The first cassette I wore out was the second I was given by my brother…it had Genesis Live on the one side and David Bowie’s first (actually second, but the actual first is something completely different and we won’t dwell too long on that). It is commonly known as “Space Oddity” although it was I believe originally just called “David Bowie”. Space Oddity was, of course, the lead single from it and the song that shot Bowie into the fame he maintained the next 5 decades.
Space Oddity is a song that encapsulates many of my favourite things: A story, acoustic guitars playing interesting chords, clever harmonies, unpredictable bassline and a great melody. There’s even a tiny guitar solo and a bag of psychedelia. A great song and released just at the right time, when the world was in a space travel mania.
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed again mixes the acoustic guitar (with it’s Bo Diddly rhythm) with a rock backing, with again the bass in a John Entwistle style freestyle…generally a lot of the album sounds almost jammed and therefore very honest and authentic. It’s a great rehearsal room sort of vibe, with blues harmonica mixing with the wild 60’s rock band freak out.
Letter to Hermoine is a beautifully written love song – and in it’s honesty manages to avoid all the clichés that usually put me off love songs…Bowie in these moments competes with even Dylan as songwriter and folk singer.
With brings us to the fantastic Cygnet Committee. This song – for me – is Bowie at his absolute best. Like Dylan but with more complex composition and arrangement…the story of how youthful hope and revolutionary activism becomes dissillusionment and corruption is way ahead of what could be expected of a 21 year old. Also he taskes the time needed to complete the story…you could do that back then. Nine and a half minutes is usually deemed too long for modern concentration levels. It’s a work of genius and I could live on a desert island with no other music than this one song and not get bored for many years.
Janine is another guitar driven singer-songwriter song that – in the spirit of the late 60’s – let’s a rock band do what it wants behind the song. I love the freedom of it all. Not the strongest song on the album but still a good melody and a song that would actually sit really well on even his quite late albums like Hours or Heathen.
An Occasional Dream takes us back into the psychedelic with a Syd Barrett- like vibe along with a 12-string guitar that must surely have been an influence on the early Genesis repertoire. Lots of harmony recorders – again…who would dare try that nowadays?
Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud was my favourite on the album when I was young. Again there’s a good story…skilfully told. There’s a version on a collection of recordings Bowie made at the BBC that I absolutely love…the orchestration is unnecessarily dramatic I feel and I adore his voice and the acoustic guitar and the passion he puts in – they could have kept the bass too, but the orchestra only detracts from what is a great performance of a fabulous song.
God Knows I’m Good was in the first solo sets I ever played…it was the first Bowie song I learnt to play and one what I still think fits many occasions. Again a great little story – totally everyday stuff about shoplifting but getting the point of view of the “offender”. The orchestration here is all acoustic guitars – at least 3 different parts…and gives it that folk feel I love.
Memory of The Free Festival is one of my absolute favourite Bowie songs. When I first heard it I knew nothing of festivals but the joy and ecstacy in the lyrics may well be why I became such a huge fan of festivals later. This song was one of my “signature” songs when I used to busk and play at gatherings and festivals as a youth. It’s going to get it’s own video at some point cos it’s a classic…what a chord sequence apart from anything else! But for now you can settle for the title track in this little performance from the studio.