Young Americans (album)
|Studio album by David Bowie|
|Released||7 March 1975|
|Recorded||August - November 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia; January 1975 at Electric Lady Studios, New York|
|Genre||Blue-eyed soul, hard rock, Philly soul|
|Producer||Tony Visconti, Harry Maslin, David Bowie|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Young Americans|
|Robert Christgau||(C+, later B-)|
Young Americans is the ninth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released in 1975. For the record, which showed off his 1970s "obsession" with soul music, he let go of the influences he had drawn from in the past, replacing them with sounds from "local dance halls", which, at the time, were blaring with "lush strings, sliding hi-hat whispers, and swanky R&B rhythms of Philadelphia Soul". Bowie is quoted describing the album as "the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey". Because of the strong influence of black music on the album, Bowie used the term "plastic soul" (originally coined by an unknown black musician in the 1960s) to describe the sound of Young Americans. Although Bowie was an English musician bringing up touchy American issues, the album was still very successful in the US; the album itself reached the top ten in that country, with the song "Fame" hitting the No. 1 spot the same year the album was released.
- 1 Album development
- 2 Track listing
- 3 Personnel
- 4 Charts
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Begun on 11 August 1974, during breaks in David Bowie's Diamond Dogs Tour, Young Americans was recorded by Tony Visconti primarily at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was agreed early on to record as much of the album as possible live, with the full band playing together, including Bowie's vocals, as a single continuous take for each song. According to Visconti, the album contains "about 85% 'live' David Bowie".
In order to create a more authentically soulful sound, Bowie brought in musicians from the funk and soul community, including an early-career Luther Vandross and Andy Newmark, drummer of Sly and the Family Stone. It was also Bowie's first time working with Carlos Alomar, leading to a working relationship spanning more than 30 years. Carlos, who hadn't heard of Bowie before being called in to help with the album, recalled that Bowie was "the whitest man I've ever seen - translucent white" when they met. Carlos said of how the album was put together:
David always does the music first. He'll listen for a while then if he gets a little idea the session stops and he writes something down and we continue. But later on, when the music is established, he'll go home and the next day the lyrics are written. I'd finish the sessions and be sent home and I never heard words and overdubs until the record was released.
The sessions at Sigma Sound lasted through November 1974. The recording had attracted the attention of local fans who began to wait outside the studio over the span of the sessions. Bowie built up a rapport with these fans, whom he came to refer to as the "Sigma Kids". On the final day of tracking the Sigma Kids were invited into the studio to listen to rough versions of the new songs.
"Across the Universe" and "Fame" were recorded at Electric Lady Studios with John Lennon in January 1975. They replaced previously recorded tracks "Who Can I Be Now" and "It's Gonna Be Me" on the record, though these songs were later released as bonus tracks on reissues of the album. The guitar riff for "Fame", created by Alomar, was based on the song "Foot Stompin'" by the doo-wop band The Flairs.
Bowie considered several different titles for the album, including "Somebody Up There Likes Me", "One Damned Song", "The Gouster" and "Fascination".
In the UK, the "Young Americans" title track was released as a single in 1975 and reached No. 18 (in the US it reached #28). The UK single featured a rather awkward live version of "Suffragette City" possibly lifted from the David Live LP as its B-side. Bowie performed "Young Americans" on the Dick Cavett Show in the US - his flaming red hair now being a feature of a gaunt looking Bowie that was later to be nicknamed "The Thin White Duke" - his lead character on the following sessions for Station to Station Bowie had an acoustic string guitar strapped to his back for much of the performance, suggesting that it was only a prop and not really required on stage. Vandross can be seen on the TV footage as a session backing singer, along with Ava Cherry.
"Fame" became the second single featuring "Right" on the B-side, this time reaching No. 17 (with Bowie scoring his first US #1). The writing of "Fame" is credited to Bowie, Alomar and Lennon. Legend has it that in 1974, "Fame", recorded at Electric Lady Studios NY, developed out of a combination of Bowie listening to a great deal of soul music during his US Diamond Dogs Tour and Alomar playing a guitar 'lick' during a break in recording. Alomar's lick has since been confirmed as that taken from "Foot Stompin'" by The Flairs. Lennon, who was still on his 'lost weekend' from Yoko Ono but was celebrating the release of his Walls and Bridges album, had dropped into the studio and took up the opportunity to jam with the boys. Lennon had just been recording with Harry Nilsson and others, the fruits of which were to be released a year later on his Rock 'n' Roll album. Bowie was said to have particularly enjoyed Lennon's company at the recording sessions which also saw a re-working of Lennon's famous Beatles track "Across the Universe". Lennon later remarked that he thought Bowie's version to be the best. As for the soul music Bowie was listening to, it is believed that Shirley & Company's "Shame Shame Shame" was a favourite at the time. Earl Slick, who had been on the Diamond Dogs Tour with Bowie in the US and who appeared on the David Live–the live record taken from the tour–was present during some of the Young Americans sessions and went on to work with Bowie on Station to Station (though not the resulting tour in 1976) and the Serious Moonlight Tour in the 1980s. Slick appears on "Fame".
