The London Boys

This is the single greatest David Bowie song you’ve never heard of. How it’s not considered a canonical classic, I can’t comprehend. It’s also one of his most directly personal. The young Bowie first met the London boys in the early sixties, after leaving the uncool suburb of Bromley, and quickly failed to become the toast of the Mod scene. The bands he started all failed, and his solo records failed just as hard. These failed attempts to fit in and be on-trend were a bitter experience, or at least a disappointing one. David Bowie is not someone who follows the It Thing; he initiates the It Thing. His days with the cliquish and trendy Mods taught him that. In this song he pours out his disillusionment with the cool boys and their cool scene. A few years later he would be equally let down by the hippies and their idealism; that disappointment would inspire Cygnet Committee. The London Boys, like all of his pre-Space Oddity material, has been dismissed as youthful weirdness. A grave misjudgment. Bowie himself saw the value of this and other songs from the time, and in 2001 started work rerecording many of them with edgier arrangements. That project was scrapped because of a record label dispute, but that didn’t stop prevent it from appearing online. Corny early singles like Liza Jane and I Dig Everything benefited from improved production and a harder sound. This song, being already perfect, didn’t. The older Bowie’s rendition is more rueful and sad, but it doesn’t match the fresh anguish of the original. When he first sang it, his frustration towards the Mods still stung. In 2001, not so much.


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