Space Oddity

  1. Space Oddity [5.14]

  2. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed [6.10]

  3. Don't Sit Down [0.39]

  4. Letter To Hermione [2.30]

  5. Cygnet Committee [9.30]

  6. Janine [3.19]

  7. An Occasional Dream [2.56]

  8. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud [4.47]

  9. God Knows I'm Good [3.16]

  10. Memory Of A Free Festival [7.07]

Bonus tracks on 1990 reissue:

  • Conversation Piece [3.05]

  • Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1) [3.59]

  • Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 2) [3.31]

Bonus tracks on 2009 reissue:

  • Space Oddity (Demo) [5.10]

  • An Occasional Dream (Demo) [2.49]

  • Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Single B-Side) [4.56]

  • Let Me Sleep Beside You (BBC Radio Session DLT Show) [4.45]

  • Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed (BBC Radio Session DLT Show) [4.04]

  • Janine (BBC Radio Session DLT Show) [3.02]

  • London Bye Ta-Ta (Stereo Version) [2.36]

  • The Prettiest Star (Stereo Version) [3.12]

  • Conversation Piece (Stereo Version) [3.06]

  • Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1) [4.01]

  • Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 2) [3.30]

  • Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Alternate Album Mix) [4.45]

  • Memory Of A Free Festival (Alternate Album Mix) [9.22]

  • London Bye Ta-Ta (Alternate Stereo Mix) [2.34]

  • Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (Full-Length Stereo Version) [5.14]

Space Oddity

Released:

  • Philips SBL 7912 - November 1969

  • RCA Victor LSP 4813 - November 1972

  • RCA PL 84813 - October 1984

  • EMI EMC 3571 - April 1990

  • EMI 7243 5218980 - September 1999

  • EMI DBSOCD 40 - October 2009

  • Parlophone 0825646283453 - September 2015 (CD)

  • Parlophone DB69731 - February 2016 (LP)

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, 12-String Guitar, Stylophone, Kalimba, Rosedale Electric Chord Organ

  • Keith Christmas: Guitar

  • Mick Wayne: Guitar

  • Tim Renwick: Guitar, Flutes, Recorder

  • Tony Visconti: Bass, Flutes, Recorder

  • Herbie Flowers: Bass

  • John "Honk" Lodge: Bass

  • John Cambridge: Drums

  • Terry Cox: Drums

  • Rick Wakeman: Mellotron, Electric Harpsichord

  • Paul Buckmaster: Cello

  • Benny Marshall and Friends: Harmonica

Recorded:

  • Trident Studios, London

Producer:

  • Tony Visconti ("Space Oddity": Gus Dudgeon)

The filming of Love You Till Tuesday marked the effective end of Kenneth Pitt's reign as Bowie's mentor. Although David briefly moved back to Pitt's Manchester Street flat in the wake of his split from Hermione Farthingale in February 1969, new acquaintances were already propelling his life and career in a fresh direction. Snapshots of his annus mirabilis were captured on his second album, which he would begin recording in June.

 

Wildly differing accounts have emerged of the events which conspired to secure Bowie his new contract with Mercury Records, not least because of the personal stakes of the individuals involved, but the framework seems to be as follows: by the end of 1968 a nineteen-year-old American emigrée called Mary Angela Barnett was dating Lou Reizner, the London head of Mercury Records. Through Reizner she met the company's glamorous Assistant European Director of A&R, Calvin Mark Lee. Lee had first met David Bowie sometime in 1967 and remains a shadowy figure in some accounts for the very reason that David had purposely kept him away from Kenneth Pitt, knowing that the two were unlikely to be kindred spirits.

 

It appears that Calvin Mark Lee was, however briefly and opportunistically, involved with David on a level that went beyond friendship; he tells the Gillmans that he "overlapped for a time with Hermione". He retains a place in Bowie history as the man who wore red and silver "love jewel" discs on his forehead - an image subsequently adopted by the late-period Ziggy Stardust  - and, rather more substantially, as the man responsible for introducing David to Angela Barnett, after a Turquoise gig at the Roundhouse on September 14th 1968. This was the ménage-á-trois to which David referred many years later when he flippantly told an interviewer that he had met his future wife when "we were both going out with the same man." His relationship with Angela didn't begin until sometime later, under the less formal circumstances of a King Crimson gig at the Speakeasy in April 1969. Abetted by Angela, Lee spent the spring of 1969 talking up David's potential to Lou Reizner and forging useful contacts at Mercury.

