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Bowie's first recognised foray into the world of music came with Space Oddity; an album which is more of a traditional singer/songwriter record than a glam rock goliath; however it remains a classic album with enough style and swagger to still satisfy today's audience.
Aside from Space Oddity which remains a timeless Bowie classic, Cygnet Committee has always been a personal favourite of mine because of its energy and the closing Memory of a Free Festival is another special track which has a real 60's feel to it. The album shows a real maturity from Bowie who would go onto become a huge global success in the 80's. Those who aren't fans of the Glam rock scene could do much worse than to check this one out - it more than stands the test of time.
While it's still available, the 40th Anniversary 2CD upgrade of Space Oddity is well worth the money.
David Bowie - Space Oddity (1969)
Producer: Tony Visconti, Gus Dudgeon
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
(Don't Sit Down)
Letter to Hermione
An Occasional Dream
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
God Knows I'm Good
Memory of a Free Festival
Following a flurry of novelty singles (The Laughing Gnome, anyone?) and a mediocre debut album, mainstream success was still capably evading Mr David Jones. No doubt feeling weary and ever so slightly frustrated, he retired into the studio to start work on his second album proper, Space Oddity (the album was entitled David Bowie in the UK until its 1972 reissue, at which time it took on the name Space Oddity).
Well, the title-track gave Bowie his first hit, reaching the top 5 in the UK singles chart. David has always been a firm favourite to jump on bandwagons and to take advantage of Britain's interests; in this case the release of Space Oddity tied in with the Apollo 11 moon landings. But who can blame him? I'd have wanted a hit by now too! Producer, Tony Visconti, refused to have anything to do with the song, as he deemed it yet another throwaway recording which would unfairly pigeonhole Bowie as just another novelty act. It's a very acoustic affair, improved upon by joyous stylophone backing. But let us not forget the string section, which truly makes it a rousing piece of music, and 40 years later it still sounds fantastic.
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed is probably as close as Bowie ever got to becoming Bob Dylan. It starts pretty calm and chilled out, with Bowie merely strumming his 12-string guitar, but before long he lets his hair down and the harmonicas and electric guitars come into the fray, taking no prisoners. Psychedelica was obviously fresh in Bowie's mind as he lets rip the lyric, "I got eyes in my backside!" But what tops it off are the fabulous harmonica blasts, which turn it into one of the album's standout moments.
Always a highlight, Letter to Hermione shows a very rare and honest side to Bowie. Written for an ex-girlfriend, Bowie writes in his letter, "They say your life is going very well, they say you sparkle like a different girl!" I like it when his voice starts cracking in the second half of the song; it illustrates a real human emotion within the song and it's always nice to hear a recording which is relatively simple in design, but is overwhelming in its poignancy.
The ambitious Cygnet Committee is one of Bowie's longest recordings, but in my opinion it bites off more than it can chew. At well over 9 minutes, it is your pretty standard progressive folk rock song, and does very little to hold your attention. It does everything you'd expect it to - it starts quiet, gets a little multi-layered and complex... oh hang on, quiet again... wait for it, wait for it, IT'S LOUD NOW! You get the idea, right?
Bowie admits to having multiple personalities in Janine, so it should have been no surprise when he whopped out Ziggy and even less of a surprise when he started crooning in a mustard yellow suit circa 1974 (over-indulgent use of Brylcreem included). Janine is another acoustic recording, featuring a very bouncy and lively feel to it. It breaks down no barriers, but it is damn good fun, so I'm not going to complain. Plus, the chorus rocks, "Janine you'd like to know me well, but I have things in my head that even I can't face... But if you took an axe to me, you'd kill another man and not me at all!"
Bowie even brings out an un-credited Mick Ronson and a full orchestral arrangement for the first time on Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud. It's all very professionally written and arranged, but it does nothing in encouraging me to recommend it to you, it kind of just waddles towards the end of its running time in an uninspiring fashion. True, it isn't offensively bad, but it's perhaps just a little too middle of the road for its own good. You follow?
The album is brought to a close with Memory of a Free Festival. It would later be split into two separate tracks, given a re-recording and released as a single. Seriously, the record label big shots at Mercury Records should have been shot - I've never heard a song less suited to a single release! The album version isn't all that bad and it slowly builds up on the atmospheric side of things. Before long you have a whole crowd of people chanting, "The sun machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party!" Personally, I think it's great, and it encompasses what Bowie was trying to achieve throughout this often 'hippy' and psychedelic recording.
