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50 Years Ago: David Bowie Releases Self-Titled Debut Album

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Even though it may seem like David Bowie arrived fully formed, that was hardly the case. The artist who gave birth to “Space Oddity,” “The Jean Genie” and “Heroes” took a while to arrive at those destinations.

Early on, David Jones dished out beat group and mod-inspired songs on early singles like “Liza Jane” (from 1964), “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” (1965) and “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” (1966), but he never settled on one style.

His self-titled debut album, released on June 1, 1967, stands alone as a curiosity with no ties to what he did before or after. The record hit U.K. shops the same day as the Beatles‘ landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it couldn’t have been more different.

There isn’t a whiff of psychedelia or a trace of Carnaby Street pop culture. The vibe instead is steeped in old-time English Music Hall style, somewhere between Broadway and vaudeville — a direct result of the influence of singer and actor Anthony Newley,

The album is full of joy and charm and joy, but it’s also out of sync with the times. Songs like “Uncle Arthur,” “Come and Buy My Toys” and “Love You Til’ Tuesday,” which was released as a single a month after the album’s release but failed to chart, ooze with theatrical bravado. But they have nothing to do with rock ‘n’ roll.

Even though David Bowie was out of place with the pop-music world of 1967, other artists — like the U.S.-born Scott Walker — had success in the U.K. with similar theatrically dramatic songs. Bowie, however, would have to wait a few years for his mainstream breakthrough. Oddly enough, he released a handful of non-LP singles around this time — “Karma Man, “The London Boys” and “London Bye Ta Ta,” among them — that were more suited to the pop and rock climates of the era.

It would be two and a half years before Bowie released another album, also called David Bowie, but renamed Space Oddity in the U.S. after the hit single that finally put him on the path of his legend.

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