When the small American record label Rykodisc reissued David Bowie’s 1969 – 1980 catalogue at the start of the 1990’s, I was an avid collector of them. A couple came out every 3 or 4 months, perfectly paced for my pocket and growing interest in the artist. The new packaging and additional tracks made them quite desirable to someone so used to basic 1970’s cassette foldouts, and I look back fondly on reading up on the albums that I didn’t know before the new version came out so I’d be able to listen to them objectively and in context.
One of the best was their edition of 1972’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album which came out in the summer of 1990, the CD of which came in a limited edition box with a big booklet analysing the era and gestation of the album. I was fascinated by the list of ‘aborted’ songs mentioned as having been attempted during the recording sessions at Trident Studio. Amongst them was ‘One Paper Left’, still something of an unknown quantity among Bowie collectors – even its contemporary unreleased tracks like ‘Shadowman’ and ‘Looking For A Friend’ turned up on bootleg in multiple versions. But that summer those were still a tantalising prospect for the then very young me, with no access to record fairs and dodgy record shops. And the internet was still nearly 10 years off for me.
I had a guitar so I decided to make a song with this title to try to imagine what it would sound like. Obviously it would be glam, obviously it would be bouncy. My nonexistent song writing skills and guitar playing skills limited me in my vision, but I was pleased with the result. It was like Bay City Rollers doing the prototype Arnold Corns ‘Hang Onto Yourself’. But of course the resultant recording revealed nothing more than a small boy whispering bad lyrics (admittedly in a pretty cool tune) over one string, crude bass playing on his sister’s acoustic. With loads of tape hiss. I think the two notes (‘notes’ notice, not chords!) were E and A. Simple, but pleasing to me.
Lyrically, the only thing I could think ‘One Paper Left’ referring to was exams, such was the mood at the time with memories of sunny school days still fresh as I lazed around during the summer holidays. The ‘narrator’ of the song finding out to his shock that, between him and the promises of summer, girls and everything a little chap imagines a grown up’s summer consisting of, was one more exam after thinking that there were no more. More ‘Wayne’s World’ than Glam Rock Homosexual alien.
“I looked at the timetable and check through the tests
I looked again to make sure..
Oh no! There’s one paper left!”
The second verse took it further .. the worry of exams leading to lavatorial shittings. But what’s this? Only one piece of toilet paper left! Good stuff.
I was pretty damn pleased with it, and remember the song fondly. Although how it would’ve fit into the Ziggy concept is anyone’s idea (maybe the teenagers described by Bowie, his ‘young dudes’, had exam angst before the Starman visits? Yeah, that’ll do).
The recording was made live onto a TDK blank tape, or more likely over a free tape given away earlier that year with VOX magazine. I played it to my mum. She didn’t like Bowie anyway.
It’s become an odd memory – my architypal ‘summer song’ that I like to sing in my head on a cloudless blue day, taking me right back to school days. But I have no way of digging it out to hear. Unfortunately the recording was wiped later that summer and has not found it’s way onto the collectors market, but I recently unearthed the original lyric sheet. So keep your eye on the specialist Rock / Pop auctioneers.