1965 Demos Revisited

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That’s Where My Heart Is.
I Want My Baby Back.
Bars of the County Jail.
How Can I Forget You (fragment).
It’s True, My Love (fragment).
I Live In Dreams (fragment).

With the surfacing of three 1965 Bowie demos that no one (barring, presumably, some Bowie friends and his archivist) knew about before, his development as a songwriter has a touch more light shed upon it.

Only three of his mid-1965 solo demos have been released, on the Rhino CD collection Early On, and apparently only then because Bowie’s once-producer Shel Talmy had them. Given that these “new” demos—“How Can I Forget You,” “It’s True, My Love” and “I Live in Dreams”—are similar in tone and construction to Early On‘s “That’s Where My Heart Is” and “I Want My Baby Back,” this suggests these hail from the same period.

(“Bars of the County Jail,” Bowie’s jaunty singalong Western, whose lyric he took from an English composition written during his days at Bromley Tech, was an outlier, although it’s an ancestor, thematically, of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” and “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town“).

david-bowie-1965

In 1965, Talmy was looking to corner the market on young British rock & roll songwriters. With Pete Townshend and Ray Davies in his stable, he set aside occasional studio time for Bowie, whom he considered a viable, if rough prospect. Bowie’s demo sessions, hailing from around the time he left the Manish Boys and joined the Lower Third, produced nothing of remote commercial appeal, something that Talmy realized at the time (“it was weird music”). (It’s unknown if these newly-unearthed demos were cut in a studio or (more likely) at Bowie’s home or at his then-manager’s London flat.)

The mid-1965 demos document an ambitious young man, with two flop “hard” R&B singles under his belt, shifting into a softer, more pop-oriented sound. It’s the start of the trail that will lead to “Sell Me a Coat” and “When I Live My Dream,” and ultimately to Hunky Dory.

Of the “new” demos (which have been heard in 30-second fragments offered by the auction house), “How Can I Forget You” has Bowie working up a lower-pitched crooning voice in the opening verse. It’s similar in that regard to “That’s Where My Heart Is,” where a fledgling Bowie baritone is heard at about fifty seconds in.

“That’s Where My Heart Is” uses the blueprint of Gene Pitney singles like “I’m Gonna Be Strong” and “Yesterday’s Hero,” whose near-conversational verses built to manically-sung choruses. Bowie pegged his verse melody to rigid down-strums on his guitar, gave a touch of Petula Clark to his looser-phrased pre-chorus, and then shot for the heights in his refrains. The lyric is hokum and its bridge sounds like the work of an even greener songwriter, suggesting that was an older piece Bowie wedged into the song.

“I Live in Dreams,” at least from the opening verse in the fragment, could be the font of some of Bowie’s Sixties lyrical preoccupations—a yen to escape mundane suburban reality (sometimes even through astral projection—see “Did You Ever Have a Dream?“) and the isolation of the self. He’s yearning to find a soulmate on his narrow wavelength but resisting the idea of “falling in love.” “You own my heart but not my mind/ Whatever I do, I shall be free!” Bowie sings, a line that could have been in “Cygnet Committee.”

The least of the demos are “It’s True, My Love,” which from available evidence aims to be a poor man’s Herman’s Hermits song, and Early On‘s “I Want My Baby Back.” Both demos find Bowie attempting vocal harmonies beyond the roughneck call-and-responses of his first singles. “I Want My Baby Back” is double-tracked throughout, with an additional Bowie lead for the refrains; “It’s True, My Love” has what’s possibly an octave-higher Bowie on the refrain, first answering the lead, then harmonizing on the last line.

“I Want My Baby Back” needed a catchier guitar riff and a lyrical rewrite (its verses marry clichés with lines like “I tried to phone her but the cable was broke by a storm”) to go anywhere, and didn’t. While it’s hard to give a verdict on  “It’s True, My Love,” given its fragmented form, it’s unlikely that it greatly transformed in its latter minutes.

By the end of 1965, Bowie had moved further across the board as a songwriter, as he’d written his Mod version of “Silly Boy Blue” and “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” by that point. But it’s enjoyable to get a peek at him while still in the early stages of becoming himself. The sudden appearance of these “new” demos suggest a number of unknown lost Bowie songs from the Sixties, more of which may surface in the near future.

