David Bowie All the Songs

The Story Behind Every Track


By Benoît Clerc

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Album by album and track by track, this first-of-its-kind catalog of David Bowie's entire 50-year and 27-album career tells the story of one of rock's all-time greatest artists.

A lovingly thorough dissection of every album and every track ever released by David Bowie over the span of his nearly 50 year career, David Bowie All the Songs follows the musician from his self-titled debut album released in 1967 all the way through Blackstar, his final album.

Delving deep into Bowie's past and featuring new commentary and archival interviews with a wide range of models, actors, musicians, producers, and recording executives who all worked with and knew the so-called "Thin White Duke", David Bowie All the Songs charts the musician's course from a young upstart in 1960s London to a musical behemoth who collaborated with everyone from Queen Latifah and Bing Crosby, to Mick Jagger and Arcade Fire.

This one-of-a-kind book draws upon years of research in order to recount how each song was written, composed, and recorded, down to the instruments used and the people who played them. Featuring hundreds of vivid photographs that celebrate one of music's most visually arresting performers, David Bowie All the Songs is a must-have book for any true fan of classic rock.




It never fails: Mention David Bowie, and your listener’s face lights up with a big smile. David Bowie, we love him, even if we sometimes know only a handful of his recordings. How do you explain this strange fascination? Is it his unique voice? His androgynous beauty? Or is it simply that his songs speak to the heart? It’s difficult to say because it’s hard to pin down the reasons for the admiration—a better word might be love—that fans have felt for David Bowie since the mid-1970s, when he rose to international rock stardom.

Who was this man, hiding behind the characters of Rainbow Man, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and Nathan Adler? Interviews with the singer himself—frequently described as a chameleon—and the observations of those who worked with him all point to a single truth: This was a man who was generous, accessible, and responsive to others. An (almost) normal man, in his personal life he was far removed from the alien-like image that he sometimes projected for public consumption. His career was quite unusual, though. From the very beginning, in 1964, until his death in 2016, David Bowie worked incessantly, constantly creating new works, adopting new musical trends, and reinventing himself with each new album. He never stopped surprising his fans with his risk-taking.

By establishing the chronology of an extraordinary life and career, David Bowie All The Songs sets out to unravel the mystery of this intriguing singer, tracing the recording sessions of his twenty-six studio albums, as well as his side adventure with Tin Machine, and his many collaborations with various contemporaries in the recording industry. Out of respect for the work created by this demanding artist, only songs recorded and published according to his wishes are discussed in this book. This is why, as connoisseurs will not fail to notice, we have omitted many compositions that never progressed past early demo stages (“Bars of the County Jail,” “That’s Where My Heart Is,” “I’ll Follow You,” “I Want My Baby Back”), songs sung by other artists (“Rupert the Riley,” recorded by Nick King All Stars in 1971) or those published in unorthodox ways (“Ching-A-Ling,” “When I’m Five,” from the promotional film Love You till Tuesday).

From “Liza Jane” to “Lazarus,” David Bowie’s 456 songs tell us more about the man than any traditional biography ever could. A detailed look at his discography sheds light on the lasting legacy of an unforgettable artist. David Bowie All the Songs is a listener’s perfect companion to the catalog of one of the most important recording artists of the last hundred years.

A Note on the Text

In the interest of consistency, compilation albums and box sets featuring Bowie’s works are listed at the end of this book. Only works issued by record labels in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States are included.

Titles issued solely in the maxi 45 rpm format are not considered singles.

The chart listings referenced throughout David Bowie All the Songs, are:

–For the UK: The Official Charts Company

–For the US: The Billboard Hot 100 (singles), The Billboard 200 (albums).

Unless otherwise stated, the references and rankings included herein relate only to a specific album’s first edition.


Born in Brixton, South London, on January 8, 1947, David Robert Jones emerged into a Britain that was still recovering from the effects of the war years. Clement Attlee was the prime minister, and it was a time of deep social and economic hardship that saw rationing of food after a winter with unusual amounts of snow and freezing temperatures caused significant damage to agriculture across the country. David’s father, Haywood Stenton Jones, better known as John, had worked since 1935 as a public relations officer for the children’s charity Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. Praiseworthy as this type of work was, his past was rather murky. Earlier in his life, David’s father had been the owner of two clubs and it was in one of them, the Boop-a-Doop club, that he met a singer named Hilda Louise Sullivan, who was to become his first wife in 1933. A few years later, Hilda adopted a little girl, Annette, who was the result of John’s liaison with another woman. John’s marriage to Hilda ended in 1945 when he met Margaret “Peggy” Mary Burns, who was an employee at the Ritz, a cinema in Tunbridge Wells, which is a small town in western Kent, located about thirty miles to the south of London. Even before his divorce to Hilda had been finalized, John went to live with his new partner in Kentish Town, moving not long afterward to Brixton. John and Peggy officially married in 1947.

