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  • Album: Aladdin Sane

The closing track of Aladdin Sane is one of Bowie's most underrated recordings, and quite unlike anything else he ever did. Written and recorded in London towards the end of the Trident sessions, it is said to have been conceived as a paean to the American soul singer Claudia Lennear, already the inspiration of The Rolling Stones' 1971 hit "Brown Sugar". Some have disputed this, Chris O'Leary making a persuasive case that David's sometime girlfriend Amanda Lear is a more likely candidate. "I have no idea who he wrote it for," producer Ken Scott wrote in his memoir, "but it was obviously very important to him." In his early career Bowie rarely attended the mixing of his records, but on this occasion he made an exception: according to Scott. David "had a very strong feeling about how he wanted it...and I have to say I love the way it finished up."

     As Bowie paints his portrait of a sensuous seductress , the Stateside flavour of Aladdin Sane gives way to a torrid Latin torch style,, with European influences to the fore in Mike Garson's rippling piano and Mick Ronson's exquisite flamenco guitar break. "There was a very romantic piano on that," Garson later recollected, "a Chopin, Liszt type of attitude of the late 1800s." Bowie himself later described Garson's opening piano as "the most ridiculous and spot-on recreation of a 19th-century music hall "exotic" number. I can see now the poses plastiques as if through a smoke-filled bar. Fans, castanets and lots of Spanish black lace and little else." For his part, Bowie rises to the occasion with a Scott Walker-esque croon of spine-tingling depth and intensity. After Aladdin Sane's succession of ravaged vignettes, here at last is an overwhelming serenity, the paranoia of the opening track ("he's only taking care of the room") subjugated to a surrender of the senses ("don't be afraid of the room").

     "Lady Grinning Soul" became a B-side in various European territories in 1973, and the following year it backed the US version of "Rebel Rebel". Suede appear to draw on the song for their startlingly similar 1994 track "My Dark Star", while cover versions include those by Camille O'Sullivan, Box Office Poison and violinist Lucia Micarelli. Bowie's original version was featured in the soundtrack of Floria Sigismondi's 2010 film The Runaways. It has the distinction of being one of the few songs from Bowie's early 1970s oeuvre that he never performed live.


Leonard Cohen's number, from 1969's Songs From A Room, was performed by Feathers.


  • Album: Ziggy Stardust

  • Bonus: Ziggy Stardust/Ziggy Stardust (2002)

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb

Mick Ronson's underrated piano skills open Ziggy Stardust's second side in this wistfully melodic recollection of the star's charismatic stage presence. Again the lyric thrives on a glut of wide-eyed Americanisms ("awful nice", "outta sight"), but the content of "Lady Stardust" is a very British affair. Bowie hints at a Wildean fall from grace via a paraphrase of Lord Alfred Douglas's most famous utterance ("I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey") and, as Peter Doggett notes, there's a strong flavour of Elton John in the piano-led arrangement and in Bowie's vocal delivery. However, the key inspiration is thought to be David's friend and rival Marc Bolan who, with "long black hair" and "make-up on his face", had already pointed the way for David's reincarnation as Ziggy. Bolan's face was projected on the backcloth when "Lady Stardust" opened Bowie's shows at the Rainbow Theatre in August 1972, among the few instances when he played the song live.

     The young David's fascination with the glamorous idiom of streetwise American youth has been well documented, and interestingly the description of Ziggy as "outta sight" can be traced back to the first American fan letter he ever received. Kenneth Pitt records in The Pitt Report that a letter arrived from New Mexico in September 1967 from a young fan describing David's first album as "outasite" and "so neat". According to Pitt, "David added some Americanese to his vocabulary. For a couple of weeks everything he saw was, paradoxically, outasite."

     "Lady Stardust" was one of the first Ziggy songs to be composed: an early lyric sheet reveals that the protagonist originally had "long blond hair", and that "Lady Stardust sang his songs of rebels, Kings and Queens". A stereo demo was recorded at Radio Luxembourg's studios on March 9th-10th 1971, just two weeks after the Arnold Corns recordings of "Hang On To Yourself" and "Moonage Daydream". Some accounts have suggested that the song had the working titles "He Was Alright (The Band Was All Together)" and "A Song For Marc". An edited mono version of the demo appeared on the 1990 and 2002 reissues of Ziggy Stardust. Interestingly, a variant line which survives in the demo nudges the lyric in the Biblical direction found elsewhere on the Ziggy album: instead of "Oh, how I sighed", Bowie here sings "Oh, how I lied when they asked if I knew his name", surely an echo of Peter's threefold denial of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

     The album version was recorded at Trident on November 12th 1971. Bowie taped two further performances for BBC radio on January 11th and May 23rd 1972, of which the latter now appears on Bowie At The Beeb. A new version, with a stately bassline and additional backing vocals by Gail Ann Dorsey, was taped at David's semi-acoustic session for ChangesNowBowie in January 1997. "This, I think, is a really lovely song," he said on the show. "It sounds really good even today." Tony Visconti's daughter Jessica Lee Morgan has played "Lady Stardust" live, and a plaintive Portuguese cover version was recorded by Seu Jorge for the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.


