Friday, 13 September 2019

David Bowie - Non-Album "rarities"


David Bowie has a huge wealth of music that for one reason or another did not appear on his albums. I have listed and commented on just some of them here. For the information regarding dates of recording, I have referenced Nicholas Pegg's definitive Bowie reference book, "The Complete David Bowie". The opinions expressed regarding the tracks are, of course, my own. Sometimes they may concur with Pegg's, which is probably not surprising, but not intentional.

Conversation Peace 1969/2000/2019

This was a rejected song from the 1969 "Space Oddity" sessions. It is a pleasant, melodic, wistful number with Bowie's voice sounding very much like it did on some of the plaintive 1966-68 recordings. It contains some beguiling lyrics - "I live above a grocer's store owned by an Austrian". It is largely acoustically driven with a fetching rhythmic beat to it. The drums were apparently played by a session drummer whose identity has been long forgotten. It was not "Space Oddity" drummer John Cambridge, but a jazz musician, which may help to account for the unusually rhythmic groove.

It underwent a remix in 2019 which has given it far more bass oomph and a general warmth of ambience that makes it a more attractive number. "My essays lying scattered on the floor..." sings Bowie. Was he recalling some past student days?

The song was also re-recorded for the discarded "Toy" sessions in 2000 and is much slower in pace, with none of the breezy joie de vivre of the original and a considerably more sonorous Bowie vocal.

Shadow Man 1970/2000

This plaintive ballad was originally recorded in the "Hunky Dory" sessions but the original recording was never released. It was re-recorded in 2000 for the abortive "Toy" sessions, given a torch song-style piano and deep strings backing. The song, lyrically, is very much in the Bowie of 1968 vein and it is hard to see it fitting in on "Hunky Dory".

Lightning Frightening 1971

This is a quirky outtake from 1971 which features Herbie Flowers on bass and Bowie on saxophone. It is an odd slice of hippy-ish blues with some strange lyrics saying "I'll give you back my farmland, I'll give you back my house..." in some sort of bucolic protest. It features some appealing bluesy harmonica and lively saxophone that make it quite a catchy number. I can't imagine it fitting either "Hunky Dory" or "Ziggy Stardust" however.

The song fades in at the beginning, giving it a real "demo" feel, despite subsequent good sound quality. A guitarist called Mark Pritchard contributes a convincing solo near the end. The song is said to seriously resemble Crazy Horse's "Dirty, Dirty", which was released in the same year and listening to them both one after the other, you can definitely hear the similarities, more in the music than the vocal. Bowie was going through a Neil Young phase in 1971 so it is probably no coincidence.

Bombers 1971

This was a song from the "Hunky Dory" sessions that is full of lyrics about nuclear bombs, sirens and wastelands and the like. It has a liveliness and a post-apocalyptic lyric that suited "Ziggy Stardust", musically, but its vocal is hauntingly plaintive, in that typically sixties Bowie style. There was plenty of that vaudeville, music-hall hamminess that Bowie had ditched by the time "Ziggy" was recorded.

The track was apparently going to open "side two" of "Hunky Dory" instead of "Fill Your Heart". In many ways, I would have preferred it, but there is something of the sixties whimsicality to it that irritates me a little, so maybe not.

The Supermen 1970/1971

This is a re-recording, from 1971, of the final track on 1970's "The Man Who Sold The World" album. It doesn't have the big, rolling, tympani-style drums of the original nor the sonorous backing vocals. Neither is Bowie's vocal anywhere near so mannered or theatrically high-pitched. This alternate version is pretty "Ziggy" in many ways, featuring gentle acoustic verses and a far more melodic, tender vocal from Bowie before a big Mick Ronson guitar interjection leads into a robust, solid, riffy chorus. It is very "Spiders" in its instrumentation and indeed, this is the version Bowie would subsequently play live. Which do I prefer? Both have good points, but if I had to make a choice at gun-point, it would always be this rocky alternate version.

