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David Bowie’s Lost Album ‘Toy’ Emerges From the Vaults

2001 album will finally see the light of day on the massive box set ‘David Bowie 5. Brilliant Adventure (1992 – 2001).’ Musicians Earl Slick and Mark Plati tell us about recording the obscure LP

Before David Bowie hit it big with “Space Oddity” in 1969, he spent years on the fringes of the UK recording industry, churning out songs like “I Dig Everything,” “Silly Boy Blue,” and “Liza Jane” that failed to make any impact with the general public. They were completely excised from his live repertoire after Ziggy Stardust turned him into a superstar, and only his most devoted fans familiarized themselves.

But in 2000, he re-recorded several tracks for an album he called Toy, which was ultimately shelved when he left Virgin in 2001. Now, the long-lost album is finally set for release — alongside two discs of outtakes from the sessions — on the box set David Bowie 5. Brilliant Adventure (1992 – 2001) will also include remastered editions of Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia, Outside, Earthling, and ‘hours…’ along with the live album BBC Radio Theatre, London, June 27th, 2000 and the odds and sods collection Re: Call 5. It arrives on November 26th as a seven-CD set, an 18-piece vinyl package, or a digital download.

The roots of Toy go back to the rehearsals for Bowie’s VH1 Storytellers concert in the summer of 1999 when he resurrected his 1965 single “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” for a story about his early days on the British pop music scene with Steve Marriott of the Small Faces.

He hadn’t touched the song in over 30 years and openly cringed at some of his lyric choices (“the worst lines I’ve ever written”), but he loved the new arrangement and it stayed in the setlist when they headed to Europe in the fall. “Joe Elliott from Def Leppard was at a show in Dublin [on November 10th, 1999] and he’s a huge fan,” says Bowie bandleader Mark Plati. “He came backstage and he was gushing about that song. He said, ‘You should do more of those.’”

By the time the band played Glastonbury the following summer, Bowie had his mind set on Toy. “I hate to waste the energy of a show-honed band so I’ve asked one and all if they would like to make an album immediately when we get back to New York,” he wrote to fans in June 2000. “All are in full agreement that they’d like that very much, so I’ve pulled together a selection of songs from a somewhat unusual reservoir and booked time in a studio. I still get really elated by the spontaneous event and cannot wait to sit in a claustrophobic space with seven other energetic people and sing till my tits drop off.”

On Wednesday, the singer’s estate released an official version of Toy track “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving.”

They recorded it at Sear Sound studios in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, which was formerly known as the Hit Factory. Unlike his Nineties records, which were pieced together bit by bit over large periods of time, the band played live in the studio and cut it in a little over two weeks.

“We had been doing a lot of gigs up to that point,” guitarist Earl Slick tells Rolling Stone. “We didn’t have to do a whole lot of thinking about how to approach the songs. We had an operating system; an unspoken one. We hardly ever talked about anything. We’d just look at each other, or David would look at us, and it would just happen.”

The original versions of songs like “Karma Man,” “Hole In The Ground,” “I Dig Everything,” and “Baby Loves That Way” were recorded across several years with a wide variety of musicians and producers. The new arrangements on Toy gave them a cohesive, modern sound.

“If my memory serves me correct, we didn’t really spend much time listening to the old stuff,” says Slick. “I think the only time we listened to that stuff was when he brought them into the studio to have a quick listen. I didn’t even listen to the old recordings. I thought, ‘If we want to do this new, I can’t have the old one stuck in my head.’”

The sessions came after a challenging decade for Bowie where he struggled to find his place in modern music, but the Glastonbury set and the critical response to ‘hours…’ transformed the narrative and Bowie was suddenly a revered elder statesmen, not a fading Seventies and early Eighties icon.

“He was in a great place,” says Plati. “He was about to have a child. He killed it at Glastonbury. Everything was good. It was one of those times where the stars meet and everybody is in a great place in life, and there’s not one person that has an attitude or is a prickly pear.”

They wrapped the album in December 2000 and filed it to EMI/Virgin. But the label was in the middle of a financial meltdown due to the rise of file-sharing, poor global economic conditions, and the disastrous box office performance of Mariah Carey’s Glitter. EMI/Virgin executives didn’t think that a record of Bowie remaking his most obscure songs would do much to stop the bleeding, and they indefinitely shelved it.

Bowie turned his attention to his next album, Heathen, but the Toy experience rankled him and he decided his days with EMI/Virgin were over. “I’ve had one too many years of bumping heads with corporate structure,” he wrote to fans in December 2001. “Many times I’ve not been in agreement with how things are done and as a writer of some proliferation, frustrated at how slow and lumbering it all is.”

Bowie spent the remainder of his career releasing music through his own label ISO (via a distribution deal with Columbia), and Toy became a distant memory. A poor quality version of the album leaked online in 2011, though Plati denies online reports it came from his laptop. “I lost my laptop and they don’t take my social security number or bank info, but they take Toy?” he asks. “I don’t think that’s what happened. I think someone got a rough mix on CD somehow.”

