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9 To 5: Nine Things That Happened During David Bowie's 'Five Years'

The early career of David Bowie was recently celebrated with Five Years 1969-1973, a 10-album/12-CD box set which includes all of the material released by Bowie during the course of that half-decade, along with a pair of live albums which were recorded during the time frame in question. In turn, we're taking a look back at those thrilling days of yesteryear in hopes of providing you with a few tidbits of trivia about the Thin White Duke that may have escaped your knowledge up to this point.

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1. Bowie had to do battle with his record label to get the “Space Oddity” single released in stereo.

After the record sessions for “Space Oddity” in March 1969, the 19-year-old gentleman who played Mellotron on the track – a young upstart by the name of Rick Wakeman – walked in on a heated discussion between Bowie and a label rep in regards to Bowie’s affirmation that the single was very much stereo. Per Wakeman in a 2004 Creem interview, “The guy said, ‘No, we don't do stereo singles. Jukeboxes are in mono, everything's mono.’ And David said, ‘I don't give a damn, this is stereo. In a little while, everything's going to be in stereo. There's going to be stereo jukeboxes. Everybody's going to have stereo at home, this has to be in stereo.’ ‘Well, we're not geared up to press singles in stereo.’ ‘You'd better start getting ready.’ ‘Well, we're not going to do it!’ ‘Well, you don't have the single then!’ He fought and he was right. He was always one step ahead of the game.”

2. No singles were released from The Man Who Sold the World, nor did Bowie tour behind the album.

Although Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” successfully introduced the title track of Bowie’s 1970 album – or ’71 if you were in the UK – to a generation of grunge fans, the album itself remained one of the least-remembered efforts of Bowie’s early back catalog for many years, mostly because its initial release saw no singles released nor any tour to support it. (Is it any wonder that he jumped to RCA for his next album?) “Bowie was really going from one management company to another at the time and he didn’t have a record company and we were living on about £7 a week,” said Mick “Woody” Woodmansey , Bowie's drummer in the early '70s, in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. “There was no money to even put a tour together, get the right equipment, hire a crew, so we never got to do it, but at the end of the album the four of us – Bowie included – were really keen on going out live with it. But it never happened.”

3. Although Bowie never released “Oh! You Pretty Things” as a single, he played piano on a cover of the song by Peter Noone, which hit #12 in the UK.

Bowie found plenty of success with the pair of singles he released from 1971’s Hunky Dory – “Changes” and “Life on Mars?” – but one can’t help but wonder if he’d would’ve found even more if he’d released “Oh! You Pretty Things” as a single himself, like former Herman’s Hermits frontman Peter Noone did. Actually, Noone was still in the band when he recorded his cover, but it wasn’t long thereafter that he ventured forth on his own. Noone’s impetus for tackling the track? “David Bowie had sent the song to Mickie Most, Mickie fell in love with it, (and) he called me to his office and said, ‘I’ve found your first solo single,’” Noone revealed in an interview with Blitz in 1986. “David told me that he was having troubles with his manager at that time and that he was also having trouble paying his rent. He was living in a small apartment near Bromley then. He was very excited that I was doing his song, because then he could afford to pay his rent!”

4. The backing vocals on “It Ain't Easy,” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, are provided by a woman who was British Junior Water Skiing Champion for four years running in the 1960s.

To be fair, though, the woman in question is probably better known for her accomplishments as a recording artist: her name is Dana Gillespie, and in addition to her contributions to Bowie’s take on Ron Davies’ “It Ain't Easy” – the only cover song on the Ziggy Stardust album, FYI – Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson returned the favor and produced some tracks on Gillespie’s 1973 album, Weren’t Born a Man, including a cover of Bowie’s own “Andy Warhol.”