Holy Holy 1970/1971

This track was originally recorded in 1970 and in this form it is a very sixties-sounding, early T. Rex-influenced number, driven along mainly by Herbie Flowers' inventive bass, drums and backing vocals with the lead guitar considerably down in the mix and featuring a very typically late sixties Bowie vocal. it sounds in this form a lot like the final, superior material from the stuff that appeared on the "Deluxe Edition" of "David Bowie", once Bowie had started to record some credible songs. It was actually released as a single and duly disappeared without trace.

Then there is the summer of 1971 re-recorded "Spiders" version, which is so much better. It is faster -featuring lots of searing Mick Ronson guitar, pounding rock drums and a stronger vocal from Bowie. I say that, though, and it has me suddenly wondering whether it is the same vocal track. Maybe not. I cannot find any mention that it is, anywhere. In fact, I'm sure it is different. The vocal is slightly deeper, more resonant. Either way, the second recording turns it into a proper early seventies rock song that indeed was initially pencilled in for inclusion on "Ziggy Stardust". It would have been better than "It Ain't Easy", that was for sure!

Round And Round 1971

This was a cover of Chuck Berry's "Around And Around". It was recorded in late 1971 as part of the "Ziggy Stardust" sessions and was due to be track four on "side one", before "Starman" replaced it. It is given the full-on Spiders from Mars treatment and features some red-hot guitar from Mick Ronson. Bowie, whose voice was never the most convincing in a straight ahead rock 'n' roll format, copes pretty well with it. It rocks in a full, bassy and muscular fashion.

Sweet Head 1971

Another one from the late 1971 "Ziggy" sessions this is a risqué rocker with a refrain that is almost punky in its intensity. Ronson's guitar again calls all the shots throughout this excellent track. It would have fitted in fine to the "Ziggy" album. It is actually the only song apart from "Ziggy Stardust" that mentions Bowie orange-haired creation by name. It is populated by salacious sexual references - "bob your sweet head..." and "give me sweet head..." as well as the cheeky "while you're down there....". No doubt had I heard this when I first got into Bowie, aged thirteen in 1972, I wouldn't have understood any of this. It is one of these rarities that I feel would really have done the business had it been included on the album it was intended for. It is a quality track that can consider itself unfortunate not to have made the final cut.

Velvet Goldmine 1971

Also from those same sessions as "Round And Round" and "Sweet Head" is this, another truly excellent number that really should have made the album. It is a solid-paced, chunky number with a strong Bowie vocal, quality Ronson guitar, a melodic rumbling bass from Trevor Bolder and a big, clunking "Hunky Dory" style piano. Its backing vocals are deep and sonorous in a sort of "Volga Boatmen" style, or maybe like some of those found on "The Man Who Sold The World" album. It ends with some jaunty whistling and madcap laughing vocals fading away in the background.

Amsterdam 1971

Bowie always liked the whole Jacques Brel/Berlin in the 1930s decadent thing and this Brel song is perfect for that - a tale of drunken sailors and prostitutes. Bowie had been playing it live for a few years before he recorded it in the summer of 1971. It is a robust acoustic and evocative torch song and I first met it as the 'b' side of "Sorrow" in 1973. I found its images and atmosphere truly captivating. It was totally unlike anything I had ever heard from Bowie thus far. I always remember its abrupt ending too. Apparently it was going to be in the "It Ain't Easy" slot on "Ziggy Stardust". I wish it had.

John I'm Only Dancing 1972/1973/1979

I loved this single back in 1972 when it came out. I was far too young at thirteen to pick up on the homosexual references, as most were. It passed the BBC censorship (but not in the USA). It became a top twenty hit here. It is a nice mix of a catchy acoustic intro/ongoing riff and some vibrant Spiders rock. I remember being blown away by how great the sound was when my father allowed me to play the single on his stereo. I still love hearing it today.

The original single mix dates from July 1972 and is the best one. A subsequent one was re-recorded in January 1973 using saxophone in place of the acoustic guitar riff. It is ok, but not as good as the original, neither is the 1979 remix which seems to tone down the sharpness of the acoustic guitar. For me, the original single version will always be the best - that crystal clear strummed acoustic intro and then the consecutive drumbeats leading into Bowie telling us that "Eileen's pretty neat, she always eats her meat...". Hmm.

