Changes (David Bowie song)
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album Hunky Dory|
|Released||7 January 1972|
|Producer(s)||Ken Scott, David Bowie|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
"Changes" is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, originally released on the album Hunky Dory in December 1971 and as a single on 7 January 1972. Despite missing the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, "Changes" became one of Bowie's best-known songs. The lyrics are often seen as a manifesto for his chameleonic personality, the frequent change of the world today, and frequent reinventions of his musical style throughout the 1970s. This single has been cited as David Bowie's official US debut. "Changes" was the last song Bowie performed live on stage before his retirement from live performances at the end of 2006.
The song ranked number 128 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is one of four of Bowie's songs to be included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.
It charted for the first time on the UK Singles Chart on 15 January 2016 at number 49 following Bowie's death.
Composition and recording
"Changes" was written by Bowie in the summer of 1971 and recorded around the same time at Trident Studios in London. Co-produced by Ken Scott, he recorded it with pianist Rick Wakeman and the musicians who would later become known as the Spiders from Mars – Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey. Wakeman was asked to play during the Hunky Dory sessions and accepted. He recalled in 1995 that he met Bowie in late June 1971 at Haddon Hall in Bakewell, Derbyshire, where Bowie played him demos of "Changes" and "Life on Mars?" in "their raw brilliance". He recalled: "He [played] the finest selection of songs I have ever heard in one sitting in my entire life...I couldn't wait to get into the studio and record them." This unreleased demo, featuring Bowie solely on piano, exhibits more "enthusiasm" than "accuracy" from the artist, along with containing "breathy 'huh's'" to a slightly different lyric: "now I place myself to face me...the weeks still seem the same". Bowie plays a saxophone solo on the final recording – one of his earliest – which he recollected was recorded "when I was still going through ideas of using melodic saxophone." Bowie has said that the track "started out as a parody of a nightclub song, a kind of throwaway".
Musically, "Changes" is an art pop song that is built around a distinct piano riff, featuring the keys going up in a "diatonic major descent". According to biographer Peter Doggett, Bowie did not know the chord changes on guitar or piano, but "he followed his fingers as they crept, slowly up and down the keyboard, augmenting familiar shapes or simply reproducing them a step or two along the ivories." The piano and bass are similar to the album track "Oh! You Pretty Things", going up and down a C to D scale. Doggett writes: "It was as if the piano was scared to rest in one place for more than a couple of beats, in case it would be hemmed in or halted. By restlessly moving, it kept its options open and its spirit alive." The song's famous chorus, Bowie stuttering the 'ch' at the beginning of the word 'changes', has been compared to the English rock band the Who, specifically their 1965 song "My Generation" ("hope I die before I get old" reads "pretty soon now you're gonna get older"). Pegg also perceives a parallel to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'" in the lyrics "time may change me, but I can't trace time", in that Bowie is speaking up for his own generation against his elders. Bowie had previously spoken about this in an interview with The Times in 1968: "We feel our parents' generation has lost control, given up, they’re scared of the future. "I feel it's basically their fault that things are so bad." While biographer Andy Buckley calls album track "Life on Mars?" a parody of Frank Sinatra's "My Way", he calls "Changes" an inversion of it, stating, "[it's] not a valedictory farewell, but a prophetic hello" in the line "turn and face the strange".
The lyrics focus on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention ("Strange fascination, fascinating me / Changes are taking the pace I'm going through") and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream ("Look out, you rock 'n' rollers"). Buckley writes that 'strange fascination' is a phrase that "not only embodies a continued quest for the new and the bizarre, but also carries with it the force of compulsion, the notion of having to change to stay afloat artistically." He also identifies the line "look out you rock 'n' rollers' as Bowie "throwing the gauntlet down to existing rockers" and "putting a distance between himself and the rock fraternity." He further analysed the lyrics: "So I turn myself to face me / But I've never caught a glimpse / Of how the others must see the faker / I'm much too fast to take that test". He writes that these lines elucidate the three most important components in Bowie's quest for stardom. They highlight the themes of identity, the "mutability" of character" and a "sense of play" in both first and third person, signaling the creation of Bowie's future persona Ziggy Stardust. Buckley states: "Bowie plays up the self-made myth of his butterfly nature, his innate ambivalence, and his endless musical, sexual and political vacillation." Pegg notes that Bowie reflects on his inability to achieve success up to that point, being taken down "a million dead-end streets" and every time he thought he'd made it "it seemed the taste was not so sweet." Pegg identifies the line "I turned myself to face me" as mirroring Bowie's encounter with himself in The Man Who Sold the World track "The Width of a Circle". Throughout the 1970s, Bowie had a "pathological fear" of repeating himself, both musically and visually. He gave himself the epithet 'faker' and proclaimed himself as "pop's fraud; the arch-dissembler." His identification of himself as the 'faker' gives him anxiety, believing that he is "much too fast" to be affected by how others' opinion of him. Pegg summarises the lyrics as Bowie "holding a mirror to his face" just as he's about to achieve stardom.
The song has also been interpreted as touting "Modern Kids as a New Race", a theme echoed on the following album track, "Oh! You Pretty Things". Rolling Stone's contemporary review of Hunky Dory considered that "Changes" could be "construed as a young man's attempt to reckon how he'll react when it's his time to be on the maligned side of the generation schism". Douglas Wolk of Pitchfork describes the song as "Bowie effectively explaining his aesthetic to fans of the Carpenters."
