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I AIN'T GOT YOU (Carter)

The Yardbirds' 1964 B-side was among The Manish Boys' live repertoire.


Recorded by The Astronettes at Olympic Studios in 1973, and eventually released on 1995's People From Bad Homes and 2006's Oh! You Pretty Things, "I Am A Laser" is known to Bowie fans as an early prototype of the Scary Monsters track "Scream Like A Baby". Although the melody is identical, the finger-clicking arrangement owes more to the funkier tracks on Diamond Dogs, while the lyric is entirely different: "I am a laser, burning through your eyes / And I know what kind of man you are, and I long to hold you tight". Although the lyric is as impenetrable as most of Bowie's compositions of the period, the general idea appears to be the singer's predilection for kinky sex: there's a startling section in the second verse in which Ava Cherry sings: "I'm going to turn my beam on, if only for an hour / You'll know I've switched the heat on when you feel my golden shower."

     A fascinating two-minute excerpt from a further track entitled "Lazer" was among the snippets from the Young Americans sessions leaked onto the internet in September 2009. Deriving from a Sigma Sound reel tape dated August 13th 1974, this version has an entirely different verse melody and lyrics, and a soulful groove in keeping with "After Today" and other early numbers from the Young Americans sessions. Bowie's ongoing penchant for a fairytale reference rears its head as he sings "mirror, mirror on the wall sees all" before moving into the familiar "I am a laser" chorus, singing with an intimacy and abandon that are positively thrilling to hear. A handwritten listing for one of the album's early incarnations notes this track among the "spares" and gives it the marginally different title "I'm A Laser".


Originally recorded during the Astronettes sessions in a funky "1984"-style arrangement for wah-wah guitar, cowbell percussion, piano and strings, "I Am Divine" was heavily reworked in 1974 for Young Americans as "Somebody Up There Likes Me". Although there are similarities between the two songs (notably Ava Cherry's "so divine" backing vocals), the most interesting lyric from "I Am Divine" sounds more like David boasting to Iggy Pop - "I'm the Main Man in my city / Hey Jim, I'm in control!" - further evidence of Bowie's preoccupation with self-discipline and the conflicting impulses he had already embodied in "The Jean Genie" ("let yourself go!") and "The Man Who Sold The World ("I never lost control"). The track was finally released on 1995's People From Bad Homes, whose US edition includes a sleeve-note claiming, entirely erroneously, that Bowie sings the lead vocal. The track was later included on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things.

I AM WITH NAME (Bowie/Eno/Gabrels/Garson/Kizilcay/Campbell)

  • B-Side: September 1995

  • Album: 1.Outside

  • Bonus: 1.Outside (2004)

This incantatory track, narrated by the 1.Outside character Ramona, reprises the multi-layered atmospherics of the album's opening. The babble of voices and ominous percussion are vaguely reminiscent of 1983's "Ricochet", juxtaposing Ramona's repetitive chant with Nathan Adler's mutterings about "anxiety descending" and being (or perhaps turning) "left at the crossroads between the centuries". It's frankly unintelligible, but as an experiment in pure atmosphere and approaching menace it succeeds wonderfully. Despite being labelled "Album Version", the B-side (later included on the 2004 reissue of 1.Outside) is in fact a longer edit. An elaborate ten-minute version of "I Am With Name" was among the unreleased 1994 material leaked online in 2003 (see "The Leon Recordings" for details).


I CAN'T EXPLAIN (Townshend)

  • Album: Pin Ups

The hit that launched The Who, taking them to number 8 in 1965, was occasionally played live by The Spiders during the first Ziggy Stardust tour. An early attempt to record a studio version was made at Trident on June 24th 1972, during the same session that saw the first take of "John, I'm Only Dancing": both tracks were scrapped and have never been released. The following year "I Can't Explain" was reworked for Pin Ups in an unlikely piano and sax-driven arrangement, featuring a Mick Ronson guitar solo which is clearly based on the chords and string-bending style of Joe Moretti's solo in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' 1960 chart-topper "Shakin' All Over", from which the same twelve-bar chord sequence, absent from The Who's "I Can't Explain", is imported wholesale. In October 1973 a live version was included in The 1980 Floor Show, and ten years later the song reappeared for the early leg of the Serious Moonlight tour.


  • Album: Blackstar

  • Promo: April 2016

  • A-Side: April 2016

The mournful playout of "Dollar Days" segues directly into the warm, uplifting chords of Blackstar's final track, a breathtakingly pretty song which arrives like a sunrise, banishing the shadows and concluding Bowie's final album on a note of serene optimism. From Donny McCaslin's joyous sax to Ben Monder's exuberant guitar solo, it's hard to imagine how this track could sound any lovelier.

     "It's just an epic song," said keyboardist Jason Lindner. "It's a huge feeling. It's kind of trance-like. I remember I just had this piano figure I played on the Wurlitzer that keeps going and stays consistent through the bass notes moving down. It keeps repeating and getting bigger and bigger."

     The backing track was cut at Magic Shop on March 21st 2015, and unusually for Blackstar, some of Bowie's vocals recorded on the same day was used in the completed track; the remainder of his lead vocal was recorded at Human on May 7th. Also retained in the final mix are elements from his original home demo, including the drum loop which takes us out of "Dollar Days" and David's plaintive harmonica line, which evokes memories of "A New Career In A New Town" and, more especially, the title track of Never Let Me Down, whose chords and rhythms are gently echoed here. These furtive flashbacks seem entirely appropriate for a song that plays out like a philosophical end-of-term report. It's delicious that David Bowie, for five decades rock music's grand master of the obscure reference and the opaque lyric, should conclude his final album with a song called "I Can't Give Everything Away."

     Part of David's plea is surely that he has now given away enough of himself: that in return for letting us have David Bowie, we might leave him in peace with what remains of David Jones. The decades of interviews, tours and chat shows are over, but the flood of press coverage continues, and a colossal exhibition tours the world, allowing thousands to peek at David's clothes and notebooks and boyhood scrawlings; that's enough, he seems to be saying. No more. That's all, folks.

