Released: 11 July 1969
David Bowie: vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, handclaps
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Mick Ronson: guitar, handclaps
Paul Buckmaster: double bass (single version)
Unknown session musicians
David Bowie (1969)
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
The Width Of A Circle
Originally the b-side of the ‘Space Oddity’ single, David Bowie re-recorded ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ during the sessions for his self-titled second album.
According to Bowie’s former landlady and lover Mary Finnigan, Bowie wrote the song in her garden at 24 Foxgrove Road, Beckenham, while playing with her young son.
He wrote ‘The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ sitting on the swing in our garden with Richard my son playing around him. Richard probably inspired that song.
‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ is one of Bowie’s darkest early compositions. The titular unnamed boy is condemned to death, awaiting the hangman’s noose at daybreak for the ‘crime’ of madness. Unknown to the townspeople, the boy shares a magical symbiosis with the surrounding mountains, and the village is reduced to rubble as the boy dies.
There are some tracks on there [the album] I’m really proud of… ‘The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ is one of the best. It’s about a boy who falls in love with the mountain where he lives. The people in his village think he’s mad and they’re determined to kill him, to hang him, but the mountain protects him and kills the village. That was the b-side of ‘Space Oddity’, but no one ever heard it.
David Bowie: Living On The Brink, George Tremlett
“Knowledge comes with death’s release”, Bowie sang in 1971’s ‘Quicksand’, and here is an earlier antecedent: the boy with the magical stare, who smiles as the noose tightens, but whose tormentors know nothing of his powers.
A source of inspiration appears to have been a 1962 translation of Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard’s book The Wild Boy of Aveyron, which Bowie read in early 1969. The book was an account of a French feral child known as Victor of Aveyron, who was discovered as a young adolescent in the early 19th Century. Itard was a doctor who effectively adopted Victor, studying and writing about his progress.
Bowie’s wild eyed boy is less tethered to a precise place and time, but shares a displacement and alien status among the villagers of the song. The song became the perfect counterpoint to the extraterrestrial isolation of ‘Space Oddity’, and signalled many of the themes which would be explored in subsequent songs: alienation, persecution, godlike potential, mortality, madness.
I must say I seem to say most things the long way round – I suppose that’s why a lot of my numbers are very involved and long. The Wild Eyed Boy lives on a mountain and has developed a beautiful way of life. He loves the mountain and the mountain loves him. I suppose in a way he’s rather a prophet figure. The villagers disapprove of the things he has to say and they decide to hang him. He gives up to his fate, but the mountain tries to help him by killing the village. So in fact everything the boy says is taken the wrong way – both by those who fear him AND those who love him, and try to assist.
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969
‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ helped convince Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey to join Hype, Bowie’s proto-glam band which later morphed into the Spiders From Mars.
I remember the first day I met him. He played me albums of his folk stuff, and it really wasn’t my genre. I’d never been into folk music; I thought Bob Dylan was like Yogi Bear on drugs or something – that’s what it sounded like to me!
It was probably because I thought there was generally no good drumming on it, so although I appreciated it was another medium of art, it was nothing to do with what I did. But it was what David did. But then David picked up his guitar and played me ‘The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’. There was just me and him in the room, and he was five feet away.
And you know, I’d gone in there with a mental checklist – does he look good as a frontman, does he dress well, can he write, is he intelligent – because I’d just turned down a really good and steady job as assistant foreman at the Vertex spectacles factory in Driffield for this! But at the end of that song, I just thought – wow, well he can write!
Music Republic Magazine
During the final British leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour in 1973, ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ was the first part of a medley which also included ‘All the Young Dudes’ and ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’. It can be heard on the 1983 release Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.