Bowie’s first LP was essentially finished in mid-December 1966 but Deram sat on it for more than six months. In February 1967, Bowie cut two new tracks that became last-minute additions, leavening the album’s weirdness with more standard pop.
Much like “Sell Me a Coat,” “When I Live My Dream” has a lovely melody burdened with awkward lyrics (“the trees will play the rhythm of my dream” ?) and smothered (in later versions) by an overdone arrangement. Whenever Bowie deliberately tried to write for a mainstream audience in this period, as he appeared to be doing here, he fell into weak artifice. He could easily connect with the sad, the lost and the eccentric, but found it difficult to, basically, write for squares.
That said, Bowie and his manager Ken Pitt apparently thought “Dream” could be their break-through song and so kept flogging it despite the lack of label enthusiasm. A fairly spare initial version was soon followed by a remake with a sodden Ivor Raymonde arrangement, the latter version proposed as a single (Deram nixed it). Bowie pushed “Dream” for the rest of the decade—including it in the mime show Pierrot in Turquoise, recording a German version and making it the closing number of his “Love You Till Tuesday” promotional film. He finally gave up in July 1969, when Bowie performed “Dream” in a big-band arrangement at the International Song Festival competition in Valetta, Malta, and lost to a Spanish child prodigy named Cristina.
The song suffered from bad timing, in part—it reeked of stale sentiment and sounded corny when it was released in the summer of ’67. And the lyric, with its tired knights-and-castles imagery, its weak rhymes (“horse” paired with “voice”) and the occasional groan-inducing line like “tell them I’m a dreaming kind of guy,” is a real muddle. The singer’s been dumped and contents himself with imagining his lost lover in his dreams, but he also keeps putting off his illusions, as though he needs her legal consent to get things started. It builds up to the final histrionic verse where he assures her that he’ll only stalk her in his dreamworld.
Best suited as a cue for nostalgia, despite it having had no resonance in its own time. Leos Carax used it in 1984’s Boy Meets Girl, and Seu Jorge‘s version, recorded in 2004 for the Life Aquatic soundtrack, is likely the song’s finest interpretation. Singing most of it in Portuguese helped.
The first version was recorded on 25 February 1967, the remake on 3 June 1967 (both are on Deram Anthology).
Top: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky in Godard’s La Chinoise, 1967.