     But "I Can't Give Everything Away" has another, more playful arrow in its quiver, aimed with the utmost good humour at the Bowie enthusiast's favourite pastime. In a 1972 interview for the NME, David told Charles Shaar Murray: "I certainly don't understand half the stuff I write. I can look back on a song that I have just written and it means something when I first wrote it, and it means something entirely different now because of my new circumstances, new this or that. I get told by so many people - especially Americans - what my songs are about." Decades later, in 2003's Reality EPK, he looked straight into camera and remarked with a chuckle that "part and parcel of what I do for lying to you."

     Bearing in mind these and many other such utterances, it seems fitting that Bowie should find room at the end of his last album for a spot of amiable admonishment of those who approach his work as a hunting-ground from which specific "meanings" can be winkled out and nailed down. "I Can't Give Everything Away" is Bowie celebrating his own elusiveness, revelling in the pleasure he always took in presenting a moving target, ducking the interviewer's attempt at a penetrating question, happily contradicting himself and embracing apparently irreconcilable opposites: "Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes / This is all I ever meant, that's the message that I sent." Far from suggesting that his lyrics mean nothing, he is offering us an eloquent reminder that they can mean whatever we would like them to mean. In the very act of engaging with the song - by interpreting a Bowie lyric about the interpretation of Bowie lyrics, as I am doing now by writing this, and as you are doing by reading it - we all become willing players in David's game, dancing to his clever, beautiful tune. He's having the last laugh, and quite right too. His trick is you and me.

     On April 6th 2016, the standard album-track download of "I Can't Give Everything Away" was posthumously promoted as the third single from Blackstar. A shorter 4'26" edit appeared on a CD-R promo and accompanied an animated video created by Jonathan Barnbrook, featuring the lyrics interacting with geometric shapes, many of them derived from the album artwork. "This is really a very simple little video  that I wanted to be ultimately positive," Barnbrook explained. In a saccharine closing gesture, the final moments depict a cartoon astronaut receding into space.

I CAN'T READ (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • Album: Tin Machine

  • B-Side: September 1989

  • Live: Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby

  • A-Side: February 1998

  • Download: May 2007

  • Download: July 2009

  • Live Video: Oy Vey, Baby - Tin Machine Live At The Docks/VH1 Storytellers

Widely and deservedly considered the finest track on Tin Machine's debut album, "I Can't Read" defies all the usual criticisms aimed at the band. The lyric is oblique and evocative, the arrangement steers away from Tin Machine's usual indiscriminate clatter, and Bowie eschews his unpalatable Robert Palmer-isms in favour of the emotionally numb, burned-away vocal style perfected on his Berlin albums. The themes of introspection, inadequacy and underachievement also echo his late 1970s work, here expressed by a frustrated couch-potato flicking between television channels and ruminating on a celebrated pronouncement of Bowie's one-time muse: "Andy, where's my fifteen minutes?" The refrain of "I can't read shit anymore" sounds uncannily like "I can't reach it anymore" which, coupled with the next line "I just can't get it right," becomes an almost embarrassingly direct reflection on David's ongoing struggle to get back on the artistic rails. Reeves Gabrels achieves a cutting-edge guitar sound redolent of the more experimental tracks on Lodger, and the only uncertain note is struck, as usual, by the drumming of Hunt Sales, who almost spoils everything by carpet-bombing the choruses with unnecessary din.

     The album version of "I Can't Read" was recorded live in one take and mixed in less than an hour during the Compass Point sessions in Nassau. It was an immediate favourite of both Bowie and Gabrels, who admired its "freer jazz spirit". A remixed excerpt was featured in Julien Temple's 1989 promotional video medley, for which David prudently sang "I can't read it" instead of "I can't read shit". The song went on to become one of the band's concert highlights. A live version recorded in Paris on June 25th 1989 appeared as a B-side and later as a download, while another from the It's My Life tour appeared on Oy Vey, Baby.

     In subsequent years, Bowie often cited the song as a vindication of the Tin Machine project. Accosted about Tin Machine in 1995, he advised an NME interviewer to "listen to a tune called "I Can't Read", listen to that one, will you? I don't ask you to listen to any of the rest, just listen to that one song because I think that song is one of the best I have ever written."

     "I Can't Read" finally came of age when it was re-recorded during the Earthling sessions. Drastically reworked with a soft acoustic guitar and synthesizer backing, it was initially mooted for inclusion on the album before becoming the closing music of Ang Lee's superb 1998 movie The Ice Storm, which fitted the re-tooled lyrics like a glove ("Can I see the family smile, can I reach tomorrow, can I walk a missing mile, can I feel, can I please?"). It was released as a single the same year, by which time further revisions had been performed at the Bridge School benefit concerts in October 1996, for ChangesNowBowie, and at Madison Square Garden on January 9th 1997, where Bowie recorded a performance backstage for inclusion in the pay-per-view broadcast of his fiftieth birthday concert. Another live performance was recorded on August 23rd 1999 during the VH1 Storytellers concert; it was omitted from the original broadcast but was included on the 2009 DVD and download releases. Reeves Gabrels revived the song on his 2015 tour with Lisa Ronson, who sang lead vocal.



  • A-Side: August 1966

  • Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)

On June 6th 1966 David Bowie and The Buzz made an initial attempt to record their next single, "I Dig Everything", at Pye Studios, where they were joined by Dusty Springfield's backing singers Kiki Dee, Lesley Duncan and Madelaine Bell, and by a brass section which included trumpeter Andy Kirk of Dave Antony's Moods. However, all concerned were under-rehearsed and the recording was deemed a failure. Tony Hatch, who had produced David's previous two singles, was unimpressed by The Buzz and unceremoniously dumped them from the subsequent studio session on July 5th. In their place Hatch elected to use session musicians whose identities are not recorded. Whoever they were, they provide an unusually perky background of washboard percussion and jaunty Hammond organ for David's lyric, a cynical celebration of a layabout lifestyle on London's transient teen-scene. The cheeky tone (as in the devastating couplet "I've got more friends than I've had hot dinners / Some of them are losers but the rest of them are winners") marks this out as a transitional moment between the R&B stylings of David's previous singles and his more idiosyncratic Deram work. Both the arrangement and the Sam Cooke-style backing vocals are a reminder that The Buzz were reluctantly dipping their toes into soul in the second half of 1966, while some of the vocabulary ("garbage", "time-check girl") serves as an early indication, even in a song firmly set in London, of Bowie's penchant for American slang.

