Young Americans

Bowie art

I bought David Bowie’s Young Americans album on cassette on 1975. It was my first Bowie purchase. The album reflected Bowie’s then–obsession with American soul music and was much different than his prior releases, which made him a sensation in the U.K. but not in the U.S.

Most of it was recorded in Philadelphia at Sigma Sound Studios, American’s most successful black-owned music company after Motown. In 1974 alone 24 r&b/pop crossover hits were recorded there.

A 23 year-old pre-fame Luther Vandross sang and arranged the backing vocals.

David Bowie performing “Young Americans on The Dick Cavett Show, with Luther Vandross singing backup

Bowie didn’t start recording his vocals until 2 or 3 in the morning, as he heard Frank Sinatra didn’t record vocals for his records until after midnight and he is an icon, something Bowie aspired to be.

On his Diamond Dogs tour Bowie performed a song by The Flares called “Foot Stomping.” He rearranged the music from that tune to make it more r&b-sounding. John Lennon, who Bowie met the year before at a party thrown by Elizabeth Taylor, was in the studio and played a riff on the guitar from a then current disco hit by an artist named Shirley (And Company) called “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Bowie changed Shame to Fame and wrote the lyrics. They recorded “Fame” together with Lennon singing the falsetto backup. They also collaborated on a cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” also on the Young Americans album. A third nod to Lennon is on the song “Young Americans,” which samples a lyric from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (“I heard the news today, oh boy”).

Performing “Fame” on Cher’s variety show

After the full album was recorded Bowie played it for invited guests, including Lennon, Paul & Linda McCartney, Bette Midler, Manhattan Transfer and Bob Dylan. Dylan told him he thought it was terrible.

The American public felt differently. In early 1975 the title track hit the US top thirty, something Bowie managed to do only once before with “Space Oddity” in 1973. The next single, “Fame,” went to #1 on the pop charts and hit the top 30 on the soul chart, earning him a guest appearance on Soul Train.

Young Americans was the album that made Bowie a star in America.

Tuesday’s Tunes du Jour playlist is dedicated to David Bowie, who turns 67 the next day. Among the Bowie tracks, collaborations, covers and tributes are Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” the hit Bowie wrote for them after they rejected his offer of recording his “Suffragette City,” which Bowie then recorded himself, and Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl,” a song the two co-wrote and Pop released six years before Bowie did his version.

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