David Bowie was born on 8th January 1947 in Brixton, London. His real name was David Jones. He sang and occasionally played sax in a part-time group The Kon-Rads during 1962/63 but his first full-time band was Davie Jones and The King Bees, which he formed with George Underwood in 1964. When the group split up at the end of 1964 Bowie moved to The Manish Boys, although they lasted only a few months, but issued one single.
In June 1965 Bowie formed a new outfit The Lower Third. After releasing a 45 for Parlophone You've Got A Habit Of Leaving the band were spotted playing at London's Marquee by Ken Pitt who became their manager. Bowie also penned an earlier single for them, Born Of The Night, which may exist in acetate format. By now David Jones was using the name David Bowie. The first single, Can't Help Thinking About Me, was one of the best of his early days. A beautiful song with idiosyncratic lyrics it got considerable airplay on pirate station Radio London but failed to become a hit. The group split up after this and Bowie advertised in the music press to form a new outfit The Buzz (line-up: Derek Boyles (organ), John Eager (drms), Dek Fearnley (bs) and John Hutchinson (gtr), who was later replaced by Billy Gray). They weren't credited on the next soul-influenced single Do Anything You Say. The follow-up I Dig Everything was a more mod-influenced recording with some distinctive organ, recorded without assistance from The Buzz, who disbanded shortly after its release. After this Pye didn't extend his contract and he was back in the studio recording demos which included Please Mr. Gravedigger, The London Boys and Rubber Band. He took these round the record companies and won a contract with Deram in September 1966. There's also an Oak album of jingles which Ken Pitt owns.
His debut 45 Rubber Band was a novelty song with rather sentimental lyrics. The flip slide was the much more interesting The London Boys, about the obsessive side of Swinging London, which had some haunting organ work. This is considered by many to be his magnum opus for Deram. He'd earlier recorded a version produced by Tony Hatch in 1965 for a possible single, which was shelved. Love You Til Tuesday (later issued by Decca in 1975) was first recorded in 1965 and acetates are believed to exist.
Another Bowie song, Over The Wall, was covered by one Oscar (Paul Nicholas), who later went on to enjoy a successful acting career. Meanwhile, Bowie's next 45 was an unashamedly ultra-commercial load of rubbish, The Laughing Gnome, a novelty song sung in a sort of Anthony Newley style. It wasn't a hit on this occasion but later proved a considerable embarrassment to Bowie when it was reissued in 1973 and rose to No 6 in the Charts.
His debut album, David Bowie, released in June 1967, included his early single Rubber Band alongside a collection of pop songs and some vaudeville-inspired songs. One of the better cuts, Love You Till Tuesday, was later issued as a 45. This is now one of his more collectable singles. The album got promising reviews but the sales didn't take off and after Decca rejected the next three singles that Pitt submitted for Bowie (Let Me Sleep Beside You, When I Live My Dream and In The Heat Of The Morning) Pitt decided to terminate the contract with Deram. There are various acetates in existence from Bowie's time with Deram which now sell for several hundred pounds. Original pressings of the David Bowie album are now very rare.
After his association with Deram ended Bowie took mime and dance lessons from Lindsay Kemp and went on to appear in Kemp's mime production of 'Pierrot In Turqoise' in Oxford. He also worked with producer Tony Visconti on a number of tracks for BBC's 'Top Gear' and played a minor role in the film 'The Virgin Soldiers'.
His next band was a short-lived vocal trio called Turquoise, which soon changed its name to Feathers. The other members of the trio were Bowie's girlfriend, Hermione and former Buzz guitarist John Hutchinson.
When Feathers disbanded in February 1969 Bowie made a 30 minute film with Pitt, which was designed for TV; auditioned for the rock musical 'Hair'; toured the UK as a support act for Tyrannosaurus Rex and recorded an early demo of Space Oddity, which was used to secure a new contract with Philips on 20 June. He re-recorded a version of it the same day with producer Gus Dudgeon. He got a big break when the BBC used the song during their coverage of the first moon landing the following month. This almost certainly aided its breakthrough into the Charts where it eventually peaked at No 5.
The success of Space Oddity prompted Decca to issue The World Of Davie Bowie compilation in 1970. In addition to some cuts from the original David Bowie album, it contained The London Boys (the flip side of his debut 45 for Deram) and three previously unissued tracks - Karma Man, In The Heat Of The Morning and Let Me Sleep Beside You. The album was one of the last Decca ones issued in both mono and stereo versions and the mono releases are now quite collectable. It didn't sell well at the time but was later repackaged in 1973 at the prime of the Ziggy Stardust era with a Ziggy-type picture on the sleeve which sold much better.
Aside from its Chart success Space Oddity was widely recognised for its originality and received an award from the UK Songwriters in recognition of this.
In February 1970 Bowie formed a new backing band called Hype, comprising John Cambridge (drms), Mick Ronson (gtr) and Tony Visconti (bs). For his next 45 he chose The Prettiest Star, which he had written for his future wife Angie Barnet. The disc was issued in March 1970 and the couple married at Bromley Registry Office on 20 March. David had met Angie at a reception at the Speakeasy Club in London the previous Summer. The 45 attracted very little interest and shortly after its release Bowie parted company with Ken Pitt who Bowie felt was holding him back. His new manager was Tony De Fries, who'd originally been drafted in to handle Bowie's financial affairs.
