on 27 February 2006
In the Summer of 1974 while Bowie was taking a break from the "Diamond Dogs" tour he booked himself into the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia to record what would later turn out to be one of his most influential albums of the 70's as years later this recording would give 80's bands such as ABC, Spandau Ballet and Simply Red a blueprint to follow.
The influence of American music had been hinted at on previous albums such as "Aladdin Sane" and "Diamond Dogs", albums which have a rougher R'n'B slant to them, think of "1984" from the latter and you have a clear indication of what was to come.
For this recording Bowie had assembled a bona fide rhythm and blues band for the making of the album, which included Willy Weeks on bass along with Andy Newmark on drums and on saxophone the Jazz legend David Sanborn.
The recording sessions of this album was split into 3 main sessions with 2 of them in Philadelphia and a last minute session taking place in New York with the late John Lennon taking part on 2 tracks adding vocals and guitar to "Across the Universe" and "Fame".
The title track starts off the album, this has at it's heart a frantic shrieking alto saxophone played by Sanborn this is introduced by a run on the piano by long serving Bowie side-man Mike Garson which is played off the sound of Latin flavoured percussion this adds the beat with Luther Vandross leading the backing singers, Bowie croons about everyday life in America after Watergate.
The groove is urgent and compulsive, with Bowie even borrowing a catch phrase from the Beatles when the backing singers sing the line "I heard the news today, oh boy" at a crucial moment, but the killer line is when Bowie sobs "Ain't there one damn song that can make break down and cry".
The following cut "Win" (4.44) which has echo-filled saxophone flipping from speaker to speaker with Bowie singing "I say its hip to be alive" if you listen closely to the delivered vocals the tone in his voice doesn't support the message of the delivered line, Bowie revealing himself after years of role-playing, when he sings the line "well you've never seen me naked and wired" you can hear the struggle between the distanced, contrived poseur and the newer real vision, this is a haunting melody with a rippling synthesiser sound and melting backing vocals that give this exercise in positivity at it's heart the line "All you got to do is Win" this neatly states the message of the song the resigned vocals are at odds with the message.
The next song is an adoption of a Luther Vandross composition called "Funky Music (Is part of me)" Bowie has changed the title to "Fascination" this song has benefited most from the CD re-mastering process, the piece now has more of an echo to it which gives this dance floor workout a new sheen, listen to the chorus "Fascination Sure' nuff Takes part of me Can a heartbeat Live in the fever Raging inside of me?"
The song "Right" (4.15) has the most authentic soul sound to it with a smoochy riff which is built around the line "Never no turning back".
The next track Bowie has written around the phrase "Somebody up there likes me" (6.30) which was the original title of the album, this one line in America has reached the status of folklore, since the 50's it's main manifestation was as a title for a biographical film about a boxer, the part that had elevated Paul Newman to stardom.
Lyrically this is one of Bowie finest songs, as it contains a critique of the corrupting powers of the media, which is pretty ironic as Bowie is criticising the very image he had become, with the line "There was a time when we judged a man by what he had done /Now we pick them off the screen / What they look like / Where they've been" this cut has some killer sax and a wonderful sounding arrangement on the backing vocals.
Usually when Bowie covers a song he brings something new to a song but here with his version of "Across the Universe" (4.29) the Lennon and McCartney composition his delivered croon is ill suited to the song or to his personality and is the weakest part of the album.
The soul ballad of the album "Can you hear me" (5.03)is a yearning song which teeters at times on the verge of clichéd and cute, Bowie shows the ease in which he gets to grips with the genre, when he builds to the line "Why don't you take it right to your heart" his singing is stunning.
To close off the album Bowie has chosen the other track recorded with John Lennon "Fame" (4.16), this turns out to be Bowie's big U.S. breakthrough and gives him an American number 1.
Carlos Alomar's infectious rhythm guitar riff which he borrowed from the James Browns song "Hot (I need to be Loved, Loved, Loved)" is the perfect foil for Bowie's catalogue of evils and woes with the line "Fame, is what you want is in your limo / Fame, what you get is no tomorrow".
One of the great album experiments by Bowie in 70's, and is an essential part of his back catalogue.
