L | The Songs From A to Z | L

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H| I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | WY | Z

LET'S DANCE

  • A-Side: March 1983

  • Album: Let's Dance

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)

  • Compilation: Club Bowie

  • Australian B-Side: July 2015

  • Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight/Glass Spider/Tina Live-Private Dance Tour (Tina Turner)

The rest of the album may be of variable quality, but the title track of Let's Dance - the first to be recorded during the sessions - justifies the price of admission on its own. Bowie's collaboration with Nile Rodgers reaps its most brilliant reward with one of his finest recordings of the 1980s and undoubtedly one of the all-time great pop singles.

     "Frankly, the song "Let's Dance" didn't start out to be anything more than just another track on the album," David admitted later. "It was Nile Rodgers who took it and structured it in such a way that it had incredible commercial appeal." Rodgers recalled on Radio 2's Golden Years that when Bowie first played him the song on acoustic guitar it was "very reminiscent of a folky kind of song...I thought it was really bizarre, but he was convinced it could be a hit, and I just kept working on it." One of Rodger's embellishments was the addition of his rising vocal intro, shamelessly filched from The Beatles' famous opening to "Twist And Shout", while the chunky "walking" bassline was pure Chic. At the time of the album's release, Rodger's suggested that "everybody is gonna think I wrote "Let's Dance" because it has that Chic feel...the bassline is, in fact, very much like the one in "Good Times"." Another obvious Chic connection is the "breakdown" on the full-length album and 12" version, in which the lead instruments cut out one by one, leaving just bass and drums before building back to the full arrangement. "On a song like Chic's "Good Times", the most important part was the breakdown," Rodgers explained to David Buckley. "Whenever the band would go to the breakdown the audience would scream."

     Also crucial to "Let's Dance" is the controlled ferocity of Stevie Ray Vaughan's brilliant guitar solo, which lends the track an extra weight by superimposing an edgy blues-inflected sound over the smooth dance groove. "After his blistering solo on the title song," Bowie recalled many years later, "he ambled into the control room with a cheeky smile on his face, shyly quipped, 'That one's for Albert', knowing full well that I would understand that King's own playing was the genesis for that solo."

     Over and above its obvious disco-floor value, "Let's Dance" maintains a gravity absent from the rest of the album by virtue of its surprising bleakness. It might be a party classic, but like "Heroes" its apparent optimism falls away on close inspection. In common with all Bowie's best lyrics nothing is made explicit, but a cryptic air of menace prevails. He isn't dancing beneath a lovers' moon, but "under the moonlight, this serious moonlight", and the future is a frightening blank: "Let's dance, for fear your grace should fall / Let's dance, for fear tonight is all." Nile Rodgers believed that the "serious moonlight" was in part indebted to himself, telling Buckley that "I used to say 'serious' all the time. I would say, 'Man, that shit is serious!' meaning it's happening, it's great - it's a disco expression. In the disco everything is serious." However, the possibility of a more arcane inspiration can't be overlooked: among the erotic poetry of Bowie's long-time muse Aleister Crowley is a 1923 composition called "Lyric Of Love To Leah", which includes the lines "Come, my darling, let us dance / To the moon that beckons us...Let us dance beneath the palm / Moving in the moonlight...Come my love, and let us dance / To the Moon and Sirius". So, is Bowie really singing about "the Sirius moonlight"? Well, possibly.

     "It's ostensibly a dance song, but there's a particular type of desperation and poignancy about it," said Bowie. The poignancy was pressed home by the magnificent video, shot in Australia in February 1983 by David Mallet and Bowie himself, who starred alongside Terry Roberts and Joelene King, two young students from Sydney's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance Theatre. Besides Sydney itself, the principal locations were the spectacular wilderness of the Warrumbungle National Park and the sheep-farming outpost of Carinda, whose rudimentary hotel bar with its authentically perspiring patrons provided the setting for the "performance" sequences. "It was so alien both both sides, Bowie and the locals," recalled location manager Peter Lawless many years later. "They didn't believe who he was. It was so off the wall. It was kind of weird." By taking a lateral spin on the song's lyrics to espouse the cause of Aboriginal rights, the video offers the first substantial evidence of the hands-on sociopolitical role Bowie began carving for himself in the 1980s. "As much as I love this country," he told Rolling Stone during the shoot, "it's probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa...There's a lot of injustice, so let's, you know, say something about it." But this is not the finger-wagging, just-say-no Bowie later to emerge on "Crack City"; the "Let's Dance" video remains oblique, relying on a series of powerful metaphors to dig deep into the Australian psyche. "One thing I'd been toying around with was the repellent and attractive qualities of the other side of the world, be it the Middle East or the Far East," Bowie said, "How we're both drawn and repulsed by what happens and who they are, and the fact that we're all one. That basic idea came through on "Let's Dance" with the Aboriginies and colonial English, and then in "China Girl" and finally in "Loving The Alien"."

     Although not exactly linear, the "Let's Dance" video portrays the seduction of a young Aboriginal couple by the commercialism of white urban Australia, a pair of expensive red shoes taking centre-stage as an icon of material status; in the city the boy and girl find themselves dehumanised by drudgery, and having finally earned the hard-won shoes they destroy them and return to the Outback. Along the way we have a vision of nuclear devastation, a parody of the then current American Express "That'll do nicely" commercials, and an unforgettable image of the couple painting Aboriginal designs on the wall of the Westerner's art gallery. Coming via Hans Christian Andersen and the 1948 Powell & Pressburger movie, the red shoes themselves have an aspirational symbolism already rooted in fairy-tale. "The red shoes are a found symbol," Bowie confirmed, "and it seemed á propos for this particular video. They are the simplicity of the capitalist society - luxury goods, red leather shoes. Also they're a sort of striving for success - black music is all about "Put on your red shoes, baby". Those two qualities were right for the song and the video." By choosing a symbol of capitalism which simultaneously references his beloved black music, Bowie confesses his own collusion in the process of cultural imperialism; at one point he appears in the video as an icy corporate manager, suggesting an implicit anxiety about his own role as a global rock star, the ultimate cultural colonist. Depressingly for a video so saturated in significances, the window-shopping sequence with the red shoes was later copied shot-for-shot by a 1990s advertising campaign for a "reassuringly expensive" lager.

     The edited "Let's Dance" single was released ahead of the album in March 1983 (uniquely, the Brazilian single featured a shorter edit consisting simply of the album version with an early fade). It entered the UK chart at number 5, and a fortnight later vanquished Duran Duran's "Is There Something I Should Know?" to enjoy a three-week residency at number 1. The feat was repeated in America, ensuring that "Let's Dance" became and remains the biggest international strike of Bowie's singles career (if not actually his biggest-selling single: that distinction belongs to the much-reissued "Space Oddity"). It stayed in the UK chart for 14 weeks, relaunching the cult darling of the 1970s as a first-division superstar of the 1980s.

     "Let's Dance" featured throughout the Serious Moonlight tour, which of course took its name from the lyric. On March 23rd and 24th 1985 Bowie duetted on the number with Tina Turner at the Birmingham NEC, the first night's performance being released on CD and video. The song was revived for the Glass Spider and Sound + Vision shows, but in the 1990s David dropped it from his repertoire, apparently regarding it as a threat to his creativity. In 1995 he spoke disparagingly of "Let's Dance" as the epitome of what he would not be performing on the Outside tour. It came as a surprise, then, when it was revived for a one-off performance at the Bridge School benefit on October 19th 1996. "This started off as a joke for you all tonight, but we kind of got to like it," announced David. "In fact, we prefer this version to the original!" The barely recognisable stripped-down reworking that followed, with fabulous vocals from both David and Gail Ann Dorsey, won a standing ovation. By the beginning of the new century David's feelings towards his biggest hit had mellowed; another radical makeover, for which the opening verse was performed in a dreamy acoustic style reminiscent of "Wild Is The Wind" before pumping up to full speed on the first "tremble like a flower", was unveiled for the summer 2000 concerts and later appeared on the Heathen and A Reality tours. A superb live recording of this version, from the BBC Radio Theatre concert on June 27th 2000, concludes the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc. In 2015 the live performance from the Serious Moonlight video appeared as the B-side of a limited edition Australian single to mark the Melbourne residency of the David Bowie is exhibition.

     Nile Rodgers continued to perform "Let's Dance" live, often with a guest vocalist to sing the lead: at 2014's Essence Festival he was joined for the number by Prince. Smashing Pumpkins vocalist Billy Corgan interpolated lines from the song into live performances of Joy Division's "Transmission". Bowie expressed his enthusiasm for another mash-up version, a 2009 recording by Jessica Lee Morgan which combined "Let's Dance" with Lady Gaga's "Just Dance". Bowie's original was sampled in 1997 by Puff Daddy & The Family for their top 20 hit "Been Around The World", and again a decade later on Craig David's 2007 single "Hot Stuff", and once again in 2009 for a remix of "Stel And Atan" by Italian producer Hugo. The Futureheads recorded a cover version for a CD called The Eighties given away with Q magazine in 2006, while the following year M Ward's recording was included on the exclusive Starbuck's compilation Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project. Also in 2007, the Dutch outfit hi_tack enjoyed success in the club charts with various cut-up remixes of Bowie's original, while an engaging salsa-style cover by Stellarsound featuring Paula Flynn was released as a single after being used in an Irish commercial for Ballygowan mineral water. The Boxtrolls released their version in 2014. Bowie's recording appeared in the soundtracks of 1997's Private Parts, 2001's Zoolander, 2007's We Own The Night, and 2009's The Boat That Rocked, as well as in the 2006 Nintendo DS game Elite Beat Agents. In 2008 it was pressed into unlikely service as the backing track for a Marks & Spencer womenswear commercial. The song has been performed live by Rob Thomas, Beck and Aaron Carter, and in 2001 tribute artist Jean Meilleur performed a 58-piece classically orchestrated version on his Jeans'n'Classics tour. In 2014 "Let's Dance" was brutally assaulted by Will.i.am and his melismatic protégés during a live semi-final of the BBC's "talent" show The Voice.

     A radical reworking of Bowie's original appeared in 2003 in the form of a major remix project, approved by David for release in South-East Asian territories and beyond. "Let's Dance (Club Bolly Mix)" and "China Girl (Club Mix)" were created under EMI's auspices by engineers and local musicians at Schtung Music, based in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Bolstered by the addition of sitars, tabla drums and Hindi backing vocals, "Let's Dance (Club Bolly Mix)" came with a new video produced by MTV Asia - effectively a remix itself, it laid elements of the original video into a kaleidoscopic montage of images, re-casting the narrative of the original video, red shoes and all, as a Bollywood -style romance. "Asian culture has had a fairly high profile within my work from the early 1970s," Bowie remarked in 2003. "It was not a difficult decision to give a green light to these remixes. I think they're pretty cool." An array of different versions of the two remixes appeared on a pair of extremely rare promo CD-Rs issued to radio stations in Singapore and Hong Kong in August 2003; the rest of the world was introduced to the Asian remixes later the same year via the Club Bowie album and the limited edition US reissue of Best Of Bowie, both of which also included the "Club Bolly Mix" video. The results will be to everyone's taste, but they're certainly among the most elaborate and interesting Bowie remixes ever released.

     "Let's Dance" was among the records selected for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs by David's sometime collaborator Lulu in October 1987, by record producer Pete Waterman in April 1995, by comedian John Bishop in June 2012, and by noted pop singer Noel Gallagher in July 2015.

LET'S DANCE (Lee)

  • Live Video: Tina Live - Private Dancer Tour (Tina Turner)

Not to be confused with the above, pop's first "Let's Dance" took Chris Montez to number 2 in 1962. David sang the number live with The Kon-rads in the same year, and more than two decades later performed it as a medley with his own "Let's Dance" during his guest appearances with Tina Turner at her Birmingham NEC concerts on March 23rd and 24th 1985.

LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER (Jagger/Richards)

  • Album: Aladdin Sane

  • Live: Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

On an album as heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones as Aladdin Sane, this dazzling cover both acknowledges the debt and illustrates the extent to which Bowie takes his source material into new territory. The Spiders' electrically-charged rendition is faster and raunchier than the Stones' 1967 original, with Mike Garson's crazed piano once again adding depth to Ronson's fast-and-loose guitar, while the addition of some zappy synthesizer effects gives the whole a fresh, futuristic sheen.

