Early BBC clip, Bowie plugs his “Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Long-Haired Men”
Bowie with one of his early groups, I’m not sure which one, 1964….
In the early 90’s the Rolling Stones played a gig at the Trump Casino in Atlantic City, it was being filmed for some sort of pay for view thing so they invited a bunch of worthless “guest stars” as they often do in an attempt to appeal to a younger crowd. In this case Axel Rose, a truly repulsive excuse for humanity was there to duet with Mick (“I do not look like Don Knotts”) Jagger on Sympathy For The Devil. Backstage Mick cornered Axel, and had him tell the story of punching out David Bowie. Jagger loved the story so much he had Axel repeat the tale for Eric Clapton, a friend of mine who saw the exchange said both Mick and Clapton were in hysterics for Bowie is known as a total dog, coming on to any and all attractive women that come near him, whether of not their boyfriend/husband/significant co-dependent/whatever is with them or not. It seems that upon being introduced, Bowie immediately made a play for Stephanie Seymour, and was met with a sucker punch from Axel. I don’t know why I like this story so much, I don’t hate David Bowie, I can only think of one girl that we both slept with and I haven’t seen her in over twenty years.
That said, I do think Bowie was totally over rated, but he made a couple of tunes I liked as a teenager. I bought some of his records, finally giving up with David Live. Like a lot of worthless rock stars (Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Jim Messina and David Gates all come to mind) there are some interesting sides lurking in his catalog, those from the very start of his career.
Caught up in the excitement that was London in the Swinging London/Beat Boom 60’s, Bowie fronted several bands that made fairly cool records. He would attempt to simultaneously
re-create and update the era on the Pin-Ups album (1974, like most rock star “covers” albums, Pin-Ups was recorded while his manager was renegotiating his publishing deal, by not recording any of his own tunes, his manager was attempting to gain leverage over the publishing company, that’s why rock stars record cover albums, not because they’re dying to do other people’s tunes, they lose a lot of money by not recording originals, it’s almost always business move, other variations on this type of power play were Lou Reed releasing Metal Machine Music, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ writing Cocksucker Blues, after Mick sang it for the publishing rep to whom he still owed a dozen tunes to, Jagger asked, “wanna hear the other eleven”? and Miles refusing to record any original material in his final years).
Getting back to David (does anyone call him Dave?) Bowie. It seems he never really went about forming a garage band with his neighborhood pals the way most musicians start out. Bowie simply go around and audition for the front man slot in existing bands, and in this fashion, the young singer/sax player found himself fronting four different bands in two years—the King Bees, the Mannish Boys, the Lower Third and the Buzz, in most cases he was given top billing.
His first disc was recorded under the tutelage of producer Shel Talmy who was riding a hot streak with the Kinks and the Who. Released on Vocalion Pop in the spring of ’64 Liza Jane b/w Louie Go Home, credited Davie Jones with the King Bees is a pretty good debut. The a-side is the old traditional New Orleans tune Little Liza Jane which had been recorded hundreds of times, with excellent rock’n’roll versions from Dale Hawkins (Checker) and Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns (Ace), given a decidedly garage band treatment with a cool little guitar riff kicking things off, and a fuzzy little solo in the middle, the call and response refrain make it almost irresistible. The flip was a cover of the Paul Revere & the Raiders U.S. hit, and while Bowie can’t deliver the type of gritty stomp out sound that the Raiders mastered, it’s still a pretty credible record.
It would be almost a year until Bowie’s next disc appeared, this time as a member of the Mannish Boys and released by Parlophone, the EMI subsidiary whose roster was topped by the Beatles. The Mannish Boys were a more R&B oriented group in which Bowie not only sang but was part of a three piece sax section. The Mannish Boys seem to be modeled on the sound of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames who were one of London’s most popular club acts at the time. The a-side is a cover of Bobby Bland’s Duke classic I Pity The Fool, spiced up by studio hotshot Jimmy Page who was brought in to play the guitar solo. The flipside– Take My Tip which opens with a bass solo is a jazzy, jive talkin’, rather snappy tune. It would have sounded right at home in Georgie Fame’s setlist. In fact, it practically was since it’s basically a rewrite of Yeh Yeh, the tune (written by Sun Ra’s baritone sax player Pat Patrick) that was Fame’s only U.S. hit (Fame’s still around, these days serving as Van Morrison’s musical director and organist).
