Nothing was happening today, at least nothing Beatle-related, at EMI’s studios at the south end of Abbey Road. But if you follow Abbey Road north for about two miles, it cuts west and then back to the east and takes you into West Hampstead, where a little piece of history was unfolding.

At Decca Studios, 20-year-old David Bowie was recording a new single, his eighth. Like everything else he’d done up to this time, it would utterly fail to make him a star:

“The Laughing Gnome” has become notorious as the song that makes people scratch their heads and say, “Really? This is the same guy who made Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, Low, and Scary Monsters? Hmmm.” In an odd historical footnote, “The Laughing Gnome” was rereleased post-Ziggy and went to #6 in the UK charts, much to its creator’s chagrin.

The B side, “The Gospel According to Tony Day,” hardly seems like the work of the same artist. Over a chugging, hypnotic groove, Bowie declaims lyrics about all his lowlife friends and how they’ve disappointed him.

Like “The Laughing Gnome,” “Tony Day” is nonsense — but nonsense with disdainful beatnik élan and a jaundiced worldview, one more in tune with the Bowie of 1975 than the still somewhat hippified David of 1967 (who is also here, chiming in with “Your mind, blow it, blow it”…or is that meant ironically?). “Who needs friends?” sneers David at the end. “Waste of flippin’ time.” And then he metaphorically drops the mic and is gone, back into obscurity for two more years.

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