 

Unaware of these goings-on, Kenneth Pitt persevered in trying to win Bowie a contract by more conventional means. In March he unsuccessfully played a demo of "Space Oddity" to Atlantic Records, while the following month, at Bowie's urging, he arranged to meet Mercury Records' New York director Simon Hayes, who was on a trip to London. On April 14th Pitt gave Hayes a private screening of Love You Till Tuesday (attended, much to Pitt's chagrin, by Calvin Mark Lee, whom he still didn't realise was on the Mercury staff). Hayes expressed some interest and suggested George Martin as a potential producer.

 

A fascinating glimpse of the genesis of the Space Oddity album is afforded by a ten-song acoustic demo tape recorded by David and his Feathers partner John "Hutch" Hutchinson, probably in mid-April 1969. In addition to the "Space Oddity" demo later included on Sound+Vision, the tape features early versions of "Janine", "An Occasional Dream", "Conversation Piece", "Letter To Hermione" (here called "I'm Not Quite"), and "Cygnet Committee" (with the very different lyrics and called "Lover To The Dawn"). There are also renditions of the Feathers staples "When I'm Five", "Ching-A-Ling", "Love Song" and "Life Is A Circus".

 

Exactly when and where this demo tape was recorded remains difficult to pinpoint. It was almost certainly after Kenneth Pitt's meeting with Simon Hayes on April 14th, and the presence of Hutch means that it can't have been a great deal later, for he bowed out and returned to Yorkshire the same month. It has been suggested that the demos were recorded on professional equipment at Mercury Records' headquarters in Knightsbridge, but this seems highly unlikely considering Bowie's apologies on the tape for the "very bad tape recorder and microphone" and for the noises coming from the piano teacher upstairs; the usual consensus is that the venue was his new flat in Foxgrove Road, Beckenham, where he moved on April 14th. From here he would go on to establish the Beckenham "Arts Laboratory" which held the first of its regular Sunday gatherings at the Three Tuns pub on May 4th.

 

In mid-May Pitt successfully negotiated a one-year contract with Simon Hayes whereby Bowie was to receive royalties and production costs for a new album, while Mercury retained two one-year renewal options. The record would be distributed on the Mercury label in America, and its affiliate Philips in the UK.

 

The George Martin plan came to nothing after Pitt's approaches were rebuffed and word eventually came back that the fabled fifth Beatle didn't like "Space Oddity". Pitt wrote "GEORGE MARTIN IS FALLIBLE" in his diary and turned instead to Tony Visconti, who had produced Bowie's later Deram sessions. "Space Oddity" had already been tabled as a lead-off single for the forthcoming album, but Visconti famously considered the song a gimmick and deputed it to Bowie's former engineer Gus Dudgeon. Since his work on David Bowie, Dudgeon had produced two of the Bonzo Dog Band's albums and, with Visconti, had recently completed production on The Strawbs' eponymous debut. "I listened to the demo and thought it was incredible," Dudgeon recalled. "I couldn't believe that Tony didn't want to do it...he said, 'That's great, you do that and the B-side, and I'll do the album.' I was only too pleased."

 

Recording began on June 20th 1969 at Trident Studios in Soho, where Dudgeon oversaw "Space Oddity" and the original B-side version of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud". David had recorded "Ching-A-Ling" at the same venue the previous October, but the Space Oddity sessions cemented the beginning of a long-term relationship with Trident that would last until the completion of Aladdin Sane. It was a day that also saw the debut of several figures who would populate Bowie's music in future years. Save for a few in-house BBC recordings it was apparently the first ever studio session for bassist Herbie Flowers, who later played on Diamond Dogs and Lou Reed's Transformer, and whose subsequent credits would include backing work for Marc Bolan and Paul McCartney, writing Clive Dunn's novelty hit "Grandad", and being a core member of the classical-rock outfit Sky.

