Rebel Rebelby Chris O'Leary
David Bowie: every single song. Everything you want to know, everything you didn't know. David Bowie remains mysterious and unknowable, despite 45 years of recording and performing. His legacy is roughly 600 songs, which range from psychedelia to glam rock to Philadelphia soul, from avant-garde instrumentals to global pop anthems. Rebel Rebel catalogs Bowie's
David Bowie: every single song. Everything you want to know, everything you didn't know. David Bowie remains mysterious and unknowable, despite 45 years of recording and performing. His legacy is roughly 600 songs, which range from psychedelia to glam rock to Philadelphia soul, from avant-garde instrumentals to global pop anthems. Rebel Rebel catalogs Bowie's songs from 1964 to 1976, examines them in the order of their composition and recording, and digs into what makes them work. Rebel Rebel is an in-depth look at Bowie's early singles and album tracks, unreleased demos, session outtakes and cover songs. The book traces Bowie's literary, film and musical influences and the evolution of his songwriting. It also shows how Bowie exploited studio innovations, and the roles of his producers and supporting musicians, especially major collaborators like Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and Mick Ronson. This book places Bowie's music in the context of its era. Readers will discover the links between Kubrick's 2001 and "Space Oddity"; how A Clockwork Orange inspired "Suffragette City". The pages are a trip through Bowie's various lives as a young man in Swinging London, a Tibetan Buddhist, a disillusioned hippie, a rock god, and a Hollywood recluse. With a cast of thousands, including John Lennon, William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol and Cher.
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By Chris O'Leary
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The Junior Visualizer (1964-1966)
I never wanted to be a rock star. "'onest, guv, I weren't even there." But I was there, that's what happened.
David Bowie, 1974.
I think he sounds terrible, but he must be some good because he's made a record.
Haywood "John" Jones, David Bowie's father, 1964.
David Bowie sweated away for years on a Sunday, with nobody, repeat nobody, coming to see him.
Harold Pendleton, owner of the Marquee Club.
A meaningless simplification of the blues with all the poetry removed and the emphasis on white, and by definition inferior, performers ... unsubtle, unswinging, uncoloured music.
George Melly, on early rock & roll, Revolt Into Style.
I was taken on as a "junior visualizer," which means I was a sort of stick-and-paste artist for all the other buggers there who had proper art school training.
Bowie, on his short-lived advertising career.
(Conn). Recorded: ca. early May 1964, Decca Studios, 165 Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, London. David Bowie: lead vocal, tenor saxophone; Roger Bluck: lead guitar, backing vocal?; George Underwood: rhythm guitar, backing vocal; Dave Howard: bass; Robert Allen: drums. Produced: Leslie Conn; engineered: Glyn Johns; (remake, unreleased) (basic tracks) July 2000, Sear Sound Studios, 353 W. 48th St., NYC; (overdubs) ca. October-early November 2000, The Looking Glass Studios, 632 Broadway, NYC. Bowie: lead vocal, harmonica?; Earl Slick: lead guitar; Gerry Leonard: rhythm guitar; Mike Garson: keyboards; Cuong Vu: trumpet; Mark Plati: rhythm guitar; Gail Ann Dorsey: bass, backing vocals; Sterling Campbell: drums; Holly Palmer, Emm Gryner: backing vocals. Produced: Bowie, Plati; engineered: Pete Keppler.
First release: (as "Davie Jones with the King Bees") 5 June 1964 (Vocalion Pop V.9221). Broadcast: 6 June 1964, Juke Box Jury; 19 June 1964, Ready Steady Go!; 27 June 1964, The Beat Room. Live: 1964, 2004.
On the night of 5 June 2004, on stage at an amphitheatre off the Garden State Parkway, David Bowie was winding down what remains his last concert in America. It was also the 40th anniversary of the release of his first single, a song called "Liza Jane." Bowie, who was a sentimental man at the time, marked this milestone by singing a verse of the song. As a preface, he called his debut single "absolutely dreadful" and "excruciating," which was a fair description of the sludgy blues fragment he offered that night. Not that it mattered to the audience, the majority of whom had never heard "Liza Jane" before and never would again. Not that it mattered to Bowie, for whom the song was a memento of being young, hapless and obscure.