For the next 45 a lengthy re-recorded version of Memory Of A Free Festival was selected. It had originally appeared on his first album and was now split over both sides of the 45, making it a strange choice for release. Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey had replaced John Cambridge on drums in Hype by the time of this recording. Sales were disappointing and this was a major factor (as with his previous and successive single) in explaining why it's an expensive purchase nowadays.
His next album, The Man Who Sold The World, was issued in the US in November 1970 in a cartoon cover. It sold very few copies and Mercury arranged for a tour to help promote it early the following year. Work permit difficulties prevented David from playing live but his penchant for wearing dresses during the visit in Texas and LA won him much publicity. Whereas Space Oddity had been a largely acoustic set this album was full of dark doom-laden music punctuated by Ronson's incisive guitar riffs with a backing which included a moog synthesizer. Bowie's vocals were cold and impersonal but his voice and the music were ideally suited to the subject matter of many of the songs whose characters were often on the verge of insanity. It's an excellent album and anyone not familiar with it should investigate it immediately. The title track, in particular, was one of Bowie's finest moments. Boosted by his promotional visit it helped establish him as a cult figure in the States. When it was later released here in the UK in April 1971 early copies came with a different sleeve with Bowie wearing a dress. This was quickly withdrawn and, as many of you will know, original pressings bearing this sleeve are now major collectors' items. A non-album 45, Holy Holy, was also released but flopped. Another Bowie song, Oh! You Pretty Things (which would appear on his next album) was recorded by Peter Noone and became a Top Ten hit.
The early seventies were a particularly creative period for Bowie and he formed a new act Arnold Corns, based around his dress designer Freddi Buretti to help market his material. Three demos were sold to BÇ Records:- Hang Onto Yourself, Man In The Middle and Moonage Daydream. These were released on two 45s: Moonage Daydream/Hang Onto Yourself and Hang Onto Yourself/Man In The Middle. Neither single sold at all and consequently original pressings are now very hard to track down. The other member of this band was Mark Carr Pritchard (bs) but the backing on these tracks was provided by Ronson, Woodmansey and former Rat Trevor Bolder.
The Man Who Sold The World album was eventually issued here in the UK in April 1971 in a sleeve showing Bowie in a dress. The album was later withdrawn and copies of these original pressings, which only sold in small quantities, are now highly prized collectors' items. (The album was later reissued by RCA in September 1972).
Arnold Corns split up in March 1971 after the failure of their single and Tony De Fries, having pressed 500 copies of a promo album which featured Bowie on one side and Dana Gillespie on the other, used it to win Bowie a new record contract with RCA. A demo 45, Bombers/Eight Line Poem, was put out only in the US. Needless to say, it is now very rare and sought-after by Bowie collectors. December 1971 saw the release of Hunky Dory. The album didn't sell well at first and was patchy, but it did contain some of his finest moments in Changes, Life On Mars?, which both had considerable commercial potential (indeed the former was his next single), the more sensitive Quicksand and Queen Bitch. It also contained Oh! You Pretty Things. More irritating was Andy Warhol, a song Bowie had originally written for Dana Gillespie. Although the Changes single failed to Chart here it did get to No 66 in the US.
He toured the UK in February 1972, now naming his backing band (Trevor Bolder (bs), Mick Ronson (gtr, vcls) and Woody Woodmansey (drms)) The Spiders. In the US, meanwhile, Hunky Dory, belatedly entered the Charts, creeping to No 93 in April, whilst here in the UK Starman was released as a single, eventually climbing to No 10 here and No 65 in the US. It was followed in June by The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, the album which gave him his big breakthrough in the UK where it climbed to No 5 (it reached No 75 in the US). This was a much more consistent album than Hunky Dory, though similar in style. Again it contained several classic Bowie songs - Suffragette City, Rock'n'Roll Suicide, Five Years, Moonage Daydream, the title track and Starman. It also introduced Bowie acting the role of Ziggy, a sort of bisexual otherworldly astronaut, a prophet of both doom and extravagance - it all made for wonderful rock theatre.
Bowie was now a household name and the less interesting but weird John I'm Only Dancing 45 was released as a 45 in the UK climbing to No 12. Hard on the heels of the success with Ziggy Stardust his previous album Hunky Dory belatedly climbed to No 3 in the UK Album Charts. RCA were quick to reissue The Man Who Sold The World and his first album, retitled as Space Oddity. They climbed to No 26 and 17 in the UK and 105 and 16 in the US. The Jean Genie, a pulsating rock song with a great beat, was released the same month. Written during a US tour and recorded in New York it was another big hit here (No 2) but only managed No 71 in the US, where it was left to a reissue of the Space Oddity 45 to give him his first Top 20 hit.
On 25th January 1973 Bowie embarked on a 100 day World Tour which included the US and Japan. His next album, Alladdin Sane, was an enormous commercial success (UK No 1, US No 12) but suffered from being rushed out in the wake of his megastar status. Still, the title track was stunning with some captivating piano playing and it also included another massive UK hit, Drive-In Saturday (No 3) and his earlier 45 release The Jean Genie.
