O | The Songs From A to Z | O

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

O SUPERMAN (Anderson)

An interesting addition to the Earthling tour was a brilliant, hypnotic cover of Laurie Anderson's avant-garde classic, a UK number 2 in 1981 which appeared on her debut album Big Science. Lead vocal was taken by Gail Ann Dorsey, while Bowie contributed harmonies and baritone sax. "I'm doing it for Gail because I thought it would suit her," David explained. It would appear that a studio version was recorded in June 1997 during the tour. Indirectly, the adoption of "O Superman" evolved from David's stage reunion with Lou Reed the previous January. Reed had not long embarked on his relationship with Laurie Anderson, the two appearing on each other's albums as of Anderson's Eno-produced Bright Red in 1994. "We knock around a lot, actually," revealed Bowie. "Laurie and my wife, Lou and myself go to the theatre and all that bourgeois stuff." In 1998 David collaborated with Laurie Anderson on Line, an art exhibit for the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

AN OCCASIONAL DREAM

  • Album: Space Oddity/Space Oddity (2009)

"This is another reflection of Hermione who I was very hung up about," Bowie said in 1969, and indeed "An Occasional Dream" covers much the same territory as "Letter To Hermione", lamenting the march of time and recalling the "madness" of frittering away "one hundred days" until "the days of fate" caught up - now a photograph of happier hours "burns my wall with time". Bowie's obsessive fascination with the destructiveness of nostalgia and the relentless movement of time would continue to be a lynchpin of his 1970s work, perhaps most obviously in a clutch of songs on Aladdin Sane.

     Bowie's evocation of "a Swedish room of hessian and wood" not only provokes thoughts of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" - another lament for an ill-fated relationship - but also perhaps directs us in the Scandinavian direction of Song Of Norway, the film in which Hermione Farthingale secured a role as a dancer in 1969. Hermione, who has said that she "always thought it was a wonderful song," considered the key lyric to be "The days of fate were strong for you, danced you far from me" - "That was the whole point," Hermione explained. "I needed to dance. That's why I went."

     In his 2014 memoir, John "Hutch" Hutchinson describes David and Hermione's Clareville Grove bedsit in terms that strongly recall the lyrics of "An Occasional Dream": "The room had an unused fireplace, its mantelpiece filled with joss-sticks and glass things, and with a large vase containing tall grasses covering the chimney breast. Pieces of lace adorned the bedhead, and there were hessian cushions on the bed and on the floor. Hermione was not at home, but her personality filled the room."

     A notable feature of "An Occasional Dream" are the recorder parts played by Tony Visconti and Tim Renwick, the latter also turning his hand to the clarinet. The 2'34" demo, recorded with John Hutchinson around April 1969, closely resembles the finished track save for an extra lyric sung by Hutch beneath David's lead vocal. A second, more polished demo from around the same time made its first appearance on the 2009 reissue of Space Oddity. The song was included in the BBC session recorded on February 5th 1970.

OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS

  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • Live: Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture/Bowie At The Beeb

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars/Best Of Bowie

Probably the first Hunky Dory track to be composed, "Oh! You Pretty Things" was demoed at Radio Luxembourg's studios as early as February 1971. "I couldn't sleep," Bowie later said. "It was about four o'clock in the morning. I woke up and this song was going round in my head. I had to get out of bed and just play it to get it out of me so that I could get back to sleep again."

     During his dawn performance at Glastonbury Fayre on June 23rd 1971, David revealed that the number had evolved from "a thing I wrote in America" during his promotional trip the previous February. "This is the original thing I wrote," he went on, before launching into a song which, although underpinned by a vamping vaudeville piano line broadly similar to the intro of "Oh! You Pretty Things", could scarcely have offered a greater contrast: sung to an unfamiliar top melody, the quickfire lyric drew gasps of surprise and laughter from the audience: "I'd like a big girl with a couple of melons / A bad girl but not a teensy bit rebellious / Hard of hearing with a great big behind / A short-sighted raver with filth on her mind / Oh lord, I'm getting desperate..." The performance continued unabated until a heroically stoned girl from the audience clambered on stage, at which point David broke off and laughed, "She's here!" Having invited the interloper to sit beside him on the piano stool, David continued, "I had that as an intro, but it got dirtier and dirtier, so I chucked it out in the end. I was just left with the intro, so I thought, well, I'll write another thing around that...and you'll never believe what it ended up as."

     So saying, David launched into "Oh! You Pretty Things", a song with which the Glastonbury audience was already familiar: in the very week of the 1971 festival, a cover version by former Herman's Hermits vocalist Peter Noone was sitting at its peak in the UK singles chart. Pre-dating the release of Bowie's definitive Hunky Dory recording by several months, Noone's cover of "Oh! You Pretty Things" had come about after Bob Grace of Chrysalis Music, who financed David's demo sessions at Radio Luxembourg, played the song to producer Mickie Most: "The most sure-fire way of getting a hit in those days was if you got Mickie Most to produce your song," Grace told Record Collector many years later. "He was so hot with The Animals and Herman's Hermits and all these people. I played him the demo and he said, "Smash!" You knew if Mickie listened to the whole demo and didn't stop you, you were probably gonna get a record." Mickie Most wasted no time in contacting Peter Noone: "Mickie said, 'I think I found your first solo record'," Noone later recalled. "He only played the intro and I said, "That's it, it's perfect!"

     David played piano and sang backing vocals on the Noone single, which was recorded at London's Kingsway Studios on March 26th 1971 with Most in the producer's chair. Playing bass was David's old friend Herbie Flowers, while the drummer was session player Clem Cattini. Noone later recalled that Bowie struggled with the piano part: "David had some trouble playing it through completely, so we recorded it in three sections, something Mickie Most helped arrange." Released in April, Noone's solo debut was a number 12 hit, making it Bowie's most significant success since "Space Oddity". The single avoided potential airplay bans by changing "The earth is a bitch" to "The earth is a beast", and for reasons which are unclear it was marketed as "Oh You Pretty Thing", despite Noone singing in the plural in accordance with David's lyrics. An enthusiastic Noone informed the press that "David Bowie is the best songwriter in Britain at this time..certainly the best since Lennon and McCartney, and in fairness, you don't hear so much of them nowadays...David Bowie has more than enough talent to write hit songs, automatic hit songs, for just about any kind of singer." Bowie, who played piano for Noone's performance on a long-lost edition of Top Of The Pops recorded on June 9th 1971, commented: "I don't know if Peter knows what it means. It's all about Homo Superior. Herman goes heavy."

     Indeed, "Oh! You Pretty Things" belies its jaunty, stomping piano arrangement, teetering on the sinister Nietzschean brink occupied by much of Hunky Dory. Bowie's version is notably darker in tone than Noone's chart-friendly recording: there's a sinister element to "the Homo Superior" who drive their "Mamas and Papas insane", while "the golden ones" and the suggestion that "Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use" sound like pronouncements from the occult writings of Aleister Crowley, and of course from Friedrich Nietzsche himself. An occasional presence in science-fiction writing since the early twentieth century, the term "Homo Superior" is among the attempts to translate into English Nietzche's concept of the Ubermensch; another, of course, is "Superman", a word that features heavily in Bowie's songwriting of this period. There's also a generous dollop of Arthur C Clarke's 1953 science-fiction novel Childhood's End, in which an alien influence causes mankind's children to evolve into something incomprehensible to their parents (Childhood's End would subsequently inspire Pink Floyd's song of the same name, and the sleeve image of Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy). Bowie's key reference, however, is to an earlier science-fiction fantasy: Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1871 novel The Coming Race, in which the narrator discovers a super-advanced species of quasi-humans living in the depths of the earth. Aided by a mystical energy force called the Vril, their superior civilisation has banished war, crime and inequality, and women are the victors in the battle of the sexes. At the end of the novel the narrator predicts the death of the human race at the hands of "our inevitable destroyers".

     Another likely inspiration, albeit a less apocalyptic one, is Biff Rose's song "Mama's Boy", a track on the 1968 album The Thorn In Mrs Rose's Side: "But the kids are growing up as fine as can be / Members of a new society," sings Rose, gently prefiguring Bowie's lyric.

     "I think," Bowie told Michael Watts in his famous coming-out interview for Melody Maker in January 1972, "that we have created a new kind of person in a way. We have created a child who will be so exposed to the media that he will be lost to his parents by the time he is 12." Bowie insisted that his imminent race of supermen constituted an optimistic vision: "all the things that we can't do they will." Bearing in mind his endearing fixation with bargain-basement sci-fi, it's amusing to note that "the Homo Superior" was later appropriated as the name of the young generation of telepaths in The Tomorrow People, Thames Television's chronically low-budget answer to Doctor Who, which began screening in 1973. The show's creator, Roger Price, was a fan of Bowie and had encountered him at Granada Television's Manchester studios in January 1971, just as David was composing "Oh! You Pretty Things", so his adoption of the term was certainly no coincidence.

     "The reaction of me to my wife being pregnant was archetypal daddy - oh, he's gonna be another Elvis," David said during pre-publicity for Hunky Dory. "This song is all that plus a dash of sci-fi." In 1976, during a less coherent but intermittently revealing interview, he hinted at the song's darker side: "a lot of the songs in fact do deal with some kind of schizophrenia, or alternating id problems, and "Pretty Things" was one of them," he explained. "According to Jung, to see cracks in the sky is not, is not really quite on...I hadn't been to an analyst, no, my parents went, my brothers and sisters and my aunts and uncles and cousins, they did that, they ended up in a much worse state, so I stayed away. I thought I'd write my problems out."

