Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 12, 29 March; 10, 18 April 1968; 8, 13, 15 January 1970
Producer: Tony Visconti
Released: 26 September 2000
Bowie At The Beeb
The Width Of A Circle
David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Marc Bolan: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Rick Wakeman: piano
Godfrey McLean: drums
Lesley Duncan, Yvonne Wheatman, Heather Wheatman: vocals
David Bowie wrote ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ in early 1968. He recorded it that year for Decca, again in 1970, and taped two versions for BBC radio.
The title reportedly came from an overheard phrase called out by a West Indian family to relatives at London’s Victoria Station.
Bowie recorded a solo home demo of the song in 1968, with acoustic guitar and vocals. It was released in the 2019 box set Spying Through A Keyhole, and later on Conversation Piece.
In the studio
A studio version was taped at Decca in March and April 1968, during the same session as ‘In The Heat Of The Morning’, for which ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ was intended as the b-side.
The Decca version was begun on 12 March, with further overdubs on 29 March and 10 and 18 April. The recording was produced by Tony Visconti, who also scored the string arrangement.
Although the master tape is believed lost, an alternative Decca version was released on Conversation Piece.
Bowie re-recorded the song in 1970 as part of his contract with Philips. It was begun during the session for ‘The Prettiest Star’ on 8 January, and completed on 13 and 15 January.
The remake of ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ was intended as the b-side of ‘The Prettiest Star’. Marc Bolan played lead guitar on both recordings. On ‘London Bye Ta Ta’ Tony Visconti played bass, Rick Wakeman was on piano, Godfrey McLean added percussion, and backing vocals were by Lesley Duncan and session singers Yvonne and Heather Wheatman, performing under their stage names Sue and Sunny.
A week later Mercury released another single, ‘The Prettiest Star’; it had been recorded in January, having been started during the day of the evening that we played the Speakeasy. It was finished a few days later, along with an old chestnut, ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’. This is the third time I recorded the song [‘London Bye Ta-Ta’], once for Deram, once for the BBC and now, possibly the quintessential version, with myself on bass, Marc Bolan on lead guitar and Godfrey McLean on drums, who was in a London soul band called The Gass.
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy (Uncut)
Sadly, the session with Bolan was not a happy affair. “Marc came to the session for an hour, played his solo and left promptly,” Tony Visconti said in 1983. “The atmosphere was very heavy.”
All I wanted to do was promote Marc as an electric guitarist; I thought it would have been a great coup to have him play on David’s record. David was extremely happy to have Marc play on the record.
But after Marc had played this brilliant solo – and he also played on another track too called ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ – [Bolan’s wife] June just sniped at David, ‘He’s too good for you! He shouldn’t play on your music!’ and she dragged Marc out. It was one of the few times that I saw him at a loss for words.
Marc just wanted to be a star; this was like the carpet was pulled out from under him. If Bowie had asked him to join the band, he probably would have.
Spinner, February 2010
The verse melody of ‘London Bye Ta Ta’ was reused by Bowie on the song ‘Threepenny Pierrot’, which appeared in the 1970 TV show Pierrot In Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders.