David Bowie: Rubber Band (1966)

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David Bowie: Rubber Band (1966)

Although Ray Davies is rightly credited as the great British documentarian/songwriter, it's worth checking out David Bowie's songs before 1968.

During that period he was flaying about and trying on different styles, one of which was a kind of wry, sometimes humorous but at other times melancholy storytelling.

What was distinctive was not just the very English – a kind of mock Cockney – voice but the language and images he drew on.

A song like The London Boys took a somewhat gloomy observational look at the downside of the Mods who'd arrived from the suburbs and provinces. Love You Till Tuesday and even The Laughing Gnome (with its cringe-inducing puns and local references) were in a similarly and specifically English style.

In the Mod-cum-marijuana I Dig Everything he walks beside garbagemen, waves at policemen and feeds the lions in Trafalgar Square.

But Rubber Band stands out for a few reasons. First let's agree it is not a great song by any measure but in its suburban location (the library garden on Sunday afternoons), specifics (the protagonist with a waxed moustache, scones and tea, going to sea in World War One), brass band sound and the pastoral vibe you could hear it as influenced by both Anthony Newley and Penny Lane.

But he recorded this months before that Beatles' song and, typical of his storytelling style at the time, weaves in an agonising narrative (his love marries the band leader rather than him).

That rather ruins what might have been an interesting piece and the bawling at the end simply kills it dead.

Bowie was always amusing but at this time he was trying hard to be a humourist (he liked George Formby and other Northern comedians) and conspicuously failing.

As he does here.

Still, it is very English and does pre-date Penny Lane so . . .

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For more one-offs, oddities or songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults


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