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50 Years Ago: David Jones Becomes David Bowie

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Hulton Archive, Getty Images

David Robert Jones was born in London on Jan. 8, 1947. But you may know him better as David Bowie.

From an early age, Jones was interested in self-reinvention, which took shape not only in his image, but also with his music and name. In June 1964, he released his first record, a stomping rocker called “Liza Jane.” The single was credited to Davie Jones and the King Bees. In March 1965, a second single, “I Pity the Fool,” was issued, this time under the group name of the Manish Boys.

In August of that year, Jones’ third single appeared, along with another new moniker: Davy Jones and the Lower Third. By early 1966, the transformation was almost complete when the single “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” was released under the name David Bowie With the Lower Third. The final play of the name game was completed in 1966, when “Do Anything You Say” was released in April and “I Dig Everything” in August, and both were credited simply to David Bowie.

For years, the story was that Jones became Bowie so he wouldn’t be confused with the other Davy Jones. But Bowie’s new name was in place before anyone knew who the Monkees were. “Last Train to Clarksville,” the group’s first single, wasn’t released until August 1966; the TV show premiered a month later. Even though David Jones, before he was a Monkee, put out an album under his own name in 1965, it was released only in the U.S. and wasn’t a huge seller. There’s little chance that the future David Bowie was even aware of it. According to legend, he named himself after Jim Bowie, the American pioneer who was handy with a knife.

Still, in 1967, the singer replied to a letter from a fan who wanted to start a U.S. fan club. One of the questions he answered was one about his name. “My real name is David Jones,” he wrote. “And I don’t have to tell you why I changed it.”

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