Elvis, Dean Moriarty, and Little Richard: David’s Early Influences

In 1953, the Jones family moved to Bromley in South London. The household expanded rapidly when Annette came to live with her father, soon to be joined by Terry, a second child born to Peggy shortly before the war. Terry’s father was a Frenchman who quickly disappeared from Peggy’s life, and this new half brother was to play an important role in young David’s artistic development. In particular, Terry gave David a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, thereby introducing David to the countercultural movement emerging on the other side of the Atlantic, as personified by Kerouac’s character Dean Moriarty, who became the standard bearer of the Beat Generation. The young David Jones’s introduction to rock ’n’ roll also came through Terry, who played him Elvis Presley’s early singles, including the famous “That’s All Right,” which was itself a cover of blues musician Arthur Crudup’s original. But it was not only Elvis and the advent of this new music from America that was exciting for young David; indeed, he was fascinated by everything about the United States.

In 1955, Terry joined the Royal Air Force while David started at Burnt Ash Junior in Bromley, which was a school where music had an important place. Here he met Geoffrey MacCormack, someone who was to be one of his best friends and later a close artistic collaborator.

In 1957, the ten-year-old David discovered the musician who was to change his life: singer and pianist Little Richard, who had recently starred in two films from the United States. In Charles S. Dubin’s movie Mister Rock and Roll, this extraordinary musician with the narrow mustache performed his single “Lucille” with a backing group that included three saxophones accompanying him in synchronized movements. It was an image that stayed with David Jones, who would reveal years later that Little Richard had immediately inspired him to play the sax in a group of his own one day. Little Richard also performed “The Girl Can’t Help It” in Frank Tashlin’s movie of the same name, a number that immediately became an American rock ’n’ roll classic.

In the autumn of 1958, David started at Bromley Technical High School (Bromley Tech) where the curriculum included fashion and art. It was here that he wrote his first songs. Like many young musicians, he started out with a cheap ukulele. Skiffle was a popular musical genre of the day; it was often played on improvised instruments while standing up, and it was inspired by blues, jazz, and American folk music. David made himself a double bass with a tea chest, a broom handle, and a piece of string. By varying the tension on the string, it was possible to modify the pitch of the notes. Now officially a bass player, he formed a duo with George Underwood, his new guitar-playing friend whom he had gotten to know the previous year through the Scout Group at St. Mary’s Church in Bromley. In the summer of 1959, while spending a weekend on the Isle of Wight, Bowie played his first concert, performing classics like “Puttin’ on the Style” (recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1925 and popularized in Britain by Lonnie Donegan in 1957). The very successful B-side of Donegan’s skiffle single “Gamblin’ Man” was also covered by the duo. It was also around this time that Terry returned from his stint in the army, but he came back a very different person: He was withdrawn and often sullen. It was not long before he was diagnosed as bipolar, which forced David to reflect on some troubling aspects of the family’s past. His maternal grandmother had also shown signs of psychological disturbance, as had his aunt Nora, who was eventually lobotomized.

Bromley Tech: David Jones’s First Playground

Wanting to know more about the roots of an American culture that had begun to obsess him, David was soon exploring jazz and jazz’s pioneering players, including Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and King Curtis. The influence of these last two, in particular, was to prove crucial in the young man’s artistic evolution. His love of the saxophone, the instrument that crops up throughout his career and featured in a significant number of his songs, dates back to this formative time.

Returning to school after the summer of 1960, David Jones and George Underwood found themselves assigned to the same class. The new term also marked the arrival of a new art teacher, Owen Frampton. He encouraged amateur projects and invited his pupils to bring their musical instruments to school. His son, Peter Frampton, also attended Bromley Tech beginning in 1962, and he went on to become a British rock star in his own right, with hits including “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Show Me the Way.” Recalling those years spent alongside the future Bowie, Frampton later said: “My dad would hide the guitars in the office that we’d brought to school, and at lunchtime we’d get them out and that was when I learned my first Eddie Cochran song, ‘C’mon Everybody,’ which was taught to me by David.”1

But to return to 1960: David was beginning to develop a taste for fashion and aesthetic excesses of every kind. “His appearance was always a little bit out of the way from the point of view of normal school dress,”2 Owen Frampton was to say, having recognized the boy as someone very original, who was endowed with an artistic sense that needed to be nurtured. David was also interested in the bizarre and esoteric novels of Frank Edwards and the unusual figures featuring in his 1961 book, Strange People. H. G. Wells, who coincidentally also grew up in Bromley, was also a favorite author of young David, who tore through such masterpieces as The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, published in 1897 and 1898, respectively. The mysterious, almost phantasmagoric universes and larger-than-life characters that sprang forth from these classic texts had a lasting influence on the budding artist, one that would manifest itself in the composition of many of his later hits.