"Young Americans" still surprises me to this day with it's amazing R&B. The sound was more clearly mixed than "Diamond Dogs" and it was a real departure for Bowie. The regular remastered CD with, "John, I'm Only Dancing", "Who Can I Be Now?" and "It's Gonna Be Me" sounds even better than the original CD. The extra three tracks are on par with the other songs and its bewildering that in an era when 12 songs per album were standard, Bowie released an eight song album. "John, I'm Only Dancing" is a much more improved R&B version than the rock version.
The 5.1 mix surprised me. It is not perfect and I like it that way. Luther Vandross's back-up vocals come mostly from the rear speakers and you can hear him much more clearly. The congas on "Young Americans" are a little loud for the mix, but it makes the whole experience seem more like a live studio recording instead of a carefully remastered remix. In fact, Bowie mentioned in the liner notes that he liked recording this album with all the instruments playing at once while he sang. There are other surprises. On this DVD you can hear John Lennon speak briefly after one song and the finale of "Fame" has each word of 'fame' descending going around the room from speaker to speaker, but the loud shout of 'fame!' before, 'what's your name, what's your name, what's your name...' is missing. It catches you!
The Dick Cavett interview is a treat, with Bowie sniffing and wiping his nose while fidgeting with his cane. So he did a lot of coke during this period. Who cares? The album is a perfect choice for surround sound. And that sound will vary from system to system.
on 8 May 2007
Well this is the 4th outing on compact disc for this classic album and yet another mix , it would be nice to know what this should really sound like as i'm bemused?
Lets take the stereo cd Fascination has sounded completeley different on each release and has always stood out as a case in point of mixers making their own decisions , each release has a new mix compared to the vinyl which was a cool flat sound (plastic soul?) , the emi/ryko cd was all echo and delay now this is a cross between the original cd by RCA and the emi/ryko. Well i have got used to this mix now and its nice in fact all the other tracks sound very good indeed though nothing too startling.
Now to the DVD surround versions for which you will need a caple home cinema set up to appreciate fully just how spectacular this sounds..well ive been listening to this album for 20 + years and the mix is stunning like you are in the studio, the DTS track is superb and the decisions made work very well . Fame is simply amazing , its a track i never tire of and you here allsorts of new things here , the rest of the tracks are simply perfection Win is sweeping and full panning round the room, breathtaking. Right benefits greatly as does Can You Hear me the backing vocals just a work of intense perfection. Somebody Up There Likes Me is the least amazing here and yet another mix of Fascination !! with a booming drum to the fore , interesting indeed. Even the totle track is given a boost of new life with the congas being right up there much like the Cavett show performance. I cannot stress enough how good this all sounds.
Minus points are the annoying menu and as mention manual selection of audio pcm,dts or 5.1 that you cannot change while the music is playing.
The dvd menus are not good with a single pic when the track plays and a 1978 pic used for one??? c'mon there were some superb photos from then , memorabilia would be an idea. The footage from The Dick Cavett show incomplete and is hardly rare though a nice thought missing off Footstompin is truly a crime (its almost an early work in progress riffing on what would be fame) , perhaps it would have been even better to have included Cracked Actor!!
The cover is badly reproduced though you can swap it over for the alternate cover which is nice, the notes are good but i would have liked to read Visconti telling what he did to them and more revelations on what Bowie was playing etc his guitar work on Fame is a thing of sheer class. The strings on the bonus It's Gonna Be Me? were they from the period or laid on top recently? why leave the original off?
I'm being picky but as all Bowie fans will be shelling out again it would have been nice for some care to back up the stunning work .
My advice buy it if you have a home cinema set up with DTS as you will get the full benefit otherwise its a curio to add to the collection.
Cannot wait for Station To Station now that is an album of almighty power........please take note EMI more care and thought.
on 25 January 2016
Coming off a hot streak of acclaimed albums which literally changed the sound and face of rock music (Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs), Bowie wrong-footed fans and critics by releasing this love letter to the burgeoning US soul scene. It's hard to imagine now what an incredibly courageous and commercially risky move it must have been at the time. But that's what artists do.
As everybody knows, Bowie was a musical magpie, assimilating influences, processing them through his own ideas factory and turning them out as something different and uniquely his own. On Young Americans, more than most of his other albums, those influences are close to the surface. But with music as funky and soulful as this, who's complaining?