     In 1973 David's studied androgyny was still misunderstood by many (especially in the irony-free world of American rock journalism), and some reviewers commented on what they mysteriously believed to be a gay appropriation of a hetero-anthem. Rolling Stone's Ben Gerson complained that "The rendition here is campy, butch, brittle and unsatisfying. Bowie is asking us to re-perceive "Let's Spend The Night Together" as a gay song, possibly from its inception. Sexual ambiguity in rock has existed long before any audience was attuned to it. However, though Bowie's point is well taken, his methods are not."

     The Aladdin Sane version, released as a single in America, Japan and various European countries, was recorded in December 1972. The song was added to The Spiders' stage show on December 23rd and remained in the set until the end of the 1973 tour. During early performances Bowie would improvise an increasingly bizarre and vaguely suspect patter during the spoken section, usually revolving around the fantasy of picking up a schoolgirl and asking her to "educate" him - but in the performance captured on Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, he sticks to the original script. The studio version was among the tracks heard in the 1993 BBC serial The Buddha Of Suburbia.

LETTER TO HERMIONE

  • Album: Space Oddity

"Letter To Hermione", like "An Occasional Dream", is a painfully intimate song of lost love addressed to Hermione Farthingale, the lover and collaborator who parted company with David in February 1969 after completing her role in Love You Till Tuesday. In November of the same year, Bowie told George Tremlett that Space Oddity's two Hermione songs were "me in a maudlin or romantic mood. I'd written her a letter, and then decided not to post it. "Letter To Hermione" is what I wished I'd said. I was in love with her, and it took me months to get over it. She walked out on me, and I suppose that was what hurt as much as anything else, that feeling of rejection."

     For many years Bowie declined to speak further of Hermione, but in Radio 2's Golden Years documentary in 2000 he broke his silence to recall that "as young love often does, it sort of, you know, went wrong after about a year," and at the same time he revealed that he had only lately made a startling discovery: "she had started writing to me again about two months, three months later, which was the most extraordinary thing. I'd sort of blanked it out of my mind, but obviously we could have got back together again, I realised, having read all these letters."

     David later revealed that he had nobody but himself to blame for the break-up with Hermione. "I was totally unfaithful and couldn't for the life of me keep it zipped," he admitted in 2002. "Bad move on my part, as I'm sure we would have lasted a good long time if I'd been a good boy. She, quite rightly, ran off with a dancer that she had met while filming. Then, I heard, she married an anthropologist and went to live in Borneo for a while, mapping out unknown rivers...We met up again after I had become Ziggy, but it was gone. We spent a night or two together but the spark had been extinguished."

     Hermione spoke of David with the deepest affection: "We shared something fantastic as young people, and it became a sort of legend because he became so famous that everything he did became legend, you know. It's the kind of thing that I'm sure happened to you, and to everybody else, but ours just happened to get written about." Of the separation, which she described as "really, really sad", Hermione explained: "Clearly I couldn't stay and subjugate my entire life to David's career. I was nineteen and I hadn't had mine, you know. I was a dancer. And there wasn't any evidence at that point that he was going to have any kind of illustrious career anyway. He was just struggling away with bits and bobs. I thought that maybe we weren't going to be together forever, and I went off and had my career." After six months abroad filming Song Of Norway, Hermione spent some time in America, "but I couldn't get a green card so I couldn't work. I came back and then I joined the Welsh National Opera, and I danced." Regarding some of the other recollections shared by David, whose memory for dates was never his strongest suit, Hermione was keen to set the record straight. "We met up a bit in early 1970, before he got married, and we talked a lot," but as for meeting again after David had become Ziggy: "Complete bollocks" You can quote me on that if you want. I was married by then. In 1972 I went to New Guinea, and I got married in New Guinea." Talk of New Guinea (not Borneo) brought Hermione to another point that she was keen to clarify: "All the books say I became a cartographer, and then they make wonderful claims that I've mapped all the rivers of South America - which I've become quite proud of, because actually you could hardly walk them in a lifetime, could you? Let alone map them. It's just such a brilliant thing to do. But I'm afraid I didn't. I'm not a cartographer."

     The original demo of "Letter To Hermione", recorded with John Hutchinson around April 1969, resembles the finished song in all but the title: at this stage David was being more cryptic about the addressee and calling the song "I'm Not Quite". The song was later covered by Human Drama on their 1993 album Pin Ups and The Robert Glasper Experiment on 2012's Black Radio. Robert Smith, who duetted with David at the fiftieth birthday concert, revealed that The Cure's 1992 hit "A Letter To Elise" was named after the song. In 2007 Ricky Gervais selected "Letter To Hermione" as one of his Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4.

LIEB' DICH BIS DIENSTAG (Bowie/Busch) see LOVE YOU TILL TUESDAY

LIFE IS A CIRCUS (Bunn/Mackie)

Composed in 1966 by Roger Bunn and John Mackie of the obscure American quartet Djinn, to whose work David had been introduced by Tony Visconti, this folksy number became a staple of the Feathers repertoire. Around April 1969 Bowie recorded a 3'59" demo with John Hutchinson, which suggests that the song was being considered in the run-up to Space Oddity.

LIFE ON MARS?

  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • A-Side: June 1973

  • Live: Santa Monica '72/VH1 Storytellers/A Reality Tour/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)

  • Compilation: The Best Of Bowie/Nothing Has Changed

  • Bonus: Aladdin Sane (2003)

  • Download: November 2005

  • Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight/A Reality Tour/VH1 Storytellers

Bowie's 1971 masterpiece began as an attempt to construct a song around the chord sequence of "My Way", the Frank Sinatra standard which already had a place in his history (see "Even A Fool Learns To Love") - hence the words "Inspired by Frankie" on Hunky Dory's handwritten sleeve notes. According to Bowie, "Life On Mars?" emerged very rapidly: "A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand," he recalled in the liner notes for 2008's iSelectBowie. "Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap". An anomic (not a "gnomic") heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn't get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road...I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part, and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts."

