January 20, 2014

The Bowie Project: Young Americans (1975)

Right-o, we’re up to number 9! Join me as I take a tour up John Lennon’s arsehole! But not straight away.

Young_americans

Here we witness David Bowie taking a little jaunt into funky soul. The album opens with the title track, with which I am assuming you’re familiar. It’s a song I like, but I’ve come to become very very conscious of the way that Bowie sings it, which I have decided to describe as “hiccupy gasps”1. After a while it starts to sound a bit forced, and this is especially highlighted by the line “your President Nixon” which is delivered without this affectation, and ends up sounding like it’s been overdubbed to placate the censors. I wonder what the original line was. Maybe “Do you remember… your fuckident shitcock?” Perhaps not.

The second track, Win has given me the most grief. You see, I went through a phase of liking Beck once upon a time. It was around the time of Odelay, Mutations and Midnite Vultures that I really rated him as one of my favourites. Then things started to tail off, I discovered that he was a scientologist, and after that I didn’t want anything to do with him. Anyway, one of my favourite Beck songs was Debra, and it was a huge influence on the Shiny Tight Stuff song Checkout Girl. Now it turns out that Beck was ripping off David Bowie all along. Which leaves me in a very interesting situation, because whereas I had always felt like I was riding the coattails of a genius, it turns out that the “genius” in question was actually the one with no originality, and what I was doing was, by comparison, a much fresher composition.

Anyway, the song itself is a sort of slow, sleazy, saxy sex slurry. It’s not the only one of those on the album.

Fascination is pretty fucking brilliant, there’s some kind of envelope filter or something on the bass, and it all funks along magnificently. The chorus is a little lacking in purpose, Bowie just hiccups and gasps for a while.

More slurry in Right, not a bad little ditty but it does tend to circle around the same ideas for 4 minutes without really going anywhere. I’m starting to tire of all the saxophone on this album, which seems to come from the school of “hold a really high note for ages”.

Hearing Somebody Up There Likes Me takes me back to GTA:SA as this was one of the songs on one of my favourite of the in-game radio stations, K-DST. I’m in a plane flying over the desert, somewhere in the vicinity of the airstrip at Verdant Meadows. Ahhhh. And now the plane’s on fire. If I had to find fault, it would be that the melody in the verse doesn’t seem to match the music, it sounds like Bowie’s singing a different song. And not in a pleasantly discordant kind of way, but more in a “why did you even bother?” kind of way.

Now to the Lennon love. The story I’ve heard is that Bowie really wanted to get John Lennon into the studio for a collaboration, so he conceived of a cover of Across The Universe to flatter him into the studio. And it worked, because Lennon did indeed take the bait, but it didn’t work, because this song is atrocious. Really horrid to listen to, in the nine albums so far it’s the second one that I’m now habitually skipping2.

Can You Hear Me starts off sounding like it’s going to be Son Of A Preacher Man but ends up being an unremarkable soul ballad. It has a fairly pleasant chorus with swelling strings and multiway harmonies, it must be said.

And the album ends on the truly magnificent Fame, the product of the Lennon collaboration that Bowie so eagerly sought. Why do I love this song so? It’s stripped down to basics3, the pie is not overfilled, the groove is so strong, there’s just enough variation and development to keep things interesting. It’s a shame it fades out, that’s no way to end an album. Some sort of variation on the intro would surely have been better suited.

Hits from this album: Fame and Young Americans were both released as singles.

My favourite song from this album: I’d say Fame and Fascination, with Somebody Up There Likes Me getting a half-point by dint of its association with flying planes under bridges.

Next up: Station To Station (which actually only has 6 songs on it, if you’ll believe that)

  1. he was smashed to bits on drugs in this era, so that’s probably why he was unable to sing normally []
  2. the other was Lady Stardust []
  3. the original was, the ’90s remake ruined it []
Pete

1 thought on “The Bowie Project: Young Americans (1975)

  1. I was telling someone your Beck anecdote in the pub this evening, so you can consider this album a success, at least from that point of view! I’m finding it fascinating learning through you quite how much David Bowie has spent most of his career seemingly trying to sound like someone else. I knew he was a musical chameleon (and obviously I know some of his stuff really, really well), but it’s been interesting to follow you on this journey. Nice also to hear about how someone else has stolen from him for a change.

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