     Released on August 19th, the single was yet another flop. Ready, Steady, Go!, which had featured Bowie earlier in the year, turned it down after receiving an advance dub copy. It was David's last recording for Pye, and despite not playing on the single, The Buzz continued to back him live on this song and others until early December. By then David had a new deal on a new label, and was recording his first album.

     "I Dig Everything" was one of the earliest Bowie songs to be covered on stage by another artist: in the spring of 1967 the Scottish trio 1-2-3 included it in their live repertoire, drawing them to the attention of David, who befriended the band and later employed two of them to play on some of his Ziggy-era demos. Many years later "I Dig Everything" received a shock revival in Bowie's summer 2000 repertoire, and a new studio version was recorded during the same year's Toy sessions. Leaked online in 2011, this unreleased 4'52" cut is taken at a slower tempo and feels altogether less breezy than the original, overturning the "Swinging London" atmosphere of Tony Hatch's production with a more conventional guitar-led approach.


I FEEL FREE (Bruce/Brown)

  • Album: Black Tie White Noise

  • Live: RarestOneBowie

  • Video: Black Tie White Noise

Cream's 1966 hit was a longstanding favourite with Bowie: as early as 1968 he interpolated a brief snatch of its intro in his demo of "When I'm Five", but the song didn't enter his repertoire until the early Ziggy concerts in 1972. It was shortlisted for a studio recording at the following year's Pin Ups sessions but dropped from the final selection. In 1980 an instrumental backing was cut during the Scary Monsters session in New York, but by the time David recorded his vocals in London the idea had been abandoned, and this version was never completed.

     "I Feel Free" was finally taken into the studio in 1992 and subjected to an unlikely but thrilling techno-funk treatment for Black Tie White Noise, complete with a joyous guitar break from Mick Ronson - back in the studio with Bowie for the first time since 1973, following their stage reunion at April's Freddie Mercury Tribute. "The dear old thing plays great," David enthused the following January, by which time Ronson's cancer diagnosis was public knowledge. "He's got the willpower of all time." For his part, Ronson declared that "I hope David's album does well. He's put everything into it. I speak to him often. He sounds so positive."

     Sadly Mick Ronson died on April 29th 1993, just weeks after the release of Black Tie White Noise. In the studio "performance" shot only a few days later for the Black Tie White Noise video, Ronson's solo was mimed by Wild T. Springer. "I was fortunate enough to know Mick right until the end of his life," said Bowie, "and in the last year of that life I'd gotten back very closely with him." At around the same time David revealed that "I Feel Free" held another, older memory for him, this time related to his half-brother Terry: "I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through - and I'd like to think it was during "I Feel Free" - he started feeling very, very bad...I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him." Interesting, then, that Bowie should revive the number on Black Tie White Noise, which elsewhere addresses Terry's troubles in some depth.

     An early live version of "I Feel Free", recorded at Kingston Polytechnic on May 6th 1972 and unfortunately blighted by appalling sound quality, appears on RarestOneBowie, showcasing a guitar solo later adapted by Mick Ronson for live renditions of "The Width Of A Circle". The 4'40" Scary Monsters instrumental out-take, startlingly similar to the Black Tie White Noise rendition, has appeared on bootlegs. During Tin Machine's It's My Life tour, David occasionally sang a few lines from "I Feel Free" during the extended rendition of "Heaven's In Here".

I FEEL SO BAD (Willis)

On August 16th 2002, the final date of the Area: 2 tour, Bowie marked the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death by opening his encores with a one-off performance of "I Feel So Bad". Originally recorded in 1954 by its author Chuck Willis, the song provided a number 4 UK hit for Presley in 1961, as a double A-side with "Wild In The Country". Bowie followed this unexpected excursion into rock music's roots with a rendition of Presley's more familiar hit "One Night".

I GOT YOU BABE (Bono/Cher)

"This isn't anything very serious, it's just a bit of fun - we've hardly rehearsed it!" proclaimed Bowie as he and Marianne Faithfull launched into a ropey rendition of the 1965 Sonny & Cher classic for The 1980 Floor Show on October 19th 1973. Faithfull, then appearing in A Patriot For Me at Watford's Palace Theatre, later attributed her husky vocal to "too many cigarettes". During Tin Machine's It's My Life tour two decades later, David occasionally sang a few lines from "I Got You Babe" during the extended rendition of "Heaven's In Here".


  • Album: 1.Outside

After 1.Outside's opening salvo of uncompromising avant-rock, "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" quietens the pace with an edgy funk treatment and the dexterous, instantly recognisable rhythm guitar of Carlos Alomar, although bursts of electric bass and weird Eno-noises are never far away. Within the album's loose narrative the song is "to be sung by Leon Blank", now in prison on suspicion of murder but protesting his innocence (hence the title) and implying that he's been framed by Ramona. Again the fin de siécle theme hangs heavy: "And the wheels are turning and turning, as this twentieth century dies / If I had not ripped the fabric, if time had not stood still..." The sing-sing "Toll the bell...all's well" chorus offers one of the most sublimely catchy hooks in Bowie's 1990s work.."