 

Rick Wakeman, who played Mellotron, was still an unknown - The Strawbs and Yes lay in the future, and "Space Oddity" was only his second time in a recording studio. "I asked Visconti if he knew a Mellotron player," explained Dudgeon, "and he said he knew a bloke who played in a Top Rank ballroom...We did one take and he made a mistake. Apologised. We did another one - and that was it. Pretty good really - the second session in his life and take two is the master." Drummer Terry Cox was borrowed from folk group Pentangle, while Junior's Eyes guitarist Mick Wayne ("he did that great solo and the rocket take-off effect") came at the recommendation of Visconti, who had hired him to play on the previous year's sessions for "In The Heat Of The Morning". Bowie himself played acoustic guitar and Stylophone, and the session also made use of a total of eight violins, 2 violas, 2 celli, 2 double basses and 2 flutes to orchestral arrangements by Paul Buckmaster, a classically trained musician who had scored arrangements for Marsha Hunt and William Kimber. "It's possible Bowie was the first person to call Buckmaster," said Dudgeon, "I can't recall, but the first sessions he did were with me and he was great the perfect choice."

 

While Mercury and Philips set about promoting the rush-released single on both sides of the Atlantic in time for the Apollo 11 moonshot, the album sessions proper commenced at Trident on July 16th, with work beginning on "Janine", "An Occasional Dream" and "Letter To Hermione". Tony Visconti recruited further members of Junior's Eyes, the cult underground band whose June 1969 album Battersea Power Station he had recently produced. They were guitarist Tim Renwick (later to join the post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd), bassist John "Honk" Lodge and drummer John Cambridge, formerly of Hull band The Rats. Their vocalist Benny Marshall would drop by at a late stage in the sessions and contribute a harmonica solo, while Bowie also drafted in Beckenham Arts Lab regular Keith Christmas on additional guitar. Another new arrival was studio engineer Ken Scott, who had cut his teeth at Abbey Road with George Martin and The Beatles, working on Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles as well as Jeff Beck's seminal Truth.

 

"I must confess that my work was naíve, bordering on sloppy, on this album," said Visconti many years later. "I really didn't know too much about the quality control of sound and how to turbo-charge the sound of instruments for rock...I am, however, proud of several tracks where I felt more comfortable in my capacity of bass player and recorder player, as in "Letter To Hermione" and "An Occasional Dream"."One of Visconti's personal triumphs was the lavish fifty-piece orchestral rearrangement of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud", one of two tracks (the other being "An Occasional Dream") on which he also played bass guitar.

 

The sessions continued on and off until early October, punctuated by David's Sunday gigs at the Beckenham Arts Lab and by various interruptions, some more serious than others. The first was David's Mediterranean trip with Kenneth Pitt to perform at the Maltese and Italian Song Festivals at the end of July. They arrived home on August 3rd to the news that David's father Haywood Jones was seriously ill. He died two days later, never to know his son's great success, and David's grief was channelled in part into a new song, "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed". On August 16th came the open-air event at Beckenham Recreation Ground which David commemorated in "Memory Of A Free Festival". By the autumn, however, his disillusion with the slack attitude of his hippy peers would bring forth the boiling anger of "Cygnet Committee".

 

During the sessions, Tony Visconti created a number of rough early mixes, some of which were included on a two-disc 10" acetate, a copy of which was sold on eBay in 2010 for £1,113. As well as featuring a different running order, the acetate has considerably shorter versions of "Space Oddity", "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed" and "Memory Of A Free Festival". Two more of Visconti's early mixes - a different longer version of "Free Festival" and a board mix of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" - were included as bonus tracks on EMI's fortieth anniversary reissue in 2009.

