Released: 14 April 1967
Gus Dudgeon: vocals
Pete Hampshire: guitar
Derek Boyes: keyboards
Bob Michaels: organ
Dek Fearnley: bass guitar
John Eager: drums
Unknown session musicians
‘The Laughing Gnome’ was a novelty single released by David Bowie in April 1967. It featured the sped-up voices of Bowie and Gus Dudgeon.
I guess I am what the greatest number of people think I am. And I have no control over that at all. This lot on Bowienet are quite funny and sarcastic – they’re not, like, goths, all serious and heavy. They do a lot of sending-up, which I like… there’s an awful lot of referencing ‘Laughing Gnome’ and Dame Bowie and all that.
I had to get over that a long time ago. [laughs] But then as we all know, history is all revisionism. One makes one’s own history.
Uncut, October 1999
The ‘Ha ha ha, hee hee hee’ chorus had its roots in ‘Little Brown Jug’, a 19th Century drinking song popularised by jazz bandleader Glenn Miller in 1939. ‘The Laughing Gnome’ also quotes The Singing Postman’s 1965 novelty hit ‘Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?’.
A key influence at the time was Anthony Newley, whose vocal style Bowie often adopted on the Decca recordings.
Aarrghh, God, that Anthony Newley stuff, how cringey. No, I haven’t much to say about that in its favour. Lyrically I guess it was really striving to be something, the short story teller. Musically it’s quite bizarre. I don’t know where I was at. It seemed to have its roots all over the place, in rock and vaudeville and music hall and I don’t know what. I didn’t know if I was Max Miller or Elvis Presley. The Cheeky Chappy with a… with a… hip. [Laughs] I don’t know. It’s quite funny.
Q magazine, April 1990
Although he later disowned ‘The Laughing Gnome’, before making peace with it in the 1990s, Bowie did reuse the varispeeded vocal effect on several other songs, including ‘After All’, ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, and ‘See Emily Play’.
In 1990, Bowie announced that the songs for his forthcoming Sound + Vision Tour would be chosen by telephone voting. Using the slogan “Just Say Gnome”, the NME campaigned its readers to vote for ‘The Laughing Gnome’, and the song topped the poll before the idea was scrapped.
I’ll tell you what, I was thinking of doing ‘Laughing Gnome’ and was wondering how to do it, maybe in the style of the Velvets or something, until I found out that all the voting had been a scam or something, perpetuated by another music paper. I mean, that was an end to it. I can’t pander to the press now, can I?
Melody Maker, 1990
In March 1999 Bowie took part in a comedy sketch, titled Requiem For A Laughing Gnome, for the charity event Comic Relief. Viewers were encouraged to donate to bring the performance, in which Bowie played a descant recorder, to a close.
Bowie and his band did perform ‘The Laughing Gnome’ during a soundcheck at Wembley in November 2003, during A Reality Tour. It was even added to the setlist two days later for a 28 November show at the SECC in Glasgow, but was removed at the last minute.