Tuesday, February 2, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: David Bowie (1969 album)

Released on November 4, 1969, David Bowie’s second eponymous release (also called Space Oddity and Man of Words/Man of Music) from Mercury Records (in the U.S.) and Philips Records (in the U.K.) marks Bowie’s first collaboration with producer Tony Visconti on a studio release. With the exception of the single Space Oddity which was produced by Gus Dudgeon, the album is a mixture of folk rock with elements of psychedelic music and the burgeoning sounds of progressive rock which was emerging in the late 1960s. Featuring a group of well-rounded musicians that include guitarist/flautist Tim Renwick, arranger Paul Buckmaster, and future Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman on various keyboards with Visconti providing bass on some tracks. The result would be the first of many great albums Bowie would create in his illustrious career.

The album’s opening track is the famed single Space Oddity as it is this strange folk ballad with lush orchestral arrangements provided by Paul Buckmaster about a man named Major Tom who goes into outer space. It is a haunting song filled with strange sound effects courtesy of a pocket electronic organ known as the Stylophone as the song would be Bowie’s breakthrough hit. To think that his second album would be known for that one song is really just undercutting exactly what else Bowie had to offer in his second album which is a far more realized effort than his predecessor while it also shows an artist still trying to find a sense of identity.

Songs like Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed and Janine both provide a different idea in Bowie’s approach to folk as there’s elements of guitar rock while the latter has bits of American country in its solo. The former also bears elements of country but with dashes of rock as it’s a hodgepodge of things as the song is then followed by a cut called Don't Sit Down which sort of fades in and out after that song. Ballads like Letter to Hermione and An Occasional Dream definitely play into the world of folk as the two songs both display bits of introspective elements that Bowie rarely reveals as it alludes to Bowie’s break-up with his then-love of his life in Hermione Farthingale. Another folk-based ballad entitled God Knows I’m Good is definitely one of Bowie’s most underrated songs as it plays into the plight of an old woman who shoplifted as she prays to God.

Lyrically, the album features some of Bowie’s growth as it dabbles into many ideas as well as containing some weird imagery as it relates to the world of psychedelic in Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed to something that is very somber in another standout track in the ballad Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud that would also feature some unique time signatures as it starts off slow and somber and then has some power in the middle of the song. Another song that has some unique time signature and tempo changes is a nine-and-a-half minute song called Cygnet Committee as it’s a song that is a scathing attack on 1960s hippie idealism as well as the idea of messianic views as it would serve as a precursor for the kind of songs Bowie would do. The album closer Memory of a Free Festival also plays into the fallacy of 60s idealism as it’s more of a jam with a very memorable sing-a-long chorus at the end of the song with many people joining along as it would include BBC TV show presenter “Whispering” Bob Harris.

The 2009 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the album features a second disc filled with demos, rarities, B-sides, and alternate versions of songs. Some of which had appeared in various compilations in the coming years including live BBC versions of Janine and Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed as well as a version of Let Me Sleep Beside You from the first album. The demo versions of Space Oddity and An Occasional Dream are presented in rough versions as it is expected in demos where it’s just Bowie and an acoustic guitar along with bits of instrumentation and additional vocals as they show Bowie’s gift as a songwriter. There’s two alternate versions of Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud as the former was a B-side to Space Oddity that features guitar work and handclaps from a future key collaborator of Bowie in guitarist Mick Ronson while the latter has more orchestral elements. There’s also two different versions of London Bye Ta-Ta as a stereo version features more focus on the instrumentation with different time signatures while an alternate version is a bit more sped up.

One of the highlights of the second disc is a non-LP single that Bowie would later re-record a few years later in the song The Prettiest Star that Bowie wrote as a love song for his then-girlfriend Angela Barnett. In this version that features guitar solos by Marc Bolan of the glam rock band T-Rex and a lush string orchestra in the background, it is one of Bowie’s definitive songs. The single’s B-side Conversation Piece is another gem as it’s a ballad with touches of country music and enchanting lyrics that displays Bowie’s brilliance as a lyricist. Memory of a Free Festival appears as a two-part single as it would also feature contributions from Mick Ronson on guitar as well as more mid-tempo presentation in this alternate version while another version of the song also features a different mix that emphasizes more on the vocals. Closing the second disc is an Italian version of Space Oddity entitled Ragazza Solo, Ragazza Sola that features translated lyrics by the famed Italian lyricist Mogol as it’s a great version of the song with Bowie singing very well in Italian.

David Bowie’s eponymous second album is definitely a phenomenal album in terms of what Bowie is able to do as a songwriter as well as displaying a sense of growth into what he would become as an artist. Notably as it showcases the kind of range Bowie is in tackling different genres while making it so easy at a time when popular music was moving towards the 1970s. In the end, David Bowie’s second eponymous release is remarkable album from the young man from Brixton.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Aladdin Sane - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Young Americans - Station to Station - Low - “Heroes” - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Never Let Me Down - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - Earthling - 'Hours...' - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases:
David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - (The Buddha of Suburbia)

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016


  1. Space Oddity is a great song and I'm happy you included the b-side Conversation Piece, which is quite underrated and feels autobiographical.

    1. That is a great B-side as it's for me one of Bowie's great gems as I added it to a mix of songs that I hope to create as part of a playlist called Definitive Bowie.