While his best friend, George Underwood, had just set up the Kon-rads, a fledgling group that performed cover versions of rock numbers, David was busy discovering the saxophone. For Christmas in 1961, his father gave him an acrylic Grafton model that was molded out of plastic. Though grateful, only a month later David managed to persuade his father to get him a brass model, this time a Conn, which was made in America and produced a fuller and far more professional sound. Around the same time, David also discovered that an up-and-coming saxophonist named Ronnie Moss was listed in the phone book and lived in Orpington, which wasn’t too far from the center of Bromley. The young musician plucked up his courage and called Moss on the phone, quickly asking about taking private lessons. The saxophone eventually became closely associated with the man who was to become David Bowie, even if his teacher would later comment with amusement on his pupil’s less than impressive early ability: “I showed him how to blow, how to breathe and a little about how to read music. I told him that sax playing was all about the sound you had in your mind, not just reproducing notes on a paper. […] He had about eight lessons, one every two weeks. […] He came for about sixteen weeks […] and then he disappeared. […] I don’t know if he ever played much after that, but from the dreadful noise he makes on Lulu’s record ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ I shouldn’t think he did.”3

The Kon-rads and Stage Baptism

On February 12, 1962, a fight broke out between David and George on the grounds of Bromley Tech. The cause of the quarrel was a certain Carol Goldsmith, who had caught the attention of both boys. An unlucky punch from Underwood wounded his rival’s left eye and the fight was quickly broken up. Two days later, realizing that his eye was not improving, David went to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, where he underwent an operation. Attempts to repair a torn retina were unsuccessful and his left pupil was to remain permanently dilated, giving the impression, often repeated in the press, that his eyes were different colors. In fact, this was just an illusion created by his permanently dilated retina. From that time, David suffered from anisocoria (pupils of differing sizes). Despite this incident, he never blamed Underwood or held the injury against him. Indeed, this unfortunate experience seems to have brought the two boys closer together. History does not relate what happened to the lovely Carol Goldsmith…

In June 1962, George Underwood invited David to play the saxophone in his group, the Kon-rads. On June 16, David took part in a concert on the steps of Bromley Tech as part of a festival organized by the school. The group played cover versions of songs by the Shadows, which were well received, and the musicians making up the group—Underwood on vocals, Neville Wills and Alan Dodds on guitars, Rocky “Shahan” Chaudhari on bass, and Dave Crook on drums—were happy to welcome their newest member. During the summer of 1962, the Kon-rads performed locally, gradually becoming better known. Their set list consisted mostly of covers (including Little Richard’s “Lucille,” Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby,” and Chuck Berry’s classic hit “Johnny B. Goode”) and a few original compositions. It was at this time that David took on his first stage name: Dave Jay. Soon after adopting this new moniker, and when he wasn’t playing his favorite instrument on the cover version of Glenn Miller’s famous “In the Mood,” Dave Jay began taking up the mic and doing the vocals for two other numbers: Curtis Lee’s “A Night at Daddy Gee’s” and Joe Brown’s “A Picture of You.”

On October 13, 1962, David and his friend George spent an unforgettable evening at the Granada Theatre in Woolwich, England, where their idol Little Richard was performing alongside the Tridents, Gene Vincent, and Sam Cooke. Blues, rock ’n’ roll, and soul music came together in a concert that had a lasting effect on the two friends. Underwood remembers: “When Little Richard was performing, we thought he’d had a heart attack. […] He did this amazing thing where he stood on this white grand piano, and then started to make groaning sounds and holding his heart. […] So he fell onto the stage, lying there with the microphone right by his side. […] All of a sudden Little Richard lifted his head up and shouted ‘Awapbopaloobop Alopbamboom!’ and the crowd went mad. David was flabbergasted, and he obviously never forgot it.”1 At the same time, the concert presented the young David Jones with a dilemma. With the humor and self-deprecation that became a leading characteristic of the man he would become, Bowie would later say: “I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to play jazz or rock ’n’ roll. And as I wasn’t very good at jazz and I could fake it pretty well on rock ’n’ roll, I played rock ’n’ roll.”4

As the Kon-rads became more ambitious, some changes were made to the group. The drummer, Dave Crook, was ousted and replaced by a newcomer, Dave Hadfield. This decision enraged George Underwood, who decided to hand over the mic to Roger Ferris. Two additional singers also joined the group: sisters Stella and Christine Patton. The Kon-rads were now complete.