     The track began life as "Trio" on January 17th 1995 when Eno, Alomar and drummer Joey Barron were waiting for Bowie to arrive at the studio. Two days later Eno recorded in his diary that the track "really burst into life today when David heard it. Bizarre: he sat down and started writing the song on the first hearing, listening once more and said, 'I'll need five tracks.' Then he went into the vocal booth and sang the most obscure thing imaginable - long spaces, little, incomplete lines...he unfolded the whole thing in reverse, keeping us in suspense for the main song. Within half an hour he'd substantially finished what may be the most infectious song we've ever written together - currently called "Toll The Bell'."

     Harmonically the song borrows from 1993's "Miracle Goodnight", and like that track it might have been a big hit if given a full publicity push as a single. As it was, "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" remained an album track and was performed throughout the Outside tour. A cover version by Zoe Poledouris, with a fresh set of lyrics which updated the century and altered the title to "I Have Not Been To Paradise", featured in Paul Verhoeven's 1996 blockbuster Starship Troopers: omitted from the original soundtrack album, it appeared on a two-disc deluxe edition released in 2016.

I KEEP FORGETTIN' (Lieber/Stoller)

  • Album: Tonight

Bowie's throwaway cover of Chuck Jackson's 1959 chestnut is an inoffensive but uninteresting makeover in the Tonight house style: stop-start percussion, zappy trumpets, helter-skeltering marimba and a vapid guitar solo. "I've always wanted to do that song," Bowie said at the time.


  • Album: Black Tie White Noise

  • Video: Black Tie White Noise

"I always thought of Morrissey as a sort of sexual Alan Bennett," said Bowie in 1993, "because of his attention to detail. He'll take a small subject matter and make a very grandiose statement of it." His peripheral relationship with Morrissey, whose narcissistic kitchen-sink melodramas had long inherited aspects of Bowie's legacy, began when the two met backstage at David's Manchester gig in August 1990. The following February David joined Stephen on stage in Los Angeles to perform an encore pf Marc Bolan's "Cosmic Dancer", while 1992 saw the release of Morrissey's pseudo-glam album Your Arsenal, produced by none other than Mick Ronson. As David later recounted, "It occurred to me...that [Morrissey] was possibly spoofing one of my earlier songs, and I thought, I'm not going to let him get away with that. I do think he's one of the best lyricists in England, and an excellent songwriter, and I thought his song was an affectionate spoof."

     The song in question was "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday", co-written by Morrissey and ex-Fairground Attraction guitarist Mark E Nevin. Morrissey's version, which echoes any number of Bowie's early 1970s ballads, culminates in a blatant lift from the climax of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", although in a characteristically perverse twist this is the one element Bowie chose to excise from his own version. Instead, as he explained, "I thought it would be fun to take that song and do it the way I would have done it in 1974-ish." The result is a breathtakingly overblown gospel treatment, complete with heavenly choir and big-band climax. It's an endlessly incestuous joke: Bowie covers Morrissey parodying Ziggy Stardust in the style of Young Americans. "A window-rattling rendition," wrote Q's David Sinclair, "which Bowie takes over so completely that it's hard not to think of it as one of his own compositions." The Black Tie White Noise video includes studio footage of Mick Ronson playing the riff from the original Morrissey arrangement.

     "There's something terribly affectionate about the idea of the lyric," said Bowie. "You know, don't worry, somebody will come along if you wait long enough. I mean, it's very weepy and silly, so I did it very grandly with a gospel choir and horns...It's a bit silly, but it's done with affection." In the NME he revealed that when he played his recording to Morrissey, "it brought a tear to his eye and he said, 'Oooh, it's sooo grand!'" Suede's Brett Anderson, meanwhile, found Bowie's rendition "very fifties, very Johnnie Ray."

     "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" features a plangent guitar solo by Wild T Springer, a Trinidadian blues player who met Bowie in Canada during the second Tin Machine tour. "I think he got quite a surprise when I called him up and asked him if he'd come down to New York and do a session," said Bowie. "He was an absolute delight." Describing Springer's playing as "sort of a lilting take on Hendrix's guitar style", Bowie revealed that Wild T's real name is Anthony. I find it very hard to call him Wild T."

     A mimed studio performance was recorded by David Mallet for the Black Tie White Noise video. Bowie mimed the song alone before a set of curtains and Christmas lights, holding a cigarette lighter aloft, Barry Manilow-style, in the pursuit of what he described as "a totally camp" cover version.


This little-known Bowie composition was tried out and discarded by The Lower Third in 1965.

I NEED SOMEBODY (Pop/Williamson)

Mixed by Bowie for Iggy And The Stooges' Raw Power, "I Need Somebody" was performed on Iggy's 1977 tour. Live versions featuring Bowie can be heard on various Iggy releases.


In the summer of 1963 Eric Easton, the agent who had signed The Rolling Stones to Decca, called David's early group The Kon-rads to an audition after one of his assistants had seen the band perform in Orpington. By the time of the audition 16-year-old David had already left Bromley Tech and was beginning to tire of The Kon-rads limited horizons, but the chance of an audition strengthened the band's resolve. It was decided that they should play one of David's own songs at the audition, which took place on August 29th 1963 at Decca's studios in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead. Drummer Dave Hadfield told the Gillmans that the song was a piece David had written based on a news report about an air crash, but singer Roger Ferris remembered differently, telling Mojo Collections in 2001 that "I Never Dreamed" was "a typically upbeat love song of the era" and that he, not David, had written the lyrics: however, it seems likely that Ferris was confusing more than one song, given that a total of four numbers were apparently recorded at Decca: on August 23rd 1963, a few days before the session, the Bromley & Kentish Times excitedly reported that "The group will go into the Decca studios on Thursday to record four titles, including the popular "I Never Dreamed" which was written by two of the boys, David Jones and Alan Dodds."

     After running through their songs the band stood listening to the playback and watching the faces in the control room. "We smiled a bit and felt like pictures we had seen of The Beatles listening to their playbacks," Hadfield told the Gillmans. "We thought this is it, it's tremendous. But it never materialised." David, apparently, was the most upset. "He had set his sights on it...That sparked the point where he realised he wasn't going to get anywhere with us." David soldiered on with The Kon-rads until the end of the year, after which the band continued for a while without him, and although fame never beckoned they enjoyed a stint touring as support for The Rolling Stones in 1965, releasing a single called "Baby It's Too Late Now" on the CBS label in the same year.

