Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 8, 9 December 1966
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Gus Dudgeon
Released: 1 June 1967
Big Jim Sullivan: guitar
Derek Boyes: piano
Dek Fearnley: bass guitar
John Eager: drums
Unknown session musicians
The penultimate song on David Bowie’s 1967 debut album was another pen portrait of London life.
Bowie was dismissive of the capital in several of his early songs, notably on ‘Join The Gang’ and ‘The London Boys’. He evidently felt like an outsider looking in, although in the early 1970s he came to embrace London just as it embraced him.
The is, however, sympathy at the heart of ‘Maid Of Bond Street’, for the girl “made of loneliness”, rejected by her boy, who himself dreams of the glamour and stardust that bring her little solace.
Bowie did not often indulge in wordplay in his songs, yet made an exception with the lines “This girl is made of lipstick … This girl is maid of Bond Street”. There is also some deft rhyming of “executives” with “aperitifs”, and some of Bowie’s most densely packed lines.
There is also, in the string arrangement and Bowie’s singing style, shades of Hunky Dory, most notably when he sings “With the boy she really wants to be with/All the time, to love, all the time”.
In 1963 David Jones, as he was then, had taken his only conventional nine-to-five job, as a trainee commercial artist at the Nevin D Hirst Advertising Agency. Based in central London’s salubrious New Bond Street, it gave him an insight into the world of marketing and design, skills which he would later deploy in his solo career.
Although working on New Bond Street put him in the heart of London’s West End, at a time when his band the Konrads were hoping for a breakthrough, it was nonetheless not a joyful experience.
I loathed [it]. I had romantic visions of artists’ garrets – though I didn’t fancy starving. [Hirst’s] main product was Ayds slimming biscuits, and I also remember lots of felt-tip drawings and paste-ups of bloody raincoats. And in the evening I dodged from one dodgy rock band to another.
Starman, Paul Trynka
As in ‘Little Bombardier’, ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ presents the cinema as a place of magical escapism, a theme he would continue on ‘Life On Mars?’: “This girl, her world is made of flashlights and films,” he sings, “Her cares are scraps on the cutting room floor”.
When the David Bowie album was released in the UK in June 1967 the song was listed as ‘Maids Of Bond Street’ on the back cover.
For the US release in August 1967, meanwhile, it was left off altogether: the album omitted both ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ ‘We Are Hungry Men’.
At the end of 1967 Bowie appeared in Lindsay Kemp’s production Pierrot In Turquoise at the Oxford New Theatre. In an early version he reportedly sang a song known as ‘Maids Of Mayfair’ – ‘A real craftsman’s song,’ according to the show’s musical director Gordon Rose. ‘I can still remember it – it had a theme, a chord sequence and a good hook.’
Whether this song relates to ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ is not known, but Bowie certainly sang the earlier song when the play transferred to London’s Mercury and Intimate theatres in March 1968.
In the studio
‘Maid Of Bond Street’ was recorded at Decca’s north London studios on 8 and 9 December 1966, during sessions which also yielded ‘Sell Me A Coat’, ‘Little Bombardier’, and ‘Silly Boy Blue’.
Bowie rarely recorded songs in 3/4 time, but this was one of two such waltzes taped during these sessions, the other being ‘Little Bombardier’.
The session musicians included James George Tomkins, better known as Big Jim Sullivan, who played sitar and acoustic guitar on the song. Tomkins also performed on ‘Join The Gang’, and on Bowie’s later song ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’.