     A handwritten lyric sheet displayed at the David Bowie is exhibition reveals some minor differences ("All your nightmares came today / Would you tell them to stay away"). The rare Hunky Dory sampler disc includes an early mix of "Oh! You Pretty Things" which is slightly different from the album version, with prominent reverb applied to the choruses. The song was later re-recorded for three BBC radio sessions, on June 3rd and September 21st 1971 and May 22nd 1972. The first of these recordings was cut from the show prior to broadcast and is now sadly lost, while the last of the three appears on Bowie At The Beeb. The second, from the acoustic Bowie/Ronson session, was included as an extra track on the original Japanese release of Bowie At The Beeb, and on the 2016 vinyl reissue. The song also featured in Bowie's February 7th 1972 performance for The Old Grey Whistle Test, offering the rare spectacle of David singing one of his songs at the piano, albeit miming to the keyboard track from Hunky Dory. Two takes from the Whistle Test session appear on the Best Of Bowie DVD, while a fluffed first take surfaced on BBC2's John Peel Night in 1999. The song featured in a few Ziggy concerts from May 1973 onwards, in a medley incorporating "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" and "All The Young Dudes". Seu Jorge recorded a Portuguese cover for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, while Peter Noone's version appeared on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things. In 2008 Au Revoir Simone performed the song live and later released a studio version on the tribute compilation Life Beyond Mars, while in 2011 Kate Nash gave a live rendition at The JD Set: Glasgow, an all-star Bowie tribute gig sponsored by Jack Daniel's Whiskey. Bowie's original appeared in the soundtrack of the 2014 film Concussion.

ON BROADWAY (Mann/Weill/Lieber/Stoller)

A snatch of the Lieber & Stoller standard, a US hit for The Drifters in 1963 and covered by a host of other artists, appears in "Aladdin Sane".

ONE HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (Young/Washington)

As recorded by Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, this standard appeared in the 1968 Feathers repertoire.

ONE MORE HEARTACHE (Robinson/White/Moore/Rogers)

Marvin Gaye's 1966 single was covered live by The Buzz.

ONE NIGHT (Bartholomew/King)

On August 16th 2002, the final date of the Area: 2 tour, Bowie marked the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death by opening his encores with a one-off performance of the Presley hits "I Feel So Bad" and "One Night". The latter, written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, was first recorded in 1956 by Smiley Lewis under its original title "One Night Of Sin (Is What I'm Praying For)". When Elvis recorded the number in 1958 his management elected to bowdlerise this unwholesome sentiment, and thus the lyric's desire became "One night with you" instead. In this form the song was a worldwide smash for Presley, topping the UK chart in 1959 and reaching number 4 in America. The famously raunchy number would later be covered by artists as diverse as Fats Domino and Mud (who stuck to the cleaned-up Presley lyric), and Joe Cocker and Marc Almond (who didn't). Despite following the Presley version, Bowie's live rendition succeeded in sounding as suggestive as any of them.

ONE OF THE BOYS (Ralphs/Hunter)

Produced by David for Mott The Hoople's All The Young Dudes, this B-side was recorded on May 14th 1972. Many years later it was included on the soundtrack album of the BBC's time-travelling crime drama Life On Mars.

ONE SHOT (Bowie/Gabrels/H.Sales/T.Sales)

  • Album: Tin Machine II

  • European A-Side: 1991

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

After the early promise of "Baby Universal" Tin Machine II returns to its predecessor's unlovely cock-rock instincts with this unspectacular grunge-up, outstaying its welcome with an excessively tiresome guitar break while the lyric's bitter account of a loveless liaison veers uncomfortably towards misogyny. Still, the melody is decent, Bowie's split-octave vocal continues the album's revival of his 1970s techniques, and the dynamics and mixing are a general improvement on Tin Machine. An unreleased early version was recorded during the Sydney sessions in late 1989, of which no fewer than five alternative cuts were later leaked online. The album version is a re-recording made in Los Angeles in March 1991, with engineering and production by Tonight's Hugh Padgham. An edit was released as a single in several territories outside Britain, and the song was performed during the It's My Life tour.

ONLY ME

Produced by Bowie for the ill-fated Astronettes album and eventually released on 1995's People From Bad Homes, this song's authorship remains in doubt.

ONLY ONE PAPER LEFT

Nothing is known about this unfinished track except that it was demoed during the Ziggy Stardust sessions, probably around September 1971.

