David Bowie’s first album is so odd that most historians would rather pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s an evolutionary dead end, musically at least. Bowie’s gone off in some unexpected directions over the decades we’ve known him, but this is the most outlandish. Vaudeville? Music hall? Nursery rhymes, for god’s sake! The big muse was Anthony Newley, whom I know little about, but it seems he occupied a particular niche at the corner of pop and theatre, combining overwrought Broadway-style belting with a braaawwd Cockney accent and the mentality of a flea-bitten (and very British) music hall comic. This style enjoyed a smattering of popularity in the sixties – its influence is clearly felt on records by The Kinks and The Who. But those boys kept their vaudevillian impulses in balance with a smart dose of maximum r’n'b. Why Bowie felt inspired to make his debut a collection of twee ditties almost utterly shorn of rock’n'roll is a mystery. He certainly didn’t find any success with the formula, at least in terms of selling the damn record. It does all seem shocking and strange, and sounds nothing like anything else with Bowie’s name on it, so much so the unprepared listener won’t even recognize the singer. And yet, despite or because of being strange, the Deram songs are really, very, wildly good. All the pieces are there, clothed and masked and disguised as the soundtrack of some West End musical comedy. Bowie already had all his favorite themes in hand. Alienation and dystopia, romance bad and good, vague social commentary, a flair for characterization, innate theatricity, everything’s as it should be on a Bowie record. I do like to imagine what form the little musical would take should anyone ever produce it, and someone should. This one, clearly derives inspiration from some obscure Mother Goose rhymes. Totally unexpected, unprecedented, and unrepeated. Totally charming too, although it’s probably for the best that he didn’t choose to pursue that very much further.