The Laughing Gnome

The Laughing Gnome“ is a song by English singer David Bowie, released as a single on 14 April 1967. A pastiche of songs by one of Bowie’s early influences, Anthony Newley, it was originally released as a novelty single on Deram Records in 1967. The track consisted of the singer meeting and conversing with the creature of the title, whose sped-up voice (created by Bowie and studio engineer Gus Dudgeon) delivered several puns on the word „gnome“. At the time, „The Laughing Gnome“ failed to provide Bowie with a much-wanted chart placing, but upon its re-release it became a hit, reaching number 6 on the British charts.

William Mann’s 1967 review of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band compared that album’s similar interest in music-hall and Victoriana influences to „The Laughing Gnome“: „a heavy-handedly facetious number which … steadfastly remained the flop it deserved to be“. NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray later described it as „Undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenalia“. However, Bowie biographer David Buckley has called „The Laughing Gnome“ a „supremely catchy children’s song“ and compared it to contemporary material by Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, while Nicholas Pegg considered that „the world would be a duller place without it“.

The song became a hit when reissued in 1973, in the wake of Bowie’s commercial breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and the US reissue of his 1969 hit „Space Oddity“. Despite it being radically different from his material at the time, the single made No. 6 in the UK charts and was certified silver in the UK (250,000 copies sold), which according to Carr and Murray of the NME left Decca Records as „about the only unembarrassed party“. A second reissue in 1982 was not as successful, failing to chart.

In 1990, Bowie announced that the set list for his „greatest hits“ Sound+Vision Tour would be decided by telephone voting, and NME made a concerted effort to rig the voting so Bowie would have to perform „The Laughing Gnome“ (with the slogan „Just Say Gnome“). The voting system was scrapped. Bowie later joked to NMEs rival Melody Maker that he had been considering performing it in a new ‚Velvet Underground-influenced‘ arrangement. He also considered performing it on his 2003 tour.

The mono single and its flip side were given a stereo remix in July 2009 at Abbey Road Studios for the 2010 double-disc „deluxe“ package of Bowie’s debut album. According to the sleeve notes, „The Laughing Gnome“ was recorded at Decca Studios No. 2 on 26 January, 7 February and 10 February, and 8 March 1967.

The original 1967 record is considered collectable, with UK pressings in perfect condition being valued at £200 by Record Collector magazine’s 2016 Rare Record Price Guide. In 2011, a Belgian demonstration pressing (also from 1967) sold for more than £2300.