Animal Farm


Animal Farm (demo).

Of the demos included in the Conversation Piece set, most of which were recorded between spring 1968 and summer 1969, “Animal Farm” is among the slightest. It sounds about two-thirds written: over jabbed acoustic guitar chords, Bowie scats through a chorus that’s still in a cloudy state, in which it may well have remained.

What to say about a song that’s barely there in its demo form? Lyrically it’s centered on the idea of some communal “animal farm” whose gates are barred to anyone over 30 years old. The verse has a 43-year-old woman (treated here as high old age) who “drinks the morning papers and reads the tea” and dreams of joining a group of hippies out in the country somewhere. The refrain is, apparently, the voice of the commune rejecting her.

The Kinks’ “Animal Farm” might have sparked Bowie’s title (it would depend on the date of Bowie’s composition, which isn’t known; The Village Green Preservation Society came out in November 1968). Ray Davies is in his usual state of being exhausted and terrified by the modern world and dreams of going off to live with the pigs and sheep and goats (though he wants his girl to come with him)—it’s a dry run for his even more civilization-cursing “Apeman” two years later. There was also the novel Logan’s Run, published in 1967, set in a future Earth where the maximum age is 21 (the film adaptation raised the limit to 30), upon which you commit suicide in the Sleepshop, get dispatched by a Sandman such as the title character, or try to escape to Sanctuary.

But this is all looking too far afield. The key ancestor is Bowie’s “There Is a Happy Land,” a song about the secret factions and legends of childhood, which adults can no longer access. “There is a happy land where only children live/ You’ve had your chance and now the doors are closed sir, Mr. Grownup. Go away sir.” In his songs of the late Sixties and early Seventies, Bowie regarded the counterculture as a desperate and ultimately-doomed extension of childhood.

Recorded: ca. late spring-autumn 1968 (possibly winter-early spring 1969), likely either 39 Manchester Street or 22 Clareville Grove, London. David Bowie: lead vocal, acoustic guitar. First release: 15 November 2019, Conversation Piece.

Top: John Olson: “The Family of Mystic Arts Commune, Sunny Valley, Oregon,” 1969. (LIFE, “The Commune Comes to America,” 18 July 1969).


7 Responses to Animal Farm

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow, I’m struck by how much this resembles his much later sketch “Little Fat Man/Pug-Nosed Face” from Extras. Coincidence I’m sure, but perhaps DB had some variation of this tune running through his head throughout the years.

    Side note: its thanks to this blog that I finally got into the Kinks a few years back. I didn’t know what I was missing, so thanks!

  2. Coagulopath says:

    Lyrically it’s centered on the idea of some communal “animal farm” whose gates are barred to anyone over 30 years old.

    So Bowie could have last accessed the farm Jan 7 1978 (after Low and “Heroes”). At the time of Lodger’s release he was too old.

  3. Chris,it’s to be said that Duncan has posted something about Orwell’s Animal farm which David wanted him to read as a child.

  4. Thanks for posting Chris; I still check back into the site for updates. Cheers

  5. Phil says:

    Sorry for the digression – literally the only connection this comment has with the post is DB! – but I’ve just listened to the Astronettes track “People from bad homes” and feel the urge to tell somebody that the bad homes/good homes lyrical conceit is a straight ripoff of Lou Reed’s “Men of good fortune” (from the album _Berlin_, which was released in July ’73 & featured Aynsley Dunbar & Jack Bruce (who DB had wanted for _Pinups_), but otherwise couldn’t have been much more different from DB’s post-Spiders trajectory).

    This song? This song makes me glad I didn’t shell out for _Conversation Piece_, as dearly as I love the title track. (And I guess we still haven’t got the Nazi bunny song.)

    • Phil says:

      _Berlin_, which … couldn’t have been much more different from DB’s post-Spiders trajectory

      Although Sweet Thing/Candidate does have a bit of a “here you go, Lou, this is how it’s done” air about it.

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