"Liza Jane" wasn't quite his first professional recording. In the summer of 1963, Bowie and his band the Kon-Rads had auditioned for Decca, taping four tracks that included his co-composition "I Never Dreamed" (see appendix). Decca passed on the Kon-Rads. Bowie soon ditched them for the King Bees, who were a trio of older Fulham boys — Robert Allen, Roger Bluck and Dave Howard — and a fellow Kon-Rad, his school friend George Underwood, who two years before had struck Bowie in the eye in a fight over a girl, leaving Bowie's left pupil permanently dilated.
After a handful of months, with only rehearsals in Fulham and talent nights at pubs to their credit, the King Bees cut a single for a subsidiary of Decca, one of the two labels that ruled British pop. In 1964, this trajectory wasn't unusual. It was a gold rush. The British pop music industry was generating £100 million annually. Some 20,000 beat groups had formed in Britain by 1963; some twenty of them auditioned for labels each week.
British pop music was the property of a London-based affiliation of cynical older men, many of whom had come up in musical theatre: they had contempt for the acts they marketed, the teenagers who bought them and likely themselves. But now a Liverpudlian beat group managed by a record store chain owner was the biggest act in the country. In the summer of 1964, the Beatles set about claiming the rest of the world; in their wake, everything was up for the taking. Every would-be manager, every grubbing concert promoter thought they were the next Brian Epstein. (A few were.) Waiting for them was a generation of boys with guitars; it was if they'd been seeded across Britain overnight.
Leslie Conn was a record plugger, remembered for his persistence (the entertainer Max Bygraves said Conn "could set fire to a bucket of sand") and his bad timing. He managed two of the biggest British pop stars of the early Seventies (Bowie and Marc Bolan) in the mid-Sixties. He learned of David Bowie when the latter wrote to a washing machine tycoon, John Bloom, asking for a few hundred pounds to buy new gear and promising that Bloom could make a fresh million if he backed the King Bees. An amused Bloom passed on the note to Conn, a friend, who was soon converted. Where the Beatles had won over doubters with their wit, Bowie impressed with his unmoored confidence. Conn signed a management contract with Bowie, agreed to manage the King Bees on a non-contractual basis (neatly severing singer from band) and booked them to play Bloom's anniversary party at a Soho nightclub. The King Bees opened with Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working" and appalled the guests. Bloom ordered the band offstage after two songs; Bowie wept. An unperturbed Conn used the debacle as a hook for the King Bees' introductory press release. Leveraging his contacts as a freelance A&R man for Decca, he landed a recording session with a label subsidiary, Vocalion.
For the single, Conn selected "Louie Louie Go Home." The proposed B-side was a number the band had played live: "Little Liza Jane." Though Bowie and Underwood knocked together a new arrangement for "Liza Jane," Conn wound up credited as sole composer. He later justified his appropriation by saying he'd improved upon the "six-bar blues that everyone uses." The song itself was a cloudy thing, of unknown provenance. Underwood once said it was an "old Negro spiritual" he and Bowie had picked up somewhere.
"Liza Jane," or "Little Liza Jane," wasn't a spiritual. It wasn't a six-bar blues, either. It was a party song, a game song, a child's song that adults made filthy. It was barely a song, really, more of a musical weed. You could sing anything that scanned in the verses as long as you threw in a "lil' Liza Jane" every once in a while.
It came out of the mid-19th Century, from the lower South, possibly a slave song later adopted by minstrel shows. An ex-slave named Marshal Butler recalled singing "Little Liza Jane" Saturday nights on the Collar plantation in Georgia, drinking lemonade and whiskey, men plucking at fiddles with broom straws. The father of Sam Chatmon, one of the Mississippi Sheiks, played "Little Liza Jane" as a plantation work song. "He'd go along and make up things and holler it out in the fields where the old boss man could hear ... 'Hey Liza, Little Liza Jane,'" Chatmon said. By the 1880s, the song had moved up to tidewater Virginia, where it was part of a game called "Stealin' Partners." A man standing in the middle of a circle of dancers was the lead ("come my love and go with me"), the dancers his chorus ("little Liza Jane!").
"Little Liza Jane" never kept still: the chanting man in the circle would give it fresh lines, just as Sam Chatmon's father had (by the 1910s, there were signs of upward mobility: "I got a house in Baltimo'/L'il Liza Jane!/Brussels carpet on the flo' ..."). Then in 1916, one Countess Ada de Lachau copyrighted it, taking full composer's credit for what she termed a "southern dialect song." Soon "L'il Liza Jane" was a stage hit, the smash number of a cheery racist musical called Come Out of the Kitchen.
