(Credit: Alamy)

The Story Behind the Song: 'Can't Help Thinking About Me', the first glimpse of David Bowie

David Bowie was not always David Bowie. His given name is David Jones and the singer released a bit of material in the early to mid-1960s under his birth name. Eventually, he would pick up the new stage name, David Bowie, due to another rising star with a very similar name, Davy Jones of The Monkees. With Davy Jones out of contention Bowie had also considered changing his first name and adopting ‘Tom’, but you can probably see where that’s going too.

Though his stage name posed a disagreeable moment for the star, Bowie knew what he wanted to do from a very early age. “Even from eight or nine years old, I thought, well, I’ll be the greatest rock star in England. I just made up my mind,” Bowie, then Jones, once noted. After releasing a few singles as David Jones, he was no closer to that dream, but things would start to change once Jones became Bowie.  

It is somewhat ironic that the first single David Bowie would ever release under the new name was aptly titled ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’. It was released through Pye Records in 1966, and on the record, the song was actually accredited to David Bowie with The Lower Third. The ‘lower third’ part was Bowie’s band at the time, who had signed with Pye Records on the 25th of November in 1965. The band consisted of Graham Rivens on bass, Phil Lancaster on drums, and Dennis Taylor on guitar. 

‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ and its B-side, ‘And I Say To Myself’, were both recorded in the basement of the Pye offices in Great Cumberland Place, on December 10th — what glamour! Years later, during a session of VH1’s Storytellers, Bowie would facetiously describe his first single as a solo artist, as “a beautiful piece of solipsism”. Despite this and the single’s lowly chart position, it was very clear from the beginning that Bowie had a lot of potential as a successful recording artist. It seemed like things were moving fairly quickly for the young Starman, who was only 18 at the time.

The track was recorded only 15 days after Bowie was signed to Pye Records with his group. When two of Bowie’s demos got into the hands of record producer Tony Hatch, he signed Bowie immediately. Even for a young fledgeling group like David Bowie with The Lower Third, inter-band drama and money problems arose. His group became incredibly concerned about “who was getting paid what”, especially regarding the relationship between Bowie and their then manager, Ralph Norton. Even though the group had just released the track on January 14th, Bowie’s band walked away from him on the 28th. 

Other money problems arose when the label used a loan given by Raymond Cook to host a launch party for members of the industry to gain momentum and influence sales of the record. The party came to life on January 6th and was held at The Gaiety Bar in Bayswater. Already plagued with a financial uphill battle and an attempt to launch a new artist, tensions and emotions were high. These were only accentuated when another artist signed to Pye Records made an unexpected appearance at the party.

It was none other than Alfred Lennon, the father of John Lennon. Unsurprisingly, other guests described his demeanour as “highly inebriated”. He was accosting the other guests at the party, and when confronted, he responded with “Do you know who I am?”.

Amidst these high tensions, ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ was released on January 14th, and later released in the U.S by Warner Brothers in May of 1966. The single, unfortunately, failed to chart in either the UK or the US.

During the aforementioned VH1’s Storytellers sessions, in which the featured performers are invited to tell the story surrounding any particular song, Bowie displayed that he was clearly not a fan of the song in general but had a particular distaste for the lyrics.

Bowie’s love of lyrics, most notably their ability to be absurd and attainable in the same breath, meant this song fell for the Starman. In fact, he described the track in question as “containing two of the worst lines, although some may disagree, that I have ever written” The lines in question are pretty horrendous: “My girl calls my name/ ‘Hi Dave, drop-in, see around, come back/ If you’re this way again”.

As he is telling a very captivated audience about this, he cringes as he utters the lyrics. Due to the song’s commercial failure, Bowie dropped the track by 1966 from his live sets. It wouldn’t be until years later, during the VH1 sessions, that he revived the song and performed it live again.

Watch it, below.