Dick’s Picks: This week’s pick from our man Dick was going to be the Black Dyke Mills Band (don’t ask) but after yesterday’s tragic news he’s decided to make the case for this unfairly derided ’60s ’45 from David Bowie…..
David Bowie / The Laughing Gnome
The Case Against
A thin comedy/novelty song employing sped-up ‘gnome-like’ voices with a whole slew of bad puns (“Haven’t you got a gnome to go to?” “I ought to report you to the Gnome Office), highlighting the length (depths?) which Bowie would go to in order to get that elusive ‘hit’ back in 1967. For years it’s been viewed as something of an embarrassment in the Bowie catalogue, esteemed ’70s music journo Charles Shaar Murray felt compelled to describe it as, “undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenalia recorded”, during the late ’80s the NME tried to force Bowie’s hand by running a campaign encouraging their readers to vote for the song so he would have to perform it in the all-request feature of his live show – yeh anarchy in the U.K. and all that…
The Case For
Firstly, it’s a neat little slice of groovy ‘60s psych/pop, great playing with a lovely insistent beat throughout – if it was a one-off single recorded by, err, ‘Tangerine Lampost’ it would be rightly hailed as wonderful example of the ‘back to childhood’ trope that was a mainstay of so much British psychedelia.
Infact, contrast it with the fortunes of that other ‘60s psychonaut Syd Barrett, his ‘The Gnome’ (recorded shortly after Bowie) which appeared on Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn LP deals in very similar subject matter. At this point you may want to ask yourself if a song whose first line is “a gnome named Grimble Crumble” is really any more meaningful than Bowie’s titular gnome, probably not (btw this is not a dig at Syd, love that song too!)
Let’s have a listen…
Well I’m not so sure that the puns are that bad….when Bowie asks what’s that clicking noise and the gnome replies “a metrognome”, you can allow yourself a little chuckle surely no? How about the bit when Bowie asks,
“didn’t they teach you to get your hair cut at school? you look like a rolling gnome” and the gnome replies “no, not at the london school of ecognomics” – raise a smile no? The eagle eyed among you may have spotted a double pun going on here as Mick Jagger was indeed a student at LSE – ha, bloomin’ ha!
The single was recorded with Gus Dudgeon, a studio whizz-kid who worked in house for Regal Zonophone, the experimentation with vari-speeded vocals, sound effects and other studio shenanigans stood the pair in good stead for when, two years later, they would record Space Oddity – but that’s another story.
Although Bowie would quickly distant himself from the song, “for a brief period I enjoyed it, but then when the record came out and everyone said how awful it was I realized it was pretty terrible,” he recalled in 1993”, it evidently had some resonance with him, when Dudgeon was tragically killed in a car crash in 2002 Bowie sent flowers to the funeral with a note “farewell to the laughing gnome”.
Recorded on 26 January 1967 and released as Deram DM 123. It flopped upon first release, but reached #6 in the UK when Deram reissued it at the height of Ziggydom in 1973.
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Thanks to Pushing Ahead Of The Dame for some of background