This was the song's first pop moment: recorded as a jazz side in 1917, its sheet music sent to American army camps preparing for the Western Front. Keeping company with soldiers soon coarsened it: in 1918, folklorist Vance Randolph found an Arkansas man who sang him a version he'd picked up in army camp ("I come once but I come no more — Little Liza Jane!/I come once an' my pecker got sore — Little Liza Jane!"). While "Liza Jane" was often a boast ("Ise gotta gal and you got none," the de Lachau version began), some variants had the singer willing to share Liza Jane with whoever's game ("I'll tell my gal to give you some").
"Liza Jane" followed a split track. Whites came to regard it as a country standard, recorded by the likes of Bob Wills and the "Cackling" DeZurik Sisters; this line would cross over to Britain as a skiffle song, recorded by Lonnie Donegan in 1958. For black audiences, it was an old familiar. Black string bands like the Mississippi Sheiks kept "Little Liza Jane" in their repertoire, as they played for both white and black audiences and found "Liza Jane" worked as a crossover piece. Which is how Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns considered the song a generation later.
Smith had grown up in New Orleans and knew "Little Liza Jane" as something the kids in his neighborhood sang in the street. He and his band played it for white audiences, like the fraternity row of LSU. (Not so much the black clubs of New Orleans. "You saw them looking at us like this (sitting, crossed arms)," Smith told his biographer John Wirt. "They weren't moved by "Liza Jane" and stuff like that.") With a session coming up for Ace Records, Smith was looking for something fresh. He grabbed "Liza Jane," believing it was in the public domain and unaware he'd violate the copyright of the Countess Ada de Lachau.
He told his band to think "bluegrass music. That's the session." They were putting a spin on a corny old white song. Smith had his saxophonist Lee Allen play a melody from Dvorák's "Humoresques" popular with Dixieland jazz bands but adding some honking twists. "It was hipper because it was Lee playing, not no bunch of Dixieland front men," Mac Rebennack, aka Doctor John, told Wirt. "Huey was catching the real second line on "Little Liza Jane." Smith purged "Little Liza Jane" of any residual corniness. No more verses about houses in Baltimore or frogs or mules. It was about girls, and it was a rock 'n' roll song.
Smith's "Little Liza Jane" was a regional hit, prompting the competition (including Fats Domino, who shamelessly stole Smith's arrangement) to cut their own versions. Dale Hawkins picked it up in 1959, flavoring Smith's revision with cues from older country versions by the Carlisles and Bob Wills. A Texan teen idol, Scotty McKay, cut a "Liza Jane" with a killer rock 'n' roll line buried in it: "I would stay longer but I stayed too long." This was enough of a ferment for the rock 'n' roll "Liza Jane" to make it over to Britain, where five teenagers from Fulham and Bromley thought it was a "Negro spiritual."
"Their stuff is homemade music," Cliff Richard said of the Beatles in February 1964, just as the band toppled him as Britain's biggest pop act. "Anybody who can shout can be a Beatle." He was right: it was the moment for amateurs. Fifties British rock 'n' roll had been the work of slumming jazz musicians but now the kids in the stalls were playing it. Cue the King Bees.
Instead of the "little Li-za Jane" refrain that went back to Ada de Lachau, the King Bees sang a salacious "OHHHH lit-tle LIZA!," slavering on the long vowels. (The standard refrain became the eight-bar refrain.) Theirs wasn't a courting song, like Smith's. Bowie already has the girl, he has too much of her, she's driving him crazy. His lines are the desperate brags of a boy upturned by lust.
Though it kicked off with a three-chord guitar riff, almost note-for-note the opening of the Yardbirds' take on "Smokestack Lightning," the track's main hook was Bowie's overdubbed tenor saxophone, which zipped around, wasp-like. (His limitations as a saxophone player and Conn's as an arranger collided mercilessly here, as Bowie plays the same descending phrase over and over again, breaking character only on refrains.) Bowie's voice seemed constituted of adenoids and spit. "Well I gotta girl thassa GOOD to me!" he screams, with little mystery as to how — the band groan along on refrains. "Now she ain't more than-uh five-foot-three!" (Liza loses an inch later in the song.) The refrain was the title slurred four times. The second verse was incomprehensible: "Ah gotta girl whooza guh to GUH!" His voice cracking hard by the last verse, Bowie battled to cloak his accent, but "Jane" soon became "Jayne" and in the fade he snapped that Liza was "coming back to me lurve!" Bluck's 12-bar guitar solo fell apart after six; Allen slammed the backbeat on his snare as if trying to catch someone's attention.
