I came to David Bowie late. I bore most people about this whenever he enters the conversation.
That prat dancing in his pyjamas with Mick Jagger in the 80s! What an idiot! How wrong I was as I discovered all those incredible 70s albums, song by wonderful song.
Amid this voyage of discovery, three albums have stayed with me more than the others, each side shaming me as I recall how I once thought of him. Those three albums are Hunky Dory, Low and Young Americans, which I thought I’d revisit here.
It’s a potentially controversial pick as one of Bowie’s favourites. It’s the one where Dave ditched the glam rock entirely, got even more coked up, ordered himself a ‘Shazzy flick’ hairdo and took his love of soul music into the studio.
Bowie gave the appearance of being dismissive of it at times. He referred to it in a 1976 interview as the “definitive plastic soul record” adding “it’s the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey”.
But while he may have been a wiry, ex-glam English dude pretending to do soul, he ended up creating an album that is packed full of it, as well as American radio friendly hits, while retaining a distinct Bowie sound. He probably knew of all of that though while he publicly had a pop at it.
Who helped him along the way? Tony Visconti was on hand, as he so often was, on production duties, while the backing vocalists were a then unknown Luther Vandross, Ava Cherry and Robin Clark, the wife of guitarist Carolos Alomar, who breathes more life into the songs.
There’s more too. His music biz chum John Lennon turns up as co-writer and backing vocalist on the album’s most well-known track Fame. And the Beatles help too, in a roundabout way, as Bowie covers Across the Universe.
What I love about the album is that it is beautifully crafted and consistent throughout, from the first snare drum and sax solo on opener Young Americans to the final electric guitar lick of closer Fame.
Within this collection is the wonderfully wistful Win, the wah-wah-ed funk of Fascination, which is my personal favourite. What a song.
His love for Across the Universe comes out clear. It’s not the greatest cover version in the world, and certainly the weakest on the album but the guitars are superb here.
Young Americans is a far cry from his glam days and also the further changes for Bowie to come throughout the rest of the 1970s.
Words by Joe Lepper