Release and reception
"Changes" was released on 17 November 1971 in the UK and 4 December 1971 in the US as the opening track on Bowie's fourth studio album Hunky Dory. It was subsequently released as the first single of the album on 7 January 1972 by RCA Records (as RCA 2160) with fellow album track "Andy Warhol" as the B-side; it was Bowie's first single released by RCA. In France, the B-side was "Song for Bob Dylan", despite the label stating that it was "Andy Warhol". This single has been cited as David Bowie's official US chart debut. Upon release, like the album, it flopped commercially, peaking at number 66 on the US Billboard charts and failing to chart in the UK. Despite this, it became English disc jockey Tony Blackburn's record of the week. It wasn't until the success of Bowie's following album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) that recognition was brought upon Hunky Dory and "Changes", which according to Pegg quickly became a "turntable favorite" and "embedded" itself into the "pop-culture psyche". Commentators have later argued that "Oh! You Pretty Things" was the "obvious single" from the album over "Changes". "Changes" also appeared with "Velvet Goldmine" as a B-side of the UK re-release of "Space Oddity" in 1975.
In his book The Complete David Bowie, biographer Nicholas Pegg calls Wakeman's piano performance "superb" and overall one of Bowie's "pivotal recordings". Ned Raggett of AllMusic calls the chorus "absolutely wonderful" and compliments everything from Wakeman's piano, Bowie's vocal performance and the performances of the Spiders from Mars. He concludes saying: "The descending chords of the bass hint at that particular glam rock element's incipient dominance, while Ken Scott's production and Mick Ronson's excellent string arrangement – not to mention Bowie's own winning sax part – complete the package." In 2015, Ultimate Classic Rock placed the song on their list of the top 200 songs of the 1970s, writing, "Even before his career took off, Bowie was giving a glimpse of his future, singing about change in a voice that sounded an awful lot like a certain rock 'n' roll troubadour from Mars. After a few stumbling years, Bowie found his voice on 1971's Hunky Dory. "Changes" is his coming-out party." The same publication, in their list of Bowie's ten best songs, listed it at number two, calling it "a beautiful tune" and praising Bowie's vocal performance as one of his finest, "showcasing one of the most unique voices in rock history." The staff of Rolling Stone listed "Changes" as one of Bowie's 30 essential songs, writing that although Bowie said it started as somewhat of a "parody of a nightclub song", it ended up being a "st-st-st-stuttering rock anthem". In 2018, the writers of NME listed "Changes" as Bowie's third greatest song.
Retrospectively, "Changes" is described by numerous Bowie biographers as a manifesto of his entire career. Throughout the 1970s, Bowie changed his musical styles and appearances constantly; Doggett notes that each album he released between 1974 and 1977 could not have predicted the next, from Diamond Dogs (1974) to Young Americans (1975), Young Americans to Station to Station (1976), and Station to Station to Low (1977). Following his death in 2016, he has been dubbed the "chameleon of rock" by numerous publications and biographers due to his constant reinvention throughout his career, which matches the overall theme in "Changes". Buckley notes that 1971 was a pivotal year for Bowie; it was the year in which he became "something of a pop-art agent provocateur. In a time when rock musicians looked to traditions and established standards, Bowie looked to be radically different and challenge tradition, reinventing himself again and again, thereby creating new standards and conventions. Doggett also notes that "Changes" is a "statement of purpose": it was the first track on Hunky Dory, the first time his audience had heard of him since The Man Who Sold the World (1970), and his previous hard rock and metallic sound was not present. The song was unlike "Space Oddity" and its 1969 parent album, but rather "pure, unashamedly melodic, gleefully commercial, gorgeously mellifluous pop."
The song was ranked at number 128 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2010 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was re-ranked number 200 in its 2021 revised list. It is one of four of Bowie's songs to be included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In late 2016, the song was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
"Changes" is the namesake of the retrospectives Changesonebowie (1976), Changestwobowie (1981) and Changesbowie (1990). It has appeared on multiple compilation albums, including Changesonebowie, Changesbowie, The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 (1997), Best of Bowie (2002), Nothing Has Changed (2014) and Legacy (2016).
Bowie played the song for the BBC's Johnny Walker Lunchtime Show on 22 May 1972. This was broadcast in early June 1972 and eventually released on Bowie at the Beeb in 2000. Bowie frequently performed "Changes" throughout his concert tours. According to the artist, "it turned into this monster that nobody would stop asking for at concerts: 'Dye-vid, Dye-vid – do Changes!' I had no idea it would become such a popular thing." Performances from the Ziggy Stardust Tour have been released on Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1983) and Live Santa Monica '72 (2008). Another previously unreleased performance from Boston Music Hall on 1 October 1972 was released in 1989 on the original Sound + Vision Plus box set and on the 2003 reissue of his 1973 album Aladdin Sane. Performances from the Diamond Dogs Tour have been released on David Live (1974), Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74) (2017), and I'm Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) (2020). Live versions from the 1976 Isolar Tour, the Glastonbury Festival and the Reality tour were released on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, Glastonbury 2000 (2018) and A Reality Tour (2010), respectively. On 9 November 2006, Bowie performed the song with American singer Alicia Keys at the Black Ball fundraiser in New York. Also performing "Wild Is the Wind" and "Fantastic Voyage", it was Bowie's final live performance before his death in 2016.
- "Changes" – 3:33
- "Andy Warhol" – 3:58
According to Kevin Cann:
- David Bowie – vocals, saxophone, producer
- Mick Ronson – guitar, string arrangement, backing vocal
- Trevor Bolder – bass guitar
- Mick Woodmansey – drums
- Rick Wakeman – piano
- Ken Scott – producer
|US Billboard Hot 100||66|
|US Cash Box Top 100||59|
|US Billboard Hot 100||41|
|US Cash Box Top 100||38|
|Canada RPM Top Singles||32|
|Sweden Heatseeker (Sverigetopplistan)||4|
|UK Singles Chart||49|
|US Billboard Rock Songs||10|
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