1998 – Spectrum
Folk/ Rock/ Pop
NOTE: This record isn’t actually a proper David Bowie album, but rather a compilation CD put together by Spectrum Records of many of the recordings that Bowie did before his rise to fame with Space Oddity. Most of these recordings come from David Bowie’s period with Deram Records (1966-68) and from the self-titled album he made for that company.
Now, while many people would be more than a little familiar with the legendary music figure that is David Bowie and would know at the very least some tracks like Let’s Dance or Ziggy Stardust, it seems that very few people know anything about the odd little recordings he did for Deram Records before his meteoric rise to fame unless they are hardcore Bowie aficionados or have nothing better to do with their life than recording collecting and generally being a nerd (read ‘me’). It is for this reason that I decided to pull down the weird collection of early Bowie material that comprises London Boy down from me shelf and give it a spin. So, here goes!
London Boy kicks off, in true historical homage style, with a very old recording of what was to become the smash hit Space Oddity. With this opening track we instantly get a pretty good idea what this collection is going to be like, I mean, we get to hear a very young Bowie performing his classic science-fiction epic in an incredibly low-key folk style complete with what appears to be a recorder solo! From here we move into even weirder territory with kid-friendly Beatles style pop of Did You Ever Have A Dream and There Is A Happy Land which sounds like it has been ripped right out of a musical-movie that no one remembers the name of. Really, what you’re in for a whole lot of stupid with this collection. Everything is just so cheesy and plastered with fake smiles or occasionally the even worse fake tears.
Don’t mistake my calling out of all this unimaginable cheese for my not liking this record. Quite the contrary in fact, I’m actually really rather fond of it and all its stupid charm, but I do have to call it for what it is, and that really is stupid. I mean, novelty songs like Rubber Band and Laughing Gnome are just sandwiched in with what apparently passes for ‘serious’ in Maid Of Bond Street and When I Live My Dream, and then you get the tracks which you just don’t know what the hell is going on with like We Are Hungry Men. It really is all just a little bit silly and at times it is rather difficult to figure out what was going on in the mind of the man who went on to make a masterpiece like “Heroes”. I guess that what it makes it so much fun is just the fact that it manages to turn its naivety and daftness into a certain kind of charm that just kind of warms the listener’s heart. Somehow, despite its awful lyrics, clichéd tunes, and derivative writing, it just hits the right strings and makes you smile.
There’s just so much character in these tracks with all their silly theatricality and odd subject matters, and the basic folk-pop melodies are just so catchy that it’s actually quite hard not to get into it all and have a bit of fun with this record. The music really isn’t anything special, and the writing is, at times, atrocious, but somehow that doesn’t seem to matter and Bowie’s innocence and optimism just creeps in and brightens up your day.
This said, there are still a lot of things wrong with these recordings, and the charming nature of the tracks doesn’t quite override this. Bowie’s flair for theatricality in a track like Please Mr. Gravedigger, for example, begins charming but very quickly becomes overbearing and really rather irritating, and many of the cuts on this collection are a bit boring and forgettable. Not to mention his Anthony Newly impression that runs throughout the album is just a bit weird and off-putting.
In guess I would say in summary that London Boy is probably a worthwhile compilation if you wanted to put Bowie’s long and illustrious career in some sort of perspective, but even if that was your goal it really isn’t all that necessary. There is a lot of fun to be had with it, but that does come at the cost of a lot of stuff that was probably best left collecting dust on the shelves of some forgotten archive.
And now we all get to witness the amazing overacting of Mr David Bowie this performance of his sixties ‘hit’.
- Earthling – David Bowie (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- David Bowie film to be shown in Wales in exhibition ‘grand finale’ (walesonline.co.uk)
- Field Report #2: David Bowie Is… (apolloapollo.com)
- David Bowie’s Music Video Awards: 5 Classic Moments From His Videography (kool.cbslocal.com)
- Bowie’s back – 8 January 2013 (paulsmith.co.uk)