I’m Not Losing Sleep

August 24, 2009


I’m Not Losing Sleep. (starts 2:40 in)

Tony Hatch’s time producing Bowie, having resulted in nothing but flops, is about to end, so this is something of his Pickett’s Charge. In desperation he tries to turn Bowie into Petula Clark (the “too bad!” backing vocal line basically nicks the chorus of “Downtown”). The result’s a thematic mess, class-struggle braggadocio from a “street” dandy (“though I dress in RAGS, I’m richer!/though I eat from TINS I’m wealthier!/though I live in SLUMS I’m purer than YOU my friend!!“). It’s working man’s defiance punctuated by flute trills.

But it’s pretty great too. Turns out Bowie thrives in this sort of tinted spotlight—so far he’s not been able to match his peers or his influences, whether in soul or rock & roll (Bowie even sings “I can get my satisfaction” here in a waspish way), but he’s developed a talent for camp and pointed extravagance (stage performances of the time ended with Bowie doing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, wearing “skin-tight trousers and a sweater, flinging out his arms like a vision of Garland herself” (Christopher Sandford)).

So while the “street” the singer’s on may be no more than stage scrim, the artifice suits him better—he’s cutting, self-righteous, something of a mod Katherine Hepburn in drag. The simulacrum is brighter than any shopworn realism; all tomorrow’s disguises, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, are first visible here.

Recorded 5 July 1966 and released on 19 August 1966 as the b-side to “I Dig Everything”; on Pye Singles.

I Dig Everything

August 22, 2009


I Dig Everything.
I Dig Everything (live, 1999).
I Dig Everything (Toy, 2000).

“I Dig Everything”‘s opening Hammond organ riff is pure Austin Powers soundtrack, but as the track goes on its charm deepens. A kid fresh arrived in town, mostly likely high, is running around London delighting in everything he sees—the commonplace becomes the mystical, not just through whatever stimulants he’s using, but via the creative arrogance of youth. This is my world, my city, he sings, and those who don’t see the beauties in its slums and on its sidewalks are either blind or old (or cops).

If “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” is a provincial leaving for London, “I Dig Everything” finds the kid having arrived, living in a squalid apartment, having (boho-style) more friends than food, sitting and smoking and laughing at the squares running off to work; he’s besotted at the bounty of city life. There’s an edge buried in the song—the singer’s unemployed and poor, and reality’s going to knock him on his ass sooner or later—but within the track’s confines he’s always going to be young, and each day will drop off fresh promises like a newspaper delivery truck.

It’s very much of a track of its time: the UK’s sun-filled glory of a summer in 1966, the last time England [edited] won the World Cup, the summer of Revolver and Aftermath, of the Emma Peel Avengers and “Sunny Afternoon” and “Daydream.”

The groovy cod-Latin rhythm (washboard and bongos!) is the most notable sign that Tony Hatch is using session players in place of The Buzz, and this is easily the best-sounding Bowie record so far in his career. Sadly, the single was yet another flop for Bowie, whose time with Pye ended soon afterward.

Recorded 5 July 1966 and released on 19 August 1966 as Pye 17157; on Pye 1966 Singles. Bowie revived it in 1999, occasionally performing it live.

Good Morning Girl

August 20, 2009


Good Morning Girl.

An odd one-off, the swing-pop “Good Morning Girl” (Bowie scats!) has more vitality than its flip-side, if it’s as much a stylistic dead-end. It’s something of a rough mix of the young Van Morrison (in Them), Georgie Fame and the Dave Clark Five’s “I Need Love.” A curio, but a fun one at least: Bowie never sounded quite this ebullient again.

Recorded 7 March 1966 and released as Pye 17079 on 1 April 1966 (Pye Singles).

Do Anything You Say

August 18, 2009


Do Anything You Say.

