UK single release: The Laughing Gnome

David Bowie’s single ‘The Laughing Gnome’ was released in the United Kingdom on Friday 14 April 1967.

The single was recorded at Decca Studios in London over four days: 26 January; 7, 10 February; and 8 March 1967.

The Laughing Gnome single – United Kingdom

The sessions were produced by Mike Vernon, with studio engineer Gus Dudgeon – later to produce Bowie’s first major hit ‘Space Oddity’ – providing the voice of the second gnome.

We did this bloody silly song and he finished the vocal and decided that he wanted to do a speeded-up voice. I got the tape operator to run it at half-speed, and as we took the tape down in speed, our voices went up. I mean, it’s so corny, it’s pathetic. And somehow we got this idea that we would try and incorporate as many jokes about the word ‘gnome’ as we could think of. I mean, it was pathetic really. Well, in fact, it is pathetic. Somehow or other we got off on doing this. That’s the really scary part. Technically it worked, but it’s bloody embarrassing. We actually came up with those lines between us. I mean, what were we on?
Gus Dudgeon
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

The single was released as as Deram 123, with ‘The Gospel According To Tony Day’ on the b-side. It failed to chart, despite a positive review in the NME which called it “a novelty number chock full of appeal”.

It was also released in Belgium, where it had the distinction of being the first David Bowie single with a picture sleeve. There, as in all other countries, it was not a hit.

The song was reissued by Decca in 1973 at the peak of Bowie’s popularity as Ziggy Stardust. It reached number six on the UK singles chart, and was certified silver with sales of over 250,000.

The 1973 reissue was almost identical to the 1967 original Deram release. The key difference is that on the original the matrix number (DR 39798) appeared upside down on the label, whereas it was rendered correctly on the reissue.

It was also released in 1973 in Angola, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the USA. All but the US and UK versions had new picture sleeves.

In a 1997 interview, Bowie was asked what he thought would have resulted had one of his mid-Sixties singles been a huge hit.

Ha! I’d probably be in Les Miserables now. I would have been doing stage musicals. I could almost guarantee it. Oh, I’m sure I would have been a right little trouper on the West End stage. (Laughing) I’d have written ten Laughing Gnomes, not just one.
David Bowie
Q magazine, February 1997
Live: David Bowie and the Riot Squad, Tiles Club, London
Live: David Bowie and the Riot Squad, Ludwick Community Centre, Welwyn Garden City
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