The Laughing Gnome

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"The Laughing Gnome"
Single by David Bowie
B-side "The Gospel According to Tony Day"
Released 14 April 1967 (1967-04-14)
Format 7" single
Recorded Decca Studios, London on 26 January 1967
Genre Psychedelic pop
Length 3:01
Label Deram (DM 123)
Writer(s) David Bowie
Producer(s) Mike Vernon
David Bowie singles chronology
"Rubber Band"
(1966)
"The Laughing Gnome"
(1967)
"Love You Till Tuesday"
(1967)
Alternative cover

"The Laughing Gnome" is a song by English musician David Bowie, released as a single on 14 April 1967. A pastiche of songs by one of Bowie's early influences, Anthony Newley, it was originally released as a novelty single on Deram Records in 1967. The track consisted of the singer meeting and conversing with the creature of the title, whose sped-up voice (created by Bowie and studio engineer Gus Dudgeon) delivered a number of puns on the word "gnome".[1] At the time, "The Laughing Gnome" failed to provide Bowie with a much-wanted chart placing.[2]

William Mann's contemporary review of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band referred to "The Laughing Gnome" as "a heavy-handedly facetious number which ... steadfastly remained the flop it deserved to be".[3] NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray later described it as "Undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenalia".[4] However, Bowie biographer David Buckley has called "The Laughing Gnome" a "supremely catchy children's song" and compared it to contemporary material by Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett,[1] while Nicholas Pegg considered that "the world would be a duller place without it".[2]

The song became a hit when reissued in 1973, in the wake of Bowie's commercial breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and the US reissue of his 1969 hit "Space Oddity". Despite it being radically different from his material at the time, the single made No. 6 in the UK charts[1] and was certified silver in the UK (250,000 copies sold),[5] which according to NME's Carr and Murray left Decca Records as "about the only unembarrassed party".[4] A second reissue in 1982 was not as successful, failing to chart.

In 1990, Bowie announced that the set list for his "greatest hits" Sound+Vision Tour would be decided by telephone voting, and music magazine NME made a concerted effort to rig the voting so Bowie would have to perform "The Laughing Gnome" (with the slogan "Just Say Gnome"), but the voting system was scrapped.[2][6]

The mono single and its flip side were given a stereo remix in July 2009 at Abbey Road Studios for the 2010 double-disc "deluxe" package of Bowie's debut album. According to the sleeve notes, "The Laughing Gnome" was recorded at Decca Studios No. 2 on 26 January, 7 February and 10 February 1967.[7]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "The Laughing Gnome" (Bowie) – 3:01
  2. "The Gospel According to Tony Day" (Bowie) – 2:48

Production credits[edit]

Producer
Musicians

Cover versions[edit]

  • Ronnie Hilton - B-side of his cover single "If I Were a Rich Man" (1967); also on the compilation Oh! You Pretty Things: The Songs of David Bowie (2006)
  • Living Room - Ashes to Ashes: A Tribute to David Bowie (1998)
  • Buster Bloodvessel - Diamond Gods: Interpretations of Bowie (2001)

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

  • "The Laughing Gnome" was frequently cited in the comic strip Great Pop Things, where it was described satirically as a "mod anthem". Whenever Bowie would be featured in the strip there would always be some reference to the song, usually in the form of a pun.
  • Roger Taylor of Queen referenced the song in the opening lyrics of "No More Fun" from his album Electric Fire: "From the Stairway to Heaven to The Laughing Gnome, it's a mighty long way down Rock 'n' Roll... We got no more fun."
  • On BBC Radio 2 comedy panel show And the Winner Is, the song was recommended by David Schneider for the award of the "Worst Song by an Otherwise Reputable Artist".

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination — David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.35-36,43-44
  2. ^ a b c Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.118
  3. ^ The Times (29 May 1967)
  4. ^ a b Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.24
  5. ^ BPI Certifications, http://www.bpi.co.uk/certifiedawards/search.aspx
  6. ^ David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: p.474
  7. ^ "David Bowie" Deluxe Version Sleevenotes penned by Kevin Cann, 2010

References[edit]

Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5