B-Side to 1966’s ‘I Dig Everything’ welcomes Anthony Newley’s influence to Bowie’s vocal style – a style which would feature in a major way on his first album David Bowie. Bowie and Tony Hatch recorded this song on 5th July 1966 with an ensemble of unknown musicians (they weren’t documented for the recording) – excluding Bowie’s actual, but slightly inexperienced band in terms of musical arrangements, The Buzz.
Though ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ cannot be classified as a pure vaudeville-type Newley song, Bowie did try out the showman’s vocal swagger in some parts of this song. But there’s a bit more to this unfairly judged B-Side.
First of all, the song features someone who is totally content in his current socioeconomic status. He basically sings about a friend leaving his poorer background because he started making money and now hangs out with the richer class. But Bowie seems to be quite fond of the fact that he is where he is instead of his friend who makes money. He even gives a little nod to The Rolling Stones, turning their one-year old hit a bit around: “I can get my satisfaction / knowing you won’t get reaction”. So there’s a man who appears to be all satisfied that he is poor.
Furthermore, ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ is slightly remiscent of Petula Clark’s hit ‘Downtown’: the ‘too bad’* backing chorus sounds very similar. However, Bowie structured the song much in the Motown tradition using a recurrent shift between the tonic and the minor 2nd chords which portrays ambition. Considering that Bowie partly used the Newley voice (pay attention to the songs ‘middle eight’ section when he sings “on the ground”) it can be said that ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ can be described as a song where once again Bowie tried out a lot of musical influences.
Contrary to many other Bowie biographers and writers I find ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ to be a good song that is up to the standard of the scene back in the day.
* Funnily, Bowie’s early publisher Sparta released ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ under the title ‘Too Bad’.
I've got the village I love I walk along beside the garbagemen and I dig everything I wave to the policemen, but they don't wave back They don't dig anything Ain't had a job for a year or more and I don't know a thing Everything's spent and I dig everything Everything's spent and I dig everything Dig I feed the lions in Trafalgar Square and I dig everything I've sit just behind my window, till my cigarettes were low and dug everything Got a backstreet room in the bad part of town and I dig everything I'd see people in the street below, who don't know where they're going They don't dig anything Everything's spent and I dig everything Everything's spent and I dig everything Dig I've got more friends than I've had had dinners Some of them were losers, but the rest of them are winners Rick, John, Sally, a connection named Paul Holy low on money, their intentions are tall We smoke and talk in my room and we dig everything Dig I've made myself at home I've made good friends which the time-check girl on the end of the phone All the movie shows I sunbathe for love Even when it's not too hot 'Cause I dig everything Oh yeah
‘I Dig Everything’, recorded on 5th July 1966 and released on 19th August 1966, was Bowie’s third and last single under the Pye label, backed by ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’ as the B-Side.
Tony Hatch, producer of the previous two singles, had booked quite a number of gigs for Bowie and his band The Buzz throughout the spring of 1966. However, after ‘Do Anything You Say’ had flopped it was time for the band to get their act together and release another single to increase their popularity. According to Cann’s Any Day Now, Bowie and The Buzz already tried to record ‘I Dig Everything’ on 6th June at Pye Studios, Marble Arch, including a brass section with Moods trumpeter Andy Kirk. Also part of the arrangement on that day were Dusty Springfield’s backing singers Madeline Bell, Kiki Dee and Lesley Duncan. But the problem with this recording session was that the arrangement with the new brass section and backing singers had not rehearsed that song before – and Tony Hatch was not convinced that this recording would make for a good single.*
5th July, the day of the proper recording of ‘I Dig Everything’ and ‘I’m Not Losing Sleep’, was preceded by a radical change in the band structure of The Buzz: on 15th June the band’s guitarist John Hutchinson had to quit his membership in the band due to the lack a regular financial income. Hutchinson would work with Bowie again, and then more substantially, in late 1967 – but we’ll come to that later. Hutchinson’s departure worsenend not only the atmosphere in the band**, but might have also led to Tony Hatch’s decision to exclude the entire band from recording the new single with Bowie. For the recording, Hatch had booked a couple of session musicians instead of The Buzz. Unfortunately, these musicians are unknown today, they were not documented. Hatch recalled in 1990:
I couldn’t tell you for certain who played on the re-recording but in those days, for ‘rock’ sessions, I always hired great musicians like Jimmy Page, John McLaughlin, Jim Sullivan, Herbie Flowers, Clem Cattini, Tony from Sounds Incorporated, Roger Coulam and Alan Hawkshaw, the ‘hooligans’ of their time. Come to think of it – most of these people also featured on the Petula Clark sessions too.