A third single was mooted but did not materialise from the Young Americans sessions until November 1979 when an edited version of "John I'm Only Dancing Again" (catalogue number: RCA Bow 4) was released in the UK. This track had been recorded as part of the original sessions but rejected from the final cut of the LP. In fact the UK single version, which was also issued as a full-length version on 12" single, was released as a result of RCA putting pressure on a new Bowie recording ahead of the sessions that were to shape Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The single came with "John I'm Only Dancing 1972" which had also not been available as a 7" single in the UK but had appeared on the Bowie compilation ChangesOneBowie in late 1975. "John I'm Only Dancing Again" featured in 1980 on ChangesTwoBowie. The slot for the proposed third single in 1975 from Young Americans was taken by "Golden Years" from the emerging new sessions from what became Station to Station. Ironically, the B-side of "Golden Years" was "Can You Hear Me" – thought by many fans to be a worthy A-side and likely third single from the Young Americans sessions. In the UK, late 1975 saw the re-release of "Space Oddity" ahead of "Golden Years" - "Space Oddity" finally brought Bowie his first No. 1 single.
However, in 1991, "John I'm Only Dancing Again" surfaced again together with two other rejected tracks not previously released from the original Young Americans sessions, "It's Gonna Be Me" and "Who Can I Be Now". All three tracks were issued on the Rykodisk/EMI CD version of Young Americans - part of the Sound/Vision CD series that resulted in a number of previously unreleased tracks coming to the fore on the various new CD pressings of Bowie's back catalogue LPs. "John I'm Only Dancing Again" recorded at Sigma Studios Philadelphia, features a young Luther Vandross on backing vocals with Ava Cherry and Robin Clark.
The Young Americans sessions also included David Sanborn on saxophone, one of his first times in a recording studio. Vandross co-wrote "Fascination" with Bowie, the album's third track.
All songs written by David Bowie except where noted.
- "Somebody Up There Likes Me" – 6:30
- "Across the Universe" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 4:30
- "Can You Hear Me?" – 5:04
- "Fame" (Bowie, Carlos Alomar, Lennon) – 4:12
This album has been re-released on CD four times, with the first being by RCA in 1984, the second in 1991 by Rykodisc (containing three bonus tracks) on silver CD and later on AU20 Gold CD, the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks). A fourth reissue with an accompanying DVD was released on 19 March 2007, in higher sound resolution and mixed in 5.1 surround sound, featuring "Who Can I Be Now?" and "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" from the 1991 Rykodisc release, an alternative version of that release's "It's Gonna Be Me" bonus track plus video footage from the Dick Cavett TV show. The Rykodisc and 5.1 surround mixes both replace "Win", "Fascination" and "Right" with alternate mixes from 1974. (The later Au20 edition restores the original mixes) Another outtake appears on the 1989 box set Sound & Vision, "After Today", released in 2003. The Rykodisc editions (original and Au20) both have incorrect production credits.
1991 reissue bonus tracks
- "Who Can I Be Now?" – 4:35
- "It's Gonna Be Me" – 6:29
- "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" – 6:58
1989 Sound & Vision box set
- "After Today" - 3:50
2007 collector's edition bonus tracks
- "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
- "Who Can I Be Now?"
- "It's Gonna Be Me" (Alternate version, with strings)
- "1984" (Live on The Dick Cavett Show, DVD only)
- "Young Americans" (Live on The Dick Cavett Show, DVD only)
- "Dick Cavett interviews David Bowie" (DVD only)
The bonus tracks "After Today," "Who Can I Be Now?," and "It's Gonna Be Me," were outtakes from the 1974 Sigma Sound sessions in Philadelphia.
- David Bowie – vocals, guitar, piano
- Carlos Alomar – guitar
- Mike Garson – piano
- David Sanborn – saxophone
- Willie Weeks – bass guitar (except on "Across the Universe" and "Fame")
- Andy Newmark – drums (except on "Across the Universe" and "Fame")
- Larry Washington – conga
- Pablo Rosario – percussion on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, Luther Vandross – backing vocals
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar, backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Earl Slick – guitar on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Emir Ksasan – bass guitar on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Dennis Davis – drums on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Ralph MacDonald – percussion on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Jean Fineberg – backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
- Jean Millington – backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
In popular culture
Two songs from the album have featured on the soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto games. Firstly, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the in-game radio station K-DST, and "Fascination" was featured in Grand Theft Auto IV on the in-game station Liberty Rock Radio, the latter of which was hosted by Bowie's former collaborator Iggy Pop.
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