A cover of this classic track from Roxy Music's 1972 debut album is rumoured to have been demoed during the Pin Ups sessions.


Cannibal & The Headhunters' 1963 single was played live by The Buzz.



Described by organist Bob Solly as "a surging 50s-style instrumental", this number opened many of David's gigs with The Manish Boys. Although it has been described as a band composition, it seems likely that it was a cover of the 1961 single of the same name by The Mar-Keys, a Stax session band whose members included such future luminaries as Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes. "Last Night" was a number 3 hit in the United States, and as descriptions go, "a surging 50s-style instrumental" could hardly be bettered.


  • Album: Earthling

Recorded towards the end of the Earthling sessions and originally intended as a B-side, this track replaced the re-recorded "I Can't Read" when Bowie decided it was stylistically more in keeping with the rest of the album. "All my grand advice!" is how he described the cut-up lyric. "I think it's a cautionary tale...It gives you quite a lot of room for speculation: it could be about drugs, promiscuity, any number of the modern 'don'ts', but it's not particularised." Certainly the lyric suggests an edge of joylessness ("Nobody laughs any more, it's the worst thing you can do") and post-AIDS austerity ("Give the last kiss to me, it's the safest thing to do"). After "Little Wonder" and "Battle For Britain" this is the third and final excursion into the jungle sound often over-attributed to Earthling. At his fiftieth birthday gig Bowie performed the song with The Cure's Robert Smith, and it was subsequently reworked for the Earthling tour.


  • A-Side: April 1967

  • A-Side: September 1973

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

In many eyes this infamous song epitomises the aimless and embarrassing dilettantism of Bowie's pre-"Space Oddity" career. Love it or loathe it, "The Laughing Gnome" isn't going to go away, so let's at least credit it with self-awareness. It's funny, and moreover it's meant to be. It isn't "Warszawa", but it's probably been played at more parties and the world would be a duller place without it.

     For the uninitiated, "The Laughing Gnome" is a jaunty bassoon-led ditty in which David meets the chucklesome title character and his brother Fred, whose mirthful interjections are laced with appalling puns on the word "gnome". The "Ha ha ha, hee hee hee" chorus is borrowed from the traditional jazz standard "Little Brown Jug", and it seems highly likely that another influence was Lou Monte's 1962 novelty hit "Pepino The Italian Mouse": a US million-seller for the Italian-American entertainer, it concerns a series of encounters with a mischievous and uncatchable mouse, whose helium-pitched voice interacts with Monte's in precisely the same fashion as Bowie's exchanges with the gnome. There's also a grab for the Singing Postman's hit "Hev Yew Goota Loight, Boy?", which won the 1966 Ivor Novello Award for the best novelty song of the year.

     In his book Rebel Rebel, Chris O'Leary advances the intriguing theory, proposed by musician Nick Currie, that "The Laughing Gnome" is a metaphor for schizophrenia, and that the gnomes are hallucinations which haunt the narrator. To this, Nicolas Pegg responds with a more benign reading: In many interviews over the years, not to mention in later songs like "Quicksand", "Sound And Vision" and "I Can't Read", Bowie confessed to an ongoing tussle with his own artistic gift ("it comes and goes, it hides, it gets lost and it reappears, rather like a stream that you come across when you're walking through a wood," he said in 1980). So perhaps the Laughing Gnome is a personification of David's own talent: mischievous, troublesome and ungovernable, forever skipping out of his reach ("You can't catch me"), yet at the same time coming up with a song ("All right, let's hear it," sighs Bowie, in full-on Anthony Newley mode), and eventually "earning me lots of money". Well, it's a thought.

     Work on "The Laughing Gnome" began on January 26th 1967, when the instrumental track was recorded. Among the musicians hired for the session was guitarist Pete Hampshire, a friend of bassist Dek Fearnley, who had auditioned unsuccessfully to join The Buzz a few months earlier. Vocals were added during sessions on February 7th and 10th, and the track was completed on March 8th. The Pinky & Perky-style voices of the two gnomes were provided by David himself and by studio engineer Gus Dudgeon, later to produce "Space Oddity". "I remember we sat around for ages, trying to come up with those ghastly jokes," recalled Dudgeon in 1993. "I haven't had the courage to play the record at half-speed, because if I did I'd hear my actual voice. We had a good laugh." They certainly did: surviving tracks from the session reveal Bowie and Dudgeon peppering their unexpurgated gnome vocals with joyful profanities, fits of coughing, and irreverent banter about Decca executives. The track is understood to have veered between 2'30" and 3'30" during successive studio cuts, and the various edits and mixes include one version exclusively featuring gnome vocals and credited to "The Rolling Gnomes". Many years later, acetate copies of two alternative mixes labelled "1st Version" and "Version 3" were auctioned on eBay. These unreleased variants feature different lead vocals with a few lyrical divergences ("with his tiny hands on his stomach" instead of "on his tummy"), alongside some additional gnome interjections, including "I came on a gnoming pigeon", "gnome milk today", and even a contribution from "Fyfe Robertsgnome" (gnome relation to the BBC's investigative journalist Fyfe Robertson, a popular target for parody at the time), reporting on an outbreak of "Gnomin' In The Gloamin" in a high-pitched and suitably Caledonian cadence.

