Hunky Dory is the fourth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1971. His first release on RCA Records, with whom he would stick for another 11 years, it is generally considered to be one of his best and most influential. Hits and fan favourites include: "Changes," "Oh! You Pretty Things," "Life on Mars?," and "Queen Bitch."
After the heavy metal of The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie returned to his then-typical style of songwriting from his first two albums, with lighter, easy-listening fare. However, instead of focusing on the art hall pop of his debut album or the progressive folk of its successor, he instead turned this album in the direction of art pop mixed with Velvet Underground-inspired art rock, presaging the Glam Rock sound that would first truly make itself known a year later. While he looked to the future in the song "Changes," he paid tribute to his influences with "Andy Warhol", "Song for Bob Dylan", and the Velvet Underground-esque "Queen Bitch." He also wrote songs for his son Zowie, like "Kooks", delved into the occult with "Quicksand", and foreshadowed his next album's hit single "Starman" and continued his fascination with otherworldly apocalypse in "Oh! You Pretty Things".
Upon release, the album received immediate critical acclaim, but was not very commercially successful. However, after the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the album was looked at as a masterpiece on the level of the latter album, and is nowadays considered one of Bowie's most standout works. The album was listed at #108 in Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, being elevated to #88 on the 2020 revision. Time Magazine included the album in their 2006 list of TIME All-Time 100 Albums. The acclaim has earned it the title of the 70th-most-acclaimed album ever made according to Acclaimed Music's compendium of various critics' lists.
- "Changes" (3:37)
- "Oh! You Pretty Things" (3:12)
- "Eight Line Poem" (2:55)
- "Life on Mars?" (3:53)
- "Kooks" (2:53)
- "Quicksand" (5:08)
- "Fill Your Heart"note (3:07)
- "Andy Warhol" (3:56)
- "Song for Bob Dylan" (4:12)
- "Queen Bitch" (3:18)
- "The Bewlay Brothers" (5:22)
Bonus Tracks (1990 Re-issue):
- "The Supermen"
- "Quicksand (Demo)"
- "The Bewlay Brothers (Alternate Mix)"
Take a look at the law man, beating up the wrong trope:
- Accentuate the Negative: "Quicksand:"Don't believe in yourselfDon't deceive with beliefKnowledge comes with death's release
- Alliterative Title: "The Bewlay Brothers."
- Belief Makes You Stupid: "Quicksand:"Can't take my eyes from the great salvationOf bullshit faith
- The song also can be read as taking the stance that it's impossible to know whether an afterlife exists or what it's like if it does, as seen in the quote above under Accentuate the Negative. This arguably qualifies it as a Religion Rant Song, although Bowie is also using the lyrics to explore concepts in Buddhism and Thelema, so it's arguably more of a rant about some religions than about a rant about all religions. Another interpretation argues that the song isn't actually talking about literal death at all, nor is it talking about all kinds of belief; it is simply talking about ego death - i.e., the death of an idealised perception of oneself, which is deceptive and can actually lead to suffering and an unhealthy mental state. In this interpretation, by saying "don't believe in yourself", Bowie isn't saying you should belittle yourself; he's simply saying you shouldn't deceive yourself into believing you're anything other than what you are. Thus, knowledge comes from accepting yourself as you are, and ego death brings release and knowledge; the song consequently argues for a love of the world we share, of each other, and of life at this very moment. It's also possible that the song is an expression of simply being overwhelmed by a confusing world, with so many ideas battling it out within his mind.
- Black-and-White Morality: "Quicksand" argues against this interpretation of reality; it criticises Winston Churchill, who at the time was uncritically regarded as a war hero in much of Britain. The reality was more ambiguous, as Churchill also supported imperialism and a number of reactionary social beliefs to which Bowie stood in opposition. Bowie also acknowledges in the song that he is "drawn between the light and dark" - in short, where most people see themselves uncritically as the heroes of their own stories, Bowie acknowledges his own dark side.
- British Accents: Bowie sings the last minute or so of "The Bewlay Brothers" in a Cockney accent.
- Buddhism: "Quicksand" refers to a state between death and rebirth known as a Bardo.If I don't explain what you ought to knowYou can tell me all about it on the next Bardo
- Call-Back: "Life on Mars?" again uses space imagery, like Bowie did earlier with Space Oddity. "Oh! You Pretty Things" talks about the coming of a "Homo Superior," which is similar to the "Starman" from Bowie's next album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which would continue the space and Mars imagery in general.
- On a darker note, it could also call back to 'After All' from the much less upbeat The Man Who Sold the World
- Cover Version: Biff Rose's "Fill Your Heart" is the one cover on the album.