     Although the bones of the song came to him quickly, David's first handwritten lyric reads quite differently, with only the familiar chorus in place. The rest has something of the portentous tone of Hunky Dory's more Nietzschean numbers: "There's a shoulder-rock movement and the trembling starts / And a great Lord sighs in vain / What can you buy when there's no-one to tell you / What a bargain you made..." The finished lyric, and David's performance of it, are among his finest ever, while Wakeman's virtuosity and Ronson's operatic arrangement help to elevate a great piece of songwriting to classic status, from the plaintive opening piano chord to the climatic Also Sprach Zarathustra timpani-roll at the beautiful false ending (the distant ringing of the studio telephone and Ronson's colourful response are remnants of an earlier, scrapped take which surfaced at the end of the tape, an accidental effect that Bowie decided to retain). According to drummer Woody Woodmansey, "Life On Mars?" was the first full arrangement that Mick Ronson had ever undertaken: "He was very nervous about it. We had a whole string section at Trident with the proper BBC session players who, if one note was not written properly, would turn their noses up and you wouldn't get a good sound out of them. So Mick was really nervous, but when they played the parts they realised these rock'n'rollers might not be guys we want to be in the studio with, but the parts are good. They took it on and really went for it." The session took place on August 6th 1971, the final day of principal recording on the Hunky Dory album.

     Many and ingenious have been the attempts of commentators to unravel the lyric of "Life On Mars?". After its elegiac introduction of "the girl with the mousy hair", seeking an escape from her quarrelsome parents in the fantasy world of the cinema, the song takes flight on wings of cryptic significances and surreal juxtapositions. "A sensitive young girl's reaction to the media" is how David described the song in 1971. After pausing for thought, he added 25 years later that "I think she finds herself let down. I think she finds herself disappointed by reality. I think she sees that although she's living in the doldrums of reality, she's being told that there's a far greater life somewhere, and she's bitterly disappointed that she doesn't have access to it...I guess I would feel sorry for her now. I think I had empathy with her at the time."

     Some biographers, backing themselves up with the flimsiest of arguments, have suggested that "the girl with the mousy hair" is David's long-departed lover Hermione Farthingale, and that the song recounts her short-lived relationship with David. Generations of lazy journalists have parroted this baffling claim, despite there being no evidence to substantiate it and plenty to undermine it - "I don't actually have mousy hair," Hermione has pointed out, adding that "I wasn't a person who lived at home with my parents, and I didn't live a fantasy life in films. Nothing about me fits into any of the words." In any case, this is not a lyric to be decoded: the tumble of images (John Lennon, Mickey Mouse, "Rule Britannia", Ibiza, the Norfolk Broads, the snatches of scenes from the cinema) aren't in themselves significant. The point, surely, is their very proliferation, an explosion of chaotic glamour set against the drab isolation of the protagonist. Anyone tempted to apply too close an analysis to the song's evocative lyricism would do well to note that the line "Look at those cavemen go" comes straight from the chorus of the Hollywood Argyles' 1960 novelty hit "Alley Oop", as covered in 1966 by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - and yet, in Bowie's scheme of things, it's perfectly possible to imagine that the "cavemen" line had David thinking en passant of the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: an elegant coming-together of found images, and one of Bowie's great pieces of bricolage.

     "Life On Mars?" was belatedly released as a single at the height of Ziggymania in June 1973. Bowie mimed his way through a simple but impressive promo shot at the Blandford West Ten Studio in Ladbroke Grove on June 13th, just nine days ahead of the release: resplendent in a turquoise Freddie Burretti suit and full Pierre Laroche make-up, he was almost whited-out against the stark backdrop. "It wasn't so much an idea as a moment in time," director Mick Rock later explained. "I wanted to do something that looked a little bit like a painting." Bowie later remarked that Rock "burnt the colours right out so that it had a strange, floaty pop-art effect." The single was a smash hit, holding fast at number 3 for three of its thirteen weeks on the chart; a combination of Slade, Gary Glitter and Peters & Lee prevented it from going higher. It has since featured on numerous compilations, appearing in a different edit on 1980's The Best Of Bowie, and in 2001 it was even reissued as a single in France, on a fresh wave of popularity generated by its use in a television commercial for the French Post Office. January 2006 saw the debut of the BBC's time-travelling drama Life On Mars, named after and heavily featuring the song, which duly appeared on the subsequent soundtrack album. In April 2007, as the second series reached its climax, "Life On Mars?" re-entered the UK singles chart at number 55.

     An early demo exists in the hands of a few collectors: running to a brief 1'53", it features Bowie accompanying himself on the piano and extends no further than the first verse and chorus. There are several lyrical variations ("It's a simple but small affair", "Her mother is yelling no, and her father has asked her to go", "It's a time for the lawman beating up the wrong guy"), raising the possibility that this might even be the version David recorded that first afternoon at Haddon Hall. A second demo, featuring Mick Ronson on piano, is also rumoured to exist.

     The song was added to The Spiders' repertoire for the Rainbow Theatre concerts in August 1972 and remained a feature of the Ziggy Stardust tour, becoming part of a medley with "Quicksand" and "Memory Of A Free Festival" during the final 1973 leg. A live performance recorded in Boston on October 1st 1972 was included on 2003's Aladdin Sane reissue, and later as the B-side of a 7" picture disc in 2013, which marked the debut release of Ken Scott's 2003 remix of the original track (later included on Nothing Has Changed). Apart from an excellent one-off performance on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show on September 5th 1980, its next appearances were for the Serious Moonlight and Sound + Vision tours. Mike Garson later embellished "Life On Mars?" with baroque piano frills for its superb revival on the 'hours...', 2000, Heathen and A Reality tours, and a stripped-down version featuring just Bowie and Garson became an occasional party-piece from 2000 onwards. One such performance, from the Fashion Rocks concert On September 8th 2005, was released as a download in the same year.