     Released on April 14th, the single the latest in a long line of flops, despite an encouraging review in the NME which declared it "A novelty number chock full of appeal. The boy sounds remarkably like Tony Newley, and he wrote this song himself. An amusing lyric, with David Bowie interchanging lines with a chipmunk-like creature." Reviewing The Beatles' Sgt Pepper album in The Times on May 29th, William Mann found the space to draw unflattering comparisons with "a heavy-handedly facetious number about a laughing gnome which was ecstatically plugged for several weeks by the pirate stations but steadfastly remained the flop it deserved to be."

     Such withering opprobrium didn't deter other artists from chancing their arm with "The Laughing Gnome". First off the mark was the French singer Caroline (real name Natalie Rogen), who released a cover version in 1967, loosely translated into French by Gilles Gainsbourg and entitled "Mister Á Gogo"). Musically faithful to Bowie's version with the addition of some splendid psychedelic guitar, "Mister Á Gogo" added intriguing new layers of profundity: "Ah ah ah, hi hi hi, serais-tu le diable ou le saint esprit? / Ah ah ah, hi hi hi, es-tu la sagesse ou bien la folie?" translates as "Ha ha ha, hee hee hee, are you the Devil or the Holy Spirit? / Ha ha ha, hee hee hee, are you wisdom or are you madness?", while the final verse translates: "Ever since that day, he has followed me everywhere / People don't understand why I laugh / Because only those who live a happy life / Can see him walking by my side." That's deep. A year later Ronnie Hilton, who had enjoyed several hits in the previous decade and charted in 1965 with "A Windmill In Old Amsterdam", recorded a UK cover version in his broadcast Yorkshire brogue: this recording, which was later included on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things, adds a joke about "the National Elf Service", substitutes "Bradford" for "Eastbourne", and features a gnome who sounds uncannily and perhaps deliberately like the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Neither of these early covers enjoyed any more chart success than the Bowie single, although "Mister Á Gogo" received some radio airplay in Canada, prompting Natalie Rogen and her husband to emigrate to Quebec in 1968, where she reissued the single under her own name; alas, it flopped again. Back in London, Bowie included the song in his ill-fated 1968 cabaret audition, performing it with the assistance of a glove-puppet gnome.

     Infamously, "The Laughing Gnome" was reissued in September 1973 at the height of Bowie's first flush of stardom, shortly before the release of Pin Ups. This time it reached number 6, and would return to torment its creator regularly thereafter: "It just shows you it doesn't pay to be cool, man!" chortled Marc Bolan in Melody Maker a few years later, "Rock'n'Roll Suicide hit the dust and the laughing gnomes took over." In 1990, when it was announced that the set-list for the Sound + Vision tour would be determined by a telephone survey, the NME launched a "Just Say Gnome" campaign - T-shirts and all - urging readers to jam the switchboard with requests for the song. "I'll tell you what," Bowie told Melody Maker as the tour got under way, "I was thinking of doing "Laughing Gnome" and was wondering how to do it, maybe in the style of the Velvets or something, until I found out that all the voting had been a scam or something, perpetrated by another music paper. I mean, that was an end to it. I can't pander to the press, now can I?"

     In 1998 Queen's Roger Taylor name-checked the song in his solo track "No More Fun", while Buster Bloodvessel's madcap techno reworking, surely one of the most unlikely Bowie covers of all, was included on the 2001 compilation Diamond Gods. In 1999 incredulous suggestions began to circulate that Bowie would be performing "The Laughing Gnome" for the BBC's Comic Relief night on March 12th. The rumours proved to be exaggerated: Bowie's pre-recorded insert, which he introduced as "Requiem For A Laughing Gnome", involved him tootling tunelessly on a descant recorder and making nonsensical interjections, while the BBC flashed messages promising to stop it if viewers phoned in with their pledges.

     The 2010 reissue David Bowie: Deluxe Edition included the original cut of "The Laughing Gnome" alongside a newly prepared stereo version, mixed by Peter Mew and Tris Penna at Abbey Road in 2009.


  • Album: Earthling

Earthling's final track is perhaps its weakest moment, a stab at club credibility that welds a succession of synthesizer effects to a zappy dance-floor bassline reminiscent of Squeeze's 1978 hit "Take Me I'm Yours". It's a descendant of 1993's "Pallas Athena", using a similar distortion effect on Bowie's growled vocal samples. "I used what I believe is a Bertrand Russell quote," David explained, "I don't want knowledge, I want certainty," which appealed to me 'cos that's how we feel some of the time...To me, it's the avenue of insanity to presume that if you keep studying you'll find the actually lightens the load when you realise there are no certainties." The exact Russell quotation, from The Listener in 1964, is "What men really want is not knowledge but certainty." Bowie's relentless chant of "With this sound, mark the ground" hints at the sinister allure of false "certainties" by recalling the conflations of music, black magic and totalitarianism that had informed Station To Station twenty years earlier.

     The song's existential concerns are highlighted by another obscure reference: "In a house a man drops dead / As he hits the floor he sighs 'What a morning'". This is an illusion to the sudden death of Samuel Beckett's father, whose final words after suffering a stroke were, according to the famously mordant playwright, "What a morning".


  • A-Side: December 2015

  • Album: Blackstar

Released three weeks ahead of the album, Blackstar's second single is one of its most luminous moments: an intense, brooding threnody in which twanging guitars, wheezing synthesizers and plangent saxophones thread their way in and out of an intricate rhythm track, drums and bass maintaining a hypnotic pulse while nimbly dancing through wormholes in the fabric of the beat. Donny McCaslin's saxophone solo is a thing of glittering majesty, and Bowie sings with a passionate, mesmeric intensity.

     David's oft-stated preference for the kind of spontaneity that would be achieved by taking even the finest musicians out of their comfort zone is borne witness by the backing track of "Lazarus", recorded on January 3rd 2015. "I remember that we played a really nice first take," drummer Mark Guiliana later revealed. "Everyone played very musically, but politely. David said something like, 'Great, but now let's really do it.' He was always pushing us. The version on the record is the next take, where we are all taking a few more chances."

     The extended intro and outro, in which Tim Lefebvre complements his sobbing bassline with a languid higher-register bass part ("I tend to play guitary type stuff as a colour pretty often," Lefebvre said, "and even the guys from the bass magazines thought it was guitar - fooled ya!"), was the result of studio improvisation encouraged by Bowie. "The intro didn't exist on his demo," said Mark Guiliana, "but after the first take we kept playing and Tim started playing this beautiful line with the pick, which David liked and thought it would make for a nice intro. He was very much in the moment crafting the music."

     Bowie recorded his vocals for "Lazarus" at Human on April 23rd-24th and May 7th 2015, and during the overdub stage he added some more guitar of his own. The strident kerrangs prominent in the closing section are played by David on an instrument heavy with personal resonance: the Sunburst Fender Stratocaster that Marc Bolan gave him when they appeared together on the Marc show in September 1977, just days before Bolan's death (Bowie can be seen playing he instrument alongside Bolan in the show's closing sequence). A few years earlier, David had used the same guitar to play some similar sounds on The Next Day's bonus track "Plan".

     "Lazarus" soon established itself as one of the most prominent Blackstar numbers: it was featured in a 2016 episode of Peaky Blinders, a show that David adored, and of course it is both the title and opening number of his stage musical, which opened off Broadway in December 2015 a few days before the single's release. In the show, the song is sung by Bowie's sometime alter ego Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien stranded on our planet, a multi-millionaire who wants to slip the surly bonds of Earth either by escaping to the stars or by dying, but is incapable of doing either. On one level the lyrics reflect Newton's predicament in the show, which is set in Manhattan's East Village, so a line like "By the time I got to New York I was living like a king" has a sense specific to the plot. But on another level, "Lazarus" operates outside any such storyline and is as cryptic as any Bowie song: that same line about New York might as well be a flashback to David's own experiences in the early seventies. And is "that bluebird" merely a cliché, a found symbol from the likes of "Over The Rainbow" and "The White Cliffs Of Dover", a long-established totem of the yearning for freedom? Or might we perceive a sly allusion to Maurice Maeterlinck's 1908 play The Blue Bird, whose many big-screen adaptations include the 1976 flop starring Elizabeth Taylor, a film for which Bowie famously turned down the male lead? Or could it even be a reference to "Like A Bird", the excruciating signature song of the socialite and inept amateur soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, of whose notorious live recordings David was a confirmed enthusiast? As ever, Bowie offers no straightforward answers, but of all the songs on Blackstar, this one is surely the hardest to extricate from our awareness of what he was living through during the making of the album. The title alludes, of course, to the Biblical character Lazarus of Bethany who, according to John's Gospel, was restored to life by Jesus four days after his death - and also to the Bible's other Lazarus, who appears in Luke's Gospel when Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who dies and goes to hell-fire for his uncharitable mistreatment of Lazarus, a beggar who is taken up to heaven.

     The video was released on January 7th 2016, a day ahead of the Blackstar album and just three days before David's death. As a result, when the sad news broke, the eyes and ears of the media were understandably focused on "Lazarus": many newspapers carried its opening line, "Look up here, I'm in heaven", alongside their headlines the following day. The next line, "I've got scars that can't be seen", was taken by many as a reference to David's cancer. But perhaps even more poignant are the words he sings a couple of lines later. On that dismal day, when David Bowie's face gazed from the front page of every newspaper on Earth, the rueful observation "Everybody knows me now" acquired a bitter significance, and it's surely one that was not accidental: for Bowie, this was merely the latest in a long line of pointed quips about the pitiless flip-side of celebrity, from "Space Oddity", with its "papers" who wanted to know whose shirts Major Tom wore, to the bullet in the brain that "makes all the papers" in "It's No Game". On that dark day in January 2016, everybody knew David Bowie.

