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K | The Songs From A to Z | K

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  • Compilation: The World Of David Bowie/The Deram Anthology 1966-1968/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

"Karma Man" was recorded at Advision on September 1st 1967 with David's new producer Tony Visconti (see "Let Me Sleep Beside You" for details of the session). With its central figure "cloaked and clothed in saffron robes", the song is a prime example of the growing interest in all things Buddhist and Tibetan that had surfaced in "Silly Boy Blue" some months earlier, and its meditations on "the Wheel of Life" and perpetual reincarnation ("I see my times and who I've been") coincide with the point at which Bowie and Visconti both joined the Tibet Society.

     Originally touted as a B-side for the rejected singles "Let Me Sleep Beside You" and "When I Live My Dream", and offered without success to Manfred Mann as potential cover material, "Karma Man" remained unreleased until 1970's The World Of David Bowie. By this time the song had been aired in two BBC sessions recorded on May 13th 1968 and February 5th 1970, the first of which, featuring a lush string arrangement and prominent backing vocals from Tony Visconti and Steve Peregrin Took, now appears on Bowie At The Beeb. A marginally different mix  of the Advision recording which includes the original count-in has appeared on bootlegs, while stereo multi-tracks from the same session exist in private collections. A previously unreleased stereo mix was included on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition.

     The "Slow down, slow down" chorus appears to have been a source of some inspiration for Bowie fan Brett Anderson: Suede's 1992 single "The Drowners" begins its chorus with the same words (sung practically to the tune of "Starman") and there's a melodic echo of "Karma Man" in the outro of their 1996 single "Beautiful Ones". The song evidently remained precious to Bowie, who recorded a new version of "Karma Man" during the Toy sessions in 2000.


  • Soundtrack: Lazarus

Premiered in the musical Lazarus, this spiky mid-tempo number eavesdrops on Thomas Jerome Newton wallowing in the anguish of his own immortality, a curse that Bowie had long ago pondered in lyrics like "The Supermen" and "Sons Of The Silent Age". There are distant echoes of Low ("I love the sound of an empty room") and Scary Monsters ("the end of love"), while the chorus taps into another of Bowie's longstanding tics. Among the many adjectivally intriguing men his lyrics have given us over the years are "broken man", "puzzled man", empty man", "odourless man", "talking man", "croaking man", "drowning man", "jumping man" and "shaking man". Here Newton adds to the roll call: "I'm falling man, I'm choking man, I'm fading man / Just killing a little time." Bowie's own recording, featuring some splendidly aggressive guitar licks to power the song from a storming intro to a thrillingly abrupt ending, was among the last to be cut in the Blackstar sessions: the backing track was recorded on March 23rd 2015, and the lead vocal on May 19th.


Before Tin Machine got off the ground in the summer of 1988, Bowie and his new collaborator Reeves Gabrels toyed with the idea of an album based on Steven Berkoff's 1983 cockney melodrama West. The project was abandoned but the only completed demo, "The King Of Stamford Hill", was salvaged for Gabrel's 1995 solo album The Sacred Squall Of Now. "Most of the track was re-recorded in 1995," he told Record Collector, "...with the exception of David's vocal, which I took off the demo and then manipulated and altered in a variety of ways." With Berkoffian obscenities aplenty and a cockney "running commentary" provided by David's Basquiat co-star Gary Oldman, the result sounds like a punked-up variant of Blur's 1994 hit "Parklife", replete with customary chains of squealing guitar sound from Gabrels. Dispensable.


This mysterious title appears at the end of a list of more recognisable ones scrawled on the early 1971 lyric sheet of "Lady Stardust", an exhibit in the V&A's David Bowie is retrospective. Bearing in mind the date, it's worth noting that the Hunky Dory track "Eight Line Poem" contains the near-matching quote "key to the city", a line on which David focused when discussing that song in 1971.


  • Album: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

The only cover version on Scary Monsters (indeed the first on any Bowie album since Station To Station) was penned by former Television vocalist Tom Verlaine, whose original version appeared on his eponymous solo debut in 1979. Bowie's choice of such an obscure number demonstrates his strengthening affiliation with America's East Coast new wave, and of Verlaine's song he remarked that "it was simply one of the most appealing on his album. I'd always wanted to work him in some way or another, but I hadn't considered doing one of his songs. In fact Carlos Alomar, my guitarist, suggested that we do a cover version of it since it was such a lovely song." Given a Scary Monsters makeover "Kingdom Come" fits seamlessly among David's own compositions and is one of the unlikely highlights of the album, distinguished by an extraordinary vocal performance for which Bowie mingles an almost ridiculous vibrato with falsetto swoops and an affected glottal attack borrowed from Buddy Holly via Elvis Costello.