Another nine months would pass before Bowie’s third single appeared, again on Parlophone, this time credited to Davey Jones-– You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving b/w Baby Loves That Way, show a pronounced influence of the Yardbirds, especially in the harmonica/guitar rave up in the middle section and ending of the a-side, and the distorted guitar breaks. The flipside is more of the same, with a cop from Shapes Of Things thrown in, and a fuzz tone Jeff Beck like guitar solo. It’s probably the best record he ever made. Two un-issued tunes from the session that produced this session turned up later on various “Early Years” CD’s– Glad I’ve Got Nobody and I’ll Follow You are both okay garage band rockers, nothing to wet yourself over but worth hearing at least once in your life.
1966 brought his fourth single, third label, third band, and a new name. Now doing business as David Bowie with The Lower Third, Can’t Help Thinking About Me is probably Bowie’s most autobiographical song. Let’s face it, this is a guy who has spent a lot of time thinking about himself. It was also his most produced and slickest sounding disc to date with vaguely protest lyrics (“it seems I’ve blackened the family name/Mum says she can’t stand the neighbors talking”). It’s also the beginning of Bowie singing like Anthony Newley, belting it out West End style by last verse. The b-side– And I Say To Myself is a fairly catchy pop tune, actually I prefer it to the a-side.
By his fifth single, David Bowie was an official solo artist. Still with Pye, Do Anything You Say was his worst outing, a rather pedestrian tune, I don’t even have anything to say about it. The b-side is better– Good Morning Girl, a jazz tinged rocker, except Bowie attempts to scat sing over the solo which kinda ruins what could have been a passable record. I hate scat singing.Hardly worth downloading, but if you’re curious, here ’tis as the Yardbirds once said paraphrasing Bo Diddley.
His sixth single and last Pye outing, I Dig Everything is more jazzy pop with organ, bongos, percussion and a chorus replacing the guitars, it’s not a bad song at all, but is an awful production, at least to these admittedly tinnitus damaged ears. The b-side– I’m Not Losing Sleep, another protest-pop tune (“don’t look down your nose at me”), suffers from the same type of backing, although at least there’s a cool fuzztone guitar riff to hold it together, both sides would have sounded much better had they used the same band heard on You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving. In fact, I’m not even sure why I wasted time posting this disc, I guess it’s the completest in me rearing its dreary head. If you look at the dates, it seems like Bowie pretty much gave up on rock’n’roll around late ’65, he wouldn’t record another electric guitar dominated record until The Man Who Sold The World six years later. After his final Pye single he moved over to Deram and recorded a couple of really goofy pop records like The Laughing Gnome and others I wouldn’t even bother having around my house. Also, like our last subject, Heinz, he spent some of that time studying mime, which must say something unpleasant about his tendencies– what kind of person would give up fronting a garage band and start miming? A rather desperate chap I’d say. Much (too much in fact) has been written about Bowie being influenced by the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, but personally, I just can’t hear it.
Even his hardest rocking records (the three albums issued in ’74– Alladin Sane/Pin-ups and Diamond Dogs) sound more like Cream/Led Zepplin/Stones/Who influenced British rock to these ears than our beloved American purveyors of feedback, drone and self hatred.
When prod comes to nudge and we must choose our glam rock guilty pleasures (at least those of us who came of age in the early 70’s), I guess I’ve always preferred T. Rex who never strayed too far from Chuck Berry riffs and had the good sense to die young. Besides, I lost my virginity to Electric Warrior at age 14. Or one side of it, remember those automatic turntables that would plop a series of discs on the spinner, then when they all played through you’d turn the whole pile over and let the other sides plop? Well Electric Warrior was in the pile (don’t ask what the other four were). The real question is why have I been so pre-occupied with these British wimps all week long? Blame the shuffle button. Next post will be a raw, dirty, American
R&B and blues artist, wanna take a guess who it’ll be?