     A couple of minutes shorter than the full-length album track, and thus accompanied by a unique 4'08" edit of the song, Johan Renck's video was shot in November 2015 in the same Brooklyn studio that had played host to the "Blackstar" film a couple of months earlier. The video was presented in an unusual 1:1 aspect ratio, a last-minute alteration suggested by Renck to create a more claustrophobic atmosphere (a few days after Bowie's death, Renck uploaded the original widescreen version to his website, where it remained for a limited period). It was also Renck's idea to revive the "Button Eyes" character from the "Blackstar" video, and to resurrect him from his deathbed. "I just thought of it as the Biblical tale of Lazarus rising from the bed," Renck later told The Guardian. "In hindsight, [Bowie] obviously saw it as the tale of a person in his last nights." Renck had known of David's illness for some months, but he only discovered later that "Just before we shot the "Lazarus" video, David had gotten word from his doctors that we're terminating treatment, there's nothing we can do, this is the end. So he knew that, when we were shooting that video. I obviously didn't know." Although tiring rapidly and needing to take breaks, David was in good spirits during the five-hour shoot, happily climbing ladders to balance above the bed, joking with the crew, and at pains to ensure that the video, like that of "Blackstar", retained a lightness of touch and a sense of humour necessary to offset its bleakness. "So British, the wit, like a guilt thing," mused Renck, "making sure it's not coming across as too serious or pretentious - and yet that enhances the humanity of it." Of working with Bowie on a second video, Renck said, "One could only dream about collaborating with a mind like that; let alone twice. Intuitive, playful, mysterious and profound...I have no desire to do any more videos knowing the process never ever gets as formidable and fulfilling as this was. I've basically touched the sun."

     Set in a dingy, white-tiled hospital ward in some nightmarish horror-movie institution, the "Lazarus" video opens on an ornate, Narnia-style wardrobe from which a ghostly hand emerges. Next we are reintroduced to Button Eyes, writhing in torment in his bed before levitating as if being drawn up to heaven. As we reach the "By the time I got to New York" passage, we encounter a second Bowie in this desolate room: a variation on the "trickster" persona from the "Blackstar" video, once again grinning maniacally and striking spiky, camp poses. Intriguingly, he is clad in a perfect facsimile of the diagonally-striped two-piece outfit in which David had posed for photographs during the Station To Station period, including shots of him sketching the Kabbalistic Tree of Life: once again Bowie is up to his tricks, challenging us to a game of spot the reference. His hair slicked back like the Thin White Duke's, this new Bowie sits down at an old-fashioned schoolroom desk, all the time moving in jerky, mimetic attitudes like a silent film character from the German Expressionist pictures that David so adored. At the desk, echoing an image previously photographed for the Heathen booklet, he begins frantically scribbling down his thoughts in a tattered notebook, his cranked-up movements both comical and desperate. As he drums his fingers between bursts of writing, impatiently awaiting his muse, one is reminded of that obsessive, recursive line in "Fantastic Voyage": "I've got to write it down, and I've got to write it down, but I'm still getting educated, but I've got to write it down, and it won't be forgotten..." Time is running out: glimpsed beside David on the writing desk is an encrusted skull like the one in the "Blackstar" video, now playing the role of the memento mori in a medieval scholar's study. And there is a third character in the room: a shadowy figure lurking in the wardrobe, beneath the bed, under the desk, and later at the door, reaching out as if to summon Button Eyes away. Johan Renck later revealed that this figure was his idea: "I wanted to have some kind of representation of childhood fears, you know? Someone in the closet, somebody under the bed, those kind of things...In my mind also, which was not openly shared between us, but we both knew that to some extent it also represented the disease, I guess, or the idea of a disease."

     In the closing moments of the video, his writing done, Bowie rises from the desk and, with a series of twitchy reverse movements meticulously mapped from Conrad Veidt's sinister somnambulist in The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, he totters into the wardrobe, pulling the door closed behind him. Cabinet, closet, coffin, gateway to another world: whatever it might be, his retreat into that wardrobe was destined to be the final exit of David Bowie the performer. Remarkably it was unscripted, and improvised on the day. "Somebody on set said, "You should end the video by disappearing into the closet," Johan Renck told Rolling Stone. "And I saw David sort of think about that for a second. Then a big smile came up on his face. And he said something like, 'Yeah, that will keep them all guessing, won't it?'"


THE "LEON" RECORDINGS (Bowie/Eno/Gabrels/Garson/Kizilicay/Campbell)

Having gained full control of his business affairs following his split from Tony Defries in the mid-1970s, for the rest of his career Bowie remained understandably protective of his recordings, keeping a tight rein on the fate of demos, out-takes and other unreleased rarities. However, no system is ever watertight, as witnessed by the appearance on the bootleg circuit of items like the Toy album, the Scary Monsters demos, the Tin Machine II out-takes and various tour rehearsal tapes. In 2003 there occurred one of the most substantial archive leaks of Bowie's post-MainMan career, when a private collector released onto the internet a series of audio files taken from a fully mixed tape of the unreleased Leon album - the product of the 1994 Montreux sessions which would later be re-edited and augmented with new recordings before eventually seeing the light of day as 1.Outside.

