In the week that David Bowie began mixing Toy, he took part in a web chat on BowieNet in which he detailed plans for its release and supporting tour dates.
It looks like March folks. And there will definitely be some supporting gigs. No tour, mind. But definitely some supporting gigs. At least in New York. And if I can get a tuneup on the car, we may even stretch to Boston and Philly…
I would pretty much anticipate that I will use the release of Toy as a reason for doing next year’s Roseland, and why not. That seems like a pretty good reason to me.
BowieNet live chat, 31 October 2000
On 1 January 2001 a news item appeared on Bowie’s website, which indicated a March release for the album.
So what can we expect on the db scene in 2001? – Well there’s the next album, recorded at Sear Sound in NYC, already in the can awaiting release and scheduled for March.
The tentatively titled ‘Toy’ is a 12 track album consisting mainly of remakes and remodels of some of David’s earlier Sixties tracks along with totally unreleased demo’s that never saw the light of day. Plus he has written some brand new songs in the style of that period. David also says he has some great ‘extra’s’ for this album and it’s singles.
Eight of the known tracks so far include: Uncle Floyd, Afraid, The London Boys, I Dig Everything, Can’t Help Thinking About Me, Conversation Piece, Let Me Sleep Beside You, Silly Boy Blue, as well as Untitled and Gail’s favourite ‘Secret 1’. Karma Man had been mentioned along the way but dropped in favour of A.N. Other. David suggests that rather than a ‘Pin Ups II’, it’s more of an ‘Up Date I’… and he’s even doing his own artwork for the album sleeve, which he describes as ‘very odd’.
Commenting on the finished album David says “…it really has surpassed my expectations already. 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.” He describes the music as “dreamy, a little weird at times, it rocks, it’s said, it’s got passion, it… it… it’s really good.”
The musicians that appear on ‘Toy’ include Earl Slick, Mark Plati, Sterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson, Emm Gryner, Holly Palmer, Lisa Germano, Gerry Leonard and on trumpet Cuong Vu. Mark Plati suggested that they work with multi-instrumentalist Lisa. Recording at Mark’s home studio, she played recorder, electric and acoustic violin, mandolin and accordion.
If the live versions of ‘Dig’, ‘Can’t Help Thinking’ and ‘London Boys’ performed at Roseland and the BBC Theatre are anything to go by… this album is going to be something rather special.
However, it was not to be. One issue for Virgin was that an album of older Bowie compositions was a less easy sell than an all-new album. Bowie was nearing the end of his contract, and a sense pervaded that Toy was submitted in order to fulfil his obligations.
Virgin was also in trouble over the commercial failure of Mariah Carey’s Glitter album. This led to the cancellation of her $100 million contract, for which Virgin paid her a reported $28 million. With parent company EMI’s share price losing 80% of its value throughout the year, its chief executive Ken Berry was ousted and his wife Nancy Berry – who had signed both Bowie and Carey – was fired as vice president of Virgin Music.
As I have said before, Virgin/EMI have had scheduling problems and are now going for an album of ‘new’ material over the TOY album. Fine by me. I’m EXTREMELY happy with the new stuff (I love Toy as well and won’t let that material fade away). If you’ve been following the newspapers you will have seen that EMI/Virgin are having major problems themselves. This has not helped. But all things pass…
I won’t let TOY slide away. I am working on a way that you’ll be able to get the songs next year as well as the newie.
BowieNet, 29 October 2001
Despite his outward optimism, according to Tony Visconti, Bowie was “hurt terribly” by Virgin’s refusal to release the Toy album. It was the label’s second such decision, following their refusal to issue liveandwell.com in 1998.
Unfortunately Virgin refused to put it [liveandwell.com] out after it was submitted in late winter 1998. Aside from the obvious, the bad news was that in the amount of time spent by David, Mark Plati and myself compiling and editing, we could have written and recorded the follow-up Earthling album that I’d hoped we’d do.
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg
Virgin’s ambivalence towards Toy was the final straw for Bowie. On the morning of 13 December 2001 his business representatives, RZO, sent a letter to the label, stating that their failure to release Toy was directly responsible for his decision to leave. “We respectfully decline your attempts to negotiate a new contract in light of the missed option pick-up of a year ago,” it said.
The singer chose instead to release Heathen on his own label, ISO, with marketing and distribution handled by Columbia Records.
I’ve had one too many years of bumping heads with corporate structure. 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. I’ve dreamed of embarking on my own set-up for such a long time and now is the perfect opportunity.
I want to keep the whole experience at a human level. To characterize ISO, I think I would use guitarist Robert Fripp’s phrase and describe it as aiming to be ‘a small, mobile, intelligent unit’.
13 December 2001
B-sides, bonuses, and downloads
Several of the Toy recordings were officially released, with three of the songs included on Heathen. ‘Afraid’ was reworked with additional overdubs, and ‘Uncle Floyd’ was re-recorded as ‘Slip Away’. ‘Conversation Piece’ was one of the tracks on the bonus disc which came with early copies of the album.
In June 2002 an excerpt of ‘The London Boys’ lasting 1:26 was made available for download to BowieNet members via the enhanced Heathen CD, with another 1:30 version following shortly afterwards. Several of the other Toy recordings were issued as b-sides and bonus tracks.
In 2003 ‘Your Turn To Drive’ was an exclusive download available with HMV digital purchases of Reality. It was also included on the triple-disc edition of Nothing Has Changed in 2014, along with ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’.
Toy has actually started now to become a reservoir of B-sides and bonus tracks, so it’s much depleted. From the original 14 or so that I did, I think seven are now out there. I think there’s still enough in the past to pop some more back and top it up, so to speak, but you know what? New writing just takes precedence. It always does.
Fourteen of the album recordings leaked online in March 2011, reportedly to Bowie’s displeasure. These were believed to be early mixes taken from a laptop stolen from Mark Plati, and contain minor differences in the officially-released recordings. The only known songs from the Toy sessions which were not leaked were ‘Karma Man’, ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’, and ‘Miss American High’.