Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 13 May 1968
Producer: Bernie Andrews
The ‘Mercury’ Demos
David Bowie: vocals, guitar
John McLaughlin: guitar
Alan Hawkshaw: keyboards
Herbie Flowers: bass guitar
David Bowie wrote ‘When I’m Five’ in 1968, and recorded it the same year for BBC radio. It was also included in the 1969 film Love You Till Tuesday.
Similarly to 1967’s ‘There Is A Happy Land’, the song is written from the point of view of a four-year-old child, who eagerly awaits growing older and gaining rights and responsibilities.
Bowie recorded a home demo of the song in early 1968, the introduction of which contained a snippet from Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’.
‘When I’m Five’ was performed during Bowie’s session for BBC Radio 1’s Top Gear. Produced by Bernie Andrews, it was recorded on 13 May 1968 and broadcast on 26 May.
Bowie and the Tony Visconti Orchestra – an ad hoc collection of fourteen musicians – recorded five songs: ‘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 2000 on Bowie At The Beeb.
A cover version of the song was released by The Beatstalkers as the b-side of their January 1969 single ‘Little Boy’. It had been recorded on 27 March 1968; Bowie was present at the CBS Studio session and contributed backing vocals.
Bowie had hoped that ‘When I’m Five’ would be recorded for a second Deram album which never happened. Other song titles earmarked for the project were ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘Silver Tree Top School For Boys’, ‘Everything Is You’, ‘Tiny Tim’, ‘The Reverend Raymond Brown’, ‘Angel, Angel, Grubby Face’, and ‘Goodbye 3d (Threepenny) Joe’.
‘When I’m Five’ also became part of the repertoire of Feathers, Bowie’s folk trio with Hermione Farthingale and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. In March 1969, Bowie and Hutchinson recorded ten demos at Mercury Records’ UK headquarters in Knightsbridge, London. The tapes, which included versions of ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Janine’, ‘An Occasional Dream’, ‘Conversation Piece’, ‘Ching-A-Ling’, ‘I’m Not Quite’, ‘Love Song’, ‘When I’m Five’, ‘Lover To The Dawn’, and ‘Life Is A Circus’, were released in 2019 as The ‘Mercury’ Demos.
The repertoire for Feathers was developing as we rehearsed… Hermione joined us for three-part harmonies on David’s new song ‘The Ching-a-Ling Song’ and versions of songs intended for David’s next album [sic], namely ‘Love You Till Tuesday’, ‘Sell Me A Coat’, and ‘When I’m Five’ – which we segued into from our version of ‘Going Back’, the Carol King song.
Bowie & Hutch
The BBC recording was used in the 1969 film Love You Till Tuesday. Bowie mimed to the song and showcased some of his mime and physical theatre skills. It was one of the final scenes to be filmed.
The next and final day of the shooting schedule was occupied in finishing the ‘Space Oddity’ sequence and filming ‘When I’m Five’, for which an enormous birthday cake, complete with lighted candles taller than David himself, had been built by the studio.
The Pitt Report
The BBC audio was also included on the Deluxe Edition reissue of the David Bowie (1967) album in 2010.
The 1968 and 1969 demos, and the BBC recording, were all released in the 2019 box set Conversation Piece.
When I’m five I will wash my face and hands all by myself
When I’m five I will chew and spit tobacco like my grandfather Jones
’Cause I’m only four and five is far away
When I’m five I will read the magazines in Mummy’s drawer
When I’m five I will walk behind the soldiers in the May Day parade
’Cause I’m only four and grown-ups walk too fast
Yesterday was horrid day ’cause Raymond kicked my shin and
Mummy says if I am good she’ll let me go to school in August
Daddy shouted loud at Mummy and I dropped my toast at breakfast
And I laughed when Bonzo licked my face because it tickled.
I wonder why my Daddy cries?
And how I wish that I was nearly five
When I’m five I will catch a fly and eat it and I won’t be sick
When I’m five I will walk in puddles, laugh in church and marry my Mum
And I’ll let my Daddy do the washing-up
If I close one eye the people on that side can’t see me
I get headaches in the morning and I rode on Freddie’s tricycle
And everywhere was funny when I ran down to the sweetshop
Then I fell and bleeded-up my knee and everybody soppied me
I saw a photograph of Jesus and I asked him if he’d make me five