Conn didn't produce the record as much as he got out of its way. Despite having future master engineer Glyn Johns behind the console, the single was misshapen, murky-sounding, as Johns had spent much of the session just trying to adequately mike Allen's cheap, tape-patched drums. "Liza Jane" was voted down on Juke Box Jury, got no airplay in the few hours the BBC allotted to pop music and it died. So did the King Bees.
Their singer managed to keep at it. Bowie's brief live revival of "Liza Jane" in 2004 drew upon a much finer remake he'd cut in the studio for his self-covers album Toy, which his label in 2001 had refused to release. This "Liza Jane" was a slow-groove exhumation, the song taken at a loping amble, with seemingly every instrument in the mix distorted: Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard's guitars; the jazz trumpeter Cuong Vu, who sounds as if he's playing through a metallic cloud; a Bowie vocal, likely piped through an effects pedal, that suggested Tom Waits' trademark abuse of megaphones and trumpet mutes.
That night in New Jersey, the 57-year-old Bowie had treated "Liza Jane" like an embarrassing joke. His teenage self had known better. Maybe he'd sensed the song was far bigger than him. He didn't care. He broke it open, he made it work.
Louie Louie Go Home
(Revere/Lindsay). Recorded: ca. early May 1964, Decca Studios. Bowie: lead vocal; Bluck: lead guitar, backing vocal; Underwood: rhythm guitar, backing vocal; Howard: bass; Allen: drums. Produced: Conn; engineered: Johns.
First release: 5 June 1964 (Vocalion Pop V.9221). Live: 1964.
Leslie Conn had scrabbled in the British music industry long enough for many people to owe him favors, including the Beatles' publisher, Dick James, so Conn had dibs on the latest American releases. For the King Bees, he nabbed an acetate of Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Louie Go Home," which conveniently was published by Dick James.
The Raiders and their Pacific Northwest rivals, the Kingsmen, had cut versions of "Louie Louie" in 1963 but the Kingsmen got the national hit with it. So "Louie Go Home" (the King Bees doubled Louie) was the Raiders' rebound. Where "Louie Louie" has a sailor pining for his girl back home, "Louie Go Home" finds the sailor, having ditched his wife and child, left with a bad conscience: "I'm going home — back to where they need me."
The song was little more than a string of audience-baiting maneuvers, a call-and-response chorus and a long breakdown with a "little bit softer now, little bit louder now" routine à la the Isley Brothers' "Shout." It was the sideshow tent: Mark Lindsay's bleating saxophone and Revere on piano, with his left-hand comping and right-hand flourishes, doing his best Huey Smith. Fitting for the King Bees, it was also the sound of "a bunch of white-bread kids trying to sound black," as Lindsay recalled.
Told to learn the song in a few days, the King Bees struggled to fit "Louie Go Home" into their narrow scope. Lacking a pianist, they shifted the riff to Dave Howard's bass and kicked up the tempo at the expense of swinging, with Robert Allen discarding the original's intricate ride cymbal work to stick with time-keeping 8th notes. Where on "Liza Jane" the King Bees attempted the hard R&B sound of the London clubs, with the Yardbirds, Pretty Things and the Downliners Sect as particular inspirations, their "Louie Louie Go Home" was a fumbled bid for pop radio play (the wayward backing vocals essay Beatles harmonies, especially "Money").
Lacking the manic glee of the Raiders' Lindsay, who did violence to each phrase he came across, Bowie kept the song together until the breakdown, where the King Bees fell to pieces: off-key harmonies, anemic drum fills, Bowie quacking "back back back" until the fadeout came as a mercy. Hearing the playbacks, Conn realized "Louie Louie Go Home" was a bungle and gave a battlefield promotion to "Liza Jane" as the single's A-side, to no avail.
Excerpted from Rebel Rebel by Chris O'Leary. Copyright © 2014 Chris O'Leary. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Meet the Author
Chris O'Leary is a writer and editor, and author of the music blog "Pushing Ahead of the Dame" at http://bowiesongs.wordpress.com. (TIME's Best Blogs of 2011)
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