50 years ago David Bowie released his first single after he changed his name from David (also Davie) Jones to Bowie.
Can’t Help Thinkin’ About Me is written by Bowie himself in 1965 and released under his name and The Lower Third, the band in which Bowie played in those years.
In Autumn 1965 they signed a deal with Pye Records and the producer Tony Hatch, introduced to David’s manager thanks to a common acquaintance, Danny Laine of Moody Blues.
Legend has it that at Pye Records of Marble Arch, Hutch offered Bowie a tambourine used in Downtown (Petula Clark success produced just by Hatch) saying: “I hope it brings you luck“. Years later Hatch reminded that David was able to managed very well and in studio he was excellent. His material was good even though he thought Bowie wrote so many lyrics about the seediest parts of London. “Those were the years of his training, but it was unusual, unique” said Hatch.
The launch of the single was celebrated at Victoria Tavern in Strathearn Place, supported by Raymond Cook, Bowie’s sponsor, minor celebrities joined into the party included John Lennon’s father. It seems Bowie was surrounded by journalists and the other members of the group were completely ignored, stoking the discontent already in the air after that Bowie come back home with an airplane from Paris where performed few times, meanwhile the others follow him with a second hand ambulance transformed into a van.
The standard topic of R’n’B lyrics – a no-heart girl that doesn’t love the singer – here it gives way to Bowie’s familiar themes of emotional alienation and solipsistic introversion, in a dark story that describes the singer meanwhile leaves the city for the imaginary “never never land” after have mysteriously “blackened the family name“.
A particularity is the verse: ‘My girl calls my name “Hi Dave”‘ that we can only found again in Teenage Wildlife (Scary Monsters, 1980) and in the cover version of Cactus (Heathen, 2002).
It sound interesting to find the theme of the travel also in this earl song, in the verses like: “I’ve gotta pack my bags, leave this home, start walking” and “I’ve got a long way to go/I hope I make it on my own“, a dear theme to Bowie, mentioned also in other songs like Be My Wife and Move On, respectively included in Low (1977) and Lodger (1979) albums.
In his first interview to Melody Maker, in February 1966, Bowie revealed that “several tv programmes dedicated to teenagers refused to don’t broadcast the song because it talks about leaving home, an episode that arrives in the life of every teenager, leave your home is something that always happens“. Few time later, The Beatles released their classic She’s Leaving Home.
The single failed to make either the UK or the US charts (released in May 1966) despite being reasonably well received by the critics at the time. This episode and dues problems signed the end of The Lower Third.
Can’t Help Thinking About Me was performed by Bowie on March 4, 1966 with his new group, The Buzz who was only acting to play the song, previously recorded by Bowie himself. David sung live, instead, wearing a white outfit creating problems with the cameras immersing him in a supernatural light.
A key collector’s item today because of its rarity, the UK vinyl release averages over £600 per copy with the UK and US “Demonstration Only” copies achieving in excess of £1000. The single has been re-released many times (on EP’s, 10″ singles and compilation CD’s) from 1973 onwards following Bowie’s Ziggy commercial success.
After dropping the song from his gigs after mid 1966 (he played it several times with new band Buzz at The Marquee due to it being released in May in the USA), Can’t Help Thinking About Me was eventually resurrected 31 years later and played live regularly in 1999, as well as on the Bowie VH1 Storytellers programme. Prior to singing it, he explained that it was “a beautiful piece of solipsism” then told the audience that the song featured two of the worst lines he felt he had ever written. “I actually have to sing this….’My girl calls my name “Hi Dave”, Drop in, Come back, See you around if you’re this way again….”
Enjoy the performance below: