Conversation Piece – demo, 1969

Conversation Piece

This song was demoed in early 1969, along with some of the other songs that ended up on the David Bowie Phillips album (later re-titled ‘Space Oddity’ from 1972 onwards). It starts with an ascending lead guitar riff, playing an enticing bass accompaniment to the song. This turns out to be a false start, Bowie requests they (he and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson) start again, this time Hutch picking pretty, higher notes to blend with Bowie’s rhythm guitar playing.

Bowie then sings a plaintive and beautiful first draft of the Conversation Piece, with all the winsome self-pity, jealousy of others and anger at his situation with passion, and then frailty that was lacking in the more polite, later studio versions (in 1970, on the B side of The Prettiest Star, and on a CD single accompanying the Heathen album, from the Toy sessions from 1999/2000.

It is an emotional piece in this form. Although it’s well documented that Bowie could even at this early stage, take on any demeanour and point of view in song, and switch these swiftly in the same song, this certainly seems semi-autobiographical, reflective of dark days and moods at that time when he was struggling to find gigs and acceptance.

A pleasant demo of An Occasional Dream from these sessions was released on the CD, but not the LP, 40th Anniversary release of ‘Space Oddity’. It featured a more bassy mix, and ran slower than on the ‘Beckenham Oddity’ and later bootlegs of the 1969 demos.

The latter song release shows a strong likelihood that this song is held in high quality by the Bowie estate, and would make a fine and touching addition to any 50th Anniversary edition of ‘Space Oddity’ – perhaps with the additional tracks on a vinyl release this time, or any future ‘rarities’ box set. The first-draft urgency with the rough edges not yet smoothed off feel of it, mean it would be a crime for it not be heard in fine quality more widely.

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