     As well as writing the lyrics of "I Never Dreamed", David provided backing vocals and saxophone on this, his earliest known studio recording. A few scratchy acetate copies are rumoured to have survived, and "I Never Dreamed" has become the Bowie fan's holy grail. In 2002 Dave Hadfield approached Christie's with a Kon-rads tape containing rehearsals of the song recorded prior to the Decca studio session, but it failed to find a buyer.

     As an intriguing coda to the story, in 2001 an undated and previously unknown Kon-rads single called "I Didn't Know How Much", apparently released only in the US and Canada, surfaced on the Decca label despite baffled band members remaining adamant that Decca never signed the group or released any of their recordings. This turn of events has led some Bowie collectors to conclude that "I Didn't Know How Much" (whose songwriting credit goes to fellow Kon-rads Neville Wills and Tony Edwards) may feature David and may also date from the August 1963 session. If so, Decca must have released the single overseas without the band's knowledge - hardly an unheard-of occurrence in the 1960s, but highly irregular all the same. There remains no proof that this rare single (Decca 32060), backed by a cover of Ralph Freed's "I Thought Of You Last Night", really does feature Bowie - but if it does, its place in history is assured.

     In 2002 the plot thickened yet again when another studio tape by The Kon-rads, featuring six tracks including "I Didn't Know How Much" and "Baby It's Too Late Now" (the others were "The Better I Know", "Now I'm On My Way", "I'm Over You", and "Judgement Day"), leaked onto the bootleg circuit. This session is understood to date from 1965 and definitely does not feature Bowie, which in turn casts doubts on his presence on the Decca single.

     In 2008 there was further excitement when an auction of rare recordings from the archives of the legendary producer Joe Meek was billed as including some Kon-rads material, but the only track to emerge was "Mockingbird", a beat-style variant of the traditional lullaby "Hush Little Baby" on which David is nowhere to be heard, and which evidently post-dates his involvement with the band. "I never worked with Joe Meek, never even met him - would have loved to have though," David observed. "But I believe The Kon-rads did do a track or two with him."


  • A-Side: March 1965

  • Compilation: The Manish Boys/Davy Jones And The Lower Third/Early On (1964-1966)

  • Download: January 2007

Following The Manish Boys' tour supporting The Kinks in December 1964, an introduction to American record producer Shel Talmy offered a significant step in David Bowie's slow rise to success. Talmy was already producing The Kinks (hence the introduction), The Who, Manfred Mann and The Bachelors, who had enjoyed five top ten hits in 1964 alone. "I really liked David," Talmy said many years later, "because of the fact that he was, I thought, ahead of the game."

     "I Pity The Fool", originally a hit in 1961 for its American writer Deadric Malone under the name Bobby "Blue" Bland, was selected for The Manish Boys by Talmy himself. "I don't think he would have recorded us otherwise," organist Bob Solly told Record Collector. "We thought it was OK because it incorporated saxes and was what we'd call a 'builder'...So we started work on that discordant sax/organ harmony."

     The Manish Boys' version was recorded on January 15th 1965 at IBC Studios in Portland Place. As well as showcasing the band's up-front saxophone sound and the young David's finest blues-singer impression, it features the unknown session player Jimmy Page on lead guitar. "He'd just got a fuzzbox and he used that for the solo," recalled Bowie in 1997. "He was wildly excited about it." The session found little favour with the other Manish Boys, whose guitarist Paul Rodriguez told the Gillmans that Shel Talmy "ignored some of the best bits in the original which was tragic, and we thought the way he did the whole bass riff was crude in the extreme. It had a counter-riff which Shel destroyed and it sounded crude and tasteless compared to the original." Bob Solly concurred, recalling that "I wasn't pleased with the record. None of us were. It was great to have a record out, but as an artistic achievement, and having Jimmy Page sit in with us, it was a cop-out."

     Two different vocal takes were recorded; the single version later appeared on the compilation The Manish Boys/Davy Jones And The Lower Third and was reissued as a download in 2007, while the unreleased cut appears on Early On.

     The intention had been to release the single on the Decca label, but after some delay Talmy leased it to Parlophone, allegedly as part of his personal campaign to win attention as a potential producer for The Beatles. Despite a performance on March 8th for BBC2's Gadzooks! It's All Happening (marked by a stage-managed controversy over the length of David's hair), the single was a flop. "It was a total non-starter, just not commercial at all," said Bob Solly. "Those saxes were overpowering." This, and David's unhappiness over billing - against his wishes the single had been credited to The Manish Boys - spelt the end of his association with the group. Within a month he was fronting The Lower Third.


  • Bonus: Lodger

Mystery surrounds this bonus track on Ryko's reissue of Lodger, whose sleeve notes describe it as a "previously unreleased track recorded 1979", and credit just four musicians: Bowie himself on guitar and Brian Eno on synthesizer, together with drummer Dennis Davis and bassist George Murray. The mix is dated 1991 and credited to David Bowie and David Richards.

     There is certainly an authentic taste of Lodger about the intro, equal parts "Red Sails" and "Repetition", and the underlying chord structure, which is similar in places to that of "Look Back In Anger". But besides the rhythm track and harmonics, there is very little about "I Pray, Olé" - the mix, the guitar, the lead vocal or the lyrics - that shout Lodger. Instead, the soundscape is strongly redolent of Tin Machine II which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the album being mixed at the same time as the Ryko reissue. Moreover, any similarity to "Look Back In Anger" must be considered in light of the fact that Bowie had already revived and re-recorded that song just a couple of years earlier. "I Pray, Olé" begins with a sequence of power-chords against metronomic percussion which bear an obvious similarity to the extended intro of the 1988 version of "Look Back In Anger". There's also a decidedly close similarity between the phrasing of the "Can you make it through?" chant and the "Take me to the heart" refrain in 1990's "Pretty Pink Rose".