 

The album's original UK sleeve featured a portrait of David photographed by Vernon Dewhurst set against a blue polka-dot background taken from a design by Victor Vasarely, a pop artist whose work was enthusiastically collected by Calvin Mark Lee. The back cover was a piece of flower-power artwork by David's old friend George Underwood emerging from aspects of the album's lyrics, and conspicuously similar in style to the cover he had painted (at Bowie's recommendation) for the previous year's Tyrannosaurus Rex album My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair...But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows. David had sketched some initial ideas for Underwood, who later recalled that they included "a fish in water, two astronauts holding a rose, [and] rats in bowler hats representing the Beckenham Arts Lab committee types he was so pissed off with." All of these appear in Underwood's completed painting, along with a Buddha, a smouldering joint, an unmistakable portrait of Hermione Farthingale, and a weeping woman (presumably the shoplifter in "God Knows I'm Good") being comforted by a Pierrot remarkably similar in appearance to the "Ashes To Ashes" character David would adopt a decade later. Bowie's original sketch also included portraits of Kenneth Pitt and Calvin Mark Lee; although neither appeared in the finished picture, the legend "CML33" commemorated 33-year-old Lee's input as layout designer. Pitt, whose relations with Lee were by now mutually hostile, later recalled, "I had had nothing to do with the album's sleeve and when I saw the final product my heart sank." Underwood's illustration was described on the original album sleeve as Depth Of A Circle, although this was apparently a typographical error: David had intended it to be called Width Of A Circle, a title he would soon be pressing into service for one of his new songs.

 

The album was released in Britain on November 14th 1969. "This has been a good writing period for me and I'm very pleased with the outcome," David told Disc & Music Echo. "I just hope everyone else is too." Certainly, his interviewer Penny Valentine seemed so, describing the album as "rather doomy and un-nerving, but Bowie's point comes across like a latter-day Dylan. It is an album a lot of people are going to expect a lot from. I don't think they'll be disappointed." Music Now! hailed the album as "Deep, thoughtful, probing, exposing, gouging at your innards...This is more than a record. It is an experience. An expression of life as others see it. The lyrics are full of the grandeur of yesterday, the immediacy of today and the futility of tomorrow. This is well worth your attention." Others were less impressed. Under the headline "Over-ambitious Bowie is a disappointment", Music Business Weekly declared that "Bowie seems to be a little unsure of the direction he is going in and has written a collection of numbers ranging from folk through R&B to Indian chant. He is far better at folk - both writing and singing - and should have concentrated on developing this talent. In other words, over-ambitious."

 

This may well be the earliest recorded instance of a syndrome that has dogged Bowie's critical reception throughout his career - the inability of reviewers to discard their entrenched familiarity with his previous musical identity (this critic admits elsewhere in the review that he liked the hit "Space Oddity" and was hoping for more of the same). Nevertheless, this is, by Bowie's standards, an unusually unfocused album. Poised midway between the vaudevillian psychedelia of his debut and the first stirrings of glam on The Man Who Sold The World, it presents a folk-rock sensibility, preoccupied chiefly with the fortunes of David's 1969 dalliance with the hippy movement and the misfortunes of his relationship with Hermione Farthingale. The autobiographical element of the lyrics is demonstrably greater than in his earlier work, and while subsequent albums may have addressed deeper, darker areas of David's psyche, few of his songs have ever offered the same air of frank confessional as those on Space Oddity. Musically there is every sign that Bowie was still casting about in search of his own voice. Following the Bee Gees pastiche of "Space Oddity" itself, there are distinct traces of Simon And Garfunkel and even José Feliciano on tracks like "Letter To Hermione" and "An Occasional Dream", occasional nods to the ever-present Marc Bolan, and a Beatles-flavoured "All You Need Is Love"/"Hey Jude" singalong to end "Memory Of A Free Festival". In the meandering melodies and classical instrumentation, there are hints of the progressive rock movement then enjoying its first flowering, although mercifully the album is devoid of the pomposity and bombast so often associated with the genre. But without doubt, the overriding influence is Bob Dylan, echoes of whose early work ring throughout the album's environment of acoustic guitars, harmonica solos and folksy protest lyrics. Disc & Music Echo's Penny Valentine reported that David himself had claimed "he sings like Dylan would have done if he'd been born in England," revealing much about Bowie's perception of himself in pop's stylistic marketplace at the time of the album's release. For his part Kenneth Pitt disliked David's latest affectation, observing later that "Having finally rid himself of the Newley influence, it would be a serious blow if he now faced the charge of being the new Dylan..." When Pitt attempted to broach the subject after hearing the album, David apparently burst into tears and left the room: another wedge had been driven between artist and manager.

