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“Holy Holy” mono single version (1971)

I posted an update on “Holy Holy” a few days ago which features a version of the song that was actually recorded for potential inclusion on Ziggy Stardust, but was dropped until it was used as a B-side later and has reappeared as bonus material elsewhere. Today’s post features the original mono version Bowie released as a single in 1971. It’s the same song but the two versions are distinctly different.

I wrote about this song without consulting either Nicholas Pegg’s go-to reference book, The Complete David Bowie or Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog or corresponding book, Rebel Rebel. Having done so now, I’ll note that O’Leary seems to confirm my supposition that “Holy Holy” was, “a half-written song,” and both he and Pegg point out references in the song related to British occultist Aleister Crowley.

I had mentioned that Bowie seemed to be trying to work into the song some themes he had been playing around with in The Man Who Sold the World, and musically O’Leary once again confirms this. Also, you might notice if you actually watch the video that the B-side for the single was “Black Country Rock,” the other song on which Bowie imitates Marc Bolan’s voice. But the Crowley theme comes up again not (at least not obviously) on The Man Who Sold the World, but on Hunky Dory and specifically the song, “Quicksand.” Bowie goes so far as to name check Crowley in that song and reference some of Crowley’s strange pseudo-religious concepts. Later, Bowie posed as Crowley in a much-reproduced photo which, to the uninitiated looks like Bowie posing as a sphinx.

Though I did not recognize the spirit of Crowley in my initial hearings of this song, I did recognize a religious/mystical resonance. As O’Leary points out, though, other rockers, like Jimmy Page were interested in Crowley in the early 70s. In that respect, the heavy metal aspects of The Man Who Sold the World, not terribly dissimilar to Led Zeppelin at that time suggest that the idea for the song comes out of the same pool.

Some fans seem to really like the idea that Bowie was obsessed with Crowley, which I really don’t see. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a third song that directly references Crowley, though I think I’ve seen references to other song’s interpreted through a Crowley-centric lens including “Golden Years” and, bizarrely, “Let’s Dance.” I’m not sure about all that, but after reading Pegg and O’Leary I see it with “Holy Holy.” None of this is all terribly profound, but it’s interesting enough to mention and this version of the song is interesting enough to hear, at least once.

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