Don’t Bring Me Down

July 20, 2010

Don’t Bring Me Down (The Pretty Things, 1964).
Don’t Bring Me Down (Bowie).

“Don’t Bring Me Down” began life as a benign pop song and was put to disreputable ends by the Pretty Things. The song, written by the now-obscure British singer Johnny Dee, was originally slow-paced and “tame,” Phil May recalled. “We hijacked it,” he told Richie Unterberger.

The Pretty Things’ version, their second Fontana single and their biggest UK hit (#10), is two minutes of caveman mating calls. It opens and closes with four descending chords, E-D-C-A, opening on guitar and ending with four thudding drum beats, and the four-step plummet continues throughout the song, occasionally countered by four-step upward pushes (“I said I think this rock is grand” is over A-C-D-E). May’s first verse has him as a rolling stone, not looking to settle down, but when he finds a girl he likes, our brute suddenly gets domestic. “I got this PAD/just like a CAVE,” he coos, following up with what sounds like “And then I laid her on the ground.” (It’s really “lead her,” which Bowie pronounces quite clearly; the line got the Pretty Things single banned by some U.S. radio stations).

As with “Rosalyn,” Bowie and Mick Ronson keep close to the original, though Ronson and Aynsley Dunbar provide more wattage (Dunbar in particular makes the original track sound like it was recorded on paper drums). The harmonica sawing away on the Bowie version seems like a throwback—replace it with another guitar and you’ve got a punk rock record. It’s a lesson future Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, who loved Pin Ups, would take to heart.

Recorded July-early August 1973.

Top: “Normko,” “Tower of London,” 1973.