Anatomy of a dud single: a patchwork lyric of place-filler phrases; a monotonous one-line chorus that wears on the nerves because it’s repeated so damn much; a would-be soul groove that, after a mildly inspiring start, seems to just skip in place; and some woeful backing vocals (I mean, you’re cutting a rock & roll single, guys—give it some zing: you sound like a bunch of conscripts). Pronounced dead on arrival the moment it was released.

“Do Anything You Say” is one of Bowie’s last soul-influenced compositions and one of his most inconsequential releases—it’s notable only for marking the full stop to a style Bowie never mastered and finally abandoned. (Pye was one of the major Northern Soul labels, so perhaps the label wanted Bowie to try his hand at something more uptempo and dance-oriented.)

The backing band is Bowie’s latest collection—The Buzz, consisting of John Hutchinson (lead guitarist, who would become one of Bowie’s closest collaborators in the late ’60s), Derek Fearnley (b), John Eager (d) and Derek Bayes (organ). They sound pretty much interchangeable with the ill-fated Lower Third and a frustrated Tony Hatch would replace them with session players for Bowie’s next single.

Recorded 7 March 1966 and released as Pye 17079 on 1 April 1966 (Pye Singles).

And I Say To Myself

August 17, 2009


And I Say to Myself.

A Sam Cooke tribute of sorts (both in Bowie’s vocal and in the chord structure, which Nicholas Pegg marks as that of Cooke’s “Wonderful World”), “And I Say To Myself” goes about its business in an interesting but ultimately aimless way. Bowie’s vocal is certainly ambitious enough (the introduction, built of chromatic harmonic changes, finds Bowie deliberately unsettling the listener—just when you think he’s leading into the chorus, he leaps elsewhere, until about 40 seconds in). The overall song, however, seems more a collection of striking moments than a unified piece, and it winds up sounding like exactly what it is: inspired apprentice work.

Released 14 January 1966, B-side of “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”; 1966 Pye Singles.

Can’t Help Thinking About Me

August 13, 2009


Can’t Help Thinking About Me.
Can’t Help Thinking About Me (live, 1999).
Can’t Help Thinking About Me (VH1 Storytellers, 1999).
Can’t Help Thinking About Me (The Mark and Lard Show, 1999).

The first of three singles Bowie would cut in 1966 for Pye (the most cut-rate of all the UK labels, and the home of The Kinks), “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” is also the first in a series of Bowie songs about a provincial kid moving to Mod London and the perils and pleasures that he finds there.

The lyric is mainly vague backstory—the singer has to leave home; he’s blackened the family name (pregnant girl?) in some way; he’s on the train platform, blowing off his girlfriend, and both saddened and close to ecstatic about the prospect of exile.

Bowie’s vocal refines the blunt title phrase, though the sentiments are the same; it’s all florid narcissism and the self-dramatics of adolescence. The singer bids farewell to his old football field as if he was the last Moor leaving the Alhambra; he moans that he wishes he was a child again in the desperate manner of someone just sacked from childhood.

Some biographers have suggested the song is Bowie’s kiss-off to his old band, the Lower Third (their break-up, as recounted by Christopher Sandford, was a sad affair in a Bromley club—each member having to unplug their instrument and hand it over to Bowie’s manager, while Bowie sat there “impassively”). But the lyric seems more a character sketch than anything else.

“Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, like all of Bowie’s singles to date, was a flop, maybe because the verses are melodically stronger than the chorus, which is a bit flat. Still, there are some nice touches to this record—the swirling brushstrokes of guitar that open the track, or the way Graham Rivens’s bass becomes a racing pulse rate as the song builds.

Released 14 January 1966 as David Bowie with the Lower Third, Pye 17020 (The 1966 Pye Singles). It was his first-ever U.S. single (flopped, natch), the last single Bowie made with the Lower Third and the first produced by Tony Hatch, who had delivered Petula Clark’s massive hit “Downtown” a year earlier and who later said of Bowie, “his material was good although I thought he wrote too much about London dustbins.”