Recorded: ca. spring-summer 1965, IBC Studios? Bowie home studios? Bowie: lead vocal, acoustic guitar. First release (That’s Where, Baby Back, Bars): 30 July 1991, Early On (1964-1966) (Rhino R2 70526).

REQUISITE PROMO BIT:  Far more on Bowie’ Sixties is found in Rebel Rebel. Also, hey Ashes to Ashes is publishing in less than a month! Various New York readings and radio things are happening from 20 to 25 February. It looks very likely there will be an event in London on 14 March 2019, and hopefully a Manchester event soon before or afterward. More information soon, with hope.

10 Responses to 1965 Demos Revisited

  1. Coagulopath says:

    “Bars of the County Jail” sounds similar to Roger Whittaker’s “Durham Town” (1969). Maybe they’re both derived from an older folk song.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes please to a Manchester event 👍

  3. ric says:

    Lot closed – Winning bid:£8,500
    Estimate: £3,000 – £5,000
    Buyers Premium: 23% + VAT (27.6% including VAT)

    .
    .

    was tempted, but not THAT tempted

  4. Eamonn says:

    Hooray for the book tour – London bye ta-ta, well please say hello first.

    Chris, did you hear anything of Philips Glass’s “Lodger” symphonic reenactment
    in LA recently? Only saw two reviews, rather mixed, a bit like the parent album but it actually has become possibly my fave Bowie lp in the last couple of years largely based on the blog entries you wrote from that period.

    In fact, I wrote a song with a line which directly references a story that someone wrote in the comments of your Lodger dissection here about once stumbling upon a record or cassette of Lodger in some forest in the middle of nowhere and he couldn’t figure out how it had got there (fallen from an airplane etc.?)…the idea of neglected art/ifacts going somewhere private to die really engrossed me so recently I shot a video for my song and we did a scene where I’m lying down in deserted woodland imitating the pose of Bowie on the cover of Lodger with a copy of the vinyl alongside me (for those outside this blog that may not get the ref). The video’s being edited currently, I will let you know when it’s YouTubeable 😉

    • col1234 says:

      a generous source gave me a recording of the premiere of the Lodger symphony, and I hope to write something about it sooner than later

  5. Stolen Guitar says:

    Any idea where in Manchester? Hope it comes off-would be great to meet and thank you in person for all this great work you’ve done.

    Is the Glass Lodger symphony slated for a commercial release? I love his treatment of Low and play it a lot. “Heroes” less so, but it’s still an interesting interpretation nonetheless.

    The discovery of the ‘Lift Off With Aysha’ Ziggy recording took me back a bit. Rushing home from school to get in front of the box for 5(?) to catch sight of my pop star heroes…and Aysha herself! I remember watching the original broadcast of the Aysha Ziggy much more clearly than the Top of the Pops one, but maybe that’s just because the later one (a week or so?) has been played so much recently and it’s just become fixed ‘there’ in my mind.

    And, like Bolan’s ‘Marc’ and the Bay City Rollers’ ‘Shang-a-Lang’, recorded just down the road from me at Granada’s Quay St studios in Manchester. Which was later to host the first ever TV performance from the Pistols, courtesy of Tony Wilson. So much more to Manchester’s musical history than the sixth form mediocre poetry of Morrissey and the dismal doom ‘n’ gloom of Joy Division…ha-ha! And don’t get me started on New Order and Oasis…! I wish Pete Shelley had got anywhere near the acclaim he should have gotten. A true Manchester legend.

    So, it would be nice if you could make it, because Bowie was certainly loved by Manchester and, I believe, based on his onstage comments to us, he loved playing here, too.

  6. Mark Adams says:

    “It looks very likely there will be an event in London on 14 March 2016”

    Can’t make this. Any chance of a future date? 😉

  7. Just found your blog. Been reading some old entries. Nice stuff. I just read one from a few years back about the What’s Really Happening lyric contest. I was actually one of the runners up in that! You captured the whole mood perfectly!

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