Most accounts of David Bowie’s 1967 self-titled debut spend a great deal of time focusing on how unlike anything else in his subsequent catalog it is, sounding very much a product of its time and a far cry from his more revered albums of the following decades. But what is overlooked in this oversimplified analysis is that David Bowie contains the manifold seeds from which early albums like Hunky Dory, The Man Who Sold the World and David Bowie/Space Oddity would spring.

Indeed, anyone even remotely familiar with any of these three albums will be able to hear bits and pieces of what was to come on songs like “Love You Till Tuesday,” “There Is a Happy Land” and “She’s Got Medals.” Anyone looking for signs of Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke or any number of Bowie’s myriad personae will find themselves at a loss. But the same could be said about The Man Who Sold the World or David Bowie/Space Oddity. Saying that David Bowie sounds nothing like anything else in Bowie’s catalog or is a weak outlier or something far worse is simply lazy and placing too much stock in a particular period of his career.

The fact of the matter is, Bowie was an ever-changing musical chameleon who ran through each and every sound and style that caught his fancy, making for a wildly diverse catalog whose only through line was his inimitable voice. It’s not like you could listen to anything on David Bowie blindfolded and not immediately be able to tell who it is. Even with this, his debut, Bowie’s vocal persona was firmly established and light years away from any of his peers. It only stands to reason that he would take this fully realized approach to increasingly higher and more artistically forward-thinking heights as his career progressed. Expecting to hear the David Bowie of 1972 or 1977 or 1984 or 1996 or 2016 in 1967 is simply absurd. Had he remained in the same place from start to finish, he would not have become the iconoclast he ultimately became. So dismissing his debut as less than is simply lazy and not giving the album its due.

To be sure, David Bowie is very much a product of its time, all peace-and-love and early psychedelia, music hall and esoteric folk music melded together into something bemusing. “There’s a special place in the rhubarb fields underneath the leaves/ It’s a secret place and adults aren’t allowed there, Mr. Grownup/ Go away, sir” from “There Is a Happy Land” is an antecedent to any number of the lesser revered tracks on David Bowie/Space Oddity, a more childlike “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” for instance, or “Letter to Hermione,” both tracks in which Bowie takes a first-person narrative approach that plays with language in a way that immediately set him apart from his peers.

But it also contains the forward-thinking lyrical examination of gender-bending, “She’s Got Medals.” This, for the time, rather atypical subject matter helps illustrate where Bowie’s mind was as early as the late-‘60s, nearly half a decade before he fully embraced his own gender-bending persona, first on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World and, in his ultimate display of gender ambiguity, the Ziggy Stardust character. In this, Bowie shows, from the start, that he was far more progressive than many of his peers ideologically, if not necessarily musically.

David Bowie, of course, isn’t among some of Bowie’s best work, but it does offer a number of tantalizing glimpses into what was to come. Not all of them work, admittedly. “We Are Hungry Men” and “Please Mr. Gravedigger” are weird as fuck, but they still sound in keeping with the tradition of early Bowie when he was experimenting with sound and form and the possibilities of what a pop song could – or even should – be. It’s these types of sonic experimentations that would help inform the remainder of his career, a sort of playfulness and adventuresome nature that would inform his subsequent albums and chameleonic personae. In other words, David Bowie makes it plain from the start that David Bowie had the potential to be a capital A Artist capable of anything, refusing to be penned in by expectations of any sort – lyrical, musical or otherwise – instead choosing to follow his own idiosyncratic music and muse wherever he saw fit.

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