OPENING TITLES INCLUDING UNDERGROUND see UNDERGROUND

OUT OF SIGHT (Brown)

James Brown's 1964 single was among the numbers performed by The Lower Third at their unsuccessful BBC audition on November 2nd 1965.

OUTSIDE (Bowie/Armstrong)

  • Album: 1.Outside

The title track of 1.Outside triumphantly plunges Bowie back into the realm of stately, narcissistic, grandiloquent rock from which he had for too long absconded. Despite being a revamp of a Tin Machine composition (see "Now"), and despite being recorded in early 1995 as a late addition to the album, it makes a magnificent opener. Subtitled "Prologue" in the Outside tour booklet, the song expands the chord sequence previously used for the 1988 re-recording of "Look Back In Anger", embellishing it with weird, Eno-inspired electronic warbles as the unhinged lyric opens up the cyclical timelessness of the album's fin de siécle setting and offers a taste of its brutalist vocabulary: "the crazed in the hot-zone, the mental and diva's hands, the fisting of life to the music outside..." "Outside" was performed live on the Outside and Earthling tours, Gail Ann Dorsey often taking lead vocals on the latter. According to Pavel Karlik, engineer at Sono Studios near Prague, a new studio recording of "Outside" was cut there during the Earthling tour in June 1997; apparently three different versions were prepared, including a "Dance Mix", but these tracks remain unreleased.

OVER THE WALL WE GO

Those acquainted with the obscure backwaters of Bowie's work are aware that there are some songs which leave "The Laughing Gnome" standing. "Over The Wall We Go" is one such, and even your present guide, who can find it in his heart to praise Never Let Me Down, has his limits.

     The song was demoed in 1966, although confusion reigns over the exact date. It has been claimed that Bowie's version was broadcast on Radio London in the summer of 1966 alongside an early interview conducted at one of the Marquee's "Bowie Showboat" concerts, but this is almost certainly a misconception perpetrated by a ham-fisted bootleg which blatantly inserts Bowie's 2'44" studio demo into the authentic interview. The evidence points strongly to the demo being recorded later in the year, probably in December at the time of the David Bowie sessions.

     As revealed by the demo, "Over The Wall We Go" is a comic Carry On burlesque, reputedly inspired by a recent spate of prison break-outs. The repetitive battle-cry of "All coppers are nanas!" (a bowdlerisation of the more familiar chant, which casts aspersions on the parentage of police officers) is set to the melody of "Pop Goes The Weasel", while the verses hang on the tune of the traditional nursey song "Widecombe Fair", which should give some indication of the overall tone. David affects a string of comedy voices of the kind found on the contemporaneous "We Are Hungry Men", pulling off a startlingly accurate Bernard Bresslaw ("My name it is 'Enery, some say I'm fick / I've spent 'arf me life in and out of nick") and even attempting John Lennon's Scouse drawl ("We crawled back to safety, our hearts filled with gloom / Cos we'd dug ourselves through to the smallest room"). Bowie's demo is a rough-and-ready affair on acoustic guitar and bass, peppered with references to the Christmas season which suggests he may have considered the song little more than a seasonal jeu d'esprit.

     On January 3rd 1967 Kenneth Pitt took the demo to the agent Robert Stigwood, who rejected the suggestion that it would suit novelty singer Mike Sarne (best known for "Come Outside", his chart-topping 1962 duet with Wendy Richard), but passed it instead to a new client: Oscar Beuselinck, later to find fame as Paul Nicholas.

     For the resulting single, credited simply to Oscar and released on January 30th 1967 on Stigwood's Reaction label, Bowie excised the Christmas references and replaced the Liverpudlian character with a verse which, for better or worse, stands as his first explicitly homosexual lyric. Here, however, the aim is not the mercurial gender-blurring of the Ziggy years, but pure limp-wristed innuendo direct from Round The Horne. Oscar rises to the occasion with a creditable impersonation of Julian and Sandy's strangulated vowels: "I'm a privileged con, so my uniform's blue / The new lads will ask me if I am a screw / I'll tell them, 'Oooh, cheeky, not even for you!'" Bowie is on hand to provide backing vocals and the voice of the prison warder, while the addition of "Keep it up lads, another chorus and we're out!" is a direct steal from Spike Milligan's 1962 novelty single "The Wormwood Scrubs Tango".

     Mercifully for all concerned, and despite a performance on Ken Dodd's ITV show Doddy's Music Box, the Oscar single was a flop. A 1978 re-release, this time under the pseudonym Ivor Bird, was no more successful. Oscar's version later appeared on David Bowie Songbook and Oh! You Pretty Things, where it should be hunted down and heard by everyone. But probably just the once.