60 school kids from the 70s singing Bowie's Space Oddity.
November 8, 2001 9:01 AM   Subscribe

60 school kids from the 70s singing Bowie's Space Oddity. An incredible recording. A 60 student chorus of western Canadian rural school children belting out, among other things, Good Vibrations, Desperado, and, the cream of the crop, I think, Klaatu's Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. mp3 samples on the page. It is amazing. Read David Bowie's quip. (And the quip from the American Orff-Schulwerk Association is classic.)
posted by mmarcos (47 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The record label, Basta, is from the Netherlands. I know them from the excellent Raymond Scott material they publish.
posted by mmarcos at 9:03 AM on November 8, 2001

"The backing arrangement is astounding. Coupled with the earnest if lugubrious vocal performance you have a piece of art that I couldn't have conceived of, even with half of Colombia's finest export products in me."

That's.. that's coffee, right? (blinks innocently)

Anyway, it's kind of corny, but those songs were pretty good. I wish my music teacher had done that sort of thing with us, instead of just standing there sweating. If he had, there's no limit to what I might have accomplished. Alas!
posted by Hildago at 9:16 AM on November 8, 2001

They had the teacher and the woman who sang "Desperado" on one of the NPR shows recently. The woman seemed a little bitter and sad. The music was much more interesting than I ever would have expected.
posted by eckeric at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2001

This really took back. We had a young, "cool" music teacher in seventh grade who could play these amazing accompaniments to pop tunes, and every Friday we'd belt out "If" by Bread and "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond while she'd beat the tar out of those keys. I wonder if kids still get to sing just for the joy of it in school.
posted by alumshubby at 9:25 AM on November 8, 2001

And that rendition of "Desperado" (sung by a 12ish year old girl) was eerie. Or beautiful. Or something. It made me pay attention to the song, which I haven't done in, well, when was it released?
posted by mccreath at 9:25 AM on November 8, 2001

Let's have a show of hands: How many of you like the kids singing "Space Oddity" even better than the Thin White Duke?
posted by alumshubby at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2001

I just realized why I liked the kids' rendition better: Sixty voices singing in unison "It's time to leave the capsule if you dare."
posted by alumshubby at 9:35 AM on November 8, 2001

Let's have a show of hands: How many of you like the kids singing "Space Oddity" even better than the Thin White Duke?

That smacks of heresy!

The renditions are sweet, with a sound of innocence that makes me a bit sad when I realize that I have lost mine.

Nicely done and nice to see there are (or were) some teachers that truly love their job.
posted by Dagobert at 9:41 AM on November 8, 2001

My fave is "Band on the Run." The silliness of the song is perfectly matched with the kids' voices. Although "Rhiannon" is pretty haunting, too.

I first heard these on the radio: the original vinyl recordings were unearthed by the amazing Irwin Chusid of Incorrect Music, one my favorite programs from New Jersey's WFMU. (Irwin masterminded the creation of the CD: you can get more details on this here and here.)

The shows are archived, and you can catch the live versions on Wednesdays via WFMU's various streams.
posted by BT at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2001

that was brilliant, thanks for clueing me in to that. must see if my local weird music shop has the cd. i must hear that "calling occupants of interplanetary craft" version ASAP.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 10:15 AM on November 8, 2001

I'll never forget the day I heard the Langley School version of "Space Oddity" on Incorrect Music. I almost fell out of my chair. I sort of pictured the kids as having a Children of the Damned look about them, marching in place to the dirge-like composition...when the whole record came out, I was sort of reassured to see that the kids did not *appear* to be brainwashed, and that many of the other tunes-- Desperado especially--were quite beautiful.

O/T personal qualm disclosure: As much as I like outsider music/art, I've never gone to see Wesley Willis or Daniel Johnston or the Shaggs for fear of seeing that others in the audience are really just there to laugh at them (though heck, I saw people at a show making fun of Will Oldham's facial tics, so maybe all performers are free game). Maybe I'm in denial about why I like it.

(overheard outside the Outsider Art Show at the Puck Building, 4 years ago: "Have you seen [some showcased outsider artist]?" "Oh, yes! I had dinner with him! He's brilliant! He's retarded!")
posted by cowboy_sally at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2001

The little girl singing Desperado moved me to tears. I bought it.
posted by basilwhite at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2001

A bunch of some 50 grownups at London's Royal College of Art, called the Portsmouth Sinfonia, did a similar thing back in the 1970s. Some trained musically, some not. God Only Knows, A Day in the Life, Pinball Wizard, etc. etc.

I got sent their first album, Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, to review in 1974, but can't remember, all these years later, whether I actually did so or not. Brian Eno was the sound producer.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2001


i've never heard "desperado" sound more beautiful.
posted by ronv at 10:56 AM on November 8, 2001

I prefer David Bowie's version, and find it amusing that "lugubrious" means ludicrously dismal. His use of such a word in relation to this work is an indication of Bowie's wonderfully dry sense of humor. He was either giving them a backhanded compliment, or a surreptitious insult without conduct unbecoming a gentleman of his position and stature. Being who he is, Bowie can't discredit the work openly without shaming himself. These are kids after all, and it was recorded so long ago.

It's clear that David Bowie is fascinated with fan response to his work. He's even used that to his advantage with BowieNet in the past, collaborating with his own fans on various projects. I'm certain that a children's choir doing Space Oddity in the seventies amuses him, and he finds it flattering. From an artistic standpoint this is what art's about - allowing people to express themselves. Usually children's choirs are forced to express their instructor's wishes and not their own. So from an educational standpoint, Bowie can do nothing but support this. However, the results must have given him a chuckle to say the least. They're sincere, sweet and pure, but also cacophonic, emotionally uncertain and downright feral. Like kids around a campfire. This work can't withstand any kind of serious scrutiny.

It's fun. That's what music should be. It's not "good" by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2001

mmarcos, the record label is Bar-none records, a Hoboken label. The guy who runs the label was about bankrupt until he stubled across this. My mom and him are friends ( being that they share office-space). Crazy small world.
posted by remlapm at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2001

If Bowie had been directing the kids, and they had decent sound backup instead of what they had (lugubrious indeed)

It would have been awesome....of course they should have brought the key up a little as the key the song was in was tough for young voices-hence the tendercy at spots to go off key......

when I was in 8th grade a lot of our music class was taken up by singing songs such as "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon......Let's see... that would have been in 1973....
posted by bunnyfire at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2001

I got goosebumps when I heard "Venus and Mars." Maybe this is the old guy in me, but...I have a feeling this sort of thing couldn't happen with today's knowing, ironic and cynical youth. Am I wrong?
posted by davebush at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2001

I don't come to Metafilter for more conspiracy theories or isn't the war going badly stuff. I come for finds just like this. Very cool link.

If there was some way to award "coolness points" to posters you would get some of mine.
posted by johnmunsch at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2001

What makes the rendition of Space Oddity so chillingly beautiful is that 60 innocent voices are singing one of the most "adult" songs ever recorded -- a journey into the true unknown, beyond the normal realm of discovery, aging, and everything we grow to accept about life. It overwhelms me to hear these children singing as if they have internalized all the emotional depth and power of Bowie's lyrics and music.
posted by sixfoot6 at 11:14 AM on November 8, 2001

I heard this on NPR's Weekend Edition a few weeks ago, too (though I can't find a link to the story quickly). They interviewed the girl (now a 30-ish woman) who sang the Desperado cut as well as the music teacher who created the albums. She seemed a little unnerved to have attention brought to this now after all these years. In fact, Scott Simon mentioned that some of the people are a bit unhappy about the whole thing.

WFMU wasn't mentioned in the NPR piece (they're an independent public radio station, not part of the NPR hegemony), but I knew immediately that this was the work of Irwin.
posted by briank at 11:19 AM on November 8, 2001

I always thought the song was about taking heroin (which is why Major Tom shows up as a junkie in "Ashes to Ashes"), which makes this whole undertaking even more curious.
posted by jga at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2001

I find the Langley recording charming for what it is. Reminded me of my junior high music teacher around '80-'81 that had us singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." He really liked the operatic parts that lead up to the rock part. He'd always stop us right as we got up to the lines "so you think you can stone me/and spit in my eye." Thank you Steve Landby, wherever you are.
posted by CosmicSlop at 11:30 AM on November 8, 2001

CosmicSlop, you had a way-cool music teacher. For my part, I remember the arrival of new music textbooks in the "general music" class I was in 1979, which had clearly been the product of a generational shift: instead of the American standards and folk chestnuts we'd had before, the book and its accompanying record had trippy arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby," "Age of Aquarius," and "Hurdy-Gurdy Man" that we sang along with. Really quite psychedelic, and while years out of date by the time it got to us, it seemed pretty radical to my preteen ears. I envy the Langley kids: I bet they had a lot of fun.
posted by BT at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2001

The NPR segment on this project is online.
posted by rcade at 12:20 PM on November 8, 2001

BT...sounds like something Silver Burdette might have published. I'm vaguely recalling learning about the Beatles in music class through "Eleanor Rigby" and discussing why the string accompaniment sounded the way it did.
posted by alumshubby at 1:19 PM on November 8, 2001

remlapm, sorry, you're right. I got the link via the Basta site and did not pay attention. They are distributing in Europe I guess. Thanks for the correction, Bar-none records deserves the credit.

rcade, thanks for the link. The girl, now lady, who sang Desperado, did sound bittersweet but greatful. She seemed to be hurt that Langer left the school and she wasn't able to continue with this music. Langer is right about the teacher cliche, but there is truth behind cliches anyway. I remember a pivotal history teacher in 7th grade who introduced us to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock and got us to read and discuss part of the book for a while. He opened my mind and changed my life. They fired him soon afterwards and replaced him with a schmuck.
posted by mmarcos at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2001

It's absolutely beautiful. Thanks for bringing this to our attention - exactly MetaFilter at its best.
posted by skylar at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2001

Now that I'm in corrections mode: Bar-None Records' page on the recording.
posted by mmarcos at 1:58 PM on November 8, 2001

Another thanks for sharing. While there is some unintended humor at times, their rendition of "God Only Knows" is just beautiful.
posted by O9scar at 2:10 PM on November 8, 2001

speaking of future shock, have you ever read stand on zanzibar? mind opening and life changing! btw, the girl singing desperado rocks like cat power :)
posted by kliuless at 2:25 PM on November 8, 2001

Hidago: "...half of Colombia's finest export products in me."

Blink innocently and correctly -- Bowie was one of the original members of the Coffee Achievers way back in 1983! (sorry, couldn't find a link, but it's true - trust me)
posted by davidmsc at 2:27 PM on November 8, 2001

And if you want to hear the original from Klaatu, here's a link to a free 2-minute download of "Calling Occupants..."

posted by davidmsc at 2:54 PM on November 8, 2001

> I'm curious what music would be picked when this happens today

skallas, it has happened! In the Bay Area, there is a TV commercial for a product called KidsPop (sorry, I couldn't find a link). I'm sure the kids sing that "You steal my sunshine" song. Chuma Wumba's, "I get knocked down, but I get up again" and that horrible Smash Mouth song, "Hey now, you're an all star, get your game on" come to mind, as does one of Christina Aguilera's tunes. Every time I see it I think, it's just a bunch of kids singing...why wouldn't you just buy the original recordings for your kids to sing along with? Clearly, I'm missing the point.
posted by bradlauster at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2001

Cool link: Thanks! At age nine, Space Oddity was the first record; the first 45rpm I ever bought (1973). But I can't imagine it being part of the Airmont School curriculum. And I can't imagine it being performed by a group of school kids. Let me rephrase that: I find it disturbing that kids (who appear to be in late elementary school?) are singing disturbing music. Then again, if John Zorn thinks it's cool, it probably is. Thanks again.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:42 PM on November 8, 2001

Maybe this is the old guy in me, but...I have a feeling this sort of thing couldn't happen with today's knowing, ironic and cynical youth. Am I wrong?

A few weeks ago I was a substitute teacher for a friend's 7th and 8th grade music classes. Playing Peter Gunn and the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark was a big thrill for them. I think they'd love to play pop songs, and so would their choir counterparts.
posted by neuroshred at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2001

I guess the sharp menace of the kids' countdown in "Space Oddity" falls in the "despair" category...
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:48 PM on November 8, 2001

Read David Bowie's quip. (And the quip from the American Orff-Schulwerk Association is classic.)

posted by rodii at 5:57 PM on November 8, 2001

I guess the sharp menace of the kids' countdown in "Space Oddity" falls in the "despair" category...

Exactly! When I closed my eyes while playing this song I kept seeing Malachi and company, holding candles and praying to He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
posted by Optamystic at 5:59 PM on November 8, 2001


quip (kwp)
1. A clever, witty remark often prompted by the occasion.
2. A clever, often sarcastic remark; a gibe. See Synonyms at joke.
3. A petty distinction or objection; a quibble.
4. Something curious or odd.

Bowie: witty?, clever?, sarcastic?
Association: petty objection!
posted by mmarcos at 6:11 PM on November 8, 2001

(I would say--sorry for saying off-topic--that 3 and 4 are moribund senses, if not entirely dead, in modern English. But thanks for that; I didn't know they had ever even been alive.)
posted by rodii at 6:48 PM on November 8, 2001

It's absolutely beautiful. Thanks for bringing this to our attention - exactly NPR's Saturday Edition of last weekend at its best.
posted by y2karl at 6:51 PM on November 8, 2001

Oops, make that NPR's Weekend Edition two weekends ago...
posted by y2karl at 7:17 PM on November 8, 2001

i bought it. it was even a bit of a challenge to find. tower records was sold out.

the president was in town today. a presidential motorcade decimates atlanta traffic worse than a ten-car pile-up. listening to this CD made the hour long experience bearable...

posted by grabbingsand at 10:13 PM on November 8, 2001

Interesting. While this recording has its moments, I don't find it nearly as freakishly good as The Shaggs or even Lucia Pamela.

Great front page post; I probably would not have heard about this CD elsewhere.
posted by D.C. at 3:12 AM on November 9, 2001

Kids singing are a bit frightening ("We don't need no education... we don't need no thought control...") but when they start singing Space Oddity you have a fairly disturbing audio experience.

"Good Vibrations", by comparison, just sounded thin and awkward. There must be something about young voices singing spooky music in a volume close to a shout that makes it worth more than the sound itself.

The background music sucked. It would have been better a cappella.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2001

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