All The Young Dudes 1972

The legendary anthemic song that Bowie gave to ailing mates Mott The Hoople in the summer of  1972 (they were originally offered "Suffragette City") and they took right up the charts, making the song their own. Bowie's version was recorded in December 1972 and suffers in comparison to the Mott classic. The saxophone dominates this version (the Mott one was driven by acoustic and electric guitars) and, dare I say it, Ian Hunter's vocal is the definitive one.

A most interesting rarity is the version of that has Mott's original instrumental backing but Bowie's vocal that he recorded as a guide for Hunter to follow. I must say it has a certain appeal. It includes Hunter's spoken "outro" but Bowie sings the verses. It has a certain nostalgic fragility about it, especially in Bowie's ever so slightly tentative vocal.

By the way, I'm sure the "boogaloo dudes" line was inspired by Bowie's mate Marc Bolan.

Oh man, I need TV....

Oh brother you guessed....I'm a dude, man.

Growin' Up 1973

Now this is an odd one. Thought to be a reject from the "Pin Ups" sessions, it was actually recorded in November 1973, a month after that album's release. It is a cover of a song from Bruce Springsteen's debut album from 1973, "Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey". As a Springsteen aficionado as well as a Bowie one, I find it strange hearing Bowie doing Bruce. Listened to objectively, however, he does a pretty good job and if you listen to the vocal you can hear the first strains of that high-pitched soulful voice that he would utilise on the following year's "Diamond Dogs" and subsequently on "Young Americans". In that respect it was a bit of a landmark in Bowie's development as a vocalist.

It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City 1973

Another Springsteen cover that nobody categorically knows from whence it came. It is believed to hail from the late 1973 "Diamond Dogs" sessions that produced "Growin' Up". For many years it was thought to come from the "Young Americans" sessions but the backing sounds nothing like that band and indeed members of that group have no memory of having played it. It is also far too rough-edged and rocky for the 1975 soul-influenced material. Whatever its source, though, it is a credible cover of a good song. Bowie again does it justice.

The Man Who Sold The World/Watch That Man 1973 (Lulu recordings)

Two other interesting rarities are Lulu's two Bowie covers that were recorded originally during the "Pin Ups" sessions and finished off by Bowie at the time of the "Diamond Dogs" sessions, featuring Bowie on saxophone, Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mike Garson on piano and Aynsley Dunbar on drums - basically the "Pin Ups" band. "The Man Who Sold The World" actually sounds really good and duly gave Lulu a top ten hit. "Watch That Man", however, doesn't quite work for me, sounding somewhat clumsy, as if Lulu is a bit perplexed by the lyrics. Bowie's backing vocals at the end are jazzily quirky but a bit bizarre.

Dodo 1973

This was recorded in September 1973 in the sessions for "Diamond Dogs". It is a lively, brassy song with the sort of dark, futuristic lyrics that would dominate that album. It has a smoky-sounding Bowie vocal and plenty of brass and saxophone in its backing. The chorus of "she's a dodo, oh no..." is somewhat clumsy, though. It was originally titled "You Didn't Hear It From Me", which was the next line.

It makes another appearance in a funked-up medley with "1984" that was included on the 30th Anniversary edition of "Diamond Dogs". The song is altered quite a bit here and is far funkier. Had this medley been included on "Diamond Dogs" it would have contributed to a far funkier ambience on what was more of a glammy album.

Candidate 1974

This is a different song to the "Candidate" that appears as the middle part of the "Sweet Thing" trilogy on "Diamond Dogs". It was, however, recorded in the sessions for that album, on New Year's Day 1974. It is an impressive, soulful but upbeat song with a jaunty, swing-style drumbeat driving it on together with some breezy Mike Garson piano. It contains a sexually suggestive opening couple of lines and an odd reference from Bowie about his being "the Führerling", starting his unfortunate fascist fascination earlier than we thought. It is an appealing song, though, and showed the direction Bowie's music was beginning to take, despite it not making the album. If this and "Dodo" had been on "Diamond Dogs" it may have sounded quite a lot different.