When Bowie completed his World Tour he embarked on a UK tour during which Life On Mars (from Hunky Dory) was released as a 45 by popular demand. It climbed to No 3. The UK tour closed at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3 July 1973, when Bowie announced he had retired from live performing. In fact it later transpired that it was Ziggy Bowie was retiring.
During his 'retirement' Deram reissued his Laughing Gnome 45, causing him considerable embarrassment, particularly since it got to No 6 in the UK Charts. Bowie also recorded a new (and very disappointing) album of his versions of some of his favourite sixties acts' songs. Whilst it contained several classics his treatment of many of them was very disappointing. Despite this, given his popularity and that of many of the songs the album, Pin-Ups, topped the UK Charts. About the best cover version, that of The Merseys' Sorrow, was issued as a 45 peaking at No 3 in the UK.
After this Bowie pursued stage ambitions but when they collapsed he concentrated on his Diamond Dogs album. Only Aynsley Dunbar from his earlier backing band appeared on this album and Bowie took on the lead guitar role. The album had been preceded by the Rebel Rebel 45, which featured superb lead guitar work from Bowie and made the UK Top 5. Surprisingly Rock'n'Roll Suicide (from Ziggy Stardust) was belatedly selected by RCA for the follow-up 45 and it got to No 22 in the UK. In between these two releases Bowie moved to the US to live in April 1974.
To help promote the Diamond Dogs album Bowie embarked on a 'Diamond Dogs' tour, a highly theatrical spectacle which developed some of the concepts on the album further. The album was packaged in a controversial sleeve painting by the Belgium artist Guy Peelaert, which displayed genitalia by the half-Ziggy, half-something else entity on the sleeve. Later copies were altered by RCA but some of the uncensored versions got into circulation and these are now very collectable. The album was another enormous commercial success, topping the Charts here and peaking at No 5 in the US. The title track was issued as a 45 but only charted here, where it climbed to No 21. The 'Diamond Dogs' tour, which had opened in Montreal, Canada, on 14 June, closed at Madison Square Gardens in New York on 20 July 1974. Plans to transfer it to London had to be abandoned because the enterprise didn't seem financially viable.
As 1974 drew to a close Bowie enjoyed another Top Ten hit here in Britain with his cover of Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood and the David Live album, a double set which had been recorded at The Tower, Philadelphia, during the 'Diamond Dogs' tour, rose to No 2 in the UK and No 8 in the US. This was significant for representing the first signs of his gradual shift towards R&B and soul music. In the US, meanwhile, Changes was belatedly issued as a 45 climbing to No 41.
To many Bowie seemed in decline at the start of 1975. There were question marks against his health and he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his manager Tony De Fries, from whom he eventually broke away after a prolonged legal dispute. Bowie surprised many when he bounced back with Young Americans, a funky soul-orientated album which featured John Lennon on a couple of tracks. The album sold very well climbing to No 2 in the UK and No 9 in the US. The title track was released as a 45 making the Top 20 here and No 28 in the US. This was followed by Fame (one of the tracks co-written with Lennon), which again made the Top 20 but did much better in the US, where it held the No 1 spot for two weeks. He also belatedly began an acting career appearing in the Nicholas Roeg-directed movie 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. The film was premiered the following year (on 18 March 1976) in London, though Bowie wasn't present - he was touring the US at the time.
He topped the UK 45 Charts for the first time in October 1975 when Space Oddity was reissued on a three cut 45 with Changes and the previously unreleased Velvet Goldmine.
The soul/funk influence continued in Bowie's music. 1976 began with the Golden Years 45 making the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic. It was taken from his Station To Station album which was another big commercial success peaking at No 5 here and No 3 in the US. To help promote the album, he'd embarked on another World Tour commencing in Vancouver, Canada, on 2 February. Later in May he played six shows at Wembley, which would be his first in the UK since his 'retirement' announcement in July 1973.
TVC-15 was a minor UK hit (No 33) in the Summer of 1976, but this was Bowie well below his best. The compilation of past hits Changesonebowie, which had been compiled by Bowie, served to keep him in the public eye reaching No 2 here and No 10 in the US.
As we leave the time frame of this book, Bowie had moved to live in West Berlin for a while as a semi-recluse. He would continue to be an extremely successful rock star - his next couple of albums marked a change of musical direction again towards a synthesized 'European' sound. That was Bowie all over - there were the prevailing musical fads and trends of the time and there was David Bowie who could usually be relied upon to come up with something different and interesting.
1. Changes (3:33) 2. Oh! You Pretty Things (3:12) 3. Eight Line Poem (2:53) 4. Life On Mars? (3:48) 5. Kooks (2:49) 6. Quicksand (5:03) 7. Fill Your Heart (3:07) 8. Andy Warhol (3:53) 9. Song For Bob Dylan (4:12) 10. Queen Bitch (3:13) 11. The Bewlay Brothers (5:21) All songs written by David Bowie except Fill Your Heart by Biff Rose and Paul Williams.
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