So, the recording session was successful and ‘I Dig Everything’ was scheduled to be released a month later. In the meantime however, Kenneth Pitt (who had overseen David’s development for quite a while now) sent an advance copy to Vicky Wickhamd, the driving force behind Ready Steady Go!, on 18th July, but received the copy back shortly thereafter with a short comment reading: “Very many thanks for the David Bowie disc. I am sorry, but yet again I really do not think it is a hit. One day I am going to surprise you!”
The single itself was yet another flop in a series of flops David Bowie had witnessed already in his musical career until then. ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’, released earlier in 1966, had perhaps come closest to a chart success (though it can be argued that the charting method was quite biased). Upon its release, the single was met relatively positive: “Another disc that’s perfect for dancing” (NME); David “wrote it himself and sings it, with his voice moving very well against the backing” (Disc & Music Echo).
Though The Buzz were not part of the actual recording of the single, they nonetheless continued to perform live with David Bowie in the coming months and played the new single among other songs***. According to the Kent Messenger, Bowie and his band used a “completely new act” on 26th August by using pre-recorded tapes in their live sets. For this new act they have supposedly rehearsed 8 hours per day. According to Cann, the performance was a disaster due to synchronisation problems between the tape and the songs sung live. The chart failure that ‘I Dig Everything’ was finally led to Pye’s decision to part ways with David Bowie, and hence his contract ended in September that year.
Ironically, from today’s point of view ‘I Dig Everything’ together with ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ can easily be called one of the best tracks Bowie had released until then. The song features a very playful side of the young mod Bowie that he presumably still was. While the song starts of with a dominant Hammond organ it later on develops into a memorisable tune using a Latin-flavoured percussion that gives the song a nice rounding.
Lyrically, the song can be aligned with ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’, ‘The London Boys’ and ‘Join The Gang’ as a story of a young teenager in London leaving his family and old life behind. These songs resemble Bowie’s mod associations. In contrast to ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ the new single features a teenager not leaving but rather having arrived (notably in London as the lyrics suggest), a teenager who is delighted by everything and everyone that he sees: garbagemen, policemen, a bad room, not having had a job for years, his new friend circle. And so on. The song also hints at drug circulating among him and his friends (the “connection”).
This is a song that captures the spirit of Swinging London in 60s: groups of young teenagers hanging out together that do not follow the ordinary and responsible lifestyle as perhaps their parents did. The character in the song is described as a loser without a job and any money, but a sympathetic one. He finds pleasure in everything he sees, interestingly in the most normal things.
‘I Dig Everything’ was not performed anymore in the subsequent decades. Until the late 90s and early 00s when he began to revisit his old song material for some sporadic live performances and the Toy sessions (the album that never was) in 2000. ‘I Dig Everything’ was among those songs that Bowie picked. The song as performed in his summer 2000 concerts can be heard through the link below:
The Toy album version (as leaked onto the internet in 2011) can be heard here:
* Dek Fearnley, bassist for The Buzz, recalled: “The arrangement wasn’t up to it. The horn section were OK at playing soul music, but not what we wanted.”
** In fact, in the weeks after Hutchinson left the band they were forced to give a couple of gigs without a lead guitarist as they simply couldn’t find a suitable replacement on time. John Hutchinson would finally be replaced by former Anteeks guitarist Billy Gray (a more exuberant nature on stage).
*** Interestingly, among those other songs were ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, nowadays a well-known football anthem. Keep in mind that in the summer of 1966 England had won the World Cup beating West Germany at Wembley.