     As great songs do, "Life On Mars?" has attracted its fair share of interpreters: it has been recorded or played live by Eurythmics, Joe Jackson, The Divine Comedy, ABBA's Annifrid Lyngstad (whose Swedish version "Liv Pá Mars?" appeared in 1975), The King's Singers, The Mike Flowers Pops, Marti Webb, Steve Allen, Sharleen Spiteri, All About Eve, The Flaming Lips, Frank Sidebottom (on his 1986 "Sci Fi EP"), Seal (in a 2003 BBC radio session), Michelle Branch (on a 2005 promotional CD for Gap clothing stores), Michael Ball (on his 2005 album Music), Tony Christie (on his 2006 album Simply In Love), The Bad Plus (on their 2007 album Prog), Jasper Steverlinck (whose excellent version topped the Belgian singles chart for several weeks in 2003), Seann Miley Moore (on the X Factor in 2015), Heather Cameron-Hayes (on The Voice in 2016) and, notoriously, Barbra Streisand on her 1974 album Butterfly. In 1976 Bowie described Streisand's version as "Bloody awful. Sorry, Barb, but it was atrocious." Over twenty years later he was still haunted by it, telling the audience at his 1999 VH1 Storytellers concert that Streisand "had her then husband-cum-hairdresser [Jon Peters] produce and arrange and probably blow-dry it!" Giving Streisand's recording a run for its money was a heroically gruesome easy-listening version on G4's eponymous 2005 debut album. Immeasurably superior is the Portuguese cover recorded by Seu Jorge for Wes Anderson's film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which also features the original Hunky Dory version in its soundtrack. Kevin Bacon's 2005 directorial debut Loverboy features his daughter Sosie Bacon belting out the number at a school talent show, and another school-musical rendition led by Aneurin Barnard appears in the 2011 film Hunky Dory. Bowie's original appeared in the soundtrack of George Hickenlooper's 2006 film Factory Girl, which follows the fortunes of Andy Warhol's socialite muse Edie Sedgwick. Another unusual cover, performed by a band of street musicians, appeared in  a 2009 Spanish television commercial for Visa.

     "Life On Mars?" has reared its head more than once on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs: it was included in the selections of the jockey Richard Dunwoody in April 1999, the photographer Mario Testino in October 2005, and the actor Sanjeev Bhaskar in October 2008, while in October 2010 it was among the many cuts endorsed by Britain's then Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The song became a regular fixture in Rick Wakeman's live repertoire, but the misconception that Mick Ronson cut a solo version arises from his 1975 recording of Roscoe West's unrelated song "Is There Life On Mars?", a number he performed on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the same year.

     Although always a fan favourite, "Life On Mars?" is a song whose profile grew over the years, gradually ascending to its acknowledged position as one of Bowie's essential classics. On his last tours it was guaranteed to send audiences into transports of delight, and unsurprisingly it was among the numbers included in his musical Lazarus. After David's death it became one of the songs most widely selected for tribute performances - there are far too many to list here, so three of the best must suffice. On January 11th 2016 a deeply moving rendition on the organ at St Albans Cathedral by scholar Nicholas Freestone went viral and was seen by millions. The following day Rick Wakeman played a piano tribute on Radio 2's Simon Mayo Drivetime which scored millions of hits on the BBC website, leading to its CD release a month later in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. And perhaps best of all, Lorde's emotional performance at the Brit Awards on February 24th, backed by Bowie's own tour band, was widely adjudged the finest of the high-profile tributes to David.

LIGHTNING FRIGHTENING

  • Bonus: The Man Who Sold The World

A degree of confusion surrounds this 1971 out-take, owing to the wholly inaccurate liner notes of Ryko's 1990 reissue of The Man Who Sold The World, which included it as a bonus track after nearly two decades in the vaults. The Ryko CD claims that "Lightning Frightening" features Tim Renwick on guitar, John Cambridge on drums, and Tony Visconti on bass - thus placing it firmly in the Space Oddity period - but this is wrong on all counts. In fact the number was recorded at Trident on April 23rd 1971, during the same session that yielded "Rupert The Riley", and features Mark Pritchett on guitar, Barry Morgan on drums, and Herbie Flowers on bass, together with David himself on saxophone. The track was recorded as "The Man", a working title which, just to add a further layer of confusion, was subsequently misattributed by bootleggers to the out-take "Shadow Man".

     If any confirmation of its 1971 vintage were needed, the remarkable similarity between "Lightning Frightening" and Crazy Horse's "Dirty, Dirty", which wasn't released until the beginning of the same year, is so absurdly close that it can't be a coincidence. Bowie's devotion to Crazy Horse's erstwhile colleague Neil Young during this period is well documented, and the two tracks are practically identical. Referred to in some documentation as "I've Got Lightning", the Bowie number is a likeable slice of hippy rock, foot-tapping if not exactly ground-breaking, and is more remarkable for its raunchy harmonica line and jaunty sax than for its sub-"Maggie's Farm" protest lyric. Curiously, the official "bonus track" release is in mono and fades into the song twenty seconds into the intro; a full-length 3'55" stereo version has appeared on bootlegs.

LIKE A ROCKET MAN

  • Bonus: The Next Day Extra

The Next Day's familiar-title-syndrome strikes again: in the case of this bonus track, recorded on May 5th 2011 with the lead vocal added on March 2nd the following year, the obvious antecedent is Elton John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man" - considered by many to be a brazen imitation of "Space Oddity", so perhaps it's a debt repaid. The tune is not without its familiar moments too, with a verse melody that none too subtly apes the Beatles' "Help!" (not the first time that this had happened in Bowie's oeuvre, as the 1968 demo "A Social Kind Of Girl" bears witness). David Torn's artfully nerve-jangling guitar hints at the turmoil beneath the surface, for this is another song whose outward air of jollity is skin-deep. Its darker shades take the form of another throwback to Bowie's past, as he introduces us to "Little Wendy Cocaine" who "sells and moves and finds my hand and pulls me down and close so I can hardly stand as I lay like dead for her, I'm fed into my head I'm led..." The lyric continues in this rambling, stream-of-consciousness idiom, nailing the superficial euphoria and the tiresome idiocy of the cokehead's high. The chasm of spiritual emptiness to which David was no stranger at the height of his addiction rears its head in a final line that sounds like a thumbnail sketch of his mindset during the Station To Station period: "I'm God's lonely man, I don't want to die but I don't want to live, I'm speeding like a rocket man."

     There's an extent to which this is Bowie toying with his own mythology, riffling through a well-thumbed chapter of the accepted biography as he does on "Where Are We Now?" - and as on that song, in the very act of doing so he's moving the goalposts, casting his own history in a fresh light. "Like A Rocket Man" is Bowie telling the shabby truth about cocaine and poking harsh fun at his former self, sand-blasting away all that glacial chic and reducing the Thin White Duke to a figure of ridicule in a bouncy pop song, a pathetic stoner slumped in a daze at some ghastly Los Angeles party. David Bowie is seldom more subversive than when aiming his barbs at himself.

