Over the Wall We Go

crryon

Over the Wall We Go.

All coppers are nanas!

Here begins Bowie’s brief silly season, whose greatest fruit is our next entry (get ready!). “Over the Wall We Go” is part novelty Christmas song, part topical commentary (there were seemingly endless numbers of prison breakouts in the mid-’60s UK, including the Communist spy George Blake in October 1966) and yet another Bowie pseudo-radio play like “We Are Hungry Men” and “Please Mr. Gravedigger.”

Bowie seems to be auditioning for voice work opportunities here—there’s some Cockney, some dead-on Bernard Bresslaw, even some Lennon-esque Scouse (as well as what sounds like a parody of Pete Townshend’s singing voice, but I’m likely off).

It’s unclear as to when this track was recorded—possibly as early as mid-1966, but most likely during the David Bowie LP sessions in December, where, if so, it was apparently judged to be too much even for a record filled with assorted lunacies like “Gravedigger.” Ken Pitt gave the demo to Robert Stigwood in January 1967, who in turn offered to his new client Oscar Beuselinck. The Oscar single, released in early ’67, got some play on pirate radio stations.

Recorded ca. December 1966; still unreleased, found on bootlegs like The Forgotten Songs of David Robert Jones.

One Response to Over the Wall We Go

  1. Hmmm … an enjoyable but uncharacteristically brief post, if I may say so. Not that we’re talking any kind of masterpiece here – it’s no Laughing Gnome, after all – but I do have some thoughts which may be of interest.

    In the “Oscar” version there is a direct quote from the George Martin production of Spike Milligan’s song Wormwood Scrubs Tango: a con trying to file the prison bars implores the suddenly silenced musicians “Come on lads – another chorus and we’re out of here”.

    Which may have nothing to do with Bowie. But the spoken section at the end of Bowie’s version is very reminiscent of quite a few George Martin comedy productions of Peter Sellers and Milligan.

    So even if the number was responding to the spate of prison breakouts in the sixties, its roots may have been in fifties comedy recordings of the Martin kind.

    I believe it suffers in comparison, however, and had George Martin been handed such a song I suspect he would have suggested drastic pruning at the very least: Wormwood Scrubs Tango is succinct in comparison (and Martin must have liked it as he picked it for a CD compilation of his best work).

    Incidentally, I’m not sure about the chronology, but are there deliberate echoes of This Is the Self Preservation Society in the arrangement for the Paul Nicholas recording?

    Your phrase “pseudo-radio play” seems an apt one, and it reminds me of a remark Martin made about his comedy recordings in general. He lamented the rise of television:

    “I think the fun thing in music stopped, really … because people started listening with their eyes instead of their ears, and that altered what we were doing.”

    Talking about his productions of songs by Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks (Hole in the Ground etc) he made clear that the Martin magic couldn’t be sprinkled on just anything approximating to a novelty song and that the composition itself had to be so shaped as to allow him room. He praised Rudge and Dicks’

    “very clever lyrics and quirky melodies, which hung together so neatly, leaving plenty of space for us to create a sound picture. All we had to do was add the right sound effects and musical arrangements.”

    I’ve written on my own blog a series of posts about possible early influences on Bowies under the title “Gnome Thoughts From a Foreign Country.” The post about Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks from which the George Martin quotes are taken can be found here:

    http://sweetwordsofpismotality.blogspot.com/2010/10/gnome-thoughts-18.html

    Tony

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