ROCK'N ROLL WITH ME (Bowie/Peace)
Album: Diamond Dogs
Live: David Live
Bonus: Re:Call 2
Cover versions and lyric translations aside, the earliest song for which Bowie took a co-writing credit was Mick Ronson's 1974 number "Hey Ma Get Papa". Following swiftly in its wake came the fist co-writing credit on one of Bowie's own albums: the Diamond Dogs track "Rock'n Roll With Me" is co-credited to David's schoolfriend, backing singer and sometime Astronette Geoffrey MacCormack, now re-styling himself "Warren Peace". The song emerged one day at Bowie's Oakley Street house when MacCormack played some chord sequences on the piano; these became the basis of the verse melody, to which David added the chorus and the lyric. Co-writing credits were to become relatively common in the Bowie songbook hereafter.
Rumoured in some quarters to have been earmarked originally for the scrapped Ziggy Stardust stage musical, "Rock'n Roll With Me" was recorded at Olympic Studios on January 15th 1974 and was cited by David a year later as one of his favourite Diamond Dogs tracks. With Young Americans already under his belt this was a revealing comment: the track betrays definite leanings towards his soul-singer phase, with a piano intro blatantly evoking Bill Withers's much-covered 1972 hit "Lean On Me". Few others have singled out "Rock'n Roll With Me" as a true highlight of Diamond Dogs, but it's nevertheless a charmingly performed ballad with lyrical hints at the meditation on rootlessness ("I always wanted new surroundings") that would become a staple of later recordings like "Be My Wife" and "Move On". After the apocalyptic "Sweet Thing", the impression is of a calmer effort to confront the same feelings of entrapment in the gilded cage of celebrity: "I would take a foxy kind of stand while tens of thousands found me in demand...I've found the door which lets me out". Halfway through performing the song at a Soul tour concert in Boston, David suddenly broke off and launched into a barely coherent explanation for the audience's benefit, which would seem to suggest that the lyric is a celebration of the artist's relationship with his public: "it's about me, and singing, and why people would do - getting on stage and singing. I wouldn't be able to - you start off thinking one thing, and you would end up thinking another - the music sings for you, and kind of makes it work that way. I suppose that's what it's about."
"Rock'n Roll With Me" was performed throughout 1974, the David Live cut appearing as a US single in September to capitalise on the interest caused by Donovan's quick-off-the-mark cover version, released the same month and later included on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things. A promo for the live single was backed by a negligibly different edit with an early fade; this inessential rarity resurfaced many years later on Re:Call 2. The song has been played live by the Killers and Echo And The Bunnymen, who inserted its chorus into their own "Lips Like Sugar".
Album: Pin Ups
The first of two Pin Ups numbers originally recorded by The Pretty Things, "Rosalyn" was the group's first hit in 1964. Bowie's version is both energetic and faithful: "Dave even screamed in the same places I did," Pretty Things vocalist Phil May told Christopher Sandford.
ROUND AND ROUND (Berry)
B-Side: April 1973
Compilation: Sound + Vision/Ziggy Stardust (2002)/Sound + Vision (Expanded 2003 Reissue)
Bonus: Re:Call 1
The Spiders' lively cover of Chuck Berry's classic (originally backing his 1958 single "Johnny B. Goode") was recorded during the Ziggy Stardust sessions in late 1971, originally for inclusion on the album. As late as February 9th 1972 a master tape notes the latecomer "Starman" ousting "Round And Round" as track 4 of Ziggy Stardust. "It would have been the kind of number that Ziggy would have done onstage," explained Bowie in January 1972 during his earliest interview about the album and its title character. "He jammed it for old times' sake in the studio, and our enthusiasm for it probably waned after we heard it a a few times. We replaced it with a thing called "Starman". I don't think it's any great loss, really."
"Round And Round" (re-titled, incidentally, from Berry's "Around And Around", although some Bowie sources persist with the original) was eventually released in 1973 as the B-side of "Drive-In Saturday", appropriately stressing that single's implicit 1950s nostalgia. The authentic B-side mix resurfaced on Bowie Rare and, many years later, on Re:Call 1. During the intervening years no fewer than three further mixes appeared on, respectively, 1989's Sound + Vision, 2002's Ziggy Stardust reissue, and 2003's repackage of Sound + Vision. The latter was misleadingly labelled "Alternate Vocal Take": in fact all four versions are mixes of the same recording. Bowie played "Round And Round" at the Aylesbury gig on September 25th 1971 and at a few Ziggy Stardust concerts, most memorably with guest guitarist Jeff Beck during the final Hammersmith Odeon encores on July 3rd 1973.
A-Side: December 1966
Album: David Bowie
Compilation: The Deram Anthology 1966-1968/David Bowie (2010)
Video: Love You Till Tuesday
Bowie's first version of "Rubber Band" was recorded at R G Jones Studios on October 18th 1966, as part of the three-song package with which Kenneth Pitt secured his Deram contract. Featuring David backed by The Buzz and the uncredited session trumpeter Chick Norton, it's the earliest recording to showcase the infamous Anthony Newley fixation which, depending on taste, either graced or bedevilled Bowie's output during the Deram period. But Newley isn't the only influence here: Bowie's closing cry of "I hope you break your baton!" echoes "You need bashing right in the bowler!", a threat issued by Bernard Cribbins in his 1962 comedy hit "The Hole In The Ground". It's also suspiciously similar to a moment in the 1959 film Carry On Teacher. When Charles Hawtrey's music master threatens to go on strike, Kenneth Williams retorts, "You do, and I'll break your baton!" See also the blatant Kenneth Williams impression which opens "We Are Hungry Men".
By comparison with Bowie's earlier 1966 material, "Rubber Band" reveals enormous leaps in the sophistication of his songwriting. There's a dramatic drive in the melodic as well as the lyrical narrative, and in many ways the song represents a creative breakthrough. Although firmly rooted in vaudeville, "Rubber Band" is a melancholy number about a war veteran whose lady-friend has been poached by a brass band conductor. The lyric's "Library Gardens" are to be found in David's native Bromley (indeed, he would perform there in 1969), but the attempts of some to identify the narrator as David's maternal grandfather Jimmy Burns fail to convince.
The original recording was released as a single on December 2nd 1966, heralded by a Decca press release which informed the industry that the number was "a love story without a happy ending, it is pathos set to tubas...There's a neat off-beat approach to the lyrics that touch on such topics as garden tea parties, waxed moustaches and the First World War. Yet the underlying sentiment reflects the ideals and humour of this London-born singer." Despite this rather leaden publicity, "Rubber Band" succeeded in garnering some of David's first significant reviews. Disc declared: "I do not think "Rubber Band" is a hit. What it is is an example of how David Bowie has progressed himself into being a name to reckon with, certainly as far as songwriting is concerned. He is not the David Bowie we once knew. Even a different voice - distinctly reminiscent of a young Tony Newley - has emerged. Listen to this record then turn it over and listen to "The London Boys", which actually I think would have been a much more impressive topside. But both are worth thinking about."
As Disc predicted the single was another flop, but nevertheless "Rubber Band" was re-recorded on February 25th 1967 for inclusion on David Bowie. Although the arrangements are very similar, the superior album version is easily differentiated by Bowie's more animated vocal, by the change of date from "1912" to "1910", and by the slower tempo: it runs 20 seconds longer than the single, despite both versions containing the same number of bars. The album version was issued as a single in America, where Deram had been slower to market their new discovery; copies of the released US single are now extremely rare and appear to be outnumbered by promos. The album version later featured in 1969's Love You Till Tuesday film, accompanied by a suitably whimsical sequence showing a mustachioed David, in blazer and boater, watching an imaginary bandstand concert.
During A Reality Tour, David and the band would occasionally play a short snippet of Link Wray's 1958 rockabilly guitar classic between numbers.
Album: Tin Machine
This CD-only Tin Machine track is co-written by Kevin Armstrong, the band's unsung fifth member, and draws some obvious inspiration from The Velvet Underground's 1966 track "Run Run Run". It's one of the weakest in the set, its melody simply too slight to withstand the inevitable barrage of percussion unleashed during the choruses. The quieter, well-played verses, which fleetingly recall the "kiss you in the rain" passage of 1977's "Blackout", feature some of Tin Machine's best guitar work and offer a glimpse of how much better the whole album might have been if liberated from the apparently obligatory bursts of destructive noise. "Run" was performed live on the 1989 tour.