LIKE A ROLLING STONE (Dylan)

Before his collaboration with Reeves Gabrels in early 1988, Bowie briefly hooked up with members of Bryan Adams's backing band and Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairbairn to record some tracks in Los Angeles. The only results of this brief collaboration were the original demo of "Pretty Pink Rose", an early version of "Lucy Can't Dance", and a rock-heavy cover of Bob Dylan's 1965 hit "Like A Rolling Stone", subsequently given to Mick Ronson and much enhanced by a guitar line of his own. The result appeared on Ronson's posthumous 1994 album Heaven And Hull, and reveals Bowie in competent but indifferent Tin Machine-era shape while his former guitarist immeasurably improves a dull rock-by-numbers backing. That David embellished his vocal becomes obvious when he ad-libs "Oh, rock 'em, Ronno, rock!" during Ronson's solo. The other musicians on the track are Keith Scott (guitar), Rene Wurst (bass), John Webster (keyboards) and Mark Curry (drums).

LINCOLN HOUSE

This mysterious Bowie composition is thought to date from around 1967.

LITTLE BOMBARDIER

  • Album: David Bowie

  • Live: David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

Very few Bowie songs are in 3/4 time, and the nostalgic fairground waltz of "Little Bombardier", recorded on December 8th and 9th 1966, sounds uncannily similar to  the sort of noises being cooked up by The Beatles just across town at the same time. Trombone, strings and bar-room piano provide a poignant backdrop to the lyric about an ageing war veteran who is rescued from loneliness and drink by the affection of two children, only to be warned off by the police as a suspected paedophile. Some biographers have attempted to link "Frankie" with Bowie's maternal grandfather on the flimsy basis that he served in the Great War, but this is a red herring: David's source is clearly Uncle Ernest, a short story by Alan Sillitoe which has precisely the same plot, published in his 1959 collection The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner. According to Alan Mair, the bassist with Kenneth Pitt's Glaswegian protégés The Beatstalkers and later with celebrated post-punk stylists The Only Ones, Bowie named the protagonist "Frankie Mair" after his young son, although it seems just as likely that the first name derives from The Decline And Fall Of Frankie Buller, another story in the same Sillitoe anthology. A noteworthy element in Bowie's lyric is the early appearance of one of his key motifs of fantasy and escape: Frankie "spent his time in a picture-house", seeking solace in the silver screen just like the disappointed heroine of "Life On Mars?" and so many future Bowie characters. The bridge section ("Sunshine entered our Frankie's days...") bears a striking resemblance to the melody of Gounod's Funeral March Of A Marionette, best known to David's generation as the theme music of the TV anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. At the request of producer Bernie Andrews, David included "Little Bombardier" in his first BBC session, recorded on December 18th 1967; this performance was released on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition.

LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) see PEACE ON EARTH

LITTLE EGYPT (Lieber/Stoller)

The Coasters' hit was among The Manish Boys' live repertoire.

THE LITTLE FAT MAN WITH THE PUG NOSED FACE see PUG NOSED FACE

LITTLE MISS EMPEROR (Pop/Bowie)

Co-written and co-produced by Bowie for Iggy Pop's Blah-Blah-Blah, "Little Miss Emperor" appeared on the CD version and became the B-side of Iggy's hit "Real Wild Child".

LITTLE TOY SOLDIER see TOY SOLDIER

LITTLE WONDER (Bowie/Gabrels/Plati)

  • A-Side: January 1997

  • Album: Earthling

  • Live: Earthling In The City/liveandwell.com/Bowie At The Beeb

  • Bonus: Earthling (2004)

  • Video: Best Of Bowie

Earthling's opening track shamelessly poaches its manic percussion and squalling power-chords from The Prodigy's "Firestarter", a seminal UK number 1 in March 1996 which was instrumental in bringing drum'n'bass rhythms to a mainstream audience. Nonetheless "Little Wonder" subverts its jungle pretensions by adopting a conventional rock sensibility for its "So far away" chorus, blessed with a soaring synthesizer line recalling the euphoria of "Heroes". Reeves Gabrels revealed that the anarchic middle section was composited from "all sorts of shit. The bass track is Gail trying to get a sound from her pedalboard, not knowing it was being recorded. We constructed the track by grabbing bits of her bassline."

     Bowie's vocals are all first-take recordings, and the utterly incomprehensible lyric, delivered in his finest bar-room cockney, is the result of another computer-enhanced cut-up session. On this occasion the starting-point is, of all things, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. "The key was to write one line about each dwarf, or using each dwarf's name," explained David, "but I ran out of dwarfs! I had Potty, Scrummy - all sorts of alternative names." He likened the track to "Warszawa" in that "the sound of the words, the phonetics, against the musical context...can give you quite strong, emotive feelings without having to have a rational sense." Hence such magnificent nonsense as "Dopey morning, doc, grumpy nose" and "tits and explosions, sleepy time, bashful but nude." By the time he reaches "Sit on my karma, Dame Meditation", it's clear that we're facing an almost unprecedented degree of self-mockery; "Little Wonder" needn't be taken too seriously.

     Originally conceived as a nine-minute epic, "Little Wonder" was whittled down to six minutes for Earthling and a further three were excised for the single release in January 1997, which reached number 14 in Britain and topped the chart in Japan. The extraordinary Brit-nominated video was directed by Floria Sigismondi, a Toronto-based Italian whose credits include the later (and very similar) videos for Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People" and Tricky's "Makes Me Wanna Die". "I thought she just has a wonderful eye, great textures, fabulous cutting," said Bowie, "and also that she was really quite out on the proverbial limb in terms of subject matter; it was really quite odd." Set in a mutated dystopia somewhere between Fellini and Eraserhead, "Little Wonder" depicts Bowie and a latter-day Ziggy clone prowling subway stations and New York streets against a relentless background of distorting images, shifting film speeds, and unearthly faces projected onto giant eyeballs and nightmarishly deformed animals. These are the work of sculptor Tony Oursler, whose video assemblages had been shown at the Pompidou Cantre in Paris and at London's Saatchi Gallery; he later collaborated with Bowie on an exhibit for 1997's Florence Biennale. The projections of David's face onto the sculptures were achieved at Oursler's New York studio, where further examples were prepared for Bowie's fiftieth birthday concert - and where, many years later, Oursler shot the video for "Where Are We Now?".