Rebel Rebel (US Single Version)/ Reality Tour Remix 1974/2002

This is quite a different take on the glammy hit single. It misses out the iconic introductory guitar riff and starts with the line "hot tramp I love you so.." before progressing into a rhythmic, conga-driven piece of soul/rock that once more provided a signpost as to Bowie's future musical direction. It was this version that Bowie played live on "David Live" and "Cracked Actor" and indeed for many years afterwards. In 2002, Bowie re-worked the song for the Reality Tour, using a quiet, atmospheric guitar opening before crashing into that recognisable riff. He opened the shows with this and recoded a studio version as well. I like both these versions but I will always prefer that scratchy, riffy glory of the original.

After Today 1974

This appealing piece of disco/soul dates from the August 1974 "Young Americans" sessions. It is a lively number with a falsetto vocal from Bowie at times and lots of funky saxophone. It would actually have made a nice addition to the album it was rejected from, its upbeat sound providing a contrast with some of the slower-paced deep soul numbers that were eventually chosen. At the end, Bowie laughs and exclaims "I was getting into that...". Indeed he was, he should have stuck with it.

Who Can I Be Now? 1974

This dates from the 1974 "Young Americans" sessions and is a truly outstanding song. It was inexplicably jettisoned in favour of "Across The Universe". It was one of the tracks selected to be on "The Gouster" album, which was never released. It features a great saxophone intro from David Sanborn and one of those smoky/interjection with falsetto vocals from Bowie supported by multiple backing vocals. The verses are evocative and soulful, while the chorus is big and brash, with the vocals loud and the saxophone wailing. as with all the "Young Americans" material, though, there is a slightly muffled muddiness to the drum sound, for me, anyway, although the 30th anniversary remaster suffers less so than the others. The title was chosen as the title for the second of the box sets covering Bowie's career, presumably as a reference to his many identity/image changes in the period.

It's Gonna Be Me 1974

Another from the August 1974 sessions, this was also left off the eventual album, which was once again a questionable decision. It was also another of the tracks that was going to be on the aborted album, "The Gouster". There are two versions of the song in existence. The original one and one that Tony Visconti added strings to, which was lost. but was subsequently remixed by Visconti from his original master tapes.

The original "Gouster" one is full of late night atmosphere and one of Bowie's finest vocals to date - so far removed from the late sixties/early seventies. It is quite sparse in its backing - mainly piano, jazzy guitar, drums, bass and backing vocals. A lot is spoken about Bowie's supposed "soul" phase but on this one I have to say that he is at his most credibly soulful. The improvised vocal around five minutes in is superb.

The Visconti strings version is from the 30th Anniversary edition and has wonderful sound quality and Tony has done a great job on the remixing. The sound is outstanding. Once more, there is a "which do I prefer?" quandary. It's a difficult one. I actually love both of them, for different reasons - the minimalist soulfulness of the original and the warmth of the strings one. It's a 1-1 draw.

Some Are 1975/1976?

Now, Bowie's music completely changed. This was an out-take from the "Low" sessions and is thought to date back as early as 1975 for some. Bowie himself disputed this, claiming it came from a bit later. Anyway, it was part of his collaboration with Brian Eno and is a sonorous keyboard piece with occasional mysterious, haunting vocals about "sleigh bells in snow". It included some wolf noises in the background and is full of atmosphere. It would have been fine on "Low"'s second side.

All Saints (unknown)

This has been included on CD as part of the unreleased material from the "Low" sessions. However, Tony Visconti had no memory of working on the track and is adamant that the tape loop deep synthesiser sounds of the beguiling instrumental were not the sort of thing they used either on "Low" or "Heroes". He believes it dates from the eighties, therefore. Either way, it is an intriguing and interesting piece. It certainly fits the vibe of those two albums. For that reason, I will probably always feel that is where it dates from, even though I know I am probably wrong.

Sound And Vision (1991 Remix)

This is a remix of the hit single from "Low" It is notable for its "new" drum sound - a big, warm, pounding affair that adds more rhythm to the track. The saxophone near the end is considerably enhanced and there are less synthesiser breaks. I like it although I prefer the original. I enjoy quite a few re-mixes but invariably they never take the place of the originals.

Abdulmajid 1977/1990s?

Tony Visconti believes this Eastern-influenced instrumental was definitely worked on during the "Heroes" sessions, but the version that eventually surfaced had been re-mixed and added to during the nineties. He could tell, again, the with the "Low" material, from the type of instruments used. Who am I to disagree? Once more, it is an impressive track and would have suited the "Heroes" album.

I Pray, Olé 1979? 

Nobody quite knows the provenance of this track, which was included as a bonus track on a reissue of 1979's "Lodger" album. It definitely as similarities to "Lodger" material - "Red Sails" and Repetition" in particular, in is drum sound and keyboard riff. Tony Visconti has no knowledge of it and says it is definitely not from the "Lodger" sessions. He suspects it may be from around the "Scary Monsters" period, but updated by Bowie in the early nineties.

With regard to the song itself, it is energetic and appealing enough, but is nothing special. Add it to a play of "Lodger", however, and it doesn't sound out of place.

Crystal Japan 1980

This (unsurprisingly) Japanese-influenced instrumental is from the 1980 sessions for "Scary Monsters". It has a very "Heroes" feel about it, though, in its deep, reverberating and mournful  synthesiser passages. It has a lot of the ambience of "Moss Garden", for me.

This Is Not America 1984

Recorded in 1984 as a theme song for a film, and co-written with jazz rock musician Pat Metheney, this is an attractive, laid-back piece of melodic and typically eighties jazzy wine-bar fare. It was a sizeable hit and fond Bowie getting in on the whole "sophisti-pop" thing that was so popular around 1984.

Dancing In The Street 1985

Recorded for 1985's "Live Aid" with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, this is an acceptable-only cover of the Martha Reeves & The Vandellas Motown classic. It served a purpose and raised lots of money for a good cause, but it is not the finest moment from either artist, let's be honest.

Absolute Beginners 1985

There is only one version for me of this well-known Bowie song and that is the eight minute full length version which is packed with great saxophone, tinkling piano, a killer melody and Bowie's towering vocal. A copper-bottomed Bowie classic. It's absolutely true....

That's Motivation 1985

This was also from the "Absolute Beginners" film and utilises the same melody from the introduction to "Absolutely Beginners". It is a strange, hammed-up, theatrical mish-mash of different musical passages but is has some good points - the rhythmic percussion, the horns, the lively jazziness. Bowie's vocal is very dramatic and "stagey" but the song sort of grows on you and begs a few listens.

Julie 1986

From the sessions for "Never Let Me Down", this is a poppy, beaty and enjoyable song that would have been suitable for the album. Its rhythm is quite infectious and the whole thing is strangely carefree for a Bowie song.

Girls 1986

Bowie wrote this for Tina Turner and it appeared on her "Break Every Rule" album. His own recording of it dated from the "Never Let Me Down" sessions and is not a bad track at all. It starts atmospherically, almost in a sort of "Lady Grinning Soul" mode - piano and vocal, before it breaks out into a big saxophone-driven eighties-style chorus. Some have expressed reservations about that part of the song. Not me. I have to say I really quite like it. It is a quality Bowie rarity and is more than the equal of much of the material on "Never Let Me Down" (which is also an album that I like a lot more than many do).

When The Wind Blows 1986

This was also a song written as a theme for the animated film of the same name. It is an underrated little gem of a song. Although it has a big, thumping drum backing it has an evocative vocal from Bowie and a real feeling of dramatic emotion running all through it. It has an uplifting horn bit right at the end as well.

Underground 1986

Bowie was really in demand for movie themes in 1986, and this one is for the film "Labyrinth". It is a catchy number with a bit of very mid-eighties disco guitar, synthesiser riffs, an infectious drum sound and, of course, a suitably strong vocal. It also features some gospelly backing vocals. This, together with "When The Wind Blows" and "Absolute Beginners" were three excellent movie themes from 1985-86 that perhaps serve as a bit of a contrast with his regular work from the same period.

As The World Falls Down 1986

Also from the "Labyrinth" soundtrack is this pleasant, romantic number. Bowie's vocal is endearing croony over a slow but tuneful backing. It is simply a very nice song.

Within You 1986

This was the other Bowie vocal track from "Labyrinth". It is less instantly appealing than the other two and, although Bowie's falsetto vocal is convincing it suffers from a bit too much cinematic orchestration for my taste.


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