Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Young Americans

You're walking down the street, minding your own business. Suddenly, a lavender Cadillac pulls up alongside you. The tinted window rolls down and it's Soulboy Dave beckoning to you from his leopard skin upholstery. You get in and minutes later you're at his bachelor pad, a 50s throwback in Old City. Others arrive. The glam-set is down the street still dressed like Ziggy, but you’re here in your soulful finest amidst the beautiful people, mounds of cocaine on a coffee table and everyone drinking cocktails. Bowie had gone plastic soul.

For Young Americans, Bowie's Glam edifice was reclad in Philly soul slacks and swapped London's West End for the Tower. During his two-year North American drive-thru, performing Glitter-caked heavy metal at night, Bowie was, by day, absorbing the sounds of Philadelphia. By 1974, he had already signposted his change of direction on his Orwellian concept album, Diamond Dogs. Listen to "When you rock and Roll with me" and "1984" and you'll get the picture. 

Just in case no one took the hint, Bowie embarked on another jaunt around the states with a convoy of trucks containing a post-apocalyptic cityscape stage set, from which he sang soulful renditions of his back catalog. Listen to David Live and you can hear radically reworked versions of, most notably, "Moonage Daydream," "All the Young Dudes" and a spectacular camp-soul version of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." When his convoy of props ended up in the Florida swamps thanks to a road incident, he reconvened at the Curtis Hixon Hall. The Diamond Dogs tour was over and the Philly Dogs tour had begun. 

When Young Americans hit the shelves then, nobody should have been surprised. As the album kicks off with the awesome title track, you know that you are in for something special, and 180 diff. He managed to paint a picture of cosmopolitan urban street life and varnishes it with a veneer of contemporary political bile. There is even some prototype rapping at the end. "Win" is a late-night candlelit dinner at the bachelor pad given a dark underbelly by Bowie's deep swimming vocals and decadent phrasing. (Where did Ziggy get that voice? - Think Back to "The Wide-Eyed Boy of Freecloud") "Fascination" is a taster for his later multi-layer production techniques with Eno. Here, they are used to convey an urgent and sexy groove with Luther Vandross superbly played on backing vocals. "Right" continues the theme in a slightly choppier manner and gives way to "Somebody Up There Likes Me,' which, as well as being astoundingly good, conjured up soul images of "The Candidate."

"Across the Universe" should be awful, but I love it. Compare Lennon's' original wispy vocals with Bowie's swirling vocal gymnastics and it's plain to see that the whole ethos of the song is bulldozed (only Fiona Apple gets it better). Still, I love it. "Can you hear me" was the song that I used to play in my teens when trying to be sophisticated with the girl of the hour (alongside Tim Curry's 1st LP). The fact that I didn't score once does not detract from the sheer shaggability factor of this song. Then there's "Fame." One night with Lennon on a James Brown trip and you have the King of dancefloor Strutters. It is so cool it's positively arctic. 

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