Tuesday, February 9, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: Young Americans

Released on March 7, 1975 by RCA Records, Young Americans is ninth studio album from David Bowie that would be a genre exercise for the artist where he would venture fully into the world of American soul music. Rather than taking on a genre that was very hot at the time that included the R&B and soul music in Philadelphia where much of the album was recorded. Bowie would provide his own take on the genre as much of the sessions in Philadelphia were produced with Tony Visconti with sessions from New York City produced with Harry Maslin. Along with recurring collaborators Earl Slick and Mike Garson on the album as well as saxophonist David Sanborn who appeared in the 1974 David Live album. The album would mark the first in a series of collaborations with two men who would be part of Bowie’s rhythm section for the rest of the decade in drummer Dennis Davis and guitarist Carlos Alomar while the album would feature contributions from John Lennon and future soul legend Luther Vandross.

The album’s title track opens the record as it is this upbeat yet steady cut that features some funky guitar riffs and a swanky saxophone by David Sanborn. While many of the lyrics are very cynical, it does have this sense of imagery into this outsider’s perspective of America as it would feature these amazing backing vocals from Luther Vandross, Robin Clark, and Ava Cherry as it also features a line from the Beatles song A Day in the Life. Speaking of the Beatles, a cover of Across the Universe is in the record as it features guitar work and backing vocals from John Lennon as well as a slow and steady drum track by Dennis Davis as well as some lead guitar work from Earl Slick with Bowie doing an amazing vocal performance on the song. Then there’s Bowie’s first #1 U.S. single in Fame which was written with Lennon and Carlos Alomar where the latter provided this funk-based riff and a steady rhythm. As a R&B song, it is killer and danceable but it’s very dark lyrically as it plays into the many pratfalls of fame with Lennon providing some unique vocal embellishments on its coda.

While other upbeat cuts like Somebody Up There Likes Me and Fascination also feature some elements of funk and soul with the former having lots of saxophones and a steady rhythm while Bowie providing some unique vocal flair that includes bits of falsetto and low-baritone vocals. The latter which is co-written with Luther Vandross is this very funky tune with some very upbeat and sexually-driven lyrics as well as some cool guitar licks by Carlos Alomar. The mid-tempo track Right is among one of the album’s highlights in terms of not just its steady and smooth presentation but also in the vocal arrangements in how Bowie and Vandross would find ways to place a vocal line with Vandross, Robin Clark, and Ava Cherry singing backup as it is a song that is just riveting in the way Bowie shares the spotlight with the other vocalists.

The album includes two ballads that would display Bowie’s strength as a balladeer but not in traditional sense. Win is this smooth soul track with these flourishing saxophone melodies that emerge and a slow tone with some guitars and these gorgeous backing vocals. Bowie’s vocals are key to the song’s success in the way he sounds a little rough but also would hit these low notes to these somber yet engaging lyrics. The other ballad in the album Can You Hear Me is sort of a love song that is just another slow ballad but with a more steady rhythm and David Sanborn’s wailing saxophone solos. Vocally, it is one of Bowie’s best work as he just knows how to use what notes to sing as well as express every sense of anguish without over doing it.

From the 1991 Rykodisc reissue and later the 2007 Collector’s Edition reissue from EMI are three bonus tracks that were made during the sessions in Philadelphia as the first is a remake of John, I’m Only Dancing in a disco presentation of sorts as it is given a more upbeat tempo with some backing vocals as it is one of the finest remakes of a song but from the artist who did the original. The other two bonus tracks feature originals that didn’t make it into the final cut of the album in the form of the mid-tempo ballads Who Can I Be Now? and It’s Gonna Be Me as both songs provide Bowie with some great vocals and be backed by amazing instrumentation and backing vocals. The latter of which would feature strings as it was added for the 2007 reissue. Another bonus track that appeared as part of box set of album reissues in 1989 is a cut called After Today which is this upbeat track that has Bowie using some unique falsetto as he is largely accompanied by its funky rhythms and Sanborn’s saxophone.

Young Americans is an incredible album from David Bowie. As a R&B/soul album, it is a record that manages to be all of those things and more in terms of its instrumentation, musicianship, and in the vocal arrangements. As a standalone piece, the album is really one of Bowie’s best as it has him taking on a genre that he isn’t known for and providing his own interpretation that makes it fresh and vital. In the end, Young Americans is a phenomenal album from David Bowie.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - David Bowie (1969 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Aladdin Sane - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Station to Station - Low - “Heroes” - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Never Let Me Down - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - Earthling - ‘Hours…’ - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases: David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - The Buddha of Suburbia

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016

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