When we last checked in with Peter Noone, he and his Hermits were gettin’ down at the natural history museum. Three years later, interestingly enough, Noone would release the first version of David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things,” a song that would be included on Bowie’s 1971 album, Hunky Dory. Bowie himself would play piano on Noone’s version, which begins straight away with the chorus:
Peter Doggett, in The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s, gives us the back story —
“Bowie had spent years attempting to craft hit singles for other performers, his failure a cause of much frustration for his loyal publishers. As part of Tony Defries’ “new broom” approach to his client’s career, Bowie signed a five-year publishing deal with Chrysalis Music in October 1970, thereby removing his new songs from David Platz’s Essex Music and assigning them to a newly-formed Chrysalis affiliate, Titanic Music. Under the contract, Bowie was given an advance of five thousand pounds (20 percent of which went straight to his managers), a very substantial sum for the time. He was now freed from the necessity to scrape a living on the road and was able to concentrate on his songwriting.
‘All of a sudden, all these great songs started appearing,’ recalled Chrysalis executive, Bob Grace. ‘We used to do all his demos at the Radio Luxembourg studios in London, which was cheap, and that suited us, because David was writing so much stuff.’ ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ was one of the first songs Bowie completed under the new deal, and Grace took the demo tape to the Midem music business gathering, where he gave it to producer, Mickie Most. Within a matter of weeks, Bowie had finally achieved his aim of writing a hit for another artist, with a song that was vividly personal.”
Singular or Plural? Only the publisher knows for sure
Bowie’s own version of the song would not enjoy single release, even though he would film a mimed performance of the song in 1972 at BBC studios for its musical television series, The Old Grey Whistle Test – a video clip that was not broadcast until ten years later, bafflingly enough. Perhaps this video was kept in the can due to the spectacularly outlandish mutton chops of bassist, Trevor Bolder (on much better display in Bowie’s Top of the Pops performance of “Starman“) — we may never truly know why.