That album, by the way, was released the same year that Gillespie made her debut as Mary Magdalene in the first-ever London production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and she subsequently returned to the stage to portray the Acid Queen in a production of Tommy. Lest you underrate Gillespie’s rock 'n' roll accomplishments, Jimmy Page produced her 1965 single, “Thank You Boy,” and played guitar on her 1967 cover of Donovan’s “You Just Gotta Know My Mind,” and she’s since gone on to earn acclaim for her work in the Austrian Mojo Blues Band as well as for her efforts as organizer of the annual blues festival at Basil’s Bar on Mustique, in the Caribbean.

5. Although he ended up in the top five of the UK singles chart with his own version, Bowie was so frustrated with Mott the Hoople's disinterest in recording "Drive-In Saturday" that he shaved his eyebrows.

If this absolutely ridiculous story proves to be apocryphal, then Bowie has only himself to blame, as he's the one who spun it during his episode of VH-1's Storytellers. The way he tells the tale is that he composed the track for the band with the intention that it would be their follow-up to the previous song he'd passed along to them - which, of course, was "All the Young Dudes" - but "they in their wisdom decided that the time had come for them for them to write their own singles, so it was given back to me (and) I was so annoyed that one night in Florida...I got very drunk and shaved my eyebrows off." There's ample photographic evidence that the shaving took place - here's a bit of proof right here - but Bowie swears before God and the studio audience that he's not joking as to the reason why he chose to do it.

For what it's worth, though, Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter recalls the situation about the song at least a little bit different. "I tried to get 'Drive-In Saturday' because I didn't think he was doing it as well as we could," said Hunter, in Wim Hendrikse's book David Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World. "I had this real different kind of arrangement for it. God knows what was in my mind, because I can't see what we could have done with it. But anyway, he wouldn't give it to me." So what's the real story? Was it that Mott the Hoople decided to write their own singles or that they didn't want to record Bowie's song the way Bowie envisioned it? Either way, one reasonably presumes that any residual annoyance Bowie may have retained quickly dissipated once his own version hit #3.

6. Were it not for Bowie's cover of Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play," Syd Barrett might well have retreated to Cambridge forever even sooner than he ultimately did.

Once described by Bowie as “a bohemian, a poet, in a rock band,” Syd Barrett has sadly become more of a musical footnote than not amongst American Pink Floyd fans, due to the fact that the band’s greatest successes came after David Gilmour had taken over for him on guitar, but the amount of credit Barrett deserves for shaping Bowie’s career cannot be underestimated. “He was the first bloke I’d seen wearing makeup in a rock band to great effect,” Bowie once revealed. “Me and Marc Bolan both noted that!” Upon learning of Barrett’s death, Bowie issued a statement in which he described Barrett as “so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. Along with Anthony Newley, the first guy I’d heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous.”

Unfortunately, Bowie was also spot-on with his description of Barrett as someone who “wasn’t altogether of this world.” Once Barrett was literally left behind by Pink Floyd – Gilmour confirmed in a 1995 interview with Guitar World that they were on their way to a gig when “one person in the car said, ‘Shall we pick Syd up?’ and another person said, ‘Let’s not bother” – his decidedly non-commercial solo career reaped precious few royalties, leaving him to subsist predominantly on the royalties from his compositions for the Floyd. As such, it did wonders for his coffers when Bowie recorded “See Emily Play” and Pin Ups went on to hit the top spot on the UK Albums chart, thereby enabling him to continue living on his own in London (as opposed to with his mother in Cambridge). That wasn’t Bowie’s only musical nod to Barrett, however: in May 2006, only a few months before Barrett’s death, Bowie joined Gilmour onstage in London to perform a version of “Arnold Layne.”

7. While Bowie and his entourage were staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel in conjunction with the performance which was immortalized on the album Live Santa Monica '72, Iggy Pop showed up with the master tapes for The Stooges' Raw Power.