 

Pitt may have had a point, but Space Oddity is still a remarkable step forward from anything Bowie had recorded before. Augmented by the excellent playing of Junior's Eyes and the immensely clever orchestrations of Paul Buckmaster and Tony Visconti, Bowie, at last, sounded like a major artist making a major album. In Radio 2's Golden Years documentary in 2000, Bowie described Space Oddity as "kind of iffy, in that musically it never really had a direction...I don't think that I, as the artist, had a focus about where it should go." But regardless of his still embryonic musical identity, several tracks - notably "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed", "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" and the arguable highlight "Cygnet Committee" - offer the most compelling evidence yet of his burgeoning talent as a lyricict. These are great songs, without doubt, the best he had so far written.

 

Opinions differ as to wether Space Oddity deserves recognition as the first essential Bowie album or whether that accolade should be held over for its successor, but certainly, the monolithic reputation of its title track does the album more harm than good. "Space Oddity" is a classic song to be sure, but it's the least representative track on offer here. In this respect Tony Visconti was absolutely right; a novelty hit, however good, was no way to boost the credibility of an album of serious-minded songwriting, particularly at a time when the ascendancy of progressive rock was widening the gulf between the single and album markets.

 

This was not the only reason for the album's failure to chart; behind the scenes, there was a disheartening repeat of David's experiences with Decca. In mid-November 1969, precisely the time of the single's chart peak and the album's release, the management of Philips Records underwent a major staff shake-up, losing Bowie some of his key supporters within the company and, so Pitt believed, adversely affecting the album's promotion. Alongside the mismanagement of November's showcase concert at the Purcell Room, this was a serious blow at a time when David's profile should have been significantly raised. Nonetheless, 1969 ended with a few crumbs of comfort: Bowie found himself voted the year's Best Newcomer in a readers' poll for Music Now!, and the ever-supportive Penny Valentine of Disc & Music Echo named "Space Oddity" her record of the year. All the same, by March 1970 the album had sold a meagre 5025 copies in Britain.

 

The story was even bleaker in America, where Mercury's Ron Oberman was a lone voice attempting to champion a hit single that never came. The album had its US release in February 1970, but sales were minimal and reviews far and few between. Zygote commended "Space Oddity" and "Memory Of A Free Festival" (indeed, it was the latter's widely favourable reception in America that resulted in the recording of a single version), but complained that the rest of the album suffered from "a lack of flow" and was "very awkward to the ear", finding fault with Bowie's "reliance on big productions" and "his repetitious use of Bo Diddley syncopation" (an unusual criticism, as only "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed" and at a stretch "God Knows I'm Good" could really be accused of such a thing). The review concluded that "Bowie is erratic. When he succeeds, he's excellent; when he fails, he's laborious." A year later Nancy Erlich of the New York Times would discover the album and praise it as "a good collection of rock material full in its variety, melodically interesting, flawlessly and interestingly arranged and produced," appreciating the lyrics for their "almost endless layers of meaning". But this was too little too late. Bowie had yet to make any impact in America.

 

While the original UK release was called David Bowie, the American version (which featured slightly different sleeve artwork) was re-titled Man Of Words/Man Of Music. In 1972, as part of RCA's repackaging of Bowie in the wake of Ziggy Stardust, the album was re-released as Space Oddity, the title by which it has since become known (in Spain RCA called it Odisea Espacial - "Space Oddity"). This version featured new front and rear sleeve photography shot at Haddon Hall in 1972 by Mick Rock, and boasted some breathtakingly pretentious sleeve notes, erroneously claiming that the title track was recorded in 1968 before going on to explain that the album "was NOW then, and it still is still now NOW: personal and universal, perhaps galactic, microcosmic and macrocosmic." The third track, the studio horseplay of "Don't Sit Down", was removed from the 1972 version and remained absent until Rykodisc's 1990 reissue, whose packaging included a reproduction of the original US artwork. To confuse matters still further, EMI's 1999 reissue restored the original UK artwork to the front cover but retained the title Space Oddity, while ten years later the same label's excellent fortieth anniversary reissue, which came complete with a bonus disc boasting several previously unreleased demos, stereo versions and alternative mixes, finally took the album full circle and retitled it, David Bowie.