The album reviewed here is David Bowie’s 9th album and saw him relocate to America, ditching the Ziggy Stardust/Glam persona and immersing himself in soul music.
Written by: Explorer
ARTIST: David Bowie
ALBUM: Young Americans
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue list
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England, USA
LINEUP: David Bowie – lead and backing vocals, guitar, keyboards
Additional Musicians: John Lennon – guitar, backing vocals * Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick – guitar * Mike Garson – keyboards * David Sanborn – saxophone * Willie Weeks, Emir Ksasan – bass * Andy Newmark, Dennis Davis – drums * Larry Washington, Pablo Rosario, Ralph McDonald – percussion * Anthony Hinton, Ava Cherry, Diane Sumler, Luther Vandross, Robin Clark, Warren Peace, Jean Finberg, Jean Millington – backing vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 Young Americans * 02 Win * 03 Fascination * 04 Right * 05 Somebody Up There Likes Me * 06 Across The Universe * 07 Can You Hear Me * 08 Fame * 09 Who Can I Be Now? (bonus) * 10 It’s Gonna Be Me (bonus) * 11 John, I’m Only Dancing Again
WEBLINKS: Site Link
I’m sure most visitors to this site are more than aware of David Bowie, so I was rather surprised to see that Bowie is not represented here at Glory Daze, so I thought it was time to put that right, as I believe David Bowie to be a true icon of rock music, and an artist who, to this day is still creating challenging and exciting music. Through his many guises, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke he constantly reinvents himself and therefore keeps his music fresh and vibrant. Of course, along the way there have been a few wrong turns.
‘Let’s Dance’, although giving Bowie mass worldwide appeal was, for me rather insipid and dreary and the following few albums ‘Tonight’ and ‘Never Let Me Down’ did not improve matters, but I digress, as a body of work Bowie’s music is nothing short of superb. The album reviewed here is David Bowie’s 9th album and saw him relocate to America, ditching the Ziggy Stardust/Glam persona and immersing himself in soul music.
In particular the Philly sound and recording an album of ‘plastic soul’, a term coined by Bowie himself, but creating an album full of funky riffs, outstanding vocal arrangements and above all a set of beautiful songs. ‘Young Americans’ went a long way to seal Bowie’s position as a superstar in the US, a few years after he had exploded on the UK scene during the Glam Rock period.
Before I go into the songs individually is has to be noted that the majority of this album was recorded live in the studio with the band and Bowie being in the same room and, according to producer Tony Visconti, Bowie’s vocals are 85% live and first take making Bowie’s performances all the more remarkable.
‘Young Americans’ kicks off the album with a funky, insistent vibe and a chorus that is infectious. With a busy but not cluttered arrangement the song bursts with energy and with beautifully arranged backing vocals and an urgent vocal from Bowie sets the standard for the rest of the album. ‘Win’ is the first ballad on the album and features a wonderful soulful vocal from Bowie, with David Sanborn’s sax work acting as the perfect foil to the vocals.
‘Fascination’ is a co write with a young Luther Vandross and again Bowie’s vocals are infectious, with a rasp about them (Bowie later admitting this was down to his drug habit at the time) and the band sound so tight with guitarist Carlos Alomar adding funky licks and Sanborn blowing some serious sax.
‘Right’ slows the pace a little after the high tempo of ‘Fascination’ with the interplay between Bowie and the backing vocalists being a delight to hear and dominating the track, but with Carlos Alomar adding some tasteful licks, the funkiness is never too far away. ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is a slow burner of a song with Bowie delivering a stunning vocal and the band coming together to produce a song that is a real ensemble piece.
‘Across The Universe’ is a cover of the Beatles classic and in truth is rather clunky and awkward and adds nothing to the original. The song is saved somewhat by Bowie’s passionate vocal and a nicely understated guitar performance from a young Earl Slick. ‘Can You Hear Me?’ gets things back on track, another ballad, the string arrangement here is gorgeous and with Bowie and the backing vocalists adding passion this a contender for one of Bowie’s best ever songs.
‘Fame’, a co write with guitarist Carlos Alomar and ex Beatle John Lennon gave David Bowie his first number one single in America and is a funk ‘piece de resistance’ the stabbing guitar riff from Alomar, and strident drumming from Sly And The Family Stone stick man Andy Newmark all adds up to a classic song.
The various re issues of the album have included 3 extra tracks recorded at the time but deemed not worthy of inclusion, all three keep up the high standard set by the preceding songs. A dance/disco re working of his own ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ is a delight to hear and ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ is a beautiful torch song and finally ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’, a slow burner with another exquisite Bowie vocal.
Although generally not seen as a ‘classic’ David Bowie album, ‘Young Americans’ sees an artist willing to branch out into otherwise undiscovered territory. On this album I think Bowie has never sounded better, and the band he assembled around him, including the backing vocalists makes this, for me a beautiful album, full of (in particular) stunning vocal arrangements and song writing of the highest calibre and the one Bowie album I return to most of all.
I find myself surprised at this as my early teens were dominated by the Glam of ‘Ziggy Stardust and ‘Aladdin Sane’ with all their androgynous swagger and the unforgettable incendiary guitar playing of Mick Ronson. To catch Bowie’s state of mind around the time of ‘Young Americans’ it is definitely worth catching the BBC documentary ‘Cracked Actor’ to see an artist soaking up America and all its influences, and also a rather fragile character fighting his inner demons.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)