As if Bowie didn't already have enough on his mind in October 1972, what with getting in the right mindset for his first-ever live performance on the west coast, he also had something else on his plate: an assignment to remix The Stooges' Raw Power album, since the band's label had found Iggy's own efforts at the mixing board to be effectively unreleasable. There was good news, at least, that Iggy was clean: in Joe Ambrose's book Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, Tony Zanetta - Bowie's assistant at the time - recalled that "Iggy was really healthy. He was eating only vegetables... No drugs. He was in a really good state of mind."

The state of Raw Power, however, was somewhat less spectacular, as Bowie discovered on October 24, 1972...which, yes, was only a few days after that famous Santa Monica gig. In a 1991 interview with International Music, Bowie recalled that Iggy "brought the 24-track tape in, and he put it up. He had the band on one track, lead guitar on another and him on a third. Out of 24 tracks there were just three tracks that were used. He said, 'See what you can do with this.' I said, 'Jim, there's nothing to mix.' So we just pushed the vocal up and down a lot."

8. In 1973, when Bowie performed what he described as "the last show we'll ever do" (even though it wasn't), Jeff Beck joined him onstage for two songs, yet he's nowhere to be seen in Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. Why? Because of his attire.

"Being the last show, we thought we'd do something that would be nice for you," said Mr. Bowie, just before Mr. Beck stepped onto the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973 to join the band to perform "The Jean Genie" and bit of The Beatles' "Love Me Do." Sounds awesome, right? So awesome, even, that you can't imagine why you can't seem to recall ever having seen or heard the performances of those two songs, despite having seen D.A. Pennabaker's concert film Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.

For 10 years, the reason you didn't see or hear them was because the recording of the show remained unreleased. As far as why you didn't turn up once the film and concert album finally emerged, the original story was that Beck didn't think his guitar solo at the show was up to snuff, and when he informed the powers that be of such, he was offered the opportunity re-record the solo. However, producer Tony Visconti later discovered - and subsequently revealed to the world at large - that Beck was really just trying to get himself cut out of the film because he was embarrassed by the bell-bottom trousers he was wearing that night. Yes, it sounds silly on the surface, but Ronson - who was certainly well aware of Beck's talent - was once quoted as saying that he wasn't bothered by Beck's appearance that night because "I was too busy looking at his flares. Even by our standards, those trousers were excessive!”

In a 2009 interview with The Sunday Times, however, Beck indicated that it wasn't the trousers that bothered him, it was the fact that he was wearing "the most disgusting pair of dirty-white stack-heeled shoes you've ever seen." The poor choice of footwear was reportedly due to the star of the evening neglecting to tell his guest that their performance was being filmed, but that faux pas didn't stop our man David from pursuing Beck about signing off on the footage. "Bowie rang me about 10 times and said, "Look, man, I understand about the shoes, 'cos I didn't like what I was wearing either," said Beck. Alas, it would seem that even Bowie couldn't sway him: to date, the footage still remains officially unreleased.

9. "Holy Holy" was released as a standalone single in 1971 because Bowie's label had deemed the entirety of The Man Who Sold The World as being devoid of any obvious singles and felt that the song had a shot at chart success. They were wrong.


If you were wondering a few entries back about why we didn't offer an explanation as to the absence of singles from The Man Who Sold the World, then the opportunity to satisfy your curiosity has arrived. Recorded after the release of the aforementioned album, "Holy Holy" was nonetheless so closely tied it that Bowie performed the song on Granada Television whilst wearing the very dress he's sporting on the album cover. The track suffered merciless teasing from New Musical Express, who snarked that "(Marc) Bolan's influence is so much in the ascendant that it virtually amounts to a case of demonic possession," which may be why Bowie opted to re-record it a few months later, intending to include it on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. That didn't happen, but at least he allowed that version of the song to be added to the bonus tracks on the 2002 reissue of Ziggy: the original version wasn't viewed as worthy of reissue until this year, when it turned up on Re:Call 1, the 2-disc compilation of non-album singles, single versions & b-sides included within - you guessed it - Five Years 1969-1973.

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