Unwrapping David Bowie's 'Toy'

David Bowie's 'Toy'
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Throughout his entire one-of-a-kind career, David Bowie rarely looked back. And when he did, he did it unlike anyone else. Consider the saga of Toy, an album of very old material intended for release in 2001 but resting in the vaults until now, when it will be included as part of the new Brilliant Adventure 1992-2001 box set as well as its own expanded release in 2022, ahead of what would have been the singer's 75th birthday.

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Following on from Bowie's 'hours...' album in 1999, he and his band - guitarist Mark Plati (a last-minute replacement for Reeves Gabrels, who'd departed suddenly before it was time to tour), bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, keyboardist Mike Garson and drummer Sterling Campbell - planted the seeds for Toy at a recording for VH1 Storytellers, during which Bowie surprised everyone by adding "Can't Help Thinking About Me" to the setlist. The song was released at the top of 1966 - his first to be credited to Bowie instead of his birth name of David Jones, and three years before "Space Oddity" made him a new star in his native England. Typically dismissive of this material, Bowie gradually began adding more of these songs into his repertoire, like "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" and "Karma Man," obscurities to all but the most devoted Bowie fanatics.

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Eventually Bowie decided to lay these songs down in the studio with his live band, plus exciting familiar face (Earl Slick, the guitarist on Bowie's Young Americans and Station to Station; and Tony Visconti providing string arrangements) and new ones entirely (guitarist Gerry Leonard and violinist Lisa Germano). Rather than replicate the sound of those forgotten singles, Bowie pushed the boundaries of the tunes, mixing their quirky composition with modern rock and jazz sensibilities.

But no one can say why Toy got put back in the box after being intended for release in 2001. Rumors persisted that Bowie and his then-label, Virgin, could not see eye to eye on the material; others claimed he could not figure out how to release it, wanting to do something more spontaneous and innovative than the current music industry could allow. (Bowie eventually returned in 2002 with the Visconti-produced Heathen, and some of the Toy tracks ended up reworked for that album or used as B-sides.

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On Jan. 8, 2022, fans will finally be able to play with Toy as originally intended, in a set that will include several mixes of the album and intended B-sides across three CDs or six 10" vinyl records. And the man who sang "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" will stay firmly in our memories once more.

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