Released: 14 January 1966
David Bowie: vocals, tambourine
Denis ‘Tea-Cup’ Taylor: guitar, vocals
Graham Rivens: bass guitar
Phil Lancaster: drums, vocals
Tony Hatch: piano
David Bowie: vocals
Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, Mark Plati: guitar
Mike Garson: keyboards
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Sterling Campbell: drums
Holly Palmer, Emm Gryner: vocals
‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ was David Bowie’s second single with The Lower Third, and his first of three for the Pye label.
Their previous single, ‘You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving’, had been credited simply to Davy Jones upon its release in August 1965. The band had been upset at the omission, and the follow-up in January 1966 was credited to David Bowie with The Lower Third.
I think the first song I ever wrote – there might be others but this is the only one that sticks out – was called ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’. (breaks up laughing) That’s an illuminating little piece, isn’t it? It was about leaving home and moving up to London. ‘The London Boys’ was another one about being a mod. It was an anti-pill song; I wasn’t particularly pro the thing – after a bit.
Musician magazine, May 1983
Every number in Dave’s stage act is an original that he has written. As he says. the themes is usually London kids and their lives. However, it leads to trouble.
“Several of the younger teenagers’ programmes wouldn’t play ‘Can’t Helping Thinking About Me’, because it is about leaving home. The number relates several incidents in every teenager’s life – and leaving home is something which always comes up…
“I’ve lived in London and been brought up here, and I find it’s a great subject to write songs about. And remember, with all original numbers the audiences are hearing numbers they’ve never heard before – so this makes for a varied stage act,” said David, “It’s risky, because the kids aren’t familiar with the tunes, but I’m sure it makes their musical life more interesting.”
In the studio
‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ was recorded in December 1965, at Pye Studios in ATV House, 40 Bryanston Street, London.
It was produced by Tony Hatch, to whom Bowie had been introduced by the latter’s manager Ralph Horton shortly before the recording session.
Tony Hatch was a very big producer at the time, and he’d just had a big hit called ‘Downtown’. And he really believed in me, really believed in my songs, but every one he produced always ended up sounding like ‘Downtown’. I said, ‘Can I have a loud electric guitar?’ ‘No, no, no, you don’t want to do that…’
BBC Radio Theatre, 27 June 2000
Impressed by Bowie’s songwriting on the strength of a demo tape, Hatch had agreed to produce and release material by Bowie and his band on the Pye label.
The initial song attempted by the group was ‘The London Boys’, although it was rejected by Pye due to its drug references. The band returned to the studio to record two other original Bowie compositions: ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ and ‘And I Say To Myself’.
He was always writing new songs, so that wouldn’t have been in our repertoire for that long. We’d have run through it at Regent Sound, a recording studio in Denmark Street where we did our private demos to see how it came out. It wasn’t the first song we recorded for release at Pye, though. That was ‘London Boys’.
Tony Hatch, who was our recording manager, was happy with it. But in those days things were a bit staid and they had a committee of some sort to sanction new releases, so Pye wouldn’t let Tony release it, which was a big disappointment. We had to go back in with another number.
For me this was more prestigious. Tony Hatch was completely different to Shel Talmy, because with Tony you’re coming out of the Searchers, theme tunes to TV shows and mega success with Petula Clark, ‘Downtown’ and all that sort of stuff. I thought, ‘This is amazing’ – and he played the piano on the session. He was very businesslike – he was pulling us up on the quality of the backing vocals. He came over on the talkback and said, ‘You sound like you’re down at the Old Bull & Bush.’
Tony Hatch says he had to teach us harmonies. I don’t remember that but I do remember him swearing at us through the glass. He was very hands-on and he didn’t stand any nonsense. Ralph Horton used to work with the Moody Blues, was well connected, and got us that contract.
He had found a guy who was going to invest in the band – in David really. And he’d come along to see what he was getting. He was sitting up in the control room listening to the playback and started throwing in his two penn’orth about how he thought David could sing it differently. Tony Hatch really laid into him, poor bugger.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
Bowie re-recorded ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ in 2000 for the aborted Toy album. Fourteen of the album recordings leaked online in March 2011, reportedly early mixes taken from a laptop stolen from Mark Plati. 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’.
A launch party for the single was held on 6 January 1966 at the Gaiety Bar in Bayswater, London. The event was attended by label staff and music journalists, and was paid for with a loan from businessman Raymond Cook. Among those attending was John Lennon’s father Alf, who was also signed to Pye.
Despite high hopes for the single, it was yet another commercial failure for Bowie – his fourth in a row. This was despite Ralph Horton’s efforts to rig the charts by buying up copies, again using a loan from Cook.
It was a huge disappointment that it wasn’t a hit. The first one didn’t do much and this one we hoped would do better – though it did get into the lower reaches of one of the charts.
David was fronting the band and leading it, but Ralph wanted to separate him so the Lower Third would be his backing band. But we saw ourselves as a four-piece band who were all going to get on in the business.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
In May 1966 ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ became the first David Bowie release in the USA, after it was picked up by Warner Bros.
David Bowie performed ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ with The Lower Third at their live shows until the end of January 1966. Bowie was increasingly wishing to be seen as a solo artist, and he left the group prior to a gig on 29 January.
He did, however, continue to perform the song with his next band, The Buzz, around the time of its US release in May 1966.
Bowie unexpectedly revived ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ during a 1997 concert in San Francisco, during the Earthling Tour, singing a brief snippet of the song.
It was performed fully in 1999 during the Hours Tour, with the first performance at Bowie’s VH1 Storytellers show in August.
The late but still irrepressible Steve Marriott and I were quite close buddies in the Sixties. And Steve was very short but long on big ideas. “I’ve got this idea!” he’d say over eggs and bacon, “why don’t we form, like, this R&B duo and call ourselves David & Goliath? You be David.”
Well, at the time I was messing about with a, kind of a knock-off Muddy Waters band called The Manish Boys, and one night he came up to me in the dressing room and he said, “You know, I’ve got my mates Ronnie and Kenny together, and we’re gonna form a band.” Yeah? “Well, what we’re gonna do is get these really big amplifiers and this enormous drum kit, kind of like The Who, y’know? But we’re gonna be really, really lickle. We’re gonna call ourselves the Small Faces.
Well it worked out in a major way. This song comes from that same period, probably just a bit after that, and it’s the first song that I wrote and recorded as a solo artist. It’s a beautiful piece of solipsism, it’s called ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’.
And it does contain, though some might disagree, one of the worst – two of the worst lines I’ve ever written. I actually have to sing this: “My girl calls my name. ‘Hi Dave. Drop in, come back, see you around if you’re this way again.’ You don’t think that’s the worst line, no? We won’t even look at Tin Machine lyrics. [laughs] So this one’s called ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’./div>
VH1 Storytellers magazine, 23 August 1999
Bowie also performed ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ for BBC Radio 2 on 25 October 1999 at London’s Maida Vale Studios, for Mark Radcliffe’s show. It was one of five songs performed; the others were ‘Survive’, ‘Drive-In Saturday’, ‘Something In The Air’, and ‘Repetition’.
In April 2022 the Toy EP (You’ve Got It Made With All The Toys) was released on CD and 10″ vinyl for the annual Record Store Day. One of the six songs was ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ (Live Radio Session), recorded in October 1999.
This is one of those really classic garage rock things that I have in my permanent playlist. I’m not really a Bowie expert, but he was quite a good, mod-ish rocker before he went into the John Lennon-slash-glam thing. I love his early stuff. He had a blues band, The King Bees, who were great, and then The Lower Third. I play early things by people in spite of their success. All of that British scene were good – The Move, The Pretty Things, The Creation, The Animals. But Bowie was a great blues singer, a great interpreter. There’s a song or two later on – ‘Rebel Rebel’ is a wonderful track – but that era for me is it. There was a lot going on there, and he was a big part of it.
Uncut, March 2008