     Suspicions sufficiently piqued, when "I Pray, Olé" was played to Tony Visconti, he confirmed that he had never heard it before. "This draws a complete blank," he told me. "I can definitely rule it out of the Lodger/Scary Monsters sessions. It's not a track I recognise. If I were to make an educated guess I would say it's post-Lodger, pre-Scary Monsters, recorded with David Richards in Montreux. David overdubbed years later on other unfinished tracks...I wouldn't rule that out."

     The question of why a "doctored" track might have ended up on the Lodger reissue isn't so mysterious given the background of the Ryko release programme: all the bonus tracks from Low onwards were provided by Bowie himself, and Visconti also confirmed that "Abdulmajid", a track from the "Heroes" sessions which he did recognise, had received a nineties makeover. So we can safely say that a large question mark hangs over any lingering idea that "I Pray, Olé" is a straightforward Lodger out-take. It's perfectly possible that a genuine unfinished backing track featuring Eno, Murray and Davis lurks at the bottom of the mix, but it's also highly likely that much of the top dressing, including Bowie's jangly guitar and the rather forgettable lyric, were added in 1991. Whatever the case, it's hardly the most incandescent piece that Bowie ever recorded, its quality outweighed by the enigma of its provenance.

I TOOK A TRIP ON A GEMINI SPACESHIP (Legendary Stardust Cowboy)

  • Album: Heathen

  • US Promo: January 2003

In interviews over the years Bowie often mentioned his semantic debt to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, an obscure novelty artist who enjoyed a brief period of notoriety in the late 1960s. Born Norman Carl Odam in Lubbock, Texas, "The Ledge" specialised in an indescribable fusion of tuneless space-age rockabilly and stand-up comedy, boasting the slogan: "A legend in his own time - no other time would have him." When asked what subjects interested him, he once replied: "The Old West and space exploration. Everything in between is all garbage, and I'm not interested."

     Bowie first became aware of The Ledge during his maiden trip to America in February 1971. "He was a stablemate of mine on Mercury Records," David explained. "A chief executive there called Ron Oberman quietly and conspiratorially put these three singles in my hand and said, 'Hey Dave, you like weird shit, don't you?' And I said, 'Yeah, I love weird shit,' and he said, 'Well, this is the weirdest shit we've got!' And he gave me these wonderful, anarchic singles by this artist, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and I completely fell in love with him. I thought he was just terrific."

     One of the singles in question was "I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship", whose cartoonish lyrics Bowie later cited as an influence of sorts on the space-age jargon of the Ziggy Stardust album. "Some of the gooniness you hear on Ziggy came from him," he said in 2002. ""Freak out in a moonage daydream" is sort of his "I shot my space gun, boy did I feel blue / I pulled down my sun visor and thought of you". Now that's a couplet to kill for! Such wonderful lyrics!"

     It would be fair to say, however, that The Ledge could hardly be described as a musical influence. "Not really!" David laughed. "Have you heard the records? They are out there - he really is solidly outside!" Nevertheless, as he told Jonathan Ross in another 2002 interview, "It's got, inherently, so much integrity. Come hell or high water, this guy was gonna make himself heard! The first thing he put out, "Paralyzed", was a minor hit in America, like a Texan hit, you know. And he went on Laugh-In, the comedy show, in all seriousness, and was laughed off - and he just stormed off in disgust because people just laughed at him. I related to that so much. And I took his name "Stardust" for Ziggy Stardust. And then I read his site last year - he's got an internet site - two pages! I think it's one of the slimmest sites on the internet! And he said, "One thing ah know is an English guy called David Boo-ie, he took mah name for his Ziggy Stardust character, and ah think he owes me somethin"." So I immediately got huge pangs of guilt and recorded one of his songs on the new album."

     Those fortunate enough to have attended The Ledge's entirely remarkable performance at Bowie's Meltdown Festival on June 15th 2002 will appreciate that David's sparkling treatment of "I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship" is only fleetingly reminiscent of the free-form yodelling insanity of the original. Over a sophisticated speed-funk backdrop of drums, guitars and saxophones, Bowie piles up layer upon layer of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi clichés: there are crackling wah-wah guitars reminiscent of Space: 1999, and a wailing Theremin straight out of Star Trek. David's breathy close-to-the-mike vocal capitalises on the ironic potential of the cod-Elvis croon previously heard on tracks like "You Belong In Rock N'Roll", ensuring that the innuendo of lines like "I shot my space gun" isn't wasted. The overall effect is completely ridiculous and extraordinarily wonderful; Bowie even manages to imbue the lyric with a "Space Oddity"-esque sense of melancholy and isolation which simply isn't there in the original. During its few live appearances on 2002's Heathen tour (preceded by a performance for the BBC's TOTP2 recorded on June 2nd) David's enjoyment of the number was palpable, and at the time of the album's release he revealed that "Gemini Spaceship" was his two-year-old daughter's favourite track on Heathen.

     In January 2003 the eight-minute "Deepsky's Space Cowboy Remix" appeared as the B-side of the US promo 12" of "Everyone Says 'Hi (METRO Remix)".


  • Live Video: Glass Spider

This number from The Stooges' 1969 debut album was performed during the 1977 Iggy Pop tour, from which versions featuring Bowie can be heard on various Iggy releases. David later revived it as an encore number during the latter part of the Glass Spider tour, and occasionally segued into it during "The Jean Genie" on the Sound + Vision tour.


  • Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)

Pre-dating his inglorious cover of "God Only Knows" by nearly twenty years, this frail demo sees Davy Jones paying direct tribute to The Beach Boys. Particularly reminiscent of "Don't Worry Baby", it was recorded in 1965 around the time of "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving", and features David accompanying himself on acoustic guitar with backing vocals probably by The Lower Third's Denis Taylor. It's possible that the title, though little else, is indebted to the contemporaneous Jimmy Cross novelty single of the same name, a lumbering parody of the "teenage tragedy" genre which might have come David's way via a 1965 cover by The Downliners Sect, a band he later cited as an influence.


