Young Americans (Collector's Edition)

David Bowie

EMI, 2007

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane


I wasn’t around to see David Bowie at the height of his career. For most of my childhood I only knew Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s classic “Labyrinth.” There have been worse abuses of Spandex, I suppose. But that film, its music, and Bowie’s performance made me want to know more about him. I remember thinking, “God, who the hell is David Bowie?” I’d find out later that everyone else had been asking themselves the same question for decades. It wasn’t until I was given the 1990 compact disc reissue of the classic Bowie compilation Changes Bowie that I really began to understand how incredible—and varied—his work truly was.

I’m mostly unfamiliar with any post-eighties Bowie work and not especially interested in exploring it. Given his historically bizarre persona, it’s hard to imagine Bowie getting any stranger…but that’s the sense I get from his most recent work. It’s stranger, almost un-listenable. Even though I was barely ten years old, listening to Changes Bowie, it always seemed to me that the music of David Bowie was some of the most unique sounding pop music I had ever heard. Yes, his music is unique, eccentric, scary, unsettling, and insane, but Bowie’s music is also extraordinary. My baby sister’s interest in Bowie was sparked in the same way mine was, she saw “Labyrinth” and wanted to hear more. I bought her the newer of the Bowie compilations and she practically melted her CD player because she played it so often. It seems even today’s young women—even my 11 year-old sister—are as turned on and fascinated by Bowie as they were 30 years ago.

By the mid 1970s, David Bowie had already undergone several musical and theatrical (and sexual???) transformations, but nothing as sharp and drastic as his departure from lipstick-glitter-glam-rocker to full-blown Philly Soul wannabe. 1975’s Young Americans transformed the Bowie fan-base. Some fans defected, but he made up for those and then some with the new ones he gained. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Young Americans marked a total exodus from anything Bowie had done before and by thrusting his first U.S. #1 single “Fame” onto their radios, he convinced the American skeptics that he was an artist worth loving. The importance of this record with respect to Bowie’s career and the music of the seventies in general is perhaps the motivation for this redundant and altogether useless reissue: Young Americans (Collector’s Edition).

Recorded both in Philadelphia and New York, Young Americans boasts an impressive (and surprising) personnel listing, namely a 30 year-old David Sanborn on sax who would later become an architect and super-star of one of America’s worst crimes against humanity, smooth jazz. Also on staff is a 24 year-old Luther Vandross who co-wrote one of the album’s better tracks, “Fascination,” and lends his pipes to a few others. 

There’s no getting around it; the album’s title track is the best one on the record, and possibly the best song Bowie ever wrote. Second best is of course “Fame” (co-written by John Lennon who also shares vocal duties), third is “Can You Hear Me,” fourth is a tie between “Win” and “Fascination.” “Right” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” are mediocre at best. The album’s worst track is the innocuous cover of “Across the Universe.” It’s inclusion on the record is dumbfounding.

This edition of Young Americans features three bonus tracks, the first of which is the soul version of one of my favorite Bowie songs “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).” His treatment of this classic for the Young Americans sessions is annoying and unnecessary; it does nothing to improve upon its original form. “Who Can I Be Now?” and “It’s Gonna Be Me (With Strings)” aren’t even as good as the worst songs on Young Americans, but they’re provided here as a “bonus.” The reissue offers the original album gorgeously remastered and the included DVD features a 5.1 channel remix; why anyone would want to listen to rock music in 5.1 surround sound is beyond me. Rock music is for stereo, man. Also included is footage of two terrible live performances of “Young Americans” and “1984” (from Bowie’s concept album Diamond Dogs) on the Dick Cavett Show in 1974. The audio transfer is so bad that these live performances are best experienced with the sound turned off. The performances then segue into a painfully uninformative interview between a scarily drugged-out Bowie and the bland and balding Cavett. 

Young Americans is not the best Bowie album, even if it does contain two of his best songs, the title track and “Fame,” but it could arguably be his most important, certainly one of his most popular. The album itself deserves a B+ or perhaps an A- because of what it meant for David Bowie the songwriter, the performer. It’s a record void of the smoke and mirrors, the outfits, the studio wizardry and the makeup (mostly), which was a welcomed—and needed—departure. So it’s worth hearing just to experience David Bowie as David Bowie, not some coked-out space cadet in a girl’s Halloween costume. This reissue in particular gets a D+: it’s superfluous, expensive and—as its title suggests—only something a collector should spend any time or money on, but it’s likely to disappoint even them.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.