David Bowie, London, 1967. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images)
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the earliest BBC Session included on David Bowie’s essential compilation, Bowie At The Beeb.
On May 13, 1968 – a full year before his breakthrough success with Space Oddity - the 21-year-old entered Piccadilly Studio 1 and recorded five songs for Top Gear. To celebrate the occasion, I Like Your Old Stuff gave the 4LP set another spin and picked out some of the finest moments.
Studio version available on: The World Of David Bowie (1970)
Background: When BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 3 began broadcasting in 1967, it greatly expanding the opportunity for music programming on the national station. Bowie’s own debut session was aired on Christmas Eve 1967, however none of those tracks made it to Bowie At The Beeb. Instead, this set kicks off with In The Heat Of The Morning from his May 1968 appearance. A vibrant, swinging ‘60s number with a light psychedelic dusting (sample lyrics include ‘tie a knot in rainbow’s end’), In The Heat Of The Morning has a euphoric swagger, with the union of strings and keyboards adding to the thrill.
Studio version available on: Ziggy Stardust (2002 reissue), Pin Ups (1990 reissue)
Background: Recorded for The Sunday Show in 1970, this Jacques Brel cover takes a darker turn. A gritty portrait of rancid sailors around a busy dock, Amsterdam is a startling track with barely a chorus to its name. An acoustic performance that gains power as it gathers pace, Bowie’s reading has him spitting out the word ‘slut’ with particular venom. “Very tasty indeed,” John Peel remarks at its conclusion.
Studio version available on: The World Of David Bowie
Background: Also recorded with John Peel for the Top Gear program on 13 May 1968, Karma Man matches the Swinging London influences with Bowie’s love of entwining fairytale and nursery rhyme references into his lyrics. The addition of strings to the lavish production overstate the song’s significance at the time (it was unreleased at the time and would only appear in 1970 on The World Of David Bowie compilation), yet its status should not be undervalued. It was one of the tracks Bowie re-recorded for his abandoned Toy album in the early 2000s, where he polished up lost gems from his earliest archives.
Studio version available on: Hunky Dory (1990 reissue)
Background: Recorded on 3 June 1971 for the In Concert program hosted by John Peel, Bombers’ piano might sound a touch piano but there’s no doubting the burgeoning glam rock cool. “David Bowie on piano and amazing pair of trousers,” DJ John Peel remarks to his audience. While it never appeared on the then forthcoming Hunky Dory album as Peel suggests in the introduction, and was also considered for the The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album, a studio version remained unreleased until certain reissues of Hunky Dory included the track. Of note in this session is the fact it’s the first live performance from the line-up which would come to be known as The Spiders From Mars – drummer Woody Woodmansey, bassist Trevor Bolder and guitarist Mick Ronson.
Studio version available on: Unavailable
Background: Recorded during the same In Concert performance as Bombers, the session found Bowie bringing in a number of associates to assist on the 10 tracks played (Oh! You Pretty Things was performed, but never broadcast). This is the only official appearance of Looking For A Friend on a David Bowie release, with the song originally written for his short-lived band Arnold Corns. It was re-recorded for Ziggy Stardust but remains unreleased in this format. This BBC version features Bowie’s Arnold Corns sidekick Mark Carr Pritchett on co-vocals.
Studio version available on: Space Oddity (1970)
Background: Almost three years after his hit with Space Oddity, Bowie recorded the track during the Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Show on 22 May 1972. It never made it to air at the time, meaning Bowie’s cheeky addition of the line ‘I’m just a rocket man’ (a nod towards Elton John, who was riding high in the charts with his own, possibly Space Oddity-influenced hit). The track remained officially unreleased until Bowie At The Beeb unveiled the complete 1972 session, which also featured cool versions of Starman, Changes and Oh! You Pretty Things.
Studio version available on: Unavailable, but another live version also available on Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1983)
Background: After a fine impersonation of Lou Reed on I’m Waiting For The Man in a BBC January session, Bowie returned to The Velvet Underground canon for his follow-up John Peel spot in May. The version of Moonage Daydream from the 16 May appearance is a funky affair where Mick Ronson’s guitar sounds ready to take off into the stratosphere, but it’s on White Light/White Heat where things really click. As well as name-checking three other musical contemporaries on his various songs – Jagger (Drive-In Saturday), John Lennon (Life On Mars?) and The Who (All The Young Dudes) – here Bowie throws in a reference to the man behind this Velvet Underground speed classic, with Bowie ad-libbing “White Light make me sound like Lou Reed”. Even the shout of “Ronno!” before a feverish guitar solo suggests Ziggy and his Spiders From Mars were having a wow of a time.
