On 27 May 1971, David Bowie appeared with Peter Noone for a performance of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. Bowie played piano while wearing a dress. This performance was subsequently wiped by the corporation.
Bowie went on to record the song three times for BBC Radio 1. The first was for In Concert with John Peel, recorded on 3 June 1971 at the BBC Paris Studio in London.
The show was broadcast on 20 June. ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ was omitted, however, due to Bowie’s voice failing during the performance. The recording is now believed lost.
The second BBC recording was for Sounds Of The 70s, presented by Bob Harris. This was taped at the T1 Studio at Kensington House in Shepherds Bush, London, on 21 September 1971, and broadcast on 4 October.
This was Bowie’s only BBC radio session recorded in stereo. For the appearance, Bowie and Mick Ronson duetted, with Bowie playing guitar and piano, and Ronson playing guitar and bass.
The pair performed seven songs during the session. ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ was released in 2000 on the Japanese edition of Bowie At The Beeb, in 2016 on the vinyl box set reissue, and on the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.
Bowie and the Spiders From Mars appeared on the BBC’s music TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 7 February, at Television Centre in White City, London. They played three songs: ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, and ‘Five Years’, with Bowie singing a live vocal over pre-recorded backing tracks.
Two takes of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ were recorded. On the first he omitted the lines “The earth is a bitch/We’ve finished our news/Homo sapiens have outgrown their use”, repeating instead lines from earlier in the song: “Written in pain, written in awe/By a puzzled man who questioned what we were here for”.
The two takes of the song appear on the Best Of Bowie DVD, while a first attempt, abandoned after Bowie messed up his vocals, was broadcast on BBC 2’s John Peel Night in 1999.
The final BBC radio recording of the song was for the Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Show. It was recorded on 22 May 1972 in Studio 2 at the Aeolian Hall on London’s New Bond Street, and broadcast on 5 June.
This was a full band version, with the Spiders augmented by Nicky Graham on piano. They performed four songs: ‘Starman’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Changes’, ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’. The latter song and ‘Starman’ were included on Bowie At The Beeb; the other two were unbroadcast and remain unreleased.
The recording of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ from this third session was also released as a one-track promotional single in France in 2000, to coincide with the Beeb album.
The rear cover stated it was “1er single tiré du double CD live David Bowie At The Beeb”, yet the recording was never given a conventional single release.
‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ was performed by Bowie from 1971. A recording from Aylesbury in September that year was included in the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.
entered Bowie’s live set in May 1973, where it was at the end of a three-song medley along with ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ and ‘All The Young Dudes’.
A recording from the Spiders From Mars’ final show, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, was released on the 1983 live album Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. It was also included in DA Pennebaker’s documentary of the show, titled Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
A live version of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ also appeared on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream.
I always thought John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos was a more likely influence on this song.