In the studio

‘Karma Man’ was one of several songs recorded by David Bowie at Advision Studios in central London on 1 September 1967.

On 1 September we went into Advision Studios, in New Bond Street and recorded it [‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’] along with another of David’s songs called ‘Karma Man’. Its subject matter alluded to Tibetan Buddhism, another fascination we shared. The sessions went very well, with both Big Jim Sullivan and John McLaughlin on guitars.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

It was Bowie’s first recording session with Tony Visconti. The two men had met shortly before the session and became firm friends. Their working relationship continued throughout much of the 1970s, and from 2002’s Heathen till the end of Bowie’s life.

David Platz said that I had a way with the weird people – I guess Marc Bolan was weird to David Platz – and would I be interested in David Bowie? Platz then introduced me to David Bowie, who was waiting in the next room. Bowie and I started talking at about 2.30pm and continued until 6pm when the office closed. We became fast friends and began to work together. We did singles like ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’. We did ‘Karma Man’, which was about Tibetan Buddhism. If you were The Beatles you could get away with that, but we weren’t and we couldn’t.
Tony Visconti
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie re-recorded ‘Karma Man’ at New York’s Looking Glass Studios in 2000, during the sessions for the unreleased Toy album.

The new version featured members of his touring band, and was produced by Mark Plati.

BBC recordings

David Bowie recorded ‘Karma Man’ on two occasions for BBC Radio 1.

The first was for the 26 May 1968 edition of Top Gear. It was recorded on 13 May 1968 at Piccadilly 1 Studios in London, and was produced by Bernie Andrews.

Bowie was backed by the Tony Visconti Orchestra – fourteen musicians including John McLaughlin on guitar, Alan Hawkshaw on keyboards, Herbie Flowers on bass, Barry Morgan on drums, and backing vocals by Visconti and Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Steve Peregrine Took. Aside from Bowie and Visconti, McLaughlin was the only musician to appear on two versions of ‘Karma Man’.

Five songs were recorded: ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’, ‘In The Heat Of The Morning’, ‘Karma Man’, ‘When I’m Five’, and ‘Silly Boy Blue’. All apart from ‘When I’m Five’ were released on Bowie At The Beeb in 26 September 2000. This recording of ‘Karma Man’ was also one of the songs included on the 2019 box set Conversation Piece.

The second BBC recording was for an edition of The Sunday Show. It was recorded at the BBC Paris Studio in London on 5 February 1970, and broadcast on Radio 1 three days later.

Bowie was backed by Mick Ronson on guitar, Tony Visconti on bass, and John Cambridge on drums.

They taped fifteen songs: ‘Amsterdam’, ‘God Knows I’m Good’, ‘Buzz The Fuzz’, ‘Karma Man’, ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’, ‘An Occasional Dream’, ‘The Width Of A Circle’, ‘Janine’, ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’, ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’, ‘Fill Your Heart’, ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, ‘The Prettiest Star’, ‘Cygnet Committee’, and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.

‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ was not broadcast and is believed lost. The rest of the session was released in its entirety on the 2021 album The Width Of A Circle.