Other Bowie At The Beeb highlights include Five Years, The Supermen and Ziggy Stardust, but it’s a set worth trawling at your own pace for curios and fascinating alternate versions of your favourite Bowie songs.
Happy 50th birthday, Bowie At The Beeb!
We use the information that you provide about others to enable us to send them your gifts or cards. We will not disclose personal information about or send promotional material to these recipients unless they have requested it.
The information we collect in connection with our online forums and communities is used to provide an interactive experience. We use this information to facilitate participation in these online forums and communities and, from time to time, to offer you products, programs, or services. When you enter an online forum or community please be aware that information you disclose in these areas, for example your email address, can be collected and used by people you do not know. This may result in unsolicited messages being sent to you by other people or organisations.
We sometimes use the non-personally identifiable information that we collect to improve the design and content of our site and to enable us to personalise your Internet experience. We also may use this information in the aggregate to analyse site usage, as well as to offer you products, programs, or services.
We will disclose information we maintain when required to do so by law, for example, in response to a court order or a subpoena. We also may disclose such information in response to a law enforcement agency's request.
Agents and contractors of WMA who have access to personally identifiable information are required to protect this information in a manner that is consistent with this Privacy Notice by, for example, not using the information for any purpose other than to carry out the services they are performing for WMA.
Although we take appropriate measures to safeguard against unauthorised disclosures of information, we cannot assure you that personally identifiable information that we collect will never be disclosed in a manner that is inconsistent with this Privacy Notice. Inadvertent disclosures may result, for example, when third parties misrepresent their identities in asking the site for access to personally identifiable information about themselves for purposes of correcting possible factual errors in the data or in the event that unauthorised persons breach our security systems.
If the WMA site discloses personally identifiable information to companies not affiliated with WMA who want to market products or services to you, it will provide you with an opportunity to opt out or block such uses.
WMA may on occasion combine information we receive online with outside records to enhance our ability to market to you those products or services that may be of interest to you. If you prefer not to receive marketing information from this site, click here for instructions on how to make your request.
The WMA site will not use or transfer personally identifiable information provided to us in ways unrelated to the ones described above without also providing you with an opportunity to opt out of these unrelated uses.
Finally, if you receive promotional material from WMA about us or our affiliates and do not wish to receive it any longer, you can request that we remove your information from our mailing lists by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please allow us 7 days to amend our records. If you have provided your details directly to another Warner Music Group site, you may also have to notify that site directly.
Collection of Information by Third-Party Sites and Sponsors
Some of our sites contain links to other sites whose information practices may be different to ours. Visitors should consult the other sites' privacy notices as we have no control over information that is submitted to, or collected by, these third parties.
The WMA site sometimes may offer contests or promotions that are sponsored by or co-sponsored with identified third parties. By virtue of their sponsorship, these third parties may obtain personally identifiable information that visitors voluntarily submit to participate in the contest or promotion. WMA has no control over or responsibility for the third-party sponsors' use of this information. The WMA site will notify you at the time of requesting personally identifiable information if third-party sponsors will obtain such information.
To enhance your experience with our sites, our web page may use "cookies." Cookies are text files we place in your computer's browser to store your preferences. Cookies, by themselves, do not tell us your e-mail address or other personally identifiable information unless you choose to provide this information to us by, for example, registering at one of our sites. However, once you choose to furnish the site with personally identifiable information, this information may be linked to the data stored in the cookie.
Our Commitment to Security
We have put in place appropriate physical, electronic, and managerial procedures to safeguard and help prevent unauthorised access, maintain data security, and correctly use the information we collect online.
To protect your privacy and security, we will take reasonable steps to help verify your identity before granting access or making corrections.
If you wish to have your personal information deleted from our records, please email us at email@example.com and we will endeavour to delete it unless we need to keep it for legal reasons.
Children under the age of 16 should not submit any material (particularly personal information) to this site. Children should ask their parent or guardian to submit any material on their behalf, including for the following: