Album Score: 9
You might read the title of David Bowie's archive release Early On (1964-1966) and be absolutely shocked to learn that he goes back that far. Indeed, I've known about Bowie's history for quite some time, but I still it to be incredible that he started releasing music the same year that The Rolling Stones released their first album. Of course, the reason that so few people know that Bowie started in the mid-'60s is because he failed to have any hits. And listening to the material on this compilation, it's abundantly clear why; this stuff just ain't that great! But this stuff ain't bad, either, and if you're a big-time Bowie fan, you might just find it worthwhile to pick up this archival release.
Just like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones before him, David Bowie got started singing covers of '50s rock 'n' roll. This album opens up with a surprisingly engaging take on 揕iza Jane.� It's a far cry of course from capturing the same type of spirit that The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds were able to capture, but it's perfectly nice and toe-tapping. 揕ouie, Louie Go Home� is much shakier and less likable, but he makes up for that with an interesting take on 揑 Pity the Fool,� which features these heavily layered saxophone sounds. Hardly a revolutionary concept, but it's a lot of fun!
Everything after the first three tracks are Bowie originals, and they range from bad to mediocre to mildly good. (I know! He covers quite a spectrum!) 揟ake My Tip� is the very first David Bowie original, and it's a very confused little thing that shows some promise, but it's overall just too dull to make an overall impression on me. Probably the most embarrassing selections on this album are the folk songs. Excuse me while I barf on them! 揟hat's Where My Heart Is� is terrible featuring a boring vocal performance and a dull melody. 揃ars of the County Jail� is even worse... by the sound of the song title, it was supposed to be some sort of outlaw Johnny Cash thing, but it sounds so dang ham-fisted! Blah! ... But in those songs' defense, they both sound like they were demos, so maybe they would've been better if some executive let Bowie flesh them out in the studio. Eh. I still don't think they would've been very good songs.
揧ou've Got a Habit of Leaving� begins the 1965 era when he was performing in the band called Davy Jones and The Lower Third. That's a neat band name, but their songs are like a poor-man's The Who! They're certainly not terrible, but it's pretty obvious these guys were just blindly writing mod music without ever really feeling what made them tick. That is a very flat-sounding song, and that moment where they start to go NUTS over their instruments seems very tacked on. The B-side of that single, 揃aby Love That Way� is even less distinctive. All I remember about it is a boring power chorus repeated a dozen times. Next!
揅an't Help Thinking About Me� was the very first song where David Bowie was known as David Bowie. (As you may or may not know, Davy Jones is also the name of the guy from The Monkees who was approximately 1,000,000,000 times more popular at the time.) That song also marks the moment when he decided to adopt more of a Brit-pop Kinksish tone with his songwriting, which is a lot more suitable to him! It's not a particularly great song, but I do enjoy listening to it.
At some point in 1966, Bowie and The Lower Third parted ways and he started a completely new band called The Buzz. Except he was releasing singles simply as David Bowie probably because The Buzz was a pretty terrible backing band, as you can witness for yourself in the thoroughly unremarkable 揇o Anything You Say� and 揋ood Morning Girl.� So terrible, they were, that Bowie's manager replaced them with session musicians to record the final two songs on this compilation: 揑 Dig Everything� and 揑'm Not Losing Sleep.� That's a good thing, because both of these songs are easily the best originals that this album has to offer. He seemed to be abandoning all of his earlier rock 'n' roll ambitions and trying out more straightforward pop music. They are both nicely written and even mildly memorable... Although they are also completely unoriginal. So, all they ended up achieving was yet another chapter in the tale of Bowie's failed singles.
This is definitely a nice collection for Bowie's avid fans who would find the idea of Bowie performing in all these mid-'60s bands to be a novel concept. Just realize that most of this material isn't particularly good. It took David Bowie a long time to mature as a songwriter... a VERY long time... Practically a century considering how quickly rock music was evolving back then.