KNOCK ON WOOD (Floyd/Cropper)

  • A-Side: September 1974

  • Album: David Live

"We're gonna put in some extras tonight, some silly ones," declares Bowie on David Live as the band launches into an enthusiastic rendition of Eddie Floyd's 1967 Stax hit. The inclusion of such an off-the-cuff number was an indication not only of David's growing soul affiliations but also his increasing impatience with the tightly scripted Diamond Dogs show. A top ten hit in the UK (Top Of The Pops made its own unofficial video to accompany the number), "Knock On Wood" reappeared occasionally during the Soul tour.

KNOWLEDGE (Bowie/Deacon/May/Harris/Taylor) see COOL CAT



  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones was born on May 30th 1971 and, according to legend, David wrote "Kooks" the very same day. He certainly must have been quick off the mark, because the song was premiered at his BBC session on June 3rd. "I'd been listening to a Neil Young album and they phoned through and said that my wife had a baby on Sunday morning, and I wrote this one about the baby," David told the studio audience, before warning them that he wasn't sure of the words yet. This performance, later included on Bowie At The Beeb, is notable for including an extra line: "And if the homework brings you down / Then we'll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown / And we'll watch the crazy people race around". It was to be the song's only live airing, although a further recording was made for a BBC session on September 21st.

     A three-minute studio demo, featuring David accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and including some slight lyrical variations, has appeared on bootlegs. The Hunky Dory version itself, much enhanced by Mick Ronson's string arrangement and Trevor Bolder's trumpet, was recorded at Trident around July 1971, while a different mix appeared on the rare sampler LP pressed in August.

     As David's remark during the BBC session suggests, "Kooks" bears more than a passing resemblance to some of Neil Young's lighter moments, in particular "Till The Morning Comes" from 1970's After The Gold Rush, which can be confidently identified as the record to which David had been listening: the rhythm, descending bassline, backing vocals and trumpet instrumental are almost identical on the two numbers. If any confirmation were needed, the same album's penultimate track is called "I Believe In You", its title sung in a similar rhythm to the reiterated "we believe in you" in the refrain of "Kooks".

     Dedicated to "Small Z" on the Hunky Dory sleeve-notes, "Kooks" is an endearing pledge from a new father: "The baby was born," said David at the time of the album's release, "and it looked like me and it looked like Angie, and the song came out like - if you're gonna stay with us you're gonna grow up bananas." Although it's unashamedly lightweight alongside tracks like "Quicksand" and "Life On Mars?", "Kooks" nevertheless carries a hint of Hunky Dory's preoccupation with the compulsion to fictionalise life, as Bowie invites his son to "stay in our lovers' story".

     "Zowie", incidentally, was pronounced like the girl's name Zoe, intended as a masculine version of the Greek word for "life" - it therefore rhymes with the correct pronunciation of "Bowie". By the end of the 1970s David's son was known as Joey or Joe, and as an adult he reverted to his given name of Duncan. As for "Kooks": "He likes it," said David in 1999. "Yeah, he's got a fondness for it. He knows full well it was written for him."

     On November 21st 1971, mere days after the release of Hunky Dory, Tony Defries sent a copy of the album to A&M Records with the suggestion that "Kooks" would make "a tremendous single for The Carpenters". Although that offer was not taken up, "Kooks" would later be covered by numerous artists including Smashing Pumpkins, Tindersticks (on their limited-edition 1993 "Unwired" EP), Danny Wilson (whose 1987 B-side version was later included on David Bowie Songbook), Robbie Williams (on his 1997 single "Old Before I Die"), Brett Smiley (on the 2008 Uncut compilation Rebel Rebel), Anna Faroe (on her 2010 album Because I Want To), and Kim Wilde (as a duet with Hal Fowler on her 2011 album Snapshots). The Smiths' 1987 hit "Sheila Take A Bow" finds Morrissey affectionately paraphrasing Bowie's lyric: "Throw your homework onto the fire / Come out and find the one you love".

Karma Man
Killing A Little Time
The King Of Stamford Hill
King Of The City
Kingdom Come
Knock On Wood
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