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Monday, 28 May 2018
David Bowie - Space Oddity (aka David Bowie) (1969)
Released on 14 November 1969
Recorded at Trident Studios, London
Running time 56:09
David Bowie released this album in the wake of the unexpected number one hit "Space Oddity", with its space travel narrative that perfectly dovetailed with the moon landings that summer. The album didn't achieve any comparative lift-off, however, as the single was totally unique and Bowie's often dense, rambling excursions into folk, vague psychedelia and nostalgic hippiness just didn't catch on with the mainstream music-buying public. Despite the kudos of having a number one single, Bowie's journey to possible stardom was beset by pitfalls. This was another in (at the time) a seemingly long list of them. It was almost as if he was fighting within himself as to what he wanted to become. Was he staying back in 1966-67 or was he futuristically looking to 1972-73? The album fully reflects that schizophrenia and artistic turmoil.
Many people bought this, however, as I did, in 1973, upon its re-packaging (with the Ziggy-like hair cover) in the slipstream of the success of “Hunky Dory”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane”. To be honest, many of us teenagers didn't quite know what to make of it.
1. Space Oddity
2. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3. Letter To Hermione
4. Cygnet Committee
6. An Occasional Dream
7. The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
8. God Knows I'm Good
9. Memory Of A Free Festival
Originally released in 1969, it was more than just a vehicle for the chart-topping, now legendary, and totally unique title track, that needs no introduction. as mentioned earlier, it tapped into the whole moon landing thing and was a huge success. It was also notable for the first major recorded use of the stylophone - a gimmicky musical instrument that provided the slightly electronic, morse-code sound in the backing.
Even though the album is to a certain extent a patchy one, there is some surprisingly good other stuff on it, particularly on this impressive new remastering. Just check out the psychedlic-influenced rock of "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed". I have found I now listen to this through new ears, so to speak. It features some searing rock guitar from Bowie's new guitarist, Mick Ronson (later to be an integral part of "The Spiders From Mars", of course). It has thoroughly bizarre lyrics though - "I'm a phallus in pigtails...". Hmmm. The lyrics also mention a "credit card" - unusual for 1969. It is also pretty much Bowie's first true rock track.
The lengthy, weird narrative that seems to signal the end of "hippydom" of "Cygnet Committee" sounds completely revitalised too, as does the mysterious, beguiling and folky "Janine". Check out that crystal clear acoustic guitar. Then there is the trippy "Memory Of A Free Festival" where "Peter talked with tall Venusians..". Far out, man. "Bliss" all around. This song has Bowie telling of a festival he helped organise, or probably singing of how he fantasised it would be, (but of course never was). It is packed full of an atmosphere that the actual festival probably lacked and ends with the repeated chant of "the sun machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party". It is all cornily "hippy" but I can't help but love it. Was Bowie possibly being a bit tongue in cheek and cynically dismissive about the hippy counter culture as he saw it about to be replaced by other ones? Was it all a bit of a send-up? Maybe. Bowie always seemed to be one step ahead.
The romantic "Letter To Hermione" (to girlfriend Hermione Farthingale) and the plaintive "An Occasional Dream" both fit the acoustic late sixties folkiness of parts of the album. While there are songs on this album which were very 1972 in feel, ahead of their time, these two were very much set back in the folky hippy days of 1967.
There are still a few more incongruities as well, the odd, clumsy “God Knows I’m Good”, about an old lady stealing a tin of stewing steak from a shop, and the extremely strange, folk tale of the “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” sit somewhat uncomfortably. No matter. The album is still very much worth a listen.
I prefer the “Ziggy hair” cover that was used when it was re-released in 1973 and I bought it, however. That was the cover I grew up with. The cover that has been re-used on later editions are shown below. These were the album's original images, however, it has to be noted.