I listened to this album again in the wake of the great man's passing. It's been years since I played it all the way through from start to finish, and what struck me is how fresh and spontaneous it sounds. It's crackling with inspiration all the way through and you can sense how fired up Bowie was. It's true there are a couple of tracks which are not up there with his best (Right is a bit lame and Across the Universe seems like a pointless exercise.) But it's surely no coincidence that this album contains some of the best and most impassioned vocal performances of Bowie's whole career. And just listen to that band cooking! According to producer Tony Visconti 85% of the album was recorded live in the studio, with the full band playing and Bowie singing together. Amazing!
A couple of duff tracks aside, Young Americans is packed with great singing, great playing and soulful seventies grooves. It's a hugely important chapter in the development of Bowie the artist. Oh yeah - and there's that wonderful title track!
If, like me, you're feeling down in the dumps in these dark days following Bowie's death, do yourself a favour and give this album a spin. Thrill to the sound of that drum fill kicking in the title track, followed by Mike Garson's piano run and David Sanborn's sexy sax and I guarantee you'll soon find yourself smiling at the sheer joy and exuberance of it all.
It's amazing to think that just two years later he would completely reinvent himself again with the release of Low. What a man!
on 23 May 2012
Quite frankly, it isn't hard at all to see how Bowie's 'hardcore' audiences greeted this release with some trepidation back in 1975. It is a 'clear' change in direction and a total re-invention of his sound; essentially, Bowie explores Soul, Funk and Disco music here and, in my view, the results are flawless!
The title track 'Young Americans' grows on you almost immediately, while the likes of 'Fascination', to me, is probably one of his best compositions and performances ever! Another stand-out is 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' (which was actually going to be the title of this album before Bowie himself selected the album we know it as today), check out the lyrics to this great song and the voice(s) that Bowie adopts for singing on this album would shape his future sound(s), no question!
Personally, I did not enjoy what Bowie did to The Beatles' (I should really say John Lennon's) 'Across The Universe', but its' inclusion on this album does showcase what Bowie is known best as to musicians worldwide: an innovator.
The song, 'Fame', co-written with John Lennon, is another song that grows on you almost immediately, I feel. Once again, Bowie's voice here is... splendid.
So, in conclusion, I would say quite easily that this effort will/does take a little getting into in the early-going, especially for 'early Bowie' fanatics. With 'Young Americans', Bowie went Soul/Funk/Disco, but did so expertly, essential listening here, all things considered.
Buy it... Happy Listening.
on 5 March 2006
Hands up I am a Bowie fan. But I am also a huge muisc fan in general. Its hard for people to understand just how contraversial Bowie was at the time. You either hated him or loved him or got beaten up in school like I did. Must have been the makeup I was wearing and my strange Ziggy haircut!
This album alienated alot of Bowie fans. Just listen to the previous orwellian Diamond Dogs back to back with this album. This was a truly a huge change in musical direction. And it works. Really it does. Bowie invented white plastic soul and few have surpassed him (maybe Goerge Michael). You even still hear fame in clubs remixed and revamped so many times.
As other people have stated the title track is just amazing. One wonders how Bowie can go from Big Brother to the beautiful sax filled Win and still remain cool. Like Low this was a brave album for Bowie to release. A huge commercial hit in America it wasn't near as successful in the UK. While fame stomped to No.1 in the US it just made the Top 20 in the UK.
The album on the whole works brilliantly tho' i still cant stand across the universe. Fortunately, the new released version of this album contains two Bowie classic, the Soul Version of John I'm Only Dancing and Its Gonna be me. The latter with a basic Garson piano and Mel Torme crooning from Bowie.
The album inspired and influenced so many bands to mention. It also caused a bad hair day in Britain as Bowie invented the wedge!! Ask your hairdresser.
on 6 April 2012
This album could have been Bowie's greatest work. A complete departure from Diamond Dogs released only a year before. I love every song on this album. From "Win" to "Can You Hear Me" this album flows. But I have to add that Young Americans is spoilt somewhat by the Across The Universe. Yes no doubt Bowie was flattered that Lennon wanted to co write the fantastic "Fame" track. But did Bowie have to jettison two amazing tracks as "Its Gonna Be Me" and "Who Can I Be Now" to make room for Across The Universe cover which subtracts from the finished album?
on 15 December 2004
On first listening this does not match Ziggy Stardust or Hunky Dory, but the more you get to know Bowie's work the more you should appreciate it. More than any of this other albums this has one linked mood. The mood I guess being an insight into the blissed out, cocaine high of an international rock star from the mid seventies, who has a golden touch and is living his life to the hilt. His singing on the title track is arguably his best ever. And most audacious of all, wonder at how a skinny white guy from Bromley with bad teeth and a dodgy eye can make his version of black urban soul music sound so good.
