The Laughing Gnome
|"The Laughing Gnome"|
Cover of the 1967 Belgium single
|Single by David Bowie|
|B-side||"The Gospel According to Tony Day"|
|Released||14 April 1967|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"The Laughing Gnome" is a song by English singer 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 several puns on the word "gnome". At the time, "The Laughing Gnome" failed to provide Bowie with a much-wanted chart placing, but upon its re-release it became a hit, reaching number 6 on the British charts.
Release and reception
William Mann's 1967 review of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band compared that album's similar interest in music-hall and Victoriana influences to "The Laughing Gnome": "a heavy-handedly facetious number which ... steadfastly remained the flop it deserved to be". NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray later described it as "Undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenalia". 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, while Nicholas Pegg considered that "the world would be a duller place without it".
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 and was certified silver in the UK (250,000 copies sold), which according to Carr and Murray of the NME left Decca Records as "about the only unembarrassed party". 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 NME made a concerted effort to rig the voting so Bowie would have to perform "The Laughing Gnome" (with the slogan "Just Say Gnome"). The voting system was scrapped. Bowie later joked to NME's rival Melody Maker that he had been considering performing it in a new 'Velvet Underground-influenced' arrangement. He also considered performing it on his 2003 tour.
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, and 8 March 1967.
The original 1967 record is considered collectable, with UK pressings in perfect condition being valued at £200 by Record Collector magazine's 2016 Rare Record Price Guide. In 2011, a Belgian demonstration pressing (also from 1967) sold for more than £2300.
- "The Laughing Gnome" (Bowie) – 3:01
- "The Gospel According to Tony Day" (Bowie) – 2:48
- David Bowie – vocals, guitar
- Derek Boyes – organ
- Peter Hampshire – guitar
- Dek Fearnley – bass
- John Eager – drums
- Gus Dudgeon – Gnome vocal
- 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)
- Buster Bloodvessel - Diamond Gods: Interpretations of Bowie (2001)
- Caroline, a French yé-yé singer, recorded a French language version entitled 'Mister a Gogo' (1967).
Appearances in popular culture
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- "The Laughing Gnome" was frequently cited in the comic strip Great Pop Things, where it was claimed to be a "mod anthem". Whenever Bowie was 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 1998 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".
- In her novel The Distant Echo, Scottish author Val McDermid has her four lifelong committed friends write the chorus to "The Laughing Gnome" on the insides of windscreens in cars they have broken into without damage, as a sort of merry prank.
- In the BBC TV drama Life On Mars the song is used when the police station is infested with garden gnomes used by criminals to conceal drugs.
- Option. Sonic Options Network. 1996. p. 110.
- David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination — David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.35-36,43-44
- Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.118
- The Times (29 May 1967)
- Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.24
- BPI Certifications, http://www.bpi.co.uk/certifiedawards/search.aspx
- David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: p.474
- Unsigned. "The Gnome Is Forty Years Old Today". davidbowie.com. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
- "David Bowie" Deluxe Version Sleevenotes penned by Kevin Cann, 2010
- "David Bowie - "The Laughing Gnome" (1967) Belgium 7" Demo". Popsike auction results website. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5