Hello Britpop. When I was a teenage Bowie fan all the biographies mentioned how David’s early vocal style was indebted to Anthony Newley’s, but I’d never heard of or heard Newley before and didn’t get round to tracking his stuff down. Now of course I realise that the biogs could have said “Bowie kidnapped Newley, cut his larynx out from his still-pulsing throat and had it transplanted in a secret Crowleyan ceremony” and they’d not have been exaggerating. The resemblance is almost grotesque, and of course having grown up with Bowie it takes a big effort to remember that it’s Newley who minted the style.
In a way it’s fitting that I can’t separate Newley from his pastiche – Newley’s fame as a pop singer was founded on a pastiche of his own. Jeep Jackson, a British rock star forced topically into the army, was the lead character in a proto-Carry On romp called Idle On Parade. Alongside Sid James and Bernie Winters was Newley, playing Jackson and winding up in the charts himself with songs from the film, helping to fill the Presley-shaped gap created by the great man’s real army career. Bowie would have adored such an onionish origin.
As a song “Why?” is almost too saccharine to take seriously. “I’ll always love you so / Why? Because you love me / No broken hearts for us because we love each other” and on and on like a Cockney Care Bear. The glassy, plinksome arrangement is all too appropriate. As a performance, though, this is cutting-edge, another exercise in selling Britain its own speaking voice – Newley’s London edge is weirdly offset by his backing cherubs’ Transatlantic tint. Newley’s singing sounds more natural and emotive than Adam Faith – not that he’s given much to emote with here – the experiment fails only because the song is so rotten.