Originally released untitled. Later reissues were given the title of the first track.
Five Years 1969–1973
en: David Bowie (1969 album) [info]
There has always been more to Bowie's second album than that prescient, if over-familiar, title song, as this two-disc re-mastered edition proves.
In 1969 it was released in the UK as David Bowie and in the US as Man of Words/Man of Music. Three years later, with Ziggy-mania abounding, it was re-issued with an even more pragmatic name, and soared to, um, number 17. Generations of Bowie fans have thus always perceived it as an afterthought, a pallid sibling to the golden run which followed, a runt which spawned one cosmic hit and was padded out with hippie folk songs.
How wrong you can be. It sounds extraordinary today, so flecked with genius that the wonder is not that Bowie broke big afterwards but that he didn't sooner. Perhaps the last great 60s album, with shades of prog and sprinkles of Sgt. Pepper's, it's an elegy to that decade's corroding ideals. The climactic Memory of a Free Festival perfectly captures the desire for escape from society's shackles that coloured the times yet also seems smart enough to mock itself, knowing that bliss is, as he puts it in another lovely ballad, An Occasional Dream. In this blend of abandonment and self-awareness lay Bowie's genius (a blend which later culminated in Young Americans, both completely fabricated and completely soulful). He never accepted that the textbook doesn't allow you to be simultaneously arch and angst-ridden, and his innate ambivalence fuelled songs which proudly endure.
Gus Dudgeon produced the title track; Tony Visconti, who tackled the rest, had rejected it as "gimmicky", then brought in a 50-piece orchestra for Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud. On Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, bluesy rock hits places it didn't previously know existed. Bowie hadn't yet learned to self-edit, so you get guttural struts like "I'm a phallus in pigtails", but also yearning sighs of "don't turn your nose up / well you can if you want to, you won't be the first or last". There are inspired torch songs, then Cygnet Committee - a bold, ten-minute rant against Vietnam-era platitudes. It's a dark horse in the Bowie canon: a simmering contender for his masterpiece.
The second CD gives us demos and sessions: the wry, pithy Janine, alternate mixes of the epics, and an Italian version of Space Oddity (titled Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola) which coaxes awe from absurdity. His next trick was to wow the crowd, but this intricate, intriguing work should never again be underestimated.
Along with Marc Bolan, with whom he shared a producer, David Bowie is credited with spawning glam rock in the 70s. However, 1969's Space Oddity is fledgling Bowie - not a feather boa in sight - but a spider's web of influences. It shows a Bowie, not so much casting his own image, but in the shadow of others. Originally turned down by George Martin, this kaleidoscopic album is an amalgamation of Dave's obsessions - directors, musicians, poets and spirituality of a distinctly late-60s hue.
In this ever-shifting musical refraction there are glimpses of Stanley Kubrick (the title track - originally recorded in Bowie's bedroom -is inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Muddy Waters (the harmonica and blues rhythm in ''Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed'' - another song about being an outsider, or as Bowie himself puts it 'A phallus in pig-tails'). Dylan's influence looms in the social commentary ''God Knows I'm Good'' and the yearning ''Letter to Hermione'' - an ode to the girlfriend Bowie lost the very year the album was born; whilst the poetry of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg appears in the aching ''Cygnet Committee'' ('I bless you madly, sadly as I tie my shoes').
The eponymous single was mistranslated into Italian 'Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola'. When Bowie found out, what the new lyrics meant, he just laughed; 'I've put in all that time singing some bloody love song about some tart in a blouse on a mountain!'.
There are two particularly mind-blowing tracks on this album, both of which come with an exquisite production by Tony Visconti (who shunned the title track as a cheap publicity stunt tying in with the Apollo 11 moon landings). The symphonic ''Wild Eyed Boy from Free Cloud'' and ''Memory of a Free Festival'', which celebrates his first appearance at Glastonbury festival, linger in your head long after they have stopped playing. Both show Bowie in the trippy hippy mode that he was in the early days and help Space Oddity to stand out in the cannon of this two-toned eyed musical genius.