BBC recordings

David Bowie’s second BBC radio session took place on 13 May 1968, for the Radio 1 show Top Gear presented by John Peel. It was recorded at the corporation’s Piccadilly 1 Studios in London, and was produced by Bernie Andrews.

Bowie played sang and played guitar, and was backed by the Tony Visconti Orchestra – fourteen musicians including John McLaughlin on guitar, Alan Hawkshaw on keyboards, Herbie Flowers on bass guitar, and Barry Morgan on drums.

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 but ‘When I’m Five’ were released in September 2000 on Bowie At The Beeb.

The second BBC recording of ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ was recorded at the BBC Paris Studio in London on 5 February 1970, and broadcast three days later on The Sunday Show. The producer was Jeff Griffin.

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

They recorded 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’, ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.

‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ was not broadcast, and is now believed lost. ‘Amsterdam’, ‘God Knows I’m Good’, ‘The Width Of A Circle’, ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’, ‘Cygnet Committee’, and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ were all released on Bowie At The Beeb.

The entire session, apart from the Velvet Underground cover, was released on the 2021 album The Width Of A Circle.

The release

After David Bowie’s final January 1970 recording session, he attended a meeting with his manager Kenneth Pitt, producer Tony Visconti, and Philips A&R representative Ralph Mace. It was decided that ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ should be Bowie’s next single, the follow-up to ‘Space Oddity’, with the 1969 album outtake ‘Conversation Piece’ on the b-side.

It was a very difficult task for both were superb and there was little to choose between them, although their styles differed considerably. My personal preference was for ‘The Prettiest Star’, but I felt that ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ had the edge on it if sales potential was the criterion. It seemed to me that this was the general view and I left the studio convinced that we had decided ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ should be the next release. The ‘B’ side was to be a track that David had previously recorded.
Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

That decision was reversed by February 1970, with ‘The Prettiest Star’ being chosen as the lead song. Without Pitt’s knowledge, ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ was dropped altogether. It was just weeks before Bowie and Pitt parted company.

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.
Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

A 1970 mono mix of ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ was released in 1989 on the Sound + Vision box set. In 2003, when the set was reissued, the mono version was substituted for a 1970 stereo mix.

The stereo mix was also included as a bonus track on the 2009 reissue of David Bowie (Space Oddity), as did a previously-unreleased 1987 ‘Alternate Stereo Mix’ by Tris Penna.

The 1970 mono mix was also released as the b-side of a ‘Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola’ 7″ single in 2016.

Both 1970 mixes of ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ were released on the 2021 album The Width Of A Circle, which also contained the 1970 BBC radio recording, and a new 2020 mix by Tony Visconti.

Note: the song’s title is variously listed on official releases as ‘London Bye Ta Ta’, ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’, and ‘London Bye, Ta-Ta’.

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