Over The Wall We Go (1966) and
Little Toy Soldier (1967)

The Laughing Gnome is often seen as a tittersome side-trip in the Bowie canon, a brazen attempt to get the kiddy-friendly market in the manner of Anthony Newley's Strawberry Fair and Tommy Steele's Little White Bull, with Bowie going for broke with gnome-based puns, novelty varispeeded vocals and a nod in the direction of Hello Children Everywhere favourite The Laughing Policeman.

As Bowie himself once admitted, had the 1967 model Bowie made it big, he wouldn't have just written one Laughing Gnome, he would have done a whole album's worth.

That's not too far from the truth, as it is far from the only skeleton in the Dame's closet from this period of Bowie arcana. A few months previously, he penned a similarly jaunty singalong called Over The Wall We Go. A solo demo of this song has been doing the rounds since it appeared on a 1980s bootleg EP, The Bowie Showboat, and it gained an official release when it was recorded by one Oscar Bueselnick, better known to you and me as actor and singer Paul "Hello Pen" Nicholas, whose 1970s pop singles could almost be Bowie's dark shadow, if you imagine what a Bowie who never discovered Lou Reed would sound like...

The song appears to be a droll stab at a Christmas novelty record, inspired by tabloid stories of jailbreak attempts in prisons across the country, being a raucous singalong about feckless crims plotting to go "over the wall" in time to see their Mothers for Christmas.

Bowie sings the whole song in character, each verse giving him an opportunity to get his love of BBC Radio comedy and Cook & Moore out of his system, notably "fick 'Enery" who channels Army Game-era Bernard Bresslaw and one version sang in a Ringo-style Scouse deadpan, and a roll-call middle eight where (on the Paul Nicholas version) he essays a particularly camp cameo as one of the inmates, with a limp-wisted, "Hi..." as 33425.

Did I say camp? Yes, before Queen Bitch, this is certifiably Bowie's first flirtation with a camp sensibility, albeit in the Round The Horne fashion of risque interplay rather than the crepescular demi monde of his Warhol-influence period. Take, for example, the following verses from the Oscar version:

I know all the best ways to break out of here
I helped a young laddie called Ivan
I bundled him over the wall last night
Then he climbed back and he grabbed me tight
He uttered some words that I can't say to you
'Cause he remembered that he was a screw

My name is Henry though some say I'm thick
I've spent half me life in and out of the nick
My mum sends me presents to keep me in style
Soggy old cakes and hundreds of files
Now I sussed all them files I'm a clever young man
Now I look stupid with manicured hands

My name is Reggie the scandalous mind
I got seven years so I gossip my time
I gave all the tickbits and pieces of newt
I'm a privileged corpse and my uniform is blue
The new lads would ask me if I am a screw
I'll tell them "Oh cheeky not even for you"

Bowie's own home demo also has the suggestion that the wardens are heartbroken once their jailbirds have flown the coop with the chrous lyric "Nobody's left and the screws are in tears" and the following exchange, in Bowie's best clipped BBC voice:

"Double 3, 429, Double 3, 429, where is he?"
"He went out for a cup of tea at the local football match, Sir."
"Oh... well he might have invited me..."

More of a table wine, than a vintage, and no more retrogressive than the camp stereotype that was popular at the time, and somewhat typical given homosexuality was something the general public were having to come to terms with, as the 1967 Sexual Offences Act legislated the Wolfenden Report's recommendations that gay men be allowed to practise consensual sex "in private".

So-called deviant behaviour took a more bizarre turn in a 1967 studio recording with The Riot Squad, a band Bowie fronted for a brief period, where he adopted Lou Reed's Venus In Furs to an actionable degree - the "taste the whip" refrain is lifted wholesale - and transformed it into a demented nursery rhyme song about a young girl called Sadie who would wind up her toy soldier so that it would whip her repeatedly. It all ends unhappily, with the automaton beating little Sadie to death, and ends in an explosion in the toybox sourced from BBC sound effects records, a recording of the speaking clock to fade...

Once upon a time there was a toy soldier
And he lived in the playroom
Once upon a time there was a toy soldier
With a whiplash in his hand

And every night little girl Sadie would take all her clothes off
And wind up the toy soldier
And he'd raise his whip and say to her:

"On your knees, little Sadie
Little Sadie on your knees
Taste the whip and love not given lightly
Taste the whip and bleed for me"

Little Sadie loved her little toy soldier
And she'd run home from school each day
Little Sadie loved her little toy soldier
And she'd lock the door so she could play

Little Sadie got ambitious
And wound the clockwork soldier tighter
So he could whip her harder and harder

"On your knees, little Sadie
Little Sadie on your knees
Taste the whip and love not given lightly
Taste the whip and bleed for me"

One day, Sadie wound and wound
And wound and wound
And wound and wound

Till suddenly... the little toy soldier's spring went
(boing) (screams)

And he beat her to death! (explosions) (nose blowing)

(Speaking Clock)
"At the first stroke it will be two twenty-one and twenty seconds"

Both these recordings can be found on the superb bootleg CD, The Forgotten Songs of David Robert Jones, with Little Toy Soldier appearing on a Record Store Day EP and Oscar's version of Over The Wall We Go on the Bowie collaborations compilation Oh! You Pretty Things: The Songs Of David Bowie. The Bewlay Brothers they ain't, but they are interesting curios of Bowie juvenilia.

19th January 2014.