The first of three singles Bowie would cut in 1966 for Pye (the most cut-rate of all the UK labels, and the home of The Kinks), “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” is also the first in a series of Bowie songs about a provincial kid moving to Mod London and the perils and pleasures that he finds there.
The lyric is mainly vague backstory—the singer has to leave home; he’s blackened the family name (pregnant girl? DUI? burgled apt.?) in some way; he’s on the train platform, blowing off his girlfriend, and both saddened and close to ecstatic about the prospect of exile.
Bowie’s vocal refines the blunt title phrase, though the sentiments are the same; it’s all florid narcissism and the self-dramatics of adolescence. The singer bids farewell to his old football field as if he was the last Moor leaving the Alhambra; he moans that he wishes he was a child again in the desperate manner of someone just sacked from childhood.
Some biographers have suggested the song is Bowie’s kiss-off to his old band, the Lower Third (their break-up, as recounted by Christopher Sandford, was a sad affair in a Bromley club—each member having to unplug their instrument and hand it over to Bowie’s manager, while Bowie sat there “impassively”). But the lyric seems more a character sketch than anything else.
“Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, like all of Bowie’s singles to date, was a flop, maybe because the verses are melodically stronger than the chorus, which is a bit flat. Still, there are some nice touches to this record—the swirling brushstrokes of guitar that open the track, or the way Graham Rivens’s bass becomes a racing pulse rate as the song builds.
Released 14 January 1966 as David Bowie with the Lower Third, Pye 17020 (The 1966 Pye Singles). It was his first-ever U.S. single (flopped, natch), the last single Bowie made with the Lower Third and the first produced by Tony Hatch, who had delivered Petula Clark’s massive hit “Downtown” a year earlier and who later said of Bowie, “his material was good although I thought he wrote too much about London dustbins.”
Bowie revived in the song in the late ’90s and often played it on tour: here’s a 1999 performance.