Have You Helped to Keep London Swinging Today?
Poster in London shop windows, 1966.
“Join the Gang” is Bowie’s little dig at the London hip set, a tribute to a clique of bright young things—a top model, a sitar player who’s thinking seriously about Buddhism and a West End proto-version of Jim Morrison, raving drunk on stage to a paid audience. Bowie sings in a brisk, arch manner but there’s a slight acrid taste of envy to it. After all, Bowie had had his nose against the glass for years, watching the banquet go on without him. “It’s all a big illusion, but at least you’re in,” he sings. “At least you’re in.”
The music’s an assortment of mid-’60s pop cliches: there’s the funky drummer intro (anyone sampled this? ripe for the picking if not), the manic sitar that bleeds through the opening verse, a honky-tonk piano line and even a dig at the soul-inspired pop Bowie had just deserted—as Bowie touts a club called The Web (“this month’s pick“), the band parodies the opening riff of the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’.”
High-strung from the start, the track ends in a nervous breakdown. Gus Dudgeon, asked by David Buckley to listen to “Join the Gang” again after 25 years, reveled in the noise-fest he had recorded: “There’s a hoover, there’s farts and there’s munching. I think the farts sound pretty genuine to me. One of them’s even got a delay on it.”
Recorded 24 November 1966, on David Bowie.
Top: Mary Quant’s 1966 collection for J.C. Penney.