Sunday the 20th of March was a grand day for Bowie heads across the planet. The unreleased “Toy” album was leaked online. Sure, six of the tracks have been released officially, three as b sides of singles taken from his last album “Heathen”, notably “Shadowman”(I first heard the 1971 demo on the MissinglinksoneZiggy bootleg, the “Toy” version surfaced on “Everyone says Hi” single version 2, of which there were 3 different versions)”You’ve got a habit of leaving”(from the “Everyone says Hi” single version 3)”Baby loves that way”(another “Everyone says Hi” single version 3 b side). From the album its self there’s “Afraid”(a remix of the “Toy” version appeared on “Heathen”)”Conversation piece”(originally the b side of “The Prettiest Star” in 1970, the first collaboration between Bowie and Marc Bolan, the 2002 version was on the “Heathen” bonus disc, the “Toy” version most likely dates from 2000) and “Uncle Floyd”(re recorded as “Slip away” for “Heathen). Odd that both Bowie and the Ramones dug “Uncle Floyd”, a PBS broadcast from New York, a parody of a kid’s tv show. Johnny Ramone wore an “Uncle Floyd t shirt in the 70’s. And apparently John Lennon turned Bowie onto the show a few months before his death.
It seems for the most part the concept of “Toy” was to re visit some of Bowie’s lesser known songs from the sixities, mostly recorded as David Jones, from the period 1964 to 1970. Here’s the tracklisting:
Baby Loves That Way
I Dig Everything
Let Me Sleep Beside You
Toy (Your Turn To Drive)
Hole In The Ground
In The Heat Of The Morning
You’ve Got a Habit Of Leaving
Silly Boy Blue
The London Boys
I’ve always loved “I dig everything”, it’s quaint observation of humour-less English life(“I wave to the policemen but they don’t wave back, they don’t dig anything……”)and it’s optimistic outlook. And the “Toy” version is wonderful. “In the heat of the morning” is certainly in my top ten all time Bowie faves, indeed Ben Newton and I did this song in our duo. The lyric “like a ragged boy who races with the wind” is so pretty and poetic, and innocent. The whole vibe of the chorus is rather sexy, evoking for me hot summer mornings under the covers, and David’s vocal on the “Toy” version is very low and sensual. Loving and poetic in the verses, down and dirty in the choruses.
“Silly Boy Blue” is another all time favourite of mine, which I first heard on the very wonderful and probably the best and most fascinating Bowie bootleg ever, “The forgotten songs of David Robert Jones”. Originally a demo on an Oak acetate disc from 1966, Billy Fury released it as a single in 1968. It was on Bowie’s eponymous first album in 1967. The “Toy” version is huge sounding and the string arrangement is just beautiful and uplifting, listening to it right now is giving me goose pimples! Totally wonderful, possibly the track of the album, superlatives fail etcetera.
The vibe of the album is quite melancholic and regretful. One can almost imagine Bowie as the character in “Conversation piece”, old and helpless, his life almost over, tho’ of course I sincerely hope that’s not the case. Mortality is another word that springs to mind. Listening to “Silly Boy Blue” again, I almost cried, not just because of those wonderful strings and the emotion in Bowie’s voice(probably one of his best performances ever!), but because we may never hear such brilliance again, and that would be a tragedy for the human race.
Bowie could be credited for kicking off, or giving more exposure to so many different genres of music: Glam Rock(along with Marc Bolan)Blue Eyed Soul and R’n’B(taking his lead from what Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were doing in the mid 60’s, and re inventing it for the US Disco market)Electronica(along with Kraftwerk, and with Eno as his foil, creating synth based popular music)Goth and New Romantics(Scary Monsters)and Dance/Rock crossover (with songs like “I’m Afraid of Americans” and “Little Wonder”). And as for his song writing, he’s written numerous classics, most of which still stand the test of time, and like Elvis and the Beatles, no doubt in hundreds of years people will still love them. Arguably, it could be said along with Elvis and the Beatles, David Bowie is the most influential artist of the 20th century……and the 21st too.
Tho’ he’s since denied it, Bowie’s “I’m Gay” statement gave a lot of homosexual men the strength to come to terms with their Gay nature, to “come out of the closet” and be accepted by straight society, Boy George for one. And by doing so he ended a lot of misery for a lot of people. Without Bowie’s androgyny surely Gay culture would still be in the sexual backwater, or certainly nowhere near as accepted as it is now.
Bowie has always been a fashion icon, always one step ahead of everyone. And as I’ve said before, surely Johnny Rotten’s spiky red barnet was originally Ziggys? David Bowie, put simply, is the coolest human being, ever!
Apparently, before Elvis died he wondered why he’d been given his life, why he was Elvis, the Superstar. And he read many books on philosophy and religion, searching for the answer. I wonder if David has ever felt that way?(“What made my life so wonderful? I used to wake up the ocean, I used to walk on clouds” lyrics from “Afraid”). David had heart surgery in 2004, which led to him cancelling 11 dates in Europe. At the time he said he hoped to resume the tour the following month, that never happened. The last time Bowie appeared on stage was with David Gilmore, at the Royal Albert hall on 29th of May 2006 , as a tribute to Syd Barrett, singing “Arnold Layne”. Potentially a wonderful match, David has always expressed his admiration for Syd, and they both have that total Englishness in their voices. Bowie covered Barrett once before, with “See Emily play” on “Pin ups” in 1973. It’s said that the reason he was originally drawn to having Mick Rock take his photograph was because Mick had done the shots for ” The Madcap laughs” cover, Syd’s second solo album, and that Mick knew Syd. Bowie himself said that him and Marc Bolan regularly hung out at the Marquee club in the 6o’s, and saw Syd’s Floyd there. He described Syd as “incredibly inspiring” and said there was a “space mysticism” around Syd that him and Bolan interpreted in different ways. I’ve also read that Bowie has a number of Syd’s paintings in his collection.
David Bowie is worshipped and adored by millions of music lovers across the world, and his influence on music and modern culture cannot be over stated. How typical of the man, that a ten year old album of his is pretty much the most beautiful and original music that’s occurred in the last ten years! Talk about the past over shadowing the future……or should that be the future over shadowing the past?
And to quote the man himself, from “Song for Bob Dylan” :-
“You gave your heart to every bedsit room
At least a picture on my wall
And you sat behind a million pair of eyes
And told them how they saw
Then we lost your train of thought
The paintings are all your own
While troubles are rising
We’d rather be scared
Together than alone”
Love on ya!