     "Little Wonder" was added to the live set for the East Coast Ballroom tour of September 1996. It was the opening number of the fiftieth birthday concert and featured throughout the 1997 and 2000 tours. A recording of the birthday performance appeared on the GQ magazine CD Earthling In The City, while the "Danny Saber Dance Mix" appeared on the UK release of the movie soundtrack The Saint and was later included alongside two further remixes on the 2004 reissue of Earthling. Single and promo formats featured a vast array of further remixes by Danny Saber and Junior Vasquez, some of which remain unreleased. "Little Wonder" cropped up again in the soundtrack of Hackers 2, while another live version, recorded in New York on October 15th 1997, appeared on liveandwell.com. A third live recording, this time from the BBC Radio Theatre gig on June 27th 2000, was included on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc.

LIZA JANE (Conn)

  • A-Side: June 1964

  • A-Side: September 1978

  • Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)

Although not quite where it all started, "Liza Jane" is certainly among the most significant of David Bowie's early landmarks - released on June 5th 1964, it was his first ever record.

     The single is credited to Davie Jones with The King Bees. Leslie Conn, who had negotiated a one-single deal with Decca and now effectively became Davie's manager, was controversially credited as songwriter. "It was an old Negro spiritual that we played around with," band member George Underwood later said. "I don't know how he came to put his name to it." Conn later admitted that "Liza Jane" has my name on it, but I think it was a joint composition." What is certain is that The King Bees' adaptation bears only fleeting similarities to the nineteenth-century plantation song "Little Liza Jane" (emphatically not a spiritual, as Chris O'Leary explains in impressive detail in his book Rebel Rebel), which is here transformed into a furious Rolling Stones-influenced R&B rave-up.

     Both sides of the single were recorded in a seven-hour session at Decca Studios in West Hampstead, where David had had his ill-fated audition with The Kon-rads a few months earlier. Although producer Glyn Johns was in attendance, Conn took the credit for "Musical Director and Production". The single was released on Decca's subsidiary Vocalion Pop, which specialised in jazz and R&B releases.

     On June 6th 1964, the day after its release, "Liza Jane" was aired on BBC Television's Juke Box Jury. The panellists deciding the single's fate were Jessie Matthews (BBC radio's Mrs Dale), Bunny Lewis, Diana Dors and Charlie Drake, of whom only the last voted it a "hit". Making his very first television appearance, David was briefly seen reacting to the verdict. A fortnight later on June 19th he gave his first full-blown TV performance, as Davie Jones with The King bees played "Liza Jane" for an edition of ITV's Ready, Steady, Go! which was transmitted two days later. A further performance for BBC's The Beat Room was screened on July 27th - but live gigs, television exposure and the endorsement of Charlie Drake were all to no avail. The single flopped, and David's days with The King Bees were numbered. By August he was fronting his next outfit, The Manish Boys, who continued to play "Liza Jane" live. Thereafter the song disappeared from Bowie's concert repertoire until June 5th 2004, when he marked the 40th anniversary of his debut single with a condensed but creditable one-off performance of "Liza Jane" on the final US date of A Reality Tour. He had already revisited the number in the studio during the Toy sessions four years earlier: subsequently leaked online, the unreleased 4'47" Toy recording employs the same lolloping blues beat as the 2004 performance and features some heavily distorted vocal treatments, creating a raw sound redolent of the authentic delta blues of Lead Belly or John Lee Hooker. The result is a touching tip of the hat to some of Bowie's earliest musical influences, and a definite highlight of the Toy recordings.

     "When David and I parted company I went off to live and work in Majorca for a few years," Leslie Conn recalled in 1997. "One day I was on the phone to my mother and she said, 'What shall I do with those records I have in the garage?', which were a few hundred copies of "Liza Jane". So I replied, 'Throw them out,' and she did." Seldom can a nugget of filial advice have been so misguided, for original copies of the single now change hands for tremendous sums: in May 2011 a copy was sold on eBay for £1839. Collectors are advised to beware of immaculate American counterfeits created in the 1970s (on the genuine article, the matrix number is machine-stamped on the vinyl; on the fake it is handwritten). In 1978 Decca reissued "Liza Jane" to no avail, and it subsequently appeared on Early On and the 2005 Various Artists compilation And The Beat Goes On. An acetate featuring a slightly longer fade-out is said to exist, but this is not in circulation.

LO VORREI...NON VORREI...MA SE VUOI (Battisti/Mogol) see MUSIC IS LETHAL

THE LONDON BOYS

  • B-Side: December 1966

  • A-Side: May 1975

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

  • Download: June 2002

By the time "The London Boys" appeared as the B-side of Bowie's first Deram single in December 1966, the song had been kicking around in one form or another for over a year. In an interview for Melody Maker in February 1966, ostensibly to publicise "Can't Help Thinking About Me", Bowie had referred to the number by its original title: "It's called "Now You've Met The London Boys", and mentions pills, and generally belittles the London night-life scene...It goes down very well in the stage act and lots of fans said I should have released it - but Tony [Hatch, producer] and I thought the words were a bit strong." The first recording, now lost, was made with The Lower Third at Pye's Marble Arch studios in late 1965 but, with its unambiguous references to drug-taking, it was promptly rejected by the label. "I was choked, and David was as well," recalled drummer Phil Lancaster.

     The familiar studio version of "The London Boys" was one of the tracks recorded on October 18th 1966 at R G Jones Studios in Surrey and used by Kenneth Pitt to secure David his Deram contract, going on to become the B-side of "Rubber Band". In America, Decca baulked at the drug references and chose to replace the B-side with "There Is A Happy Land".

     "I thought it was a remarkable song," Pitt wrote in his memoir, "and in it David had brilliantly evoked the atmosphere of his generation and his London." Certainly "The London Boys" is among Bowie's most sophisticated recordings of the period, demonstrating a mature grasp of pace and dynamics as his catatonic, drugged-out vocal gathers impetus over a swirling organ backing, anatomising a teenager's initiation into swinging London ("You're gonna be sick, but you mustn't lose face - to let yourself down would be a big disgrace"), culminating in a bleak finale which prefigures his own downfall in the mid-1970s: "Now you wish you'd never left your home, you've got what you wanted but you're on your own."

     Although for many years Bowie gave the impression of virtually disowning his Deram work, "The London Boys" was something of an exception. During the Pin Ups sessions in 1973 he considered re-recording the song as a series of one-verse vignettes to alternate with the cover versions, creating a self-penned narrative bridging the sounds of his youth, but the idea was abandoned. Nearly a quarter of a century later, "The London Boys" reappeared in the acoustic set David rehearsed for Radio 1's 1997 broadcast ChangesNowBowie, but was dropped at the rehearsal stage. The song finally received its long-awaited live resurrection in the summer 2000 concerts, and a new 3'46" studio version was recorded later the same year for inclusion on Toy. In June 2002 a downloadable 1'26" excerpt from this recording was made available to BowieNet members via the enhanced CD of Heathen, followed by a further 1'30" snippet a couple of months later. A slightly different mix of the Toy recording was among the material leaked online in 2011. In tempo and atmosphere the splendid Toy version is faithful to the spirit of the 1966 recording, but the sophisticated, multi-layered arrangement and the wall of electric guitar invest the song with a different kind of energy from the original's adolescent fragility.

     As well as surfacing on various Bowie compilations and reissues, the original recording appeared on the 2005 Various Artists album And The Beat Goes On. Indie favourites The Times covered "The London Boys" on their 1983 album I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape, and long-time Bowie admirer Marc Almond included a magnificent version on his 2007 release Stardom Road, which so impressed David that he sent a message to Almond telling him that he thought it was better than the original.

LONDON BYE TA-TA

  • Compilation: Sound + Vision/Sound + Vision (Expanded 2003 Reissue)/Space Oddity (2009)/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb

  • B-Side: July 2016

Composed in the opening weeks of 1968, the swishing "London Bye Ta-Ta" is a vigorous step away from the whimsy of David Bowie and towards the proto-rock of Space Oddity. According to Kenneth Pitt the title and content derived from the West Indian patois David had overheard one day from a family saying their farewells at Victoria station, which explains the pseudo-Jamaican vocal affectation he adopts on the various recorded versions. The rhythms and phrasing owe a firm debt to The Kinks' 1967 hit "Waterloo Sunset", but the lyric is all Bowie's own. The line "Don't like your new face, that's not nice" offers an early intimation of his identity-hopping, anticipating "Sweet Thing" ("D'you think that your face looks the same?") by six years, while a distant ghost of the "red light, green light, make up your mind" bridge returns on 1980's "Fashion".

     David's early typewritten lyric sheet reveals several differences: "that's not fair" instead of "that's not nice", "the pirate in the clothes shop" instead of "the poet in the clothes shop", and there are some unused variants on the bridge passage: "Sweep down, sweep down, take my advice / Treason, treason, town's biggest vice", and "Your right hand paints a sermon on the contents of your wallet / Before the paint has time to dry your left hand hides us from it".

     The first studio version was a proposed B-side, for which taping began at Decca on March 12th 1968, with further recording on March 29th and April 10th and 18th. With classic Tony Visconti strings, fine guitar from Mick Wayne (later of "Space Oddity" fame), some superb percussion from Andy White and an unusual outro of horses' hooves, this version fell by the wayside when "In The Heat Of The Morning", recorded during the same sessions, was rejected as single. The master tape of this recording went missing not long afterwards, explaining its absence from subsequent Deram repackages, although a 2'35" acetate copy has cropped up on bootlegs. The version which eventually saw the light of day on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition is a different, less polished and probably earlier take: the backing track is the same, but the lead vocal is markedly more restrained and we're back to "the pirate in the clothes shop", while the mix lacks the double-tracked vocals, spatial effects and horses' hooves heard on the bootleg version. Two months after the original recording, a new rendition appeared in Bowie's BBC session taped on May 13th, and this version now appears on Bowie At The Beeb.

     "London Bye Ta-Ta" was resurrected in 1970 as a side-effect of Kenneth Pitt's negotiations with Decca over their forthcoming repackage The World Of David Bowie. When it became apparent that the original master was lost, Bowie elected to re-record the song under his Philips contract. A new and superior take, with a shimmering guitar line and added backing vocals, was begun during the session for "The Prettiest Star" on January 8th 1970 and completed on January 13th and 15th. Although documentary proof is thin on the ground, Tony Visconti has declared himself "99.999% certain" that the lead guitarist on this version was Marc Bolan, who played on "The Prettiest Star" at the same session. "I gave Bolie both mixes of the song and he rehearsed for days," Visconti said in 2011. "Marc was by then a very keen electric guitarist and had acquired the wah-wah pedal and distortion boxes and brought his artillery to those sessions. His lead playing on those two songs is just wonderful." The tour de force piano performance on the 1970 version was provided by Rick Wakeman, who had previously played on "Space Oddity" and would later help to define the sound of Hunky Dory, while the percussionist was Godfrey McLean of Gass and the bassist was Visconti himself. Backing vocals were provided by David's friend Lesley Duncan (see "Love Song") and session singers Sue and Sunny (the professional names of sisters Yvonne and Heather Wheatman).

     The 1970 recording was initially earmarked as the follow-up single to "Space Oddity" and was duly selected for performance on Grampian TV's Cairngorm Ski Night on January 29th, for which David played acoustic guitar to the accompaniment of the show's resident Alex Sutherland Band. A couple of days later, during the same trip to Scotland, David hijacked the song's melody for another, less celebrated composition: "Threepenny Pierrot", which had its sole outing in Lindsay Kemp's television production The Looking Glass Murders, has different lyrics but an identical tune.

     "London Bye Ta-Ta" reappeared in the BBC concert session on February 5th, but not long afterwards, against Pitt's wishes, David chose "The Prettiest Star" to replace it as the next single. The 1970 version was denied an official release for nearly two decades, eventually appearing on Sound + Vision, whose 2003 reissue featured a previously unreleased stereo mix which was later included on the 2009 edition of Space Oddity. The latter also featured a further, previously unavailable "alternate stereo mix" created by Tris Penna in 1987. The mono mix reappeared as the B-side of 2016's 7" reissue of "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola".