“Oh! You Pretty Things” by David Bowie
The 1970s, when David Bowie was in his twenties, can be considered his signature decade. There was a lot going on in both his personal life and artistry, with the latter of course being a reflection of the former.
You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for David Bowie's Oh! You Pretty Things at Lyrics.org.
For instance, it is known that at the time he was an adherent of the teachings of legendary 19th century philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche. David had also developed an affinity for the leanings of prominent 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley. And the understandings of both of those figures are said to have strongly influenced the wording of this track.
At the time Bowie wrote “Oh! You Pretty Things”, he was also expecting his first child (who was born shortly before the song was released). What has been speculated is that reality contributed to the nature of the third verse, in which the vocalist gets to musing about the up-and-coming generation.
The way he sees it, “they’re the start of the coming race”, i.e. a brand of human being, if you will, that will be superior to their forefathers. Or put otherwise and again influenced by the likes of Crowley and Nietzsche, Bowie felt that the world was in some kind of less-than-ideal state that would be rectified by the forthcoming of a race that is more on top of things than we are.
Or as he puts at the end of the passage, “the Earth is a bitch”, and “homo sapiens have outgrown their use”. But again this was during the early 1970s, so in that latter regard he’s not referring to us being replaced by robots. Instead both Crowley and Nietzsche, in their own respective ways, felt that we could reach a higher state of being.
David Bowie’s explanation of “Oh! You Pretty Things”
Based on one of Bowie’s own explanations of this song, what he apparently believed was akin to the younger generation’s minds being freer due to the fact that, with them growing up in an age where the media is the dominant socializing institution, they were not weakened by the dictates and beliefs of their parents.
So obviously he perceived lack of parental guidance, all things considered, as a good thing. That idea does sorta come across at the beginning of the third verse, where David proceeds to note, in somewhat of a mocking fashion, that people have lost touch with their own children. But by and large, the song doesn’t really go there.
The first and second verses, as well as the refrain that stands in between, respectively represent the vocalist’s perception of the world as it currently is, as well as his, shall we say idealized vision for the future. And in this instance, David appears to insinuate that the human race will be saved, if you will, by otherworldly beings.
Not everyone will be able to capitalize on this wave since many, if not most people are caught up in other distractions or are simply unable to perceive the change that’s coming. But along the way there will be or have been certain prophets, i.e. “golden ones”, who go about trying to make the masses privy to the coming evolution.
“You Pretty Things”
It’s in the chorus which closes out the song where we find Bowie shouting out “you Pretty Things”. The logical implication would be that he’s using such terminology to characterize the aforenoted up-and-coming generation.
But it has also been noted that Pretty Things was the name of an English R&B act at the time which Bowie had obviously taken a liking to, since he went on to cover a couple of their songs later down the line.
The vocalist also uses the chorus to indirectly reference The Mamas and the Papas, another group of musicians that was around during that time. But the sentiment of the chorus, most simply interpreted, appears to revolve around David celebrating or mocking the fact that parents are losing influence and control over their children.
That said, he is not doing so as an anarchist in the truest sense of the word. Instead, based on his belief system, this lack of parental respect is a sign of the advent of “Homo Superior”, i.e. a type of people that will lead the world to a better state than the one that currently exists.
Release Date of “Oh! You Pretty Things”
This track is from David Bowie’s fourth overall, “Hunky Dory”, which is a project that RCA Records released on 17 December 1971.
“Oh! You Pretty Things” was not issued as a single.
This track does hold the distinction of being the first track he penned for the album and also a favorite amongst David’s entire catalog as far as professional critics are concerned. And the late David Bowie (1947-2016) also had a hand in producing this piece, in that regard working alongside one of his English countrymen, Ken Scott.
There are a couple of live renditions of this song available on other David Bowie projects, one (as part of a medley) on 1980’s “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture”, another on 2002 compilation album “Best of Bowie”, and a couple more to be had on 2022’s “Divine Symmetry”.
Peter Noone, another singer from England, actually dropped a rendition of “Oh! You Pretty Things” first (officially titled “Oh! You Pretty Thing”), i.e. earlier in 1971, and his rendition was issued as a single. Noone’s version did fare well on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at 12th place, thus marking one of Bowie’s greatest hits as an author of a song which someone else recorded.
Three of the musicians who participated on this track – Mick Woodmansey (drummer), Trevor Bolder (bassist, 1950-2013) and Mick Ronson (guitarist, 1946-1993) – later formed an official yet a short-lived outfit called The Spiders from Mars, i.e. the title given to David Bowie’s band.