  • Album: Pin Ups

The Yardbirds' debut single, a cover version of a song by Billy Boy Arnold, was played live by The Lower Third, who also recorded a studio demo in May 1965. It later became the first of two Yardbirds numbers to be recorded for Pin Ups. It's not a great highlight of the album, with Mick Ronson's mechanical recreation of a rather irritating guitar riff matched by a pretty phoney R&B vocal from David. Repeating a trick used in the original version of "John, I'm Only Dancing", the track features a violin played in unison with the lead guitar. The violinist was Michel Ripoche, a French session player and member of the band Zoo.


  • Album: Heathen

"I Would Be Your Slave" was one of the first Heathen tracks to receive an airing when it was premiered at the Tibet House Benefit concert at Carnegie Hall on February 22nd 2002. With its avant-garde and curiously sinister arrangement of mournful strings set against a metronomic sequence of drum loops, it's a stark, minimalist addition to the album, prefiguring "A Better Future" with its ambiguous dialogue between a troubled protagonist and his mysterious interlocutor, who may be a lover but is probably a god. Bowie described the lyric as "an entreaty to the highest being to show himself in a way that could be understood." The protagonist is clearly uncertain of his status in the relationship: "Give me peace of mind at last / Show me who you are," Bowie implores in a voice both weary and anxious. The lyric echoes the language of countless Christian hymns, although Bowie's tone takes a more direct and questioning line: the final stanza, for example, seems to paraphrase the common conceit expressed in hymns like Christian Rossetti's "In The Bleak Midwinter" ("What can I give him, poor as I am?...Yet what I can, I give him / Give my heart"), when Bowie declares: "I would give you all my love / Nothing else is free / Open up your heart to me / And I would be your slave". Coincidence or no, it's also remarkably similar to the final ultimatum issued by Bowie's Goblin King to young Sarah at the climax of Labyrinth: "Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." The song was performed during the Heathen tour.




  • Album: The Next Day

  • Bonus: The Next Day Extra

Every song on The Next Day concerns itself with conflict of one kind or another: physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, ideological. "I'd Rather Be High" combines the lot. The latest recruit to the album's gallery of wounded young lives is a 17-year-old soldier who has been sent to war in the desert. Traumatised by what he has seen and done, and by what is expected of him, the boy laments: "I'd rather be high, I'd rather be flying, I'd rather be dead or out of my head, than training these guns on those men in the sand."

     As we expect in Bowie's scheme of things, the exact conflict in question remains unclear. Scant literary and geographical clues suggest World War Two, but the setting might just as well be twenty-first-century Iraq or nineteenth-century Khartoum: like the everyman soldier in Jona Lewie's "Stop The Cavalry" who has "had to fight almost every night down throughout the centuries", Bowie's protagonist stands for every teenager who has ever been sent to kill and be killed for his country. In his plaintive cry of "I'm seventeen, my looks can prove it / I'm so afraid that I will lose it", there's an echo of Wilfred Owen's First World War poem "Disabled", about an underage recruit whose looks were "younger than his youth, last year / Now, he is old; his back will never brace / He's lost his colour very far from here". Another possible inspiration is The Quiet Mutiny, John Pilger's award-winning and unforgettable 1970 dispatch from Vietnam for ITV's World In Action, which caused a stir with its investigation into the disintegrating morale and growing discontent among the US Army's teenage "grunts" who were seeking solace in growing their hair and smoking pot, and who, Pilger noted, were "the ones to whom the buck has finally passed, from the President, and the Pentagon, and the career men who catch cold in their air-conditioned command posts." Among the alarmingly young soldiers interviewed by Pilger, one boy mumbles: "Nobody explained to me why we are actually here. I really have nothing against these people. I don't want to kill them."

     The opening lines find Bowie's thoughts wandering once again to Berlin, the setting of Vladimir Nabokov's 1938 novel The Gift: written in the city over the preceding three years, the novel's metafictional possibilities (the final chapter describes a book that the narrator would one day like to write, a book which sounds more or less identical to The Gift) play perfectly into Bowie's hands in this shape-shifting puzzle-box of a lyric. The opening image ("Nabokov is sun-licked now upon the beach at Grunewald") spirals directly from the novel, whose Russian émigré protagonist, a thinly veiled portrait of the author himself, spends a summer's day among the trees and parks of Berlin's Grunewald district, where "the sun licked me all over with its big, smooth tongue." From Nabokov, Bowie moves to the altogether more mysterious "Clare and Lady Manners", who drink and talk politics "until the other cows go home". Lady Diana Manners was a leading light of the fashionable 1910s set known as The Coterie, whose parade of extravagant parties came to end when the Great War claimed the lives of most of its male members; but who is Clare? Reviewing The Next Day for The Guardian in 2013, Alexis Petridis plausibly suggested that the reference might be to Evelyn Waugh's 1955 novel Officers And Gentlemen, in which a character based on Lady Diana Manners fabricates a cover story to protect Ivor Claire, a soldier who faces desertion charges. The novel is partially set in Egypt, so the lyric's reference to Cairo certainly fits - but as so often in Bowie's work, the main point of all these resonances is the simple fact that they resonate. Enjoyable though it is to unpick them, Bowie's modernist process has tangled them together for a reason. There's limited value in pulling them out of the song and pinning them to the wall like so many butterfly specimens.

