Released: 14 November 1969
David Bowie: vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar
Keith Christmas: acoustic guitar
David Bowie (1969)
Bowie At The Beeb
The Width Of A Circle
The penultimate song on David Bowie’s second album, ‘God Knows I’m Good’ harked back to his mid-1960s observational storytelling style of songwriting.
‘God Knows I’m Good’ is more like my earlier songs. It’s the story of a shoplifter who gets arrested and can’t believe it.
David Bowie: Living On The Brink, George Tremlett
The song’s protagonist observes an elderly woman who steals a tin of steak, and pleads to God for clemency. As she is led away by a security guard she faints, and is aided by “a crowd of honest people”.
The lyrics were reportedly inspired by a newspaper article about a woman accused of shoplifting. Photographer Ray Stevenson visited Bowie while he was writing the song, and suggested some lyrics.
‘God Knows I’m Good’ portrays Bowie’s emergent interest in modern technology. In its year of release, he told the UK music press of his concern that communication was becoming dominated by machines, a prescient notion that pointed towards the future days of BowieNet or the rise of social media in the 21st Century.
Communication has taken away so much from our lives that now it’s almost totally involved in machines rather than ordinary human beings. There’s nobody to talk your troubles over with these days, so this track is about a woman who steals a can of stew, which she desperately needs but can’t afford, from the supermarket and gets caught. The machine looks on ‘shrieking on the counter’ and ‘spitting by my shoulder’.
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969
In the studio
An initial attempt at recording ‘God Knows I’m Good’ was made on 11 September 1969.
Although previous sessions for the David Bowie album had taken place at Trident Studios, this was a short-lived attempt at relocating to Pye Studios in London’s Marble Arch. It was not a success, however, and was cut short due to issues with the studio equipment.
A visitor to the studio that day was Benny Marshall, who played harmonica on the album’s ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’. He was invited to attend by drummer John Cambridge.
The sound was terrible. It always had been. David said, ‘That was horrible, scrap that one,’ and decided to re-record it at Trident.
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann
The final version of ‘God Knows I’m Good’ was taped on 16 September at Trident Studios.
I think this is the saddest song on the album, about a little old lady shoplifter who was simply hungry and treated as a criminal when discovered in the act. David is again joined by guitarist Keith Christmas.
Five Years (1969–1973) book
David Bowie recorded ‘God Knows I’m Good’ on one occasion for BBC radio. It was a solo recording, just Bowie and his 12-string guitar.
The recording was made on 5 February 1970 for an edition of The Sunday Show, which was broadcast three days later. The session took place at the BBC Paris Studio in central London, with Jeff Griffin producing.
Much of the session had Bowie backed with a full band: Mick Ronson on guitar, Tony Visconti on bass, and John Cambridge on drums. A total of fifteen songs were recorded, one of which – a cover of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ – was not broadcast.
Five, however, were included on 2000’s Bowie At The Beeb: ‘Amsterdam’, ‘God Knows I’m Good’, ‘The Width Of A Circle’, ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’, ‘Cygnet Committee’, and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.
The full Sunday Show session, apart from ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, which is believed lost, was released on the 2021 album The Width Of A Circle.