David Bowie's 1967 deep cut "Please Mr. Gravedigger" is a disturbing end to an otherwise cheery disk.
David Bowie hit the big time in 1969 with "Space Oddity, a space-age tale that perfectly coincided with the moon landing. But Space Oddity was not Bowie's recording debut. In 1967 Bowie released his self-titled first album as a solo artist under the Bowie name.
Don't feel too bad if you never heard, or even heard of David Bowie, it wasn't the work of genius that we'd come to associate with the man. The most listenable tracks, like "Silly Boy Blue," and "Love You Till Tuesday" are the sort of British Invasion trifles that already sounded out of date. But there were also enough weird digressions to suggest there was a mad genius behind the songwriting.
And "Please Mr Gravedigger" is the wierdest digression of them all. Like all good spooky songs, it tells a story; but this story turns on a dime, with a truly creepy twist ending. It starts off as a statement of working class solidarity with a poor gravedigger working in the rain, risking pneumonia for a boss he hates. The narrator promises to look the other way if "Mr. GD" wants to steal a trinket from the body
David Bowie's "Please Mr. Gravedigger" is not the story you think it is
Then the narrator reveals that he murdered the young girl whose grave the gravedigger recently dug. Why did he do it? Is he remorseful? These are questions of interpretation.
But there is one clue. The narrator has been apparently visiting the grave every day, which is how he's come to know the gravedigger. But in case Mr. GD gets suspicious about the shadowy figure lurking around, the narrator warns that there's a hole for him too, working class solidarity be damned.
As he sniffles and sneezes throughout the song, it becomes apparent that this murderous obsessive has too succumbed to a cold, or pneumonia.
Leave it to Bowie to write a song that isn't even really a song. It's more of a monologue, and there's no instrumentation, only creepy sound effects.
"Please Mr. Gravedigger" doesn't lend itself well to live performances. But he did perform it once, on the German TV show 4-3-2-1 Musik Für Junge Leute, but as far as I can tell, the footage has been lost..., or perhaps banished from existence by an exorcist.