Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 16, 17 July 1969; July, October 2000
Producers: Tony Visconti; David Bowie, Mark Plati
Released: 6 March 1970
David Bowie: vocals
Keith Christmas: 12-string guitar
Mick Wayne: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Unknown: cello, oboe
David Bowie: vocals
Earl Slick, Mark Plati: guitar
Mike Garson: piano
Lisa Germano: mandolin, vocals
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums
First Call Strings: strings
‘Conversation Piece’ was recorded for David Bowie’s second album in 1969, and remade in 2000 for the Toy album.
Bowie recorded a solo demo of the song at 24 Foxgrove Road, his home in Beckenham, London, in early 1969.
A second demo version was taped in March 1969 at Mercury’s London offices at 7 Albert Gate Court, Knightbridge. This recording, preceded by a false start, featured Bowie on 12-string acoustic guitar and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson on acoustic guitar. At the end of the song Bowie can be heard saying “A bit rough, but there you are”.
In the studio
The first studio version of ‘Conversation Piece’ was recorded at London’s Trident Studios during the David Bowie (Space Oddity) sessions. It was initially a contender for the album, but was dropped at a late stage and remained unreleased until 1970.
Producer Tony Visconti played bass guitar on the recording. He later recalled that it was taped during the same session as ‘An Occasional Dream’, which would date it to 16-17 July 1969.
We can’t remember the drummer’s name on this, he was an older jazz musician and I don’t know how we came to meet him. It could’ve been through an agency. He was a good drummer, but he counted off in a military squadron sergeant’s voice (as in ‘hup-two-three-four’) which set us giggling before one take and he knew we were laughing at him. Let us just say we never really bonded.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
A slower version of ‘Conversation Piece’ was recorded in July 2000 for Toy.
I worked on some bonus tracks [on Heathen]. There’s a gorgeous song called ‘Conversations’ [‘Conversation Piece’] which was just so beautiful. He wrote it in the late sixties, then we re-recorded it…
Toy was a great album, and I played on tons of tracks, but they didn’t want to release it, so we ended up putting out lots of bonus singles over the next few years, and ‘Conversations’ was a gorgeous piece, beautiful piano part, very simple, different Mike Garson, but the very, very sparse Mike Garson kind of thing.
On 4 September 2002, during a break in the Heathen Tour, Bowie performed an eight-song set for Fresh Air Radio at Roehampton, England. The songs played were ‘Sunday’, ‘Afraid’, ‘Heathen (The Rays)’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Changes’, ‘Conversation Piece’, and ‘Let’s Dance’.
David Bowie’s single ‘The Prettiest Star’ was released on 6 March 1970 as Mercury MF 1135. Its b-side was ‘Conversation Piece’.
It came as a great surprise to me to learn from Philips that the ‘A’ side of the next single was to be ‘The Prettiest Star’ and not ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’. When I asked Ralph Mace why the change had been made he explained that the tape of ‘The Prettiest Star’ was the one that had been delivered to him by Tony Visconti and the choice had been David’s and Angela’s. The labels had been printed and the records were being pressed with ‘Conversation Piece’ as the ‘B’ side. This song had been recorded for several months and did not feature Marc Bolan, as has been claimed. One of David’s most underrated and little known compositions, it became a favourite of mine and the line “My papers lying on the floor serve their purpose just by being there” evokes the atmosphere of his room at the flat and perhaps every room he has lived and worked in.
The Pitt Report
The 2000 re-recording was included on a bonus disc with initial copies of Heathen. The liner notes incorrectly stated that it was recorded in 2002.
A slightly different mix of that version was leaked online, along with most of the Toy album, in 2011.
The album, which was to be called Toy, revisited some of David’s earliest songs, including some I had already produced in the 1960s (‘Conversation Piece’, ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’). It was a great idea to give those old songs a fresh reading in the twenty-first century. But there wasn’t enough material, even though David had hundreds of his own compositions he could re-record, it was these particular songs he wanted to sing.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
The David Bowie (Space Oddity) album was reissued in 1990 by Rykodisc/EMI, and contained three bonus tracks – ‘Conversation Piece’, and the two-part single version of ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ recorded in early 1970.
The album was reissued again in 2009 for its 40th anniversary. It included a stereo mix of ‘Conversation Piece’ by Tris Penna, created at Chappell Studios in 1987.
The 2015 box set Five Years (1969–1973) included the 1969 studio version of ‘Conversation Piece’ on the compilation Re:Call 1.
In 2019 the song was included four times on the box set Conversation Piece. Bowie’s home recording and the Mercury demo from 1969 were joined by the single mono mix, and a new stereo mix by Tony Visconti.
Visconti remixed the 1969 David Bowie album for the box set; it was also issued as a standalone album on CD, vinyl, and digitally. This version omitted ‘Don’t Sit Down’, but added ‘Conversation Piece’ for the first time, in between ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ and ‘God Knows I’m Good’.