Hunky Dory album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: June–August 1971
Producer: Ken Scott, David Bowie

Released: 17 December 1971

Available on:
Hunky Dory

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar, trumpet
Rick Wakeman: piano
Woody Woodmansey: drums

‘Kooks’ was written for David and Angie Bowie’s son, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, who was born on 30 May 1971. It was the fifth song on Bowie’s Hunky Dory album.

[Fatherhood] pleased my ego a lot. I think Zowie’s a survivor. He’s very definitely an independent person, of his own choosing, it seems. And I find it quite easy to think of him not as mine or as Angie’s, but as Gibran has said, ‘a little plant.’ I don’t feel very paternal about him.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 12 February 1976

The song was reportedly written on the day of Duncan’s birth, and was premiered at a BBC radio recording just four days later. It contains a line that was later dropped: “And if the homework brings you down/Then we’ll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown/And we’ll watch the crazy people race around”.

I’d been listening to a Neil Young album, and they phoned through and said that my wife had had a baby on Sunday morning, and I wrote this about the baby. It’s called ‘Kooks’ – K double-O K S. I’m not too sure of the words ’cause it is new, so have a go at it.
David Bowie, 3 June 1971

The Neil Young album is likely to have been After The Gold Rush, which contains a song called ‘I Believe In You’. More similar still is ‘Till The Morning Comes’, which features a similar swing tempo, acoustic production, trumpet interlude, and backing vocals.

An acoustic demo version contains some lyrical differences, including “We’ve bought a lot of stuff to keep you warm and dry”; “And how to smile at people when they pick on you”; “’cause if you stay with us you’ll grow up pretty kookie too”.

‘Kooks’ was one of the songs performed by Bowie at the Glastonbury Festival on 23 June 1971. It was his first live UK appearance of 1971, and saw the live debut of a number of songs including ‘Kooks’.

On the back cover of Hunky Dory, Bowie added the dedication “for Small Z” next to ‘Kooks’. He also wrote some notes on each of the songs, which were used in press advertisements. For ‘Kooks’ he wrote:

The baby was born and it looked like me and it looked like Angie and the song came out like – if you’re gonna stay with us you’re gonna grow up Bananas.

David and Angie pronounced ‘Zowie’ as the girl’s name Zoe. In April 2018 Duncan’s daughter was born, and he bestowed the name upon her.

With ‘Kooks’ I have a very strong recollection of David saying that he would love to write a children’s album. People have asked me, “Would you ever work with David again?” And my immediate reaction is, “The one thing I would really love to get together with him on would be a children’s album and him writing songs like that.”
Ken Scott
Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol, Ken Sharp

In the studio

‘Kooks’ was likely to have been recorded in early-mid July 1971, at Trident Studios in London.

The intro is something through a ring modulator, I unfortunately don’t remember exactly what.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969-1973) book

Mixing sessions took place on 21, 22, and 26 July at Trident, for the Hunky Dory songs recorded so far. Bowie’s manager Tony Defries then arranged the pressing of 500 copies of a promotional album known as BOWPROMO. Half of the album contained Bowie’s recordings, with the other side given over to Dana Gillespie.

BOWPROMO contained early mixes of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Eight Line Poem’, ‘Kooks’, ‘It Ain’t Easy’, ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘Quicksand’, and ‘Bombers’. The flipside contained Gillespie’s version of ‘Andy Warhol’, along with five of her own songs: ‘Mother’, ‘Don’t Be Frightened’; ‘Never Knew’; ‘All Cut Up On You’; and ‘Lavender Hill’.

The mix of ‘Kooks’ has the acoustic guitar running throughout the song, whereas the final album version omits it from the chorus.

BOWPROMO was reissued, with only Bowie’s songs, on Record Store Day in 2017.

I came over to London to hang out with him and meet up with my girlfriend, Melanie McDonald, who lived there. I was invited to some Hunky Dory sessions and saw him record songs like ‘Kooks’ and ‘Andy Warhol’. Bowie was totally in control. His hair was really long and he looked like a woman. I took some photos at the sessions.
Rodney Bingenheimer
Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol, Ken Sharp

BBC recordings

‘Kooks’ was recorded on two occasions for BBC radio.

The first was on 3 June 1971, for an edition of In Concert presented by John Peel, and first broadcast on 20 June.

Bowie and his band – which included the Spiders From Mars, additional rhythm guitarist Mark Carr-Pritchard, and singers George Underwood, Dana Gillespie, and Geoff MacCormack – performed ten songs: ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘Bombers’, ‘The Supermen’, ‘Looking For A Friend’, ‘Almost Grown’, ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Kooks’, ‘Song For Bob Dylan’, ‘Andy Warhol’, and ‘It Ain’t Easy’.

I remember rehearsing that one for the John Peel show. I really liked the bass part on that, it was really simple. I played trumpet on that song. I also played all the brass on Mick Ronson’s album, Slaughter On 10th Avenue.
Trevor Bolder
Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol, Ken Sharp

The performances of ‘Bombers’, ‘Looking For A Friend’, ‘Almost Grown’, ‘Kooks’, and ‘It Ain’t Easy’ were all included on Bowie At The Beeb, released on 26 September 2000.

The second BBC recording was made on 21 September 1971, for the 4 October edition of Sounds Of The 70s presented by Bob Harris.

This was a more intimate affair than the previous BBC recording, featuring just Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson. It was also Bowie’s only BBC radio session of the 1970s to be recorded in stereo.

They performed seven songs: ‘The Supermen’, ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Eight Line Poem’, ‘Kooks’, ‘Fill Your Heart’, ‘Amsterdam’, and ‘Andy Warhol’. The first two of these were released on Bowie At The Beeb.

I always loved this, and “Fame,” and “Heroes”. When I grew up David Bowie was still in the mainstream, in the prime of his career. But I got into it when I moved to New York and met a bunch of hip drag queens who wanted to sleep with straight rock boys. I have a very special relationship with David only because we share a guitar player in Gerry Leonard. He plays with David a lot, so David has come to a lot of my shows and always been very supportive, which is such an amazing honour.

I’ve talked a lot with Gerry about the insides of the workings of David’s mind – and it’s pretty amazing. I think the main thing I’ve realised is that he’s actually quite shy: there’s a real kind of Wizard Of Oz quality to him, by which I mean that behind the flamboyance, the fire and green lasers and stuff there’s this little guy there, working away in his attic. Really, he’s very, very sensitive about being an artist – trying to be in sync. He’s a very vulnerable, and very affected by the world around him, and by what people say. He’s not at all jaded.

Rufus Wainwright
Uncut, March 2008