     Given the fluid and non-linear nature of the Leon recordings, and the fact that further material has since surfaced - including a fuller variation on the original leak, with sequences no longer split apart at such arbitrary edit-points - it is difficult to make a definitive assessment of how many official "tracks" are included in the approximately 70 minutes of music that now circulate. Asked about the find, guitarist Reeves Gabrels described the original 1994 mix of the album as a "three hour plus improvised opus".

     Besides a wealth of ambient sequences and spoken interludes, many of which take the form of lengthier versions of the segues that survive on 1.Outside, several distinct "songs" are discernible on the leaked Leon material. They make for fascinating listening, casting valuable illumination on the nature of the original album. Stripped of the generally more upbeat and commercial numbers that were added at the 1995 New York sessions, 1.Outside already looks like a very different proposition, and it comes as no surprise that the Leon numbers bear a closer resemblance to the more avant-garde Montreux tracks on the final album, such as "A Small Plot Of Land", "The Motel" and "I Am With Name". An expansive ten-minute version of "I Am With Name" is indeed among the tracks on the Leon bootleg, augmented by a lengthy, almost rap-like middle section as Bowie chants a dizzying litany of barely comprehensible snippets ("They won't smell this, she can't tell it, I won't be there, he should eat me, he said tell it," and on and on in the same vein). Reworked variations on this vocal sequence appear in some of the other leaked tracks, and this sense of repetition and re-wrapping is a hallmark of the Leon recordings in general: it appears that the original album would have been characterised by an aspect not unlike the "permutation poetry" of Brion Gysin, in which key words and phrases reappear throughout in varying configurations and against new backgrounds: in the Leon material, phrases like "blood-red sky", "Laugh Hotel", "we'll creep together" and "chrome" crop up repeatedly. The ten-minute "I Am With Name" draws to a close with more elaborate (and more profane) versions of 1.Outside's Nathan Adler and Ramona A Stone segues, here spoken over the rhythm track and culminating in Ramona's surreal observation that "you could think of me as a 'syllannibal' - someone who eats their own words."

     The most melodic piece is "We'll Creep Together", of which two distinct versions exist: in addition to a full-length edit of the recording previewed on the 1.Outside EPK back in 1995, there is a second and quite different five-minute version; it seems likely that both were intended for inclusion on the album, one as a reprise of the other. The five-minute take is less arch than the EPK version, as Bowie adopts his finest Jacques Brel chanson style to deliver an impassioned vocal over Mike Garson's rippling piano, punctuated by a series of twisted sci-fi sound effects: the lyric is characteristically impenetrable ("Way back in the Laugh Hotel I'll reel out of the window / You die for diamonds but you won't live for love"), and the overall impression is sweetly mysterious in the beguiling style of "My Death" (and, interestingly enough, of Bowie's subsequent recording of "Nature Boy" for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack).

     The number known unofficially as "I'd Rather Be Chrome" (a phase repeated several times in the lyric, prefiguring "I'd Rather Be High" by the best part of two decades) begins with some more narration from Nathan Adler before developing a prowling, catchy riff over which Bowie-as-Adler emotes a self-lacerating lyric reminiscent of some of the bleaker moments on Low ("Oh what a room, what a womb, what a tomb...I'd rather be chrome than stay here at home") against a pounding bass and percussion track. "The Enemy Is Fragile" (a title confirmed by Reeves Gabrels) revisits the rhythmically insistent patterns of "A Small Plot Of Land", as Bowie tops the clattering drum patterns, guitar squeals and piano runs with a series of outrageous vocal swoops, alternating between menacing spoken sections, hammy over-enunciations and preposterous falsetto howls: his opening gambit is "Hallo Leon, would you like something really fishy?", before going on to paraphrase Henry II ("Who will rid me of this shaking head?") and cracking a sort of metaphysical pun around a sinister Silence Of The Lambs image: "There's something in her mouth - something mysterious...I bet it is a speech". The appearance of the word "permutation" in the final mantra ("You are a permutation, you are a patois, You are Chinese poetry, You are something mysterious...You are something really fishy") points to the lyrics' obvious debt to Brion Gysin, and brings the proceedings to a splendidly bewildering climax.

     The remaining material includes a largely instrumental five-minute sequence which showcases Mike Garson's piano against Blade Runner-style washes of synthesizer topped by a soprano saxophone: the effect is beautiful and seems at times to anticipate the soundscapes of Heathen, recorded seven years later. This is followed by a particularly demented five-minute sequence of narration, underscored as usual by piano, percussion and various pulsing Eno-noises, in which Bowie first adopts the sinister role of "the Artist/Minotaur", observing that "The demons find their ways unencumbered, half-dead, poisoned by their own fatal art," before enquiring, "O machine, how did we fail thee?" and complaining that he feels "like a wall strangled by ivy." At this point Nathan Adler interjects: "I remember a dame called Ivy - drove around in a hearse, some way south in Oxford Town," and proceeds to ramble on in a similar vein until Ramona arrives and observes in her familiar cyborg drone that "I think we're stuck in a web. A sort of nerve-net, as it were. A sort of nerve-internet, as it were. We might be here for quite a long time, here in this web, or internet. As it were."

