“Did you ever have a Deram?”
David Bowie released his first album this day in 1967, albeit lacking the fanfare of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, purportedly released on the same day. In fact Pepper was released sometime earlier. But that’s for Beatles’ buffs to explain.
In celebration of this birthday we’ve got regular contributor (the Isle Of Wight's very own Patrick Moore), Andy Barding, to write about the album. Andy was born on the very day of the release of Bowie’s debut single, Liza Jane, so it seems fitting for him to talk about the debut album, a record he loves.
You may know Mr Barding’s writing from the fine publications produced by Cygnet Committee. Over to you Andy...
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CDs mean little to me, downloads even less. Vinyl reissues? Love some, dislike others.
But my original David Bowie LPs, even the blatantly battle-scarred and battered ones, take pride of place on my record shelf. I have a full set, arranged chronologically to span a five-decade timeline from Blackstar on the far right to today's birthday boy - the first 'David Bowie' LP on Deram - on the left.
That debut was released 50 years ago, today. And, boy, is my personal copy showing its age! It's the 1967 UK mono pressing on the usually progressive Deram label which graces my shelf. I say 'usually progressive', since the LP released immediately before David's debut was a collection of big band swing covers (Tuxedo Junction, Take The 'A' Train, etc etc) entitled 'Oscillate '67!', while the one which followed was easy listening maestro Les Reed's orchestral take on the likes of Banana Boat Song and Spanish Harlem. I suppose you could say David with his first LP (catalogued DML 1007) was already getting used to standing out from his crowd.
I obtained my copy in a sweet deal negotiated over the counter of the now sadly-gone JB's records in Hanway Street, London. It was a poignant place to find it, being just around the corner from where David used to park his band's converted ambulance, and close to the (also long-gone) Robin Hood pub where David would sometimes hold fort with his sixties mod and beat cohorts: the London boys.
The LP which would become mine was in a PVC hanger stuck to the wall when I first clapped eyes on it. It had a £100 price tag (this was some years ago), which was well out of my spending range at the time. But while lacking the cash, I DID have a spare copy of Bowie's 'Can't Help Thinking About Me' single on Pye Records. A rare and original 1966 disc which I'd been able to snap up for a bargainous £30 a few weeks before. I offered it up as part-ex... and was delighted to be offered full-ex: a straight swap. And with that exchange, the Deram album was taken down from the wall, slipped into a bag and pressed into my gleeful hands. A copy was finally mine.
I'm looking at it and playing it now. It's an ex-BBC Gramophone Library copy, and the faded purple BBC ink stamps are still visible on the back cover and labels. The sleeve has numerous little nicks and creases, and a brownish hue on the back - a legacy, maybe, of decades of being handed around BBC DJs at the smoky old Broadcasting House... not that it received a tremendous amount of airplay at the time!
It plays with plenty of crackle - each pop and rattle presumably imbued with some kind of story. None of these are my stories, of course, since I have only owned it for a trifling 20 or so years. But secondhand character is better than no character at all, and I massively prefer my ragged and bashed-up UK LP to the mint condition American copies I had owned before. Those might have been in impeccable shape, but that's for a reason - they were warehouse finds or unsold stock... never owned, loved or abused by anybody. My UK copy has obviously lived a full, secret life. It looks like it has partied hard...
Looking and listening back today, I'm struck by a few (five) trivial thoughts:
1) That cover pic! Serious-looking David, trend-setting to the max in his military jacket, Mod as you like with his shortish hair-do and dry, chapped lips (looks to me like an indicator of a London Boy-style existence), and NOT SMILING. The very antithesis of some of the jaunty, Newley-esque ditties to be found in the record's grooves.
2) Kenneth Pitt's cover notes! Isn't it fantastic how David's then-manager shaves a year from his golden boy's age, declaring him to be 19 instead of 20? Like 20 is SO old.
3) The songs! They really are quite brilliant... in places. Fantastic little vignettes and stories. 'She's Got Medals', 'Uncle Arthur' and 'Love You Till Tuesday' are charming as you like.
4) The songs (again)! 'Silly Boy Blue' and 'When I Live My Dream' have to be counted among the best of Bowie's work.
and 5) The sneeze! It's easy to forget how utterly brilliant an idea it was to break up the murderous semi-spoken tale 'Please, Mr Gravedigger' with a mock-impromptu sneezing sound effect. That's genius, right there.
So there we go. David's career as an album artist is fifty years old today. And while it's often overshadowed by the incredible Bowie albums which followed it, there' is still no reason to dismiss DML 1007 out of hand.
It's a sweet, occasionally brilliant little oddity - and it sounds great. And, without this first stab at album artistry, well, there might have been no David Bowie. I'm glad I gave it a timely revisit, today.
Happy birthday, 'David Bowie'!
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Thanks Andy, great stuff.
If that wasn’t a long enough piece for you, dear reader, try this excellent article on the same subject by Pete Paphides over on The Quietus.
FOOTNOTE: Our montage shows that original MONO copy of the album, complete with BBC Library stamp, the original Deram press release and the impossibly rare US 8-track cartridge...surely the rarest of all versions of this album.
Scroll/swipe image for aforementioned Ken Pitt sleeve notes.
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