April 14 – The ‘Gnome’nclature Of Kicking Off A Big Career

What a difference a few – or 16- years makes! Today it’s all about The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Starman…aka David Bowie.

On this day in 1983, he put out his smash Let’s Dance, the biggest-selling record of his career. But…it was on this day back in 1967 Bowie put out his first album. That might seem appropriate given his talent and stature in rock history and given that year’s prominence in developing the sound with the likes of Sgt. Pepper… and the emergence of The Doors. Only Bowie’s entry to the scene wasn’t quite that celebrated. In fact, it’s probably fair to say it was pretty bad! Just prior to the album release, his single, “The Laughing Gnome” came out. You’re forgiven if you’re not that familiar with it. It isn’t up there with “Fame” or “A Space Oddity” when it comes to recurrent radio play!

The song was a very odd, “whimsical” tune about, well, a jolly gnome. Bowie sang the regular parts , with reference to “his tiny hands on his tummy” and so forth, as well as the gnome bits. The latter were accomplished by speeding up his voice until it was chipmunk-like, assuring listeners he was the laughing gnome, “Ho ho ho, hee hee hee.” The song would have been buried in the annals of forgettable music had Bowie not gone on to bigger and better. When his star was on the rise, his label re-released it as a single in 1973 in Europe (when “A Space Oddity” , also a re-release, was riding high over here) and remarkably, it got to #6 in the UK! A copy of that 1973 release, by the way, might fetch you something like $20 online but if you have a copy of the original Deram Records , 7” single from 1967, you might ask yourself why? Nonetheless, your surprising taste in music over 50 years back could pay off as apparently there are people who will buy it for around $300, the going rate.

His biographer David Buckley thought it was a “supremely catchy children’s song” but most agreed with the NME which called it the most embarrassing bit of his career.” We expect Bowie agreed with that assessment; when he had a fan vote in 1990 to see what song they wanted added to his “Sound + Vision” concerts, this song was leading. So he scrapped the vote. Seems Bowie got the last laugh, not the gnome

27 thoughts on “April 14 – The ‘Gnome’nclature Of Kicking Off A Big Career

  1. I’ve heard worst first singles from the greats (although at the moment I can’t think of any of them.) lol It reminds me of Leonard Nimoy and the Bilbo Baggins song and William Shatner’s Rocket Man.

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    1. Probably true, and if it was looked at as just a children’s ditty, I suppose it’s not terrible…it’s just so strange coming from a guy who’d become a really serious, ground-breaking artist. If it was Barenaked Ladies, or Cake or someone like that you’d maybe go “not their best but it’s inline with what they do” . Shatner’s an odd one – I’ve heard his ‘Rocketman’, there’s a few minutes I’ll never get back -but I have, I kid you not, his ‘Has Been’ album and…it’s pretty good actually. Mind you he got a lot of help from Ben Folds and Joe Jackson but it’s a decent record that’s a little quirky but not really a joke at all.

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      1. LOL… yeah, I have heard that. Kind of like those 50s 3D movies about tomatoes and aliens… did they intentionally make it that bad or was it something gone awry?

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  2. Badfinger (Max)

    He did have fun with it on a Comedy Relief show before and teased it some by starting it out and stopping. He did have a good sense of humor. I can’t believe his record company did that to him lol….re-releasing it in 73.

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      1. I have to say I’m mostly drawn to Bowie’s early work, the glam rock period in particular. I really love the “Ziggy Stardust” album.

        After the mid-70s/”Young Americans” up the “Tonight” album, I think Bowier always had some good songs. Pretty much anything I’ve heard after “Tonight” is less my cup of tea.

        I know many Bowie fans like “Blackstar” – it just didn’t talk to me. In fact, I listened to it once in its entirety in the evening and didn’t sleep well thereafter. I guess it kind of creeped me out!

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      2. I’m with you on ‘blackstar’… listened to it once online and that was a chore. Heard the single a few more times but it never grabbed me. I give him full credit for being so experimental and diverse but I do kind of think that album would’ve gone “thump” and never been mentioned again were it not for its sad timing. Also think he might have come back with a really great album by now had he been able to stick around here.

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    1. I like some a lot, find some of it quite … less than really appealing … but I respect how he was always changing his sounds. I do know some people who rank him as their favorite musician.

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    1. Good song, though not my favorite of his. But he sure did make some really good records and push the envelope a bit…his androgyny early on probably opened the door just enough for Culture Club to get in and make it big a decade later, and his constant changing probably signaled bands like U2 later that it was ok to not sound identical to yourself for 20 years running!

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