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Bowie's Soul Album
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!