     Grim subject notwithstanding, "I'd Rather Be High" is a beautiful piece of music, a shimmering edifice of multi-tracked vocals and twinkling guitars over Zachary Alford's deceptively sophisticated shuffling drumbeat. The original track was cut on September 15th 2011, and Bowie's lead vocal recorded on May 9th 2012. More ornate still was an augmented version created in August 2013, for which David recalled Tony Visconti and Henry Hey to the studio. Hijacking the main guitar riff, Henry Hey's sampled harpsichord is a wonderful, lustrous addition. "We listened to the song and I tried a few things," Henry Hey explained, "and then I believe that I suggested harpsichord - I am a closet fan of sixties and early seventies keyboard sounds. I played some faux baroque stuff and he loved it." In addition to the harpsichord overdubs, Tony Visconti played a new bass part to fit the reconstruction, and Bowie extended the song by recording around ten tracks of new vocals which Visconti sculpted into a swooping finale.

     The new version was dubbed the "Venetian Mix", by virtue of its unveiling in November 2013 as the soundtrack of a sumptuously shot commercial for the French fashion house Louis Vuitton, in which the model Arizona Muse encounters a harpsichord-playing Bowie amid the decadent glamour of a Venetian masked ball. Handsome in a suit and silk scarf, David is a still point at the centre of a whirl of pirouetting dancers and periwigged dandies: the effect is not unlike a louche update of the ballroom scene in Labyrinth. Directed by Romain Gavras, the commercial was the second in an ongoing Louis Vuitton series entitled L'Invitation Au Voyage. Several edits were made: the shorter TV spots featured various deconstructed versions of the remix in which the opening verse was stripped down to Bowie's voice and the harpsichord. "We were in constant contact with the commercial producers who requested different lengths and time shifts of parts so that it would fit with the video edits," Tony Visconti said. "It was quite tedious work and it was done over two, maybe three days." An otherwise unavailable variant of the "Venetian Mix", featuring an additional ambient synth intro, appeared on a CD-R promo. A full-length version of the Louis Vuitton video, featuring the complete "Venetian Mix", incorporated artfully staged behind-the-scenes shots and concluded with an incongruous glimpse of Bowie in a T-shirt washing his hands in a basin, taken from the previous month's "Love Is Lost" video.

     In the same month that the Louis Vuitton commercial was launched, "I'd Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)" was released as a bonus track on The Next Day Extra, and a second video was unveiled online. More serious in its intent than the exotic Vuitton ad, the official video was the work of London-based artist and director Tom Hingston, a newcomer to the Bowie camp. "We wanted it to feel like a found relic, discovered, as if from another time," Hingston explained. "In the early conversations, Mr Bowie and I discussed exploring archival footage that brought to life another side of war." Hingston's striking video is an assemblage of more than 100 clips of archive film featuring soldiers from both world wars as well as other conflicts: to emphasise the song's universality there's even a glimpse of a marching Roman legion. Intercut with the military action are shots of off-duty servicemen and women dancing with civilians, victory celebrations spliced with battlefield action, couples dancing in gas masks: at one point a tumbling shower of celebratory balloons is intercut with falling parachutes and bombs raining down from the sky. A distorted monochrome Bowie appears from time to time, singing the choruses.


  • Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)

Dating from mid-1965, this rarity is a derivative Beatles-style workout with an unappealing lyric in which David comes on like a stalker.

I'LL TAKE YOU THERE (Bowie/Leonard)

  • Bonus: The Next Day/The Next Day Extra

Composed during a demo session at Gerry Leonard's Woodstock house in the summer of 2011, the bonus track "I'll Take You There" began recording at Magic Shop on September 12th. It's one of the rockier numbers from The Next Day's sessions, featuring no fewer than four guitarists in the final mix: Leonard, David Torn and Tony Visconti, plus David himself playing an acoustic line occasionally audible beneath the electric onslaught. Like the similarly guitar-heavy "(You Will) Set The World On Fire", the result feels like an eighties throwback for Bowie, with verses reviving the clipped rhythm guitar style of "Ashes To Ashes" and the choruses recalling the thrashier numbers on Never Let Me Down or Tin Machine.

     The track remained without a lyric until the spring of 2012, when David furnished several wordless songs with vocals: this one was recorded in three passes on March 2nd, 5th and 14th 2012. It's one of the more direct lyrics from The Next Day's sessions: a kind of immigrant variation on Simon and Garfunkel's "America", it follows the hopes and dreams of Sophie and Lev, refugees from an unspecified calamity who have set their sights on a new life in the United States. Not that they have arrived yet, nor is there any guarantee that they will: "Your heart's beating fast as we race through the dark / Past the really good people who do what they're told / What will be my name in the USA? Hold my hand and I'll take you there." There are familiar undercurrents of darkness: "These are the days, the days of gloom," sings David, resurrecting one of his favourite indices of obscure menace ("these are the days" also crops up in "Under Pressure", "The Dreamers" and "Slow Burn"). It's left for us to decide whether the refrain of "Who will I become in the USA?" is an enquiry born of optimism or despair.

I'M A HOG FOR YOU BABY (Lieber/Stoller)

Bowie launched into a jokey rendition of The Coasters' 1959 hit during his acoustic set at The Bridge School Benefit on October 19th 1996.

I'M A KING BEE (Moore)

This blues classic, performed by Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo before being popularised by the cover version on The Rolling Stones' debut album, gave its name to the band with which Bowie released his first single in 1964. Nearly thirty years later, on Tin Machine's It's My Life tour, David occasionally sang a few lines from the number during "Heaven's In Here".

I Ain't Got You
I Am A Laser
I Am Divine
I Am With Name
I Bit You Back
I Can't Explain
I Can't Give Everything Away
I Can't Read
I Didn't Know How Much
I Dig Everything
I Don't Mind
I Feel Free
I Feel So Bad
I Got You Babe
I Have Not Been To Oxford Town
I Keep Forgettin'
I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday
I Lost My Confidence
I Need Somebody
I Never Dreamed
I Pity The Fool
I Pray, Olé
I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship
I Wanna Be Your Dog
I Want My Baby Back
I Wish You Would
I Would Be Your Slave
I'd Like A Big Girl With A Couple Of Melons
I'd Rather Be Chrome
I'd Rather Be High
I'll Follow You
I'll Take You There
I'm A Hog For You Baby
I'm A King Bee
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