I first got hold of this album in 1975- not having enough disposable capital to go to a record store I swopped a Levis denim jacket for the Young Americans RCA cassette. At the time it was the equivalent of Jack selling the cow for a handful of beans- I didn't dare tell my mum. She had contributed the bulk of the money for one of the ultimate fashion statements of 75 and all I had to show was a secondhand cassette of a man with suspect wierd sexuality, singing black american music heavily influenced by drugs.
Needless to say I listened to it pretty much everyday for the next two years acquiring the rest of the catalogue by starving myself to save my school dinner money acquiring Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy, Low etc. until the tidal wave of punk rock shoved Bowie into his own little box as the shine on the former uber god dissolved as the Damned Pistols and latterly Fall, Joy Division, Pop Group all explored other galaxies
Returning back to this album after 30 years I gave it a listen and I realise why I took the gamble I did in 75 and why I listened to it throughout 76- it is for me still one of his best along with the Berlin "Trilogy" which is 5 not 3 (Idiot, Lust for Life) and although the alien super terrestial has appeared to be just a man the same as any one of us- he is a supremely talented man who was able to connect to Mars and bring it to a teenager in an Essex village in the middle of nowhere-
32 years later this album writhes with a soul.
on 25 March 2007
This loses a star because it is a DVD-Video disc, and as such the much anticipated 5.1 mixes from Tony Visconti (That were mixed with DVD-Audio in mind) are compressed versions.
Okay, DTS 96/24 is as good as it can ever get on a DVD-Video disc, but it would have been infinitely superior in lossless. Given the EMI Signature series releases have been superb, in DVD-A/V format, it seems strange to me that we are robbed of High Resolution mixes for this title.
Kudos for the Dick Cavett show - but again, strike a point for missing off "Footstompin'" and strike another point for claiming it is "lost". It isn't.
It's still doing the rounds on various bootleg sites in high quality with even the Audio at least as good as on display here. Still, it's worthwhile IMHO.
Final grump from me is the SERIOUSLY ANNOYING LOUD SNATCH OF THE TITLE TRACK IN THE MAIN MENU (see how irritating it is being shouted at? That's what menu music as loud as this is - digital shouting. Bad form.)
Moving on to the good points....the mix in 5.1 is truly outstanding. The title track kicks in with what is - at first - a disconcerting reverb on the drums, but TV has done a superb job & has recaptured the feel of '74 era bowie in a truly outstanding manner. The BV's are predominantly to the rear channels (listen carefully, as this album was the now legendary Luther Vandross' first serious session outing) and the main vocals are not isolated in the centre, but in L/R with the centre seemingly used for a vocal slapback effect. It works, and it works well.
Still not checked the Stereo mixes, as usual these have been "remastered" by Peter Mew (Who is not the best at handling Bowie's material, in the online communities his efforts are known as "Mew"Tilations due to some very sloppy work. For those of us who know anything about DTS and DD encoding, he has got it wrong again here. If you are decoding in an external amplifier, odds are very high you will lose most of the drum intro to the title track as it comes in right away, completely ignoring the recommendations from both Dolby Laboratories and DTS to leave 2 seconds of AudioBlack at the head of the mix so that external decoders have sufficient time to lock down onto the stream. It is VERY annoying to have the top cut off in this manner due to carelessness IMHO)
But this really is a splendid mix from TV.
Old favourites given a completely new lease of life.
Finally, I have to confess I am far from happy with the mastering on this disc. There is a definite hissing throughout, as if someone, somewhere has cranked up a compressor too far. Can be a little harsh in the upper mids as well, and I know this is not down to the DTS encoding. Therefore it must be the mastering.
Could do better, and you can hear that the mix is great, but the whole thing is let down by the Mastering & the DVD-Video only format.