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Young Americans is the ninth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on RCA Records in 1975, and his tenth album including the immediately preceding live release David Live (1974). The album marked a departure from the glam rock style of Bowie's previous albums, instead showcasing his mid-1970s interest in African-American soul and R&B music.[5]

Initial recording sessions for Young Americans took place in Philadelphia with producer Tony Visconti and a variety of musicians, including guitarist Carlos Alomar and singer Luther Vandross. Bowie drew influence from the sound of "local dance halls," which were blaring with "lush strings, sliding hi-hat whispers, and swanky R&B rhythms of Philadelphia Soul."[6] Later sessions took place in New York, and included contributions from John Lennon. Bowie would famously call the album's sound "plastic soul," describing it as "the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey".[7]

Although Bowie was among the first English pop musicians of the era to overtly engage with black musical styles, the album was very successful in the US; the album itself reached the top ten in that country, with the song "Fame" hitting the No. 1 spot the same year the album was released.[5] It was generally well-received by critics, and has received praise in contemporary criticism. NME ranked the album at #175 in its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[8]

Background and recording

Begun on 11 August 1974, during breaks in David Bowie's Diamond Dogs Tour, Young Americans was recorded by Tony Visconti primarily at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was agreed early on to record as much of the album as possible live, with the full band playing together, including Bowie's vocals, as a single continuous take for each song. According to Visconti, the album contains "about 85% 'live' David Bowie".[9]

In order to create a more authentically soulful sound, Bowie brought in musicians from the funk and soul community, including an early-career Luther Vandross and Andy Newmark, drummer of Sly and the Family Stone. It was also Bowie's first time working with Carlos Alomar, leading to a working relationship spanning more than 30 years. Carlos, who hadn't heard of Bowie before being called in to help with the album, recalled that Bowie was "the whitest man I've ever seen – translucent white" when they met.[10] Carlos said of how the album was put together:

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David always does the music first. He'll listen for a while then if he gets a little idea the session stops and he writes something down and we continue. But later on, when the music is established, he'll go home and the next day the lyrics are written. I'd finish the sessions and be sent home and I never heard words and overdubs until the record was released.[10]

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The song "Young Americans", which Bowie said was about "the predicament of two newlyweds", took two days to record.[11]

The sessions at Sigma Sound lasted through November 1974.[9] The recording had attracted the attention of local fans who began to wait outside the studio over the span of the sessions. Bowie built up a rapport with these fans, whom he came to refer to as the "Sigma Kids". On the final day of tracking the Sigma Kids were invited into the studio to listen to rough versions of the new songs.[12]

"Fascination" and "Win" were recorded at Record Plant in New York City in December 1974.

"Across the Universe" and "Fame" were recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City with John Lennon in January 1975. They replaced previously recorded tracks "Who Can I Be Now" and "It's Gonna Be Me" on the record, though these songs were later released as bonus tracks on reissues of the album. The guitar riff for "Fame", created by Alomar, was based on the song "Foot Stompin'" by the doo-wop band The Flairs.[13]

Bowie considered several different titles for the album, including Somebody Up There Likes Me, One Damned Song, The Gouster and Fascination.[11]

For the album cover artwork, Bowie initially wanted to commission Norman Rockwell to create a painting, but retracted the offer when he heard that Rockwell would need at least six months to do the job. The album's cover photo was eventually taken in Los Angeles on August 30, 1974, by Eric Stephen Jacobs. Bowie's apparent inspiration for the cover photograph came from a copy of After Dark magazine which featured another of Jacobs' photographs of Bowie’s then choreographer Toni Basil.[14] The cover itself, as well as the cover type was designed in New York at RCA by Craig DeCamps. [15]

Critical reception

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In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau deemed the record "an almost total failure" and said "although the amalgam of rock and Philly soul is so thin it's interesting, it overwhelms David's voice, which is even thinner." He nonetheless appreciated Bowie's renewed "generosity of spirit to risk failure" following the disappointing Diamond Dogs and David Live albums.[16] Rolling Stone's Jon Landau praised the title track and thought that "the rest of the album works best when Bowie combines his renewed interest in soul with his knowledge of English pop, rather than opting entirely for one or the other."[17]

In a retrospective review, AllMusic senior critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Young Americans is "more enjoyable as a stylistic adventure than as a substantive record."[3] Douglas Wolk of Pitchfork regarded it as "distinctly a transitional record," stating: "It doesn't have the mad theatrical scope of Diamond Dogs or the formal audacity of Station to Station; at times, it comes off as an artist trying very hard to demonstrate how unpredictable he is." Nevertheless, Wolk also praised the fact that "while there had already been a handful of disco hits on the pop charts, no other established rock musician had yet tried to do anything similar."[18] Writing for The Mail on Sunday, Dylan Jones called it "a slab of heartbreaking sophisti-soul that might just be the best seduction record ever made."[19]

In 2013, NME ranked the album at #175 in its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[20] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[21]

Track listing

All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.

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CD releases

The album has been released on CD several times: initially by RCA in 1984, and then by Rykodisc/EMI in 1991, with three bonus tracks. A 1999 rerelease by EMI featured 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no extra tracks. The 2007 reissue, marketed as a "Special Edition," included an accompanying DVD, containing 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album and video footage from the Dick Cavett TV show.

The 1991 and 2007 reissues featured, as bonus tracks, "Who Can I Be Now?", "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)", and "It's Gonna Be Me"; the latter was released in an alternate version with strings on the 2007 edition.

The 1991 reissue replaced the original versions of "Win", "Fascination" and "Right" with alternate mixes, but later reissues restored the original mixes. Another outtake, "After Today", appeared on the 1989 box set Sound + Vision, as did the alternate mix of "Fascination".

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The bonus tracks "After Today", "Who Can I Be Now?" and "It's Gonna Be Me" were outtakes from the 1974 Sigma Sound sessions in Philadelphia.[22]

Personnel

Additional musicians

  • Larry Washington – conga
  • Pablo Rosario – percussion on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, Luther Vandross – backing vocals
  • John Lennon – vocals, guitar, backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Earl Slick – guitar on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Emir Ksasan – bass guitar on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Dennis Davis – drums on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Ralph MacDonald – percussion on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Jean Fineberg – backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Jean Millington – backing vocals on "Across the Universe" and "Fame"
  • Luther Vandross – vocal arrangements

Charts

References

  1. Craig DeCamps RCA staff designer
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  8. NME 500 Greatest Albums 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
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  15. Craig DeCamps RCA staff designer
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  20. NME 500 Greatest Albums 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
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  22. Nicholas Pegg The complete David Bowie p2006 298 "The Sigma sessions were prodigiously productive: among the outtakes which would not see the light of day for many years were 'It's Hard To Be A Saint in the City', 'After Today', "Who Can I Be Now?', 'It's Gonna Be Me', "
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  29. Script error: No such module "citation/CS1".Note: Kvällstoppen combined sales for albums and singles in the one chart; Young Americans peaked at the number-six on the list in the 4th week of March 1975.
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External links

Template:David Bowie

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