1. Young Americans: Masterpiece #18. The latter part of the 1974 tour (Philly Dogs) hinted at what was to come, but this major change in direction was where Bowie’s transformation from androgynous glam-rock superstar to blue-eyed soul boy was complete. His breathless vocal performance touching on all sorts of American references, urgent groove (teamed with David Sanborne’s sax and Luther Vandross’ backing singers), and the addition of rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar, the title track has a timeless quality about it even though it’s obviously mid-70s whiteboy soul (much like other artists were doing around the same time: Elton John, Hall & Oates, the Bee Gees). Has always reminded me of the (albeit tougher) sound and feel of Springsteen’s band on The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle of whom Bowie was quite the fan. He and had already covered Growin’ Up (6.5) and It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City (7.5). 10.0
2. Win: With its vapid subject matter and lounge-y suaveness, this track, complete with a lush 5/4 chorus, is exquisite in the context of the album. Resurfaced nicely on the Bowie-compiled iSelect collection. 8.0
3. Fascination: Some fine wah-wah guitar from Earl Slick (for his first appearance on a Bowie album), along with Carlos Alomar’s deep funky rhythms opens this track of sexual obsession and it funks along well enough with the backing singers (including Ava Cherry, Bowie’s girlfriend at the time). 6.5
4. Right: Nice track and straightforward reading of a slight soul ditty. Precisely arranged, Bowie is swamped however by the backing singers halfway through the track never to be heard from again. 6.5
5. Somebody Up There Likes Me: This track has some lyrical merit and an interesting vocal delivery but overlong. The sax relentless for the duration. 6.0
6. Across the Universe: It’s worth noting that a particular track was left off this album (for the inclusion of this) which would’ve given this album some much needed backbone – and that song is Who Can I Be Now (8.5), a great song inexplicably left of this set. This Beatles cover is a coked-up afterthought that should’ve been deleted the following morning. 3.0
7. Can You Hear Me: Well written, string-laden track sung for Ava Cherry but is unfortunately pummelled by backing singers and unrelenting saxophone solos. 7.5
8. Fame: Masterpiece #19. Twitchy, inventive, and totally brilliant, the album’s most successful foray into funk. John Lennon provides the high-pitched call and response ‘Fame’. Nasty lyrics, funky as all hell guitars, whipped up in one all-nighter studio session and included on the album at the last minute and tweaked by clever Alomar. Among Bowie’s very best work. 10.0
ALBUM RATING: 7.5
VERDICT: A major step forward, Bowie said “It’s the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey”, and he was not far wrong. Even if he had a pretty low opinion of this album calling it the definitive plastic soul record (which it is), it’s not a bad record entirely, in fact his detached singing is quite magnificent throughout. Young Americans is just a stylistic checkpoint where Bowie, moved to Philadelphia and 100% immersed himself in one of his first loves: R&B. The album can’t entirely be dismissed; there is too much ingrained love for it, however the pudding is over-egged on occasions with Sanborne’s lite-jazz sax becoming tiresome as do the backing singers. For the album cover, the wedge haircut, backlit shining soul boy look was a good one – a big improvement on David Live.
NEXT: The European Cannon is here.