Right then, time to settle back for a while. If you’re not a fan of David Bowie then you may want to ignore me for a month or so, although if you’re not a fan of David Bowie then I’m not sure I want to be consorting with you anyway! He was (I hate having to talk about him in the past tense) the greatest rock star of my lifetime, he led the way so many times and when everyone else caught up he simply and effortlessly changed direction. This is where it started…
David Jones had been through his R&B phase with the King Bees and The Manish Boys, had his stab at Mod Pop with the Lower Third with whom he changed his name to Bowie. In late 1966 by now a solo artist he signed with Deram Records and released the single “Rubber Band”, a strange little number concerning a WW1 veteran who loses his girl to the leader of the Rubber Band while he’s at sea. It’s sung in full on Anthony Newley style (Bowie exclaiming toward the end “I hope you break your baton” is quite funny) and was a pointer to what to expect from his forthcoming album.
Deram released “David Bowie” in July 1967. “Rubber Band” was re-recorded for the album and a single “Love You Til Tuesday” was released from it. It’s a strange record of what can only be described as show tunes, but none of them were ever in a show. It opens with “Uncle Arthur” which could almost be a blueprint for Ronnie Corbett’s sitcom “Sorry”, older man lives with Mom, meets girl and goes to live with her, discovers she can’t cook or look after him as his Mom did so leaves girl to go back to live with his Mom and read Batman comics! “There Is A Happy Land” is the first of Bowie’s songs showing his yearning for childhood, “There is a happy land where only children go” says the opening lyric; “Little Bombardier” is a waltz concerning another forces veteran who innocently befriends some children but is warned off by the Police with the line “Leave them alone or we'll get sore, We've had blokes like you in the station before” it’s quite sad really.
To my ears the one great song here is “Silly Boy Blue”which reveals Bowie’s interest in Buddhism and Eastern philosophies. Eastern Philosophy was very fashionable in the mid-Sixties, Bowie took more of an interest than many. In 1966 he visited the Tibet House, a Buddhist centre in London, and talked with one of its teachers. The lyrics of ‘Silly Boy Blue’ mention the Potala Palace in the Tibetan city of Lhasa, reincarnation, the concept of the overself (a self-entity above the five factors of a person’s being), and chela, a servant or student. Above all else it really is a great song, which Bowie re-recorded many years later for his aborted and then posthumously released album “Toy”.
There’s another song concerning children and childhood on Side 2, “Come And Buy My Toys”, and the album closes out with “Please Mr. Gravedigger” which is just flat out strange. It’s an effects heavy track featuring bells, rain and thunder framing a poetic story by a child murderer who is watching and plotting to kill the Gravedigger as he works !
Original copies of “David Bowie” sell for astronomical sums of money (a Stereo copy sold very recently for £2750) so no, I don’t own an original but a Record Store Day Mono/Stereo Blue and Red vinyl copy. If what you know of Bowie is “Heroes” and “Life On Mars” you will find this to be very, very different. For Bowie nerds like me it’s fascinating to see the development from here to Ziggy Stardust in only 5 years.