- Crapsack World: "Oh! You Pretty Things:"All the nightmares came todayAnd it looks as though they're here to stay
- Dramatic Timpani: In "Life on Mars?" at the end.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: Invoked on the cover art, a homage to Marlene Dietrich and a continuation of the British cover art to The Man Who Sold the World. Given the conflicts Bowie had with Mercury Records executives over the latter artwork, the recalling of Dietrich on Hunky Dory's cover may be a subtle Take That! at Mercury, via Bowie expressing his greater freedom on RCA.
- Everything's Better with Cows: The surreal line: "It's on America's tortured brow / that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow" in "Life on Mars?" got real in the 1990's when a cow was discovered with a spot resembling the silhouette of Mickey Mouse. It could be seen in Disney World, Florida.
- Face on the Cover: Bowie in close-up.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Oh! You Pretty Things" fades into "Eight Line Poem" and "Fill Your Heart" fades into "Andy Warhol".
- Homage: "Song for Bob Dylan," an homage to Bob Dylan, and "Andy Warhol" to Andy Warhol.
- I Just Want to Be Free: "Fill Your Heart:"Love cleans the mind and makes it free.
- Incoming Ham: Bowie on "Changes":
- In the Style of...: "Life on Mars?," which Bowie wrote after Frank Sinatra's people preferred Paul Anka's translation of a French ballad note to Bowie's. As Bowie later noted, his plan to get Sinatra to cover "Life on Mars?" backfired rather spectacularly when it was instead covered by Barbra Streisand.
- Last Note Nightmare: "The Bewlay Brothers" changes its atmosphere after four minutes.
- Lighter and Softer: Played With. The music is more melodic and poppy than the Hard Rock / Heavy Metal of Bowie's previous album: The Man Who Sold the World. The lyrics are no less disturbing, though.
- Mind Screw: "Life on Mars?" and "Quicksand" have surreal lyrics.
- Mood Whiplash: The very pessimistic "Quicksand" comes between the very lighthearted "Kooks" and "Fill Your Heart", though the latter is separated by the side break.
- No Intelligent Life Here: An open question in "Life on Mars?:"Is there life on Maaaaaars?!
- Non-Appearing Title:
- The album title doesn't appear in any of the songs.
- "Queen Bitch."
- One-Woman Song: "Queen Bitch."
- One-Word Title: "Changes," "Kooks," and "Quicksand."
- Parental Love Song: "Kooks" is a ode to parental love, specifically Bowie's love for his newborn son Duncan:We bought a lot of thingsto keep you warm and dryAnd a funny old crib on which the paint won't dryI bought you a pair of shoesA trumpet you can blowAnd a book of rulesOn what to say to peoplewhen they pick on you
- Pep-Talk Song: "Changes:"Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: "Changes:"Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
- Punk Rock: The term wouldn't be in general use for a few years, but "Queen Bitch" sounds like it. Especially the guitar, inspired by Lou Reed's guitar playing in Velvet Underground.
- Questioning Title?: "Life on Mars?"
- Saw "Star Wars" 27 Times: "Life on Mars?:"But the film is a saddening boreFor she's lived it ten times or more
- The album cover was inspired by Marlene Dietrich.
- "Andy Warhol."
- "Quicksand" name drops Aleister Crowley, Heinrich Himmler, Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill. The "silent film" referred to in the first stanza may be The Birth of a Nation (1915), of which Himmler and a number of other Nazis were quite fond. Some of these references are probably closer to Take That!
- "Song for Bob Dylan," which references Dylan's own "Song to Woody."
- "Life on Mars?" refers to Mickey Mouse and John Lennon. The line: "Look at those cavemen go" refers to the comic strip Alley Oop.
- The riff to "Queen Bitch" is fairly closely modeled on the Velvet Underground songs "Sweet Jane" and "Sister Ray", with additional influences from "White Light/White Heat", as noted in Bowie's liner notes ("Some VU white light returned, with thanks").
- Special Guest: Rick Wakeman from Yes performs on piano.
- Stock Sound Effects: A telephone is heard near the end of "Life on Mars?"
- Studio Chatter: The ringing phone that's answered at the end of "Life on Mars?" is probably the first example of this from his work that springs to mind. Also Bowie correcting Ken Scott on the pronunciation of "Warhol."
- "Quicksand:""I'm not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I'm living on
I'm tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien"
- "Oh! You Pretty Things:""You gotta make way for the Homo Superior"
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Life on Mars?" and "The Bewlay Brothers."