RUNNING GUN BLUES
Album: The Man Who Sold The World
This is The Man Who Sold The World's most obvious hangover from the style of Bowie's previous album, reviving Space Oddity's penchant for the topical protest number. Taking an unusually direct lyrical line, Bowie assumes the persona of a deranged Vietnam veteran who indulges in killing sprees at home. There had been several horrific shootings in America during late 1969 and early 1970, but a more specific source is likely to be the My Lai Massacre of 1968, in which US troops killed between 300 and 500 civilians in the worst US atrocity of the Vietnam War. Initially covered up by the US army, the story of the massacre was broken by journalists in November 1969, when it was revealed that Lieutenant William Calley had been charged with murdering 109 Vietnamese men, women and children. It seems that newsmen were much in evidence when "Running Gun Blues" was written, Angela Bowie later recalling that David composed the lyric during an afternoon when he and Tony Visconti were continually interrupted from their work to give interviews.
Although the lyrics may be a throwback to Space Oddity, in performance and production "Running Gun Blues" provides a taste of things to come. Vocally Bowie throws caution to the wind with an exaggerated prototype of the unrestrained higher register much loved of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust (and, when he sings the last word of the title, a taste of the lower vibrato that will come to the fore later in the 1970s), while the tight relationship between guitar, bass and vocal prefigures the sound of the future Spiders From Mars.
The main body of the track was recorded at Trident on May 4th 1970. An early run-through of the number, labelled with the working title "Cyclops", was included on a reel-to-reel tape sold at Sotheby's in 1990. Evidently pre-dating the composition of the lyrics, it features David providing a "la la la" guide vocal and rather charmingly singing "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall" in place of "Now I've got the running gun blues".
RUNNING SCARED see SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS)
RUPERT THE RILEY
Recorded at Trident on April 23rd 1971 under the name Nicky King's All Stars , this polished three-minute out-take is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the vintage car owned by David at the time. Featuring tight proto-Ziggy production, a bluesy piano riff lifted from the Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together" (a good eighteen months before Bowie's own version), a sinewy sax line prefiguring Diamond Dogs, and even a "beep-beep" motif lifted a decade later for "Fashion", "Rupert The Riley" is a veritable ground-zero of Bowie influences.
The Trident sessions, at which "Lightning Frightening" was also recorded, has the distinction of being Ken Scott's first engagement as Bowie's producer, a role he would continue to play for the next two years. With David undertaking saxophone duties, the remaining players were drawn from his familiar 1971 pool of pre-Hunky Dory musicians: guitarist Mark Pritchett, bassist Herbie Flowers, and drummer Barry Morgan. The opening sound effects of a car starting up were recorded outside Haddon Hall with the help of David's 1932 Riley Gamecock, the song's titular star.
Although it has long been rumoured that a take exists on which David sings lead vocal, the commonly bootlegged "Nicky King's All Stars" version relegates David to backing vocals while the lead is taken by a friend called Mickey King, who was also known as both Sparky and Nicky. A cleaned-up version of the Mickey King take, devoid of car sound effects, was remastered in 1989 by Ryko but was ultimately omitted from their Sound + Vision reissue programme, and has since found its way onto the bootleg circuit.
"It was a serious attempt to get something going for him," David later said of his brief collaboration with Mickey King. "He had a real attitude and I thought he had what it took to get somewhere." Angela Bowie's memoir Backstage Passes devotes a page to Mickey King, whose minor contribution to David's recording career passes without mention but whose talent in other departments is discussed at some length. One of the circle of exotic characters introduced to the Bowies by Freddie Burretti, King was murdered not long afterwards (in 1974, it is believed), apparently on the orders of a colonel whom King had been blackmailing over their gay relationship.
The Riley Gamecock of the song's title was David's mode of transport during his time at Haddon Hall, but was not always the source of untrammelled joy commemorated in the song. On one occasion David stalled outside Lewisham police station and accidentally left the car in gear while cranking the engine, causing Rupert to lurch forward and put his owner in Lewisham hospital. "I had really long hair in those days," David recalled in 2003. "I was standing round the front of the car, trying to pump it back into life again, and all the cops were at the windows laughing at me. And the bloody thing started up, and I'd left it in first gear and it came at me. The crankshaft went through my leg and I was pumping blood like a fountain. I cracked both my knees as the bumper had kind of got me pinned to another car that was just behind it."