Three songs (“Let Me Sleep Beside You,” “Your Turn to Drive,” and “Shadow Man”) were handpicked by Bowie for his 2014 compilation album Nothing Has Changed, but the rest of album sat in the vault until it was resurrected for the Brilliant Adventure box. Plati was brought on board to help with the process. “Some of it hadn’t been mixed,” he says. “It was a head trip to go back 20 years in time to this stuff. I was really taken with the joy on these tracks, and David’s singing is phenomenal … If there were a shining example of the expression ‘better late than never,’ this is it.”

David Bowie 5. Brilliant Adventure (1992 – 2001) Track List

david bowie brilliant adventure

The Wedding
You’ve Been Around
I Feel Free
Black Tie White Noise (featuring Al B. Sure!)
Jump They Say
Nite Flights
Pallas Athena
Miracle Goodnight
Don’t Let Me Down & Down
Looking for Lester
I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday
The Wedding Song

Buddha of Suburbia
Sex and the Church
South Horizon
The Mysteries
Bleed Like a Craze, Dad
Strangers When We Meet
Dead Against It
Untitled No. 1
Ian Fish, U.K. Heir
Buddha of Suburbia (featuring Lenny Kravitz on guitar)

Leon Takes Us Outside
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
A Small Plot of Land
Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette)” (segue)
Hallo Spaceboy
The Motel
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town
No Control
Algeria Touchshriek (segue)
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (as Beauty)
Ramona A. Stone/I Am with Name (segue)
Wishful Beginnings
We Prick You
Nathan Adler (segue)
I’m Deranged
Thru’ These Architects Eyes
Nathan Adler (segue)
Strangers When We Meet

Little Wonder
Looking for Satellites
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
Seven Years in Tibet
Dead Man Walking
Telling Lies
The Last Thing You Should Do
I’m Afraid of Americans
Law (Earthlings on Fire)

Thursday’s Child
Something in the Air
If I’m Dreaming My Life
What’s Really Happening?
The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell
New Angels of Promise
Brilliant Adventure
The Dreamers

Wild Is the Wind
Ashes to Ashes
This Is Not America
Absolute Beginners
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The London Boys
I Dig Everything
Little Wonder

The Man Who Sold the World
Hallo Spaceboy
Cracked Actor
I’m Afraid of Americans
All the Young Dudes
Let’s Dance

I Dig Everything
You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving
The London Boys
Karma Man
Conversation Piece
Shadow Man
Let Me Sleep Beside You
Hole In The Ground
Baby Loves That Way
Can’t Help Thinking About Me
Silly Boy Blue
Toy (Your Turn To Drive)

CD 2 TOY- Alternatives & Extras

Liza Jane
You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving (alternative mix)
Baby Loves That Way (alternative mix)
Can’t Help Thinking About Me (alternative mix)
I Dig Everything (alternative mix)
The London Boys (alternative version)
Silly Boy Blue (Tibet version)
Let Me Sleep Beside You (alternative mix)
In The Heat Of The Morning
Conversation Piece (alternative mix)
Hole In The Ground (alternative mix)
Shadow Man (alternative mix)
Toy (Your Turn To Drive) (alternative mix)

CD 3 TOY – Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric

In The Heat Of The Morning (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
I Dig Everything (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
The London Boys (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Karma Man (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Conversation Piece (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Shadow Man (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Let Me Sleep Beside You (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Hole In The Ground (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Baby Loves That Way (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Can’t Help Thinking About Me (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Silly Boy Blue (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)
Toy (Your Turn To Drive) (Unplugged & somewhat slightly electric mix)

Real Cool World (Sounds From The Cool World Soundtrack Version)
Jump They Say (7” version)
Lucy Can’t Dance
Black Tie White Noise (feat Al B. Sure!) (Radio Edit)
Don’t Let Me Down & Down (Indonesian Vocal Version)
Buddha Of Suburbia (Single Version) (featuring Lenny Kravitz on guitar)
The Hearts Filthy Lesson (Radio Edit)
Nothing To Be Desired
Strangers When We Meet (edit)
Get Real
The Man Who Sold The World (Live Eno Mix)
I’m Afraid Of Americans (Showgirls Soundtrack Version)
Hallo Spaceboy (Remix)
I Am With Name (Alternative Version)
A Small Plot Of Land (Long Basquiat Soundtrack Version)

Little Wonder (Edit)
A Fleeting Moment (aka Severn Years In Tibet – Mandarin Version)
Dead Man Walking (Edit)
Seven Years In Tibet (Edit)
Planet Of Dreams – David Bowie and Gail Ann Dorsey
I’m Afraid Of Americans (V1 – Edit)
I Can’t Read (The Ice Storm Long Version)
A Foggy Day In London Town – David Bowie and Angelo Badalamenti
Fun (BowieNet Mix)
The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Stigmata Soundtrack Version)
Thursday’s Child (Radio Edit)
We All Go Through
No One Calls

We Shall Go To Town
The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Edit)
Thursday’s Child (Omikron: The Nomad Soul Version)
New Angels Of Promise (Omikron: The Nomad Soul Version)
The Dreamers (Omikron: The Nomad Soul Version)
Seven (Demo)
Survive (Marius De Vries mix)
Something In The Air (American Psycho Remix)
Seven (Marius De Vries Mix)
Pictures Of Lily

From Rolling Stone US