Usually considered to be Bowie's first LP of any worth, Space Oddity is a good, but not great album; as it lacks the consistently good song-writing which would later go on to be the trademark of many of his best recordings.
Under no circumstances should you make it your first stop on the Bowie train, but confirmed fans of David should definitely give it a spin!
Read more of my reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
David Bowies first successful album and the origin of glam rock in 1969. The demise of the hippies and the experimental tastes of music fans saw Bowie aiming for an achieving a completely new sound, mixing the electronic and the acoustic and driving his earlier folk-pop style to more rocking plains.
The albums themes are still entrenched in the social commentary and love/loss songs of folk, the spaced out title track being the only precursor to the Ziggy Stardust days, but the lyrics of many songs on Space Oddity catch Bowie at his witty, story-telling best.
1. Space Oddity
2. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3. (Dont Sit Down)
4. Letter to Hermione
5. Cygnet Committee
7. An Occasional Dream
8. Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud
9. God Knows Im Good
10. Memory of a Free Festival
The singer-guitarists first hit single, Space Oddity came along at exactly the right time, when Western world lunatics dreamed of walking on the conquered moon. The spooky ballad of astronaut Major Tom, a character who would resurface in Bowies music over ten years later, this is the earliest example of the distinctive glam rock sound with its rousing vocals and build up of electronic guitars. A legendary song, and the perfect opening to the album, even if it means that the rest may seem disappointing in comparison.
The folk-rock meld continues with the excellently-titled Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed before softer acoustic melodies take over. After the odd interlude (Dont Sit Down), which is essentially Bowie messing around for forty seconds, Letter to Hermione offers a harsher tone, apparently dealing with the break up of Bowies relationship. This is picked up later in the contrastingly pleasant An Occasional Dream.
Cygnet Committee is the second highlight of the album, a contemplative epic dominated by Bowies subdued but powerful vocals. Despite changing very little through its nine minutes, except perhaps becoming more impassioned in the second half and being accompanied by what seems like an increasing number of instruments forming the background texture, this remains interesting and enjoyable throughout.
With its catchy, Elvisesque chorus and fun guitar melody, Janine is a great track to follow, even managing to keep the thoughtful atmosphere that reaches its peak in An Occasional Dream. Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud and God Knows Im Good are fun folk songs, the former featuring high keyboards adding a strange, artificially uplifting air to the tale and the latter being a simple, unimpressive but enjoyable Bowie acoustic ditty.
The album closes in grand style with the unexpected Memory of a Free Festival, a sombre accordion leading this seven minute progressive song with a memorable chorus, joined in by ever more voices and rousing keyboards as the music continues for longer than expected before fading to a quiet Bowie solo piece again and exiting.
A spectacular album that can be appreciated by casual listeners and rock fans, this is Bowies first, albeit flawed, masterpiece. The catchy ballad Space Oddity, the grandeur of Cygnet Committee and the elevating anthem Memory of a Free Festival keep the album interesting from start to finish, but sadly nothing in-between holds up to the same standard. The rock touches are accomplished and perfected with the next years The Man Who Sold the World, thanks in no small part to guitarist Mick Ronson who is absent from these early, pre-fame recordings.
No track is poor or unworthy of the listeners time, not even the daft (Dont Sit Down) which is very short and actually a little fun on repeated listens, but newcomers to David Bowie would most likely appreciate this as a later purchase to his more accomplished Ziggy Stardust or best-of collections. Space Oddity, like much of Bowies discography, arrived at the right time, and not entirely by accident. Chameleonic and undoubtedly multi-talented and successfully experimental, David Bowies music really begins here.
The title track is in many ways a misleading example of the tone of this album, which is not nearly so rooted in outer space as so much of Bowie's subsequent work. This is for the main part a gentle folk-rock album, with the vaguely hippy pretensions you might expect from a guitar-based album made in 1969. Songs like 'Janine', 'God Knows I'm Good', and the superb 'An Occasional Dream' are more reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel than the kind of music Bowie was to make in the following decade. It passes by pleasantly and without fuss, and for the most part, without staying in the memory too long.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Space Oddity
2 Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3 Don't Sit Down
4 Letter To Hermione
5 Cygnet Committee
7 Occasional Dream
8 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
9 God Knows I'm Good
10 Memory Of A Free Festival