David Bowie’s 10 Greatest Davy Jones–Era Tracks – Rolling Stone
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David Bowie’s 10 Greatest Davy Jones–Era Tracks

Revisit Bowie’s pre-fame days with this round-up of his early-Sixties output

Bowie; Best Davy Jones-Era

Dezo Hoffmann/Rex

Since David Bowie succumbed to cancer on Sunday, there has been no shortage of tributes to his many personae: Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, even Jareth the Goblin King. But few have fully recognized Davy Jones, an English teenager who dreamed of singing American R&B and playing saxophone for Little Richard.

Before he was Bowie, David Robert Jones spent the early Sixties finding his voice by playing in a handful of little-known bands. The music he made during this period has been widely forgotten, but it provides crucial insight into his artistic development. Plus, a lot of it is pretty damn good. Here are 10 of the best Davy (and "Davie") Jones–era tracks by the man we'll always know as David Bowie.

David Bowie; Jones era

“Liza Jane”

Davie Jones with the King Bees, June 1964

The young Jones' first experience in a professional recording studio occurred on August 29th, 1963 during an audition for Decca Records with his band the Kon-Rads. As they had done with the Beatles the previous year, the label passed on the future Ziggy Stardust. Frustrated by the rejection, the 17-year-old quit the group to join a trio of older boys who called themselves the King Bees.

After several months of playing pubs and talent shows, the outfit signed with manager Leslie Conn, who arranged and produced this rocked-up version of the old Southern spiritual "Liza Jane." David Bowie's recording debut had arrived — and it sank without a trace.

David Bowie; Jones era

“Louie, Louie Go Home”

Davie Jones with the King Bees, June 1964

The B-side of "Liza Jane" is a cover of Paul Revere and the Raiders' sequel to the garage-stomp great "Louie Louie." Jones and the Bees were given only a few days to learn the tune, which was little more than a call-and-response jam to pump up an audience. The band lacked the piano that was so central to the original, but it sold the song by laying into the bass-and-drum groove. Future superproducer Glyn Johns engineered the track and put Jones' snarl front and center.

David Bowie; Jones era

“I Pity the Fool”

The Manish Boys, March 1965

Just a month after the commercial failure of "Liza Jane," Jones quit the King Bees to join the bluesy Manish Boys. The band soon caught the attention of Shel Talmy, an independent producer responsible for the early hits of the Kinks and the Who. The Manish Boys' first record with Talmy, a cover of Bobby Bland's 1961 R&B hit "I Pity The Fool," boasted swaggering teenage arrogance in place of Bland's raw emotion. One of the more overtly soulful songs in the entire Bowie canon, it gets a jolt of amplified rock from a young session guitarist named Jimmy Page.

David Bowie; Jones era

“Take My Tip”

The Manish Boys, March 1965

Opening with a slinky walking bass line and Zombies-like organ stabs, "Take My Tip" is the B-side to "I Pity the Fool." Jones' "tip" to attract women is to make a lot of money, and he spits out the lyrical advice with a hipster's knowing sneer. "Gotta get ahead, get a car, fancy clothes, or she'll throw you right off her hook." It's not the best song he ever recorded, but it's the very first Bowie composition ever committed to wax.

David Bowie; Jones era

“That’s Where My Heart Is”

Davie Jones, May–June 1965

Is it flamenco? Merseybeat? Early Cat Stevens? Jones hasn't quite found himself on this acoustic demo, which features a myriad of vocal theatrics and musical styles. Still, it's fascinating to hear him trying on various guises, cultivating the shapeshifting persona that would catapult him to superstardom. The song was shelved until 1991, when it was added to Early On (1964–1966), a collection of rarities.

David Bowie; Jones era

“Bars of the County Jail”

Davie Jones, May–June 1965

Jones does his best Dylan impression on this rambling self-penned folk ballad about a jailed man due to be hanged. His affinity for the American West shines through in the lyrics, with images cribbed from television Westerns. Rather than coming across as hokey, the earnest vocals and sparse instrumentation give the track — also unheard until the release of Early On — a homespun charm. Jones would revisit the Old West when choosing his stage name, taken from Alamo hero Jim Bowie.

David Bowie; Jones era

“You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving Me”

Davy Jones and the Lower Third, August 1965

By the summer of '65, the British music scene had graduated from interpreting American R&B to performing its own amphetamine-fueled anthems. With a new band and a bold new spelling of his first name, Jones went full Mod with "You've Got a Habit of Leaving Me." He'd so embraced the Mod crowd that its official spokesman, Pete Townshend, angrily accused him of ripping off his sound. The song is likely the best-known Davy Jones–era Bowie song, having appeared on the seminal Sixties deep-cut compilation, Nuggets.

David Bowie; Jones era

“Baby Loves That Way”

Davy Jones and the Lower Third, August 1965

It's easy to understand Townshend's displeasure when you hear the song's B-side, which owes a crushing debt to the Who's then-current single "Anyway Anywhere Anyhow." The similarity makes sense given that both songs were produced by Shel Talmy, a key architect of the Mod sound.

Despite his relationship with a number of young artists, Talmy was less than impressed with Jones' songwriting skills: "I honestly didn't think that what he was writing at the time had a snowball's chance in hell of making it," he remembered in later years. "But I thought, 'He's so original and brash.'" Jones intended the chorus to sound like chanting monks — pretty original for 1965.

David Bowie; Jones era

“(Baby) That’s a Promise”

Davy Jones and the Lower Third, October 1965

Later that fall, Jones used the band to record studio demos for a number of his new compositions. Some, including "The London Boys" and "Over the Wall We Go," saw release later in the decade, but this hard-chugging track remains officially unreleased to this day. The cartwheeling guitar figure could be an early foreshadowing of his Seventies classic "Golden Years."

David Bowie; Jones era

“Silly Boy Blue”

Davy Jones and the Lower Third, October–November 1965

Familiar to many from his 1967 debut album, David Bowie, the elegant "Silly Boy Blue" actually dates back to the same sessions that yielded "(Baby) That's a Promise." Lacking the "Be My Baby" drum patterns of the album version, and with vastly different lyrics, this early version is catchy enough to give Lennon and McCartney a run for their money. The song would later be reborn as a pop hymnal, drawing inspiration from Bowie's life-long fascination with Tibetan culture.