The background

David Bowie performed ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ during his first Glastonbury Festival set on 23 June 1971. At the time, thanks to Noone’s chart success, it was Bowie’s best-known current song. Bowie introduced the song by explaining that it was “a thing I wrote in America” in February. He then told the audience: “This is the original thing I wrote,” before launching into a bawdy piano song:

I’d like a big girl with a couple of melons
A bad girl but not a teensy bit rebellious
Hard of hearing with a great big behind
A short-sighted raver with filth on her mind
Oh lord, I’m getting desperate…

This song had a similar piano line to ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, although the vocal melody was different.

During this performance, an apparently high Scandinavian girl climbed onto the stage. Bowie responded by laughing and saying: “She’s here!”, and invited her to sit next to him at the piano. He then explained how the song had evolved into ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’.

I had that as an intro, but it got dirtier and dirtier, so I chucked it out in the end. I was just left with the intro, so I thought, well, I’ll write another thing around that… and you’ll never believe what it ended up as.

During the song, the girl on stage sang – somewhat badly – backing vocals, to which Bowie joked: “This is about homo superior, love. You’re letting the lyrics down badly!” Sending her off by asking her to “go and get some bacon and eggs”, he then performed ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ solo.

Bowie’s recollection that the song dated from his US trip earlier in the year was incorrect. On 18 January 1971 he had performed a solo acoustic version of his current single, ‘Holy Holy’, on the Granada TV show Six-Oh-One Newsday. In the studio he had met television producer Roger Damon Price, who told him about a children’s sci-fi series he was working on called The Tomorrow People.

The original series ran on the UK’s ITV network from 1973 to 1979. The show was about the emergence of the next evolutionary stage of humans, the Tomorrow People. In the show they were referred to as both Homo Novis and Homo superior.

At 4am the morning after his Granada appearance, Bowie woke up with a new melody in his head, and the line “Got to make way for the Homo superior”. He quickly worked out the song on his grand piano in his Haddon Hall home.

Bowie then paid a visit to Bob Grace, his publisher at Chrysalis Music, at the studio on London’s Hertford Street that Grace rented from Radio Luxembourg.

He went to the piano and he was fiddling around and I said, ‘What’s that?’ Then he got the lyrics down and I knew that was a hit.
Bob Grace, 1986
Alias David Bowie, Peter and Leni Gillman

David Bowie's handwritten lyrics for Oh! You Pretty Things

Grace was due to depart for the MIDEM music industry trade fair in Cannes that day, and hastily recorded a brief interview with Bowie, as well as a demo of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’.

The following day, in Cannes, Grace played an acetate of the song to Mickie Most, Herman’s Hermits’ producer. Most responded favourably to Bowie’s song, believing it to be the perfect vehicle with which to launch Peter Noone’s solo career.

I played him the demo and he said, ‘Smash!’ You knew if Mickie listened to the whole demo and didn’t stop you, you were probably going to get a record.
Bob Grace, 1986
Alias David Bowie, Peter and Leni Gillman