     Running to nearly six minutes, the next sequence begins as a full-length edit of the B-side "Nothing To Be Desired" before shifting into a lengthy variant of the "Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette)" segue, in which passages familiar from 1.Outside are interspersed with an impenetrable ramble about a television programme that Baby Grace has been watching. With an irony rendered both sad and hilarious by hindsight, the "Nothing To Be Desired" section opens with David declaring that "The editors have done an excellent job," and a few moments later he appears to be cocking a snook at the empty rhetoric of the music press (or perhaps of over-analytical reference books) when he adopts a nerdy, anorak-style delivery - presumably the voice of "Mr Waloff Bomberg" who is mentioned elsewhere on 1.Outside - to observe in a dreary monotone that "This is a magnificent achievement, a major triumph for Waloff Music, a truly precious addition to the sum total." There follows a mournful two-and-a-half-minute instrumental dominated by piano and guitar, and a mammoth five-minute version of the "Algeria Touchshriek" segue in which the self-confessed broken man expands on his hopes and dreams: "Possibly, just maybe, after a nice cup of tea from a tip of the tongue, we'll creep together down a memory lane, and then we'll be young and full of bubbly ambition, instead of the slumped males that we are."

     There is also a hypnotic drum, piano and guitar sequence lasting nearly seven minutes, which utilises various spoken segments, again including radically different mixes of some of the 1.Outside segues, in what bears a passing resemblance to a courtroom scene. We hear witness testimonials from Nathan Adler ("I says to myself, wow, quelle courage, what nerve!"), Ramona ("I was sittin' there in the Laugh Hotel the other night looking for window demons, when in comes this Leon!") and Algeria Touchshriek ("I met Leon once - bit of a dark spiral with no end, I thought"). These monologues alternate with a reprise of Bowie's deranged chants from the extended "I Am With Name" track, and a new selection of manic declarations ("Some day the internet may become an information superhighway - do not make me laugh!...A nineteenth-century railroad that passes through the badlands of the old West!"). The overall effect is not unlike some sort of Brechtian or Kafkaesque theatre piece, and every bit as unsettling.

     Another sequence running to nearly seven minutes begins with an extended version of the piece which would become "Leon Takes Us Outside" on the finished album, before gradually developing into a jazzy instrumental backing for piano, drums and pneumatic bass, over which we hear David speaking some further Nathan Adler narration ("Last time I saw him he was standing by a pile of cantaloupes under the lamp, and I looked up at the blood-red sky, and I saw the words "Ramona A Stone", as sure as you can see the nose on my face, or the graze on my arm, or the boil on my neck, or the foot on my ankle, or the car in my garage, or the wife in my kitchen..."). As Adler's ramble recedes, David's singing voice drifts in and out of the soundscape and he softly croons, "Moving through the crowd in Oxford Town, moving on the sidewalk, faces to the ground," before repeating "Oxford Town" over and over as the music is augmented by outlandish bleeps, boings and twangs.

     If Leon was to have had a title track, the likeliest contender seems to be a five-minute piece with a spiky, angular rhythm over which Bowie adopts a preposterously strangulated vocal delivery reminiscent of Billy MacKenzie at his most histrionic. In this melodramatically tortured idiom he sings, "The very stars are calling! Your name is Leon! Leon is your name! Leon, lift up your eyes! Leon, Leon, Leon!"

     On several occasions after the release of 1.Outside, Bowie intimated that he hoped one day to make more of the Montreux recordings officially available. The leaking of the Leon material, in all its fascinating but infuriatingly incomplete brilliance, only reinforces the impression that this remains a consummation devoutly to be wished.

LEON TAKES US OUTSIDE (Bowie/Eno/Gabrels/Garson/Kizilcay/Campbell)

  • Album: 1.Outside

1.Outside opens with an ambient instrumental in which guitars twang fitfully over layers of slow-building synthesizers and distant voices while Bowie, in the guise of murder suspect Leon Blank, intones snatches of half-heard names and dates. It's an atmospheric introduction to the David Lynch-like setting of Oxford Town and the cracked sonic landscape we're about to enter. One can't help thinking that this is exactly what the beginning of "Glass Spider" should have sounded like back in 1987, and the resemblance to the opening of U2's Zooropa (also co-produced by Brian Eno) is unlikely to be a coincidence. A shorter edit, lasting only 25 seconds, appears on the LP Excerpts From 1.Outside.

LET IT BE (Lennon/McCartney)

  • Live Video: Live Aid

At Live Aid Bowie joined the likes of Bob Geldof, Pete Townshend and Alison Moyet to provide backing vocals for Paul McCartney's rendition of the 1970 Beatles classic.


  • Compilation: The World Of David Bowie/The Deram Anthology 1966-1968/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)/Nothing Has Changed

  • Live: BBC Sessions 1969-1972 (Sampler)/Bowie At The Beeb/Space Oddity (2009)

  • Video: Love You Till Tuesday

Together with "Karma Man", recorded the same day, "Let Me Sleep Beside You" enjoys the distinction of being the first Bowie track to be produced by David's long-time collaborator Tony Visconti. The two were brought together when Kenneth Pitt proposed a change of producer following the commercial failure of the Mike Vernon-produced Deram recordings. Pitt's initial suggestion, Denny Cordell, was unwilling to accept David's material and suggested his assistant, a young New Yorker called Tony Visconti who had arrived in England at the end of 1966. Teamed with Cordell, Visconti had already distinguished himself with a sharply commercial ear and a flamboyant taste for elaborate orchestral backings. He suggested the addition of the woodwind section on The Move's September 1967 hit "Flowers In The Rain", and scored the string arrangement for "Cherry Blossom Clinic" on their eponymous debut album.

     "I met David when he was twenty, in my office in Oxford Street," Visconti recalled four decades later. "We were supposed to talk abut working together, but we ended up talking about Buddhism, obscure recordings and foreign films. We ended our first interview by going to the cinema to see Knife In The Water by Roman Polanski."

     In future years Visconti would win acclaim for his production of Marc Bolan's glam hits, but his partnership with David Bowie would become the longest and most fruitful of his career. In 1967 commercial success lay several years ahead, but the combination of Bowie's rapidly maturing songwriting and Visconti's fiercely clever production would soon turn out to be a marriage made in heaven. Many regard Tony Visconti as Bowie's most brilliant producer.

     "Let Me Sleep Beside You" and "Karma Man" were recorded on September 1st 1967 at Advision Studios in New Bond Street (another first - at its relocated Gosfield Street premises Advision would later be home to some of The Man Who Sold The World's sessions). Both tracks were apparently the fruit of David's decision "to write some top ten rubbish." The session players hired for these recordings included guitarist John McLaughlin, subsequently to find fame with his Mahavishnu Orchestra; drummer Alan White, later a member of Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Yes; and the legendary session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, whose work had already appeared on a string of hits by the likes of Tom Jones, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black and The Walker Brothers, and who had already contributed to Bowie's debut album (playing, among other things, the sitar on "Join The Gang"). Visconti drafted in his then wife Siegrid to sing backing vocals: her voice can be heard accompanying David's in the opening bars.

     The two songs were promptly turned down by Decca as a proposed follow-up to the three singles so far released. It's possible that the rejection was on the grounds of the song's risqué title, a close relative of the recent Rolling Stones hit which Bowie would later cover on Aladdin Sane. The Stones were also on Decca, and the controversy surrounding "Let's Spend The Night Together" had barely died down: on that single's release in January 1967 some radio stations had refused to play it, and a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was only permitted after Mick Jagger consented to sing "Let's spend some time together," exacting his revenge by pulling exasperated faces at the camera while doing so. Against this backdrop, Decca's request that Bowie's title be changed to "Let Me Be Beside You" is more understandable if no less absurd. The lyric, in which David urges a young lover to put away childish things and receive education in the ways of the flesh, was probably equally terrifying to Decca's selection board, but it may be that the label was simply losing confidence in its costly and thus far unsuccessful protégé. The song remained in the vaults until 1970's The World Of David Bowie.

     Although neither top ten nor rubbish, "Let Me Sleep Beside You" represents a vital moment of transition between the Deram material and the rockier sounds of the Space Oddity album. "It might have been influenced by Simon and Garfunkel, but gone a little heavier," Bowie suggested many years later. "I still thought I might have a chance of being a romantic songwriter, which never actually proved to be my forte." Visconti's production lends the recording an edge and a maturity quite new to Bowie's sound, and like "Karma Man" it was one of the few Deram numbers Bowie was still performing in 1969. He recorded a fine version at his BBC session on October 20th, later included on 1996's BBC Sessions 1969-1972 sampler, Bowie At The Beeb, and the 2009 reissue of Space Oddity.

     The song was featured in one of the less imaginative segments of the Love You Till Tuesday film, in which David mimed to a remix of the Deram version while brandishing a dummy guitar and pulling off some creditable Mick Jagger gyrations. In January 1969 a German translation of the lyric was prepared by Lisa Busch in anticipation of a proposed German release of the film, but it appears that this was never recorded.

     David's original demo, taped in the summer of 1967, renders the song in a lolloping folksy style, its twangy guitars almost veering towards Country & Western. An alternative mix of the Deram recording, featuring a different vocal during the bridge section, was preserved on acetate and has since appeared on bootlegs. Original stereo multi-tracks from the Advision session, including backing tracks and some false starts, are believed to exist in private collections, while a previously unreleased stereo mix was included on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition. In 2000 a splendid new 3'12" version was recorded during the Toy sessions, eventually seeing the light of day on the 3CD edition of Nothing Has Changed. In 2005 Seal added the number to his live repertoire.

A Lad In Vein
Lady Grinning Soul
Lady Midnight
Lady Stardust
Land Of A Thousand Dances
Last Night
The Last Thing You Should Do
The Laughing Gnome
Law (Earthlings On Fire)
The "Leon" Recordings
Leon Takes Us Outside
Let It Be
Let Me Sleep Beside You
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