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~~ David Bowie - Space Oddity ~~
First and Foremost David Bowie is THE most important artist in music that has ever lived , more important than the Beatles , Elvis , hell more important than Hawkwind and coming from me that's a big claim.
Born the 8th of January 1947 in Brixton , London , David Robert Jones ( coincidentally my mothers maiden name was Jones and reverse his first two names and you have mine , creepy or what? ) after leaving Bromley High he had a debut single released 'Liza Jane' with his band of the time The King Bees. This band was quite short lived before he quit to join The Mannish Boys playing a steady stream of Blues. Not knowing where his direction in life was he left the Boys to join The Lower Third releasing a couple of singles along the way before the first of the big events in his life - the name change - with Davy Jones and The Monkees hitting the big time it was obvious that an artist with the name David Jones was always going to suffer so David Bowie was born - named after the frontiersman Jim Bowie and his famous knife - NOTE it's David Bow ( rhymes with Low) ie NOT Bow (rhymes with Cow) ie , his Laughing Gnome ( stop laughing at the back ) was Bowie's first single under his new moniker , obviously it bombed so that was it for two years , he joined Lindsay Kemp the dancer and mime artist and dropped out.
After releasing David Bowie , an album made up of mainly short Anthony Newly type songs ( an excellent album and way ahead of its time ) he released Space Oddity.
Now this album was actually called just David Bowie (again) in the UK and ' Man of Words , Man of Music ' in America when it came out in 1969 , obviously when Bowie released Ziggy and RCA decided to re release his past masters this was re named Space Oddity to coincide with the big hit on the album.
The release that I'm actually reviewing is my copy of the EMI release in 1999 which to me is the very best as it does away with annoying ' Bonus Tracks ' (surely the worst concept in music) and just stuck to the album as it came out , as the artist intended it , heck when I buy an album I want a beginning and an end in the right places , for e.g Ziggy Stardust should and MUST start with ' Five Years ' and HAS to end with ' Rock 'an Roll Suicide ' otherwise the songs in the middle lose all meaning. The funny thing about this release from EMI was that it showed the original cover from 1969 and not the Ziggy cover but still retained the Space Oddity title which i thought a bit strange.
So background to Space Oddity over what is it about that album that makes it so important in the History of popular music and so brilliant.
01) Space Oddity -
Probably Bowie's most famous song and fitting it gets the proper treatment here leading the album off in the correct position at the head , letting the other tracks know who's the Captain here.
Everyone knows the story of Major Tom by now , floating in his 'tin can' far above the world , fitting for 1969 a story about travelling in space as this was the year of the Moon landings , with it's iconic Ground Control to Major Tom refrain whilst the countdown is on , Major Tom is floating outside his spaceship completely taken away by the view of Earth , all of a sudden his circuits are dead and he is left floating on his own to eventual death it is presumed.
That of course is the popular view of what the track is about , another widely held viewpoint and it's harder to not make a case for is that it's about Heroin use with the countdown from Ten , Nine , Eight ..... the countdown for the oncoming rush as the drug enters the bloodstream , Bowie at the time was very aware of the horrors of Vietnam and the drug use which was rife amongst American soldiers and commanders out there , Major Tom is possibly perceived as one such soldier and the floating in space basically what the effects of the drug made you feel.
Interestingly and a possible judgement for this case scenario came with a later song ' Ashes to Ashes ' which was to all intents and purposes Space Oddity 2 has the telling chorus " Ashes to Ashes , Funk to Funky , We know Major Tom's a junkie , strung out in heavens high , Hitting an all-time low , Time and again I tell myself I'll stay clean tonight "
Musically the number is a perfect mix of acoustic and electric . He has written a million classic tracks but for one of the very best to be the first track on the re birthed Bowie career really is something.
2) Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed -
Wow , another song that can shift both ways , one of Bowie's most lyric intensive songs it starts with the lyrics
" Spy , Spy pretty girl , I see you see me through the window
Don't turn your nose up
Well you can if you want to you wont be the first or last ,
It must strain you to look down so far from your fathers house
And I know what a louse like me in your fathers house could do for you "
so far obviously about a young man who has caught the eye of a far richer girl than him.
Then the following verse - are you ready for this because this is what made Bowie special in 1969 and forever still.
" I'm a phallus in pigtails
And there's blood on my nose
And my tissue is rotting
Where the rats chew my bones
And my eye sockets empty
See nothing but pain
I keep having these brainstorms
About twelve times a day
So now you could spend the morning walking with me , quite amazed
As I'm unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed. "
the next verse has references about Eyes in my backside , that see electric tomatoes on credit card Rye Bread which could be LSD as it was known then as Electric and iv'e been told the fungus grows on Rye Bread , put in context it's possible Bowie was saying the young man may have been a hippy drop-out or that the love for the girl has made him trip not quite sure. In the end the girl is sick on to her Red Parquet floor as I think she realises that this should not be happening and she wants him but her parents interfere to the point she thinks her whole standing is making her ill.
Musically the song is very electric countrified with harmonicas and a very heavy rhythm after starting off with his 12 string classic guitar.
03) Don't Sit Down -
On the original vinyl release this was tail-ended onto Unwashed and removed completely from the RCA 1972 re release , since then it has quite rightly been put back into it's proper place ( As I mentioned earlier , I do like my music to be in it's proper place ) as track 3 in it's own right. The song is basically nothing apart from Bowie singing ' Don't sit down ' a few times then laughing , it runs for only 43 secs and could be considered a waste of space on any format but it still is a piece of history that Bowie recorded for this album so should in my opinion be heard.
04) Letter To Hermione -
Now before ANYBODY asks it's not about Harry Potter's bird , the funny thing is before Harry Potter came out I could never pronounce the girls name and never knew anybody else called it either. It's a complete out and out love song that Bowie wrote about his girlfriend Hermione Farthingale who Lindsay Kemp introduced him to. When he broke up it hit Bowie very hard so he wrote this and ' An Occasional Dream ' in memory of his relationship.
He misses Hermione and now that she has found a new love he wonders to himself that
" He makes you laugh he brings you out in style
He treats you well and makes you up real fine
And when he's strong he's strong for you
And when you kiss its something new ......
But did you ever call my name? just by mistake?
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do , so I'll just write some love to you"
Only 2m 36 secs but Bowie puts such emotion into that it is no surprise that Ricky Gervais choose this Bowie track as one of his Desert Island Discs which when you consider his back catalogue is praise indeed for a track 99% of people will have never heard.
05) Cygnet Committee -
Oh my God where do you begin with this classic , it's been called in it's time " The best thing Bowie has ever done " " The greatest underrated track of all time " " Lyrically perfect "
To be honest with you , I'm sat at my keyboard and find it very hard to put into words what this is about , various themes have been put forward , one is that it's about when Bowie and future Wife Angie ran an Arts lab which Bowie closed because the hippies and others were just coming to see him perform instead of actually getting involved , another strong viewpoint is that it's about the Catholic Church and Bowie changed the name Cignet to Cygnet to avoid any clashes.
All I can tell you is that in the top 10 Bowie releases this is in the top 3 it is that powerful , when Bowie nears the end of this 9min epic sings or screams
" And I want to Believe in the madness that calls 'Now'
And I want to believe , That a lights shining through somehow ... "
I swear I get goose-pimples down my spine , if you only listen to one song off this album make sure you listen to this one , yes it's production is pure 1969 not 2011 and all the equipment nowadays but I will make you one promise - You will never , ever hear a more powerful song , sung by an artist who knows what he has got and what he will achieve. This song would be one of my Desert Island Discs ( Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing reprise off Diamond Dogs will always be first choice but by all that is holy this masterpiece runs it close )
06) Janine -
Fortunately Bowie allows us to get our breath back after Cygnet with Janine , another love song but not I don't think about anybody in particular , a more upbeat song than Hermione , it's been said it's about a man who loves a women but wont really let her know everything about him, wont let her get inside his head , the chorus goes
" Janine , Janine , you'd like to know me well
But iv'e got things inside my head that even I can't face
Janine, Janine , you'd like to crash my walls
But if ever you take an axe to me you'll kill another man not me at all"
A great song vastly underrated in the Bowie pantheon.
07) An Occasional Dream -
The follow up song to Letter To Hermione , here Bowie recalls the past life he led with her
" I recall how we lived
On the corner of a bed
And we'd speak of a Swedish room
Of Hessian and Wood
And we'd talk with our eyes
Of the sweetness in our lives
And tomorrows of rich surprise....
Some things we could do"
It's a very simple song excellently sung , showing just what a great voice Bowie has , probably the best song to highlight this on this album is An Occasional Dream.
Not a lot of people know that ' The girl with the mousey hair .. ' from Life On Mars? was also about Hermione Farthingale (real name Hermione Dennis)
08) The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud -
Another truly great track from this album and another one of the 'Haven't heard this in years ' even for Bowie fans , Bowie himself said of the song: "It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they're left outside, which was how I felt about me. I always felt I was on the edge of events, the fringe of things, and left out. A lot of my characters in those early years seem to revolve around that feeling. It must have come from my own interior puzzlement at where I was"
Another very lyric laden song , if you had not read what Bowie said the song appears to be about a boy who comes down from Freecloud Mountain a magic place according to the simple village folk , and the boy wants to learn to live in peace with the village , who don't understand him and so decide to hang him , but when it comes to the hanging the village can't understand why he is still smiling and not afraid , the Mountain comes alive , and protects the Wild Eyed Boy by destroying the village whilst the Boy tries to stop the mountain exacting it's revenge , grudgingly at the end the Boy trudges back up to the top of the mountain with the village destroyed to go live back with the Mountain.
A masterpiece of simple arrangement telling a story , all too rare nowadays.
09) God Knows I'm Good -
Easy to work this song out , a simple 12 string guitar folk song about Bowie walking through the aisles of a major supermarket when he spots an elderly women slyly slipping a tin of stewing steak into her paper bag at her side , whilst crying
" God Knows I'm Good
God Knows I'm Good
God Knows I'm Good
God MAY look the other way today"
Unfortunately it seems God was looking that day as when she moved towards the exit a security man put his hand gently on her shoulder and led her away , at the same time a crowd had rushed to help a tired old lady who had fainted to the floor exclaiming the same thing , except saying God WONT look the other way today.
10) Memory Of A Free Festival -
Ok when it comes to classics Bowie has got a patent put out on the word , seriously when you listen to Space Oddity , The Man Who Sold The World , Hunky Dory , Ziggy Stardust , Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs you are truly staggered at the amount of songs which I still say 99% of the population will go to there graves never having heard and sometimes I genuinely do feel like Matthew, Mark , Luke or John and that I have to spread the gospel about these songs.
Memory Of A Free Festival is one such song , from the opening piano to Bowie speaking " Maybe I should announce it, shall I? In Memory Of A Free Festival "
Look up perfection in the dictionary and there will be a picture of Bowie singing this song , this is Bowie's Hey Jude and the absolute perfect bookend for the album , as I have said numerous times Albums should have a proper start and a proper end , for some reason this is almost a lost art nowadays where albums seem almost thrown together , in the good old days of Vinyl it was always more important and here is a perfect example of the craft - Space Oddity has to begin the voyage , it's the leader and most important track Bowie had released up to that date , it started him off on his career proper and this song has got to finish the album off with it's Hey Jude style chorus of " The Sun Machine is coming down , and were gonna have a party "
" The Children Of The Summers End
Gathered In The Dampened Grass
We Played Our Songs And Felt The London Sky
Resting On Our Hands
It Was God's Land
It Was Ragged And Naive
It Was Heaven"
The track was written as a homage to the Free Festival, organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was held in 1969.
Well that is David Bowie/Space Oddity for you
It will seem dated today by a lot of people who will compare it to the affects driven music of the present, but this was 1969 don't forget and also a young man who was just starting on his path to SuperGodhood if that is really a word , lyrically I personally don't think he has done a better album and yes I include Ziggy in that , Diamond Dogs runs it close but doesn't quite get there , this album could be put into book form lyrically that good. If you take away ' Don't Sit Down ' then there is not one track which you think is filler, each song appears on the album in it's own right and fully deserving and I vow anybody who hasn't heard ' Letter To Hermione ' before to listen and not say " wow is that David Bowie???" It's beautiful.
I should really have started the reviews with his first album but as this is generally considered his first main album under the Bowie name I thought it fitting this got the number one slot.
You can buy this for peanuts nowadays and is definitely worth a listen if you have only heard Space Oddity the song before , Letter To Hermione , Cygnet Committee and Memory Of A Free Festival are three classics that you have to hear before you go.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Space Oddity (2009 Digital Remaster)
2 Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed (2009 Digital Remaster)
3 Letter To Hermione (2009 Digital Remaster)
4 Cygnet Committee (2009 Digital Remaster)
5 Janine (2009 Digital Remaster)
6 An Occasional Dream (2009 Digital Remaster)
7 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (2009 Digital Remaster)
8 God Knows I'm Good (2009 Digital Remaster)
9 Memory Of A Free Festival (2009 Digital Remaster)
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Space Oddity (Demo)
2 An Occasional Dream (Demo)
3 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Rare B Side Version) (2003 Digital Remaster)
4 Let Me Sleep Beside You (BBC Radio Session D.L.T. Show)
5 Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed (BBC Radio Session D.L.T. Show)
6 Janine (BBC Radio Session D.L.T. Show)
7 London, Bye, Ta-Ta (Stereo Version) (2009 Digital Remaster)
8 The Prettiest Star (Stereo Version) (2009 Digital Remaster)
9 Conversation Piece (Stereo Version)
10 Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1) (Single A-Side) (2009 Digital Remaster)
11 Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 2) (Single B-Side) (2009 Digital Remaster)
12 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Alternate Album Mix)
13 Memory Of A Free Festival (Alternate Album Mix)
14 London, Bye, Ta-Ta (Alternate Stereo Mix)
15 Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (Full Length Stereo Version)