Those fans who have devoured the many biographies devoted to David Robert Jones will have noticed how “Kon-rads” is sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not. We know that the hyphen should be there since, as can be seen in group photos, the face of Dave Hadfield’s bass drum displays the words “The Kon-rads.” It appears again with the hyphen on all the publicity material produced by the musicians in 1962 (including on a Christmas card signed by all the members of the band and giving the address of their manager and drummer, Dave Hadfield).

In February 1963, the group’s new lineup was captured in a photo session organized by David’s father on the stage of a hall adjacent to the Dr. Barnardo’s offices in central London at 18-26 Stepney Causeway. The official Dr. Barnardo’s photographer, Roy Ainsworth, was requisitioned for the occasion. Now a stable and professional group, the photos show the musicians holding their instruments and standing proudly behind their elegant lead singer and two backing singers—all three of whom are dressed in white.

Discovering the Blues

In July 1963, David left Bromley Tech with a diploma in art in his pocket. He found a job as a junior paste-up artist with the advertising agency Nevin D. Hirst on New Bond Street in London. By now, David was concentrating fully on his rock group, and this day job did not suit his ambitions. It had certain advantages, however, chief among them the fact that the offices were situated in the heart of a fast-changing city. The neighborhood shop windows displayed all the latest fashions, there were art galleries nearby, and David’s kindly employer regularly sent him out to buy discs at Dobells, a shop in the Charing Cross section of London that was famous for its stock of rare imports from the United States. Specializing in jazz and folk, the shop enabled the young graphic designer to discover American artists like John Lee Hooker, Dr. John, and Bob Dylan, and Bowie was quick to share his enthusiasm with George Underwood, with whom he was still very close. During the summer, the two friends formed a short-lived group with a drummer named Viv. His surname is not known, although numerous sources assert that he was Viv Andrews, the first drummer with Pretty Things. The trio performed a few concerts under the names of Dave’s Reds & Blues, and then the Hooker Brothers.

On September 21, 1963, the Kon-rads gave a concert in the Orpington Civic Hall, near Bromley. Their singer, Roger Ferris, was violently attacked by leather-jacketed youths who were heavily influenced by American culture and images of biker gangs. Without a moment’s hesitation, David, who was already confident behind a mic, took over on vocals. Ferris had this to say about the new division of labor: “He was already doing two or three numbers on his own. I remember he used to do ‘Lucille,’ the Little Richard song, because there was no way I could get my voice up to that point.”5 Among the audience that evening was Bob Knight, who was working as the assistant to Eric Easton, the manager of an up-and-coming group called the Rolling Stones. Knight admired the Konrads and introduced them to his boss. Fortune smiled on the musicians who were quickly booked to audition at Decca Studios for Decca Records. The audition took the form of a performance in a TV talent show Ready, Steady, Win. The prize for the winner was a contract with the prestigious Decca label. Easton and Knight were present but were not impressed by the group’s rendering of their new song, “I Never Dreamed.” An acetate recording was made at the time, but it didn’t resurface until 2018, when its owner, Dave Hadfield, offered it for sale in an auction of his collection. This failed audition led to an impasse within the Kon-rads. The group refused to incorporate David’s taste in music, as he was increasingly leaning toward Detroit soul music from the Motown label. The singer-saxophonist felt he had no choice, and so in October he left the Kon-rads to pursue new musical avenues.

Leslie Conn and the King Bees Adventure

At the beginning of 1964, David got to know a trio from Fulham in West London. The group called themselves the King Bees, and they consisted of drummer Robert Allen, guitarist Roger Bluck, and bass player Dave Howard. Fans of American blues music, the group had taken its name from the song “I’m a King Bee” written by singer and harmonica player Slim Harpo. Harpo also served as a major influence on the Rolling Stones, who covered “I’m a King Bee” on their first album. David joined the trio, taking his role as lead singer very seriously and changing his stage name once again—this time to Davie Jones. It was not long before he recruited his friend George Underwood as co-singer and guitarist, and soon concert posters were plastered all over the city announcing “Davie Jones with the King Bees.” Davie Jones’s preferred musical style was now the blues, and the set list included standard blues numbers such as Muddy Waters’s “Got My Mojo Working” and “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and, of course, the famous “I’m a King Bee,” with Underwood on the harmonica.

The number of small concerts the group performed steadily increased, but they only made a few pounds for each performance, and that was on a good day. The group’s front man was nevertheless optimistic. In March 1964, David decided to approach John Bloom, a media-friendly businessman who owned a laundry empire. Without Bloom’s financial backing, the group could not survive. So, with the help of his father, David wrote a letter to Bloom that bore all the marks of bold and insolent youth: “With your money you could do for us what Brian Epstein has done for the Beatles and you would make another million for yourself.”3 Intrigued by this missive, but aware that he was no great expert in matters of rock ’n’ roll, Bloom turned down the request. What he did do, however, was send his young correspondent a telegram with the phone number of a valuable contact in the music industry: Leslie Conn. Conn was the British manager of Doris Day’s recordings, and he agreed to meet Davie Jones and his King Bees. Impressed by the singer’s energy, a rather unusual audition was arranged. Leslie Conn suggested to the King Bees that they come to play at John Bloom’s wedding anniversary at the Jack of Clubs in Soho. The performance was badly received: All those present seemed to disapprove of this amateurish and uncertain blues-rock. Bloom shouted: “Get ’em off! They’re ruining my party!”3 David ended up in tears and was consoled by Conn, who assured him that even if the guests were skeptical, he himself had been very impressed by their performance. Soon after, Leslie Conn became David “Davie” Jones’s manager. But while he agreed to work with the King Bees, the group was never named in the contract.

“Liza Jane,” Davie Jones’s First Single

In May 1964, Conn engineered the much-coveted entrée with Decca Studios for Davie Jones and the King Bees. The manager had negotiated a contract for the recording of a single plus a B-side. The group recorded “Liza Jane” and “Louie, Louie Go Home,” and the disc came out on June 5, 1964, on Vocalion Pop, which was one of Decca’s many labels. It should be noted that the score of “Liza Jane” was published at the same time under Vocalian as the result of a typo. Another interesting point about this early recording is that although the group performed their own arrangement of an earlier blues song, it was credited to Leslie Conn. Business is business, it seems, and so the manager registered the title in his own name. Focused on taking on rock critics and the public at large, David chose to see beyond quarrels about author’s rights and opted to overlook this matter.

Probably aware of John Bloom’s patronage of the group—even if he had gotten angry with them on his wedding anniversary—the press reception was enthusiastic. However, the disc’s first airing on the BBC, on the program Juke Box Jury, was panned by a jury consisting of comedian Charlie Drake, actors Diana Dors and Jessie Matthews, and music producer Bunny Lewis. They all, with the exception of Drake, voted “Liza Jane” a “flop”! On June 19, David and his group appeared on the stage at Television House, Kingsway, as part of Ready Steady Go!, the great rival of the BBC’s Top of the Pops. This was the first time the group had played live on television, and this much-longed-for day was made unforgettable by the guest appearance of John Lee Hooker, whom both Jones and Underwood fervently idolized.

David’s motivation was in no way dented by the lukewarm reception given to the “Liza Jane” single and the harsh judgment of Juke Box Jury. Heedless of perceived failure or disappointment, he decided it was time to leave his job at Nevin D. Hirst. He had made up his mind: From now on he would devote himself to his musical career. He moved from the suburbs to London. Years later he gave a graphic description of suburban life: “You find yourself in the middle of two worlds: there’s the extreme values of people who grew up in the countryside and the very urban feel of the city. In suburbia, you’re given the impression that nothing culturally belongs to you, that you are sort of in this wasteland.”7 Although still benefiting from the moral and financial support provided by his father, David was determined to provide for himself as best he could in order to achieve his dreams. Unable to offer any lucrative recording contracts, Leslie Conn hired him to do some painting and decorating at his offices on Denmark Street. David went along with this, and he was helped by another artist in the Conn stable: Mark Feld. David seemed to enjoy the company of this lively and original young man. Their paths would soon cross again when Feld appeared onstage under a new name: Marc Bolan, before going on to become one of the icons of the glam rock scene with his group, T. Rex.

The Manish Boys, the First Backing Band

Taking advantage of his newly acquired freedom now that he lived in the city, David could usually be found recording his first demos in his bedroom, or wandering around Denmark Street, which was known as “Tin Pan Alley.” Here he could meet the denizens of so-called Swinging London, including musicians, designers, and artists of every kind. It was not unusual to see him in La Gioconda, a café next to the Central Sound Recording Studios. Young people gathered in this cramped space to discuss ideas in the hopes of remaking the world and planning the imminent British Invasion.


On Sale
Apr 5, 2022
Page Count
624 pages

Benoît Clerc

About the Author

Author and composer Benoît Clerc has been a professional musician for over fifteen years. In addition to writing Queen All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, Clerc also composes music for film and television. In 2018, Benoit formed his own production company, Tivoli Songs. 

Learn more about this author