Toy album artworkRecorded: 2000–2001
Producers: David Bowie, Mark Plati

Released: 26 November 2021

Personnel

  • David Bowie: vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards, Stylophone
  • Gerry Leonard: electric guitar
  • Earl Slick: acoustic guitar, electric guitar
  • Mark Plati: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar
  • Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, clarinet, vocals
  • Mike Garson: piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
  • Sterling Campbell: drums, vocals
  • Lisa Germano: violin, mandolin, recorder, accordion, vocals
  • Emm Gryner: vocals, clarinet
  • Holly Palmer: vocals
  • Cuong Vu: trumpet
  • Tony Visconti: string arrangements

Tracklisting

Toy, and Toy:Box CD one

Toy:Box CD two: Alternatives & Extras

Toy:Box CD three: Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric

Recorded by David Bowie in 2000, Toy contained a mixture of new songs and re-recorded older compositions. It was planned for release in 2001, but mostly remained officially unavailable during Bowie’s lifetime.

The album was eventually released in November 2021, in the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001), as a standalone album, in an expanded form as Toy:Box.

Bowie had begun to revisit his back catalogue of compositions during the mid to late 1990s. What prompted this period of nostalgia is not known, but it led to a number of his early songs being recorded during the Toy project.

The songs are so alive and full of colour, they jump out of the speakers. It’s really hard to believe that they were written so long ago.
David Bowie
BowieNet, 1 January 2001

In January 1997, Bowie revived ‘The London Boys’ during the acoustic rehearsal for the BBC Radio 1 show ChangesNowBowie. He performed the song again in June 2000 at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, along with ‘I Dig Everything’.

During a 1997 show in San Francisco he unexpectedly sang a snippet of the 1966 song ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’. It was revived more fully during his VH1 Storytellers appearance in August 1999, and became one of the songs recorded for Toy.

Storytellers also happened to be my first gig as a musician with David, and for that song I got my 1967 Rickenbacker 12-string out of mothballs. David had so much fun doing ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ that he decided to continue performing it on the ‘hours…’ tour that followed. It was always exuberant – if too fast at times! – and well received. When we got to Dublin, Joe Elliott from Def Leppard came to the gig. Joe is as die hard a Bowie fan as they come, and when he visited backstage after the show he gushed about how great ‘Can’t Help’ came across. He told us we should do more of those songs – maybe an entire album’s worth.

I’m not sure if David was already thinking of such a thing, or if the mention of it validated something he had been considering, or if it was an entirely new suggestion. Regardless, in early 2000 he made mention of finding a group of these songs to re-record as a ’60s album’. The original recordings were made over a period of six or so years (’64-’70) with different musicians and producers. The idea would be to record them all in a single block of sessions with the same band, with the same producers – which would be David and I. We would use the band that would play the Glastonbury Festival in 2000 – Sterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson, Holly Palmer, Emm Gryner, and myself. In addition, this would be the moment for Earl Slick to re-enter the Bowie universe. On paper it all looked fab. As it was an opportunity for me to be a full-fledged producer on a Bowie record, I was pretty excited. After our various musical adventures from the previous four years, I knew it would be an experience.

Mark Plati, March 2021
Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) book

Toy album was co-produced by Bowie and Mark Plati, and intended for release in 2001, but reluctance from his label EMI/Virgin meant it was shelved.

I’m finding EMI/Virgin seem to have a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, which has put an awful lot on the back burner. Toy is finished and ready to go, and I will make an announcement as soon as I get a very real date. Meantime, I’m already started writing and recording for another album (untitled at the moment). So far I have to say it’s back to experimental. But knowing me, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll turn out. I shall be writing and recording throughout the summer, but daddyfying is really my priority at the moment.
David Bowie
BowieNet webchat, 4 June 2001

This, coupled with Virgin’s rejection of the live and remix collection liveandwell.com in 1998, led to Bowie’s break with the label prior to the release of 2002’s Heathen.