In the studio‘Space Oddity’. With the song successfully recorded, its b-side was swiftly laid down by Bowie and double bassist Paul Buckmaster.
The first recording was wholly acoustic, and featured Bowie on 12-string guitar and vocals, and Paul Buckmaster on bowed (arco) double bass.
Bowie prefaced the recording with a brief spoken-word introduction: “The ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’, with Paul Buckmaster on arco bass.” This introduction was retained on pressings of the single in some countries.
‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ was re-recorded during the sessions for Bowie’s second album. This time it was given a full orchestral arrangement, at the behest of producer Tony Visconti.
Gus Dudgeon recorded a quickie version of this with the short time left from the Space Oddity session as a b-side. Paul Buckmaster, the talented arranger of Space Oddity, played a kind of freakout avant garde cello part to David’s 12-string. I saw this as a disservice to such a great song, it needed to be done right. I don’t know how I convinced the label to lash out on a 50-piece orchestra but we got them, and three hours time at Trident Studios to record it. When Gus heard it he adamantly said we had just overdubbed the orchestra on his production. I don’t know how he thought that since his version and mine barely resemble each other in structure and tempo. This is why Paul Buckmaster was credited as cellist in the original liner notes, at Gus’s insistence. With hand over heart I vow that my version was recorded from scratch.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
Visconti disliked the original recording, and convinced Mercury Records to allow him to use a 50-piece Wagnerian orchestra on the re-recording. The grandiose arrangement took him five days to write.
In the studio Bowie played acoustic guitar alongside the orchestra, with his vocals overdubbed afterwards. Rehearsals began at 10am but, due to technical problems at Trident, the recording was made in a single take shortly before the session’s 1pm end.
The set up was amazing. David was sat right in the middle of the orchestra with his 12-string and I was on a podium with an 11-page score I had written spread out on three or four music stands. Trident never recorded such a huge orchestra. David didn’t sing live, he played the acoustic guitar – he was the rhythm section! There were many delays getting the performance onto tape as Trident had just installed a new 16-track tape machine the night before and didn’t know how to line it up (as in tuning up the engine of a car) but they just got it up to speed in the end. We managed to get one take done before 1pm, the end of the musician hire. To go overtime would cost the equivalent of £5,000 or £6,000 today. But it was a perfect take. It worked.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
Bowie’s vocals were recorded in the studio control room, as was Visconti’s bass guitar part. Contributing guitar and handclaps, in his first Bowie session, was a future Spider From Mars, Mick Ronson.
At the mixing stage of this album, John Cambridge, the drummer in Junior’s Eyes, introduced us to his guitar player friend from Hull – Mick Ronson. Mick came to the mix of ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’, and was persuaded to play a little guitar line in the middle part and joined in the handclaps on the same section. That is actually the first appearance of Mick Ronson on a David Bowie album.
The mixing of the song was further complicated by the problems with Trident’s 16-track recording technology. Early releases were plagued by tape hiss, which remained until the album was remastered in the 1990s.
Trident had only just received their new 16-track machine, the first one in England, and there was no test tape included! So the house engineer was frantically tried to calibrate it whilst we were rehearsing the song over and over again. I wanted to record a take after two hours. We did, but the playback was diabolical – there was more hiss than music on the tape… Eventually, with five minutes to spare, we got a take on tape that had about equal amounts of music and hiss. It was hell to mix. The original vinyls and the rereleased RCA CDs had all that terrible hiss on that track. But when Rykodisc remastered the Bowie albums, a new technology had been invented which removed hiss from old recordings, and ‘The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ finally sounded as brilliant as it did on the day we recorded it in the studio, before it went to tape.
David Bowie recorded ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ twice for BBC radio. The first, for The Sunday Show, was recorded on 5 February 1970 and broadcast three days later.
The second BBC version, taped on 25 March and broadcast on Sounds Of The 70s on 6 April, was included on 2000’s Bowie At The Beeb. Both BBC recordings featured Mick Ronson on guitar, Tony Visconti on bass guitar, and John Cambridge on drums.
Editions released in some countries included Bowie’s spoken introduction. The US version of the single contained an edit which left out the song’s first verse.
This first recording of ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ was rarely heard prior to its reissue in Sound + Vision in 1989, where it was the second song.
Sound + Vision was reissued in 2003, and contained the version of ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ with Bowie’s spoken introduction. That version was included again on the 40th anniversary reissue of the David Bowie album in 2009.
The 2009 reissue also included a shorter ‘alternate album mix’, made in 1987 by PolyGram’s Tris Penna. This was slightly shorter than the album mix, omitted Visconti’s bass guitar part, but had Bowie repeatedly whispering ‘Sock it to me’ over the opening chords.
The Five Years (1969–1973) box set, released in September 2015, contained a remaster of the original UK mono single version. This was included on the Re:Call 1 compilation.
Four years later, the Conversation Piece box set included five versions of ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’. Two were versions of the album recording – a new remaster, and Tony Visconti’s 2019 mix. The other three versions were of the single b-side: the 2015 remaster of the mono mix; a 2019 remaster of the stereo mix; and a new 2019 stereo mix.