Young Americans is the ninth studio album by David Bowie, mostly recorded in Philadelphia in late 1974, with some tracks recorded in New York City in early 1975, and released in March 1975. A major departure in style from his previous albums, it is largely a soul album— or as Bowie liked to call it, "Plastic Soul"— with additional funk and Rhythm and Blues stylings.
The shift in sound was not a complete surprise; Bowie had long been an admirer of black music, having first gotten into music after copiously listening to Little Richard as a child. Bowie had also worked closely with black artists previously in his career, including them in his backing band throughout the '70s. Additionally, Bowie experimented with Funk Rock with the track "1984" on his previous album, and shifted its associated tour to one based more around black music in its second leg, following the first leg's constant Troubled Production, a transition captured on the 1974 live album David Live (recorded during the end of the tour's first leg, in the early phases of the stylistic shift). With all that said, though, nobody in 1975 expected Bowie to go whole-hog with it — yet at the same time, hardly anyone complained.
The album was a major commercial success for Bowie, peaking at No. 2 on the UK Albums chart and at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, later being certified gold in the UK, the US, and Canada. Both upon and long after its release, Young Americans has been looked at generally favourably by both fans and critics despite its radical shift in sound. While it's never ranked as Bowie's best album, it's widely considered a worthy entry in his back-catalog, and is often considered an excellent gateway album for prospective Bowie listeners (alongside its 1983 Spiritual Successor Let's Dance). In 2012, NME would place Young Americans at No. 175 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the album would be listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, and as of 2020 it currently stands at No. 920 on Acclaimed Music's compendium of various critics' lists.
The album spawned two singles: the Title Track and "Fame", both of which became both commercial hits and fan-favorites. "Fame" additionally served as Bowie's Breakthrough Hit in North America, having previously languished there as a cult artist due to the general unpopularity of Glam Rock west of the Atlantic. The single topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Canadian Singles Charts (his first single to do so), and went on to become the seventh best-selling single of 1975 in the United States.
Songs written by David Bowie except where otherwise noted.
- "Young Americans" (5:10)
- "Win" (4:44)
- "Fascination" (5:43) (Bowie, Luther Vandross)
- "Right" (4:13)
- "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (6:30)
- "Across The Universe"note (4:30) (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
- "Can You Hear Me?" (5:04)
- "Fame" (4:12) (Bowie, Lennon, Carlos Alamar)
Bonus Tracks (1991 Reissue):
- "Who Can I Be Now?" (4:36)
- "It's Gonna Be Me" (6:27)
- "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" (6:57)
Fame (Fame!) makes a man trope things over:
- American Title: Of the ironic variety with this album and the title track, a rather cynical portrait of ennui and disappointment in America in The '70s.
- Audience Participation Song: "Young Americans" to a mild extent; on the album, there's a slight pause after "ain't there one damn song that can make me—" and the following phrase, "—break down and cry?" In live performances, Bowie would take an even longer pause after the first phrase, before letting the audience finish the line in his place.
- Call-Back: The border surrounding then-present day Bowie in the video for "Fame '90" consists of a bunch of little screens. Several of them are showing looped montages of stills of Bowie over the years (both his music and acting careers) or clips from previous videos and TV appearances. In fact, one screen simply runs Bowie's 1975 performance of "Fame" on Cher's variety show!
- Celebrity Is Overrated: The point of "Fame".Fame, puts you there where things are hollow
- Cover Version: The Beatles' "Across The Universe", featuring none other than John Lennon on guitar and backing vocals. Bowie's rendition appears to be specifically based on the slower version of the song from Let It Be, though with more funk-inspired instrumentals and without the Sanskrit "jai guru veda ohm" mantra (note that Lennon was the one who put it in the original song). The end result can be described as something of a funk ballad.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The general theme of "Across the Universe".
- Don't Look Back: "Right"Never no turning backNever, never, never
- Epic Rocking: The 6 and a half minute "Somebody Up There Likes Me", plus, on the Rykodisc version of the album, "It's Gonna Be Me" and "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)".
- Face on the Cover: Bowie's face in close-up, as photographed by Eric Stephen Jacobs.
- Four More Measures: "Somebody Up There Likes Me"
- Funk Rock: The album dabbles in this alongside its primary soul sound, most notably on the closing track "Fame".
- God-Is-Love Songs: "Somebody Up There Likes Me" about someone who claims God protects him every step of the way.He says: "Don't hurry, baby, somebody up there (somebody) likes me
- Gratuitous German: "Fame"Fame, "Nein! It's mine!" is just his line
- In Harmony with Nature: "Across The Universe", where the protagonist is in harmony with the universe, despite it never changing, but accepts it for what it is.
- Intercourse with You:
- "Can You Hear Me?"Can you hear me?Can you feel me inside?Show your love, loveTake it in right (take it in right)Take it in right (take it in right)
- "Fascination"Oh, better sex is funI think I like fascination
- "Can You Hear Me?"
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- The title track, an upbeat-sounding soul anthem about the degradation of American society, with such cheerful lines as "we live for just these twenty years, do we have to die for the fifty more?"
- According to Bowie, the gist of "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was "Watch out, mate. Hitler's on his way back." This is certainly a darker message than you'd expect from the sax-heavy party rocker.
- New Sound Album: The first of several major instances in Bowie's career. While each previous album had built off of the one before it, Young Americans does a 180 and throws everything people knew about Bowie's music out the window in favor of blue-eyed soul and funk.
- The Not-Remix: Apparently taking a page out of Frank Zappa's book, the 1991 Rykodisc reissue replaces the original versions of "Win", "Fascination", and "Right" with alternate mixes (this version of "Fascination" was previously featured in the 1989 Sound + Vision Boxed Set); also similarly to (most of) Zappa's examples, the 1975 LP mixes would be reinstated in all later reissues.
- Obsession Song: "Fascination"Fascination takes a part of meI can't help itI've got to use herFascination comes around
- One-Word Title: "Fame", "Fascination", "Win", "Right".
- Pep-Talk Song: "Win"Now your smile is wearing thinSeems you're trying not to loseSince I'm not supposed to winAll you've got to do is win
- Politicians Kiss Babies: Alluded to via wordplay in "Somebody Up There Likes Me":Blessing all the papers, thanking one and all
Hugging all the babies, kissing all the ladies
- Product Placement: "Young Americans" makes mention of a Barbie doll, a Caddie and a Chrysler, all of which ended up getting the song blacklisted from airplay on BBC Radio (thanks to the Beeb's strict policy against this trope as per the Ofcom Code).
- Questioning Title?: "Can You Hear Me?"
- To "A Day In The Life" in the title track, with the line "I heard the news today, oh boy!". The song also references both Barbie and "your President Nixon", who resigned while the album was being recorded.
- "Somebody Up There Likes Me" name-drops Rudolph Valentino.Can they walk and hold you as well as a smile like Valentino.
- Two songs from this album were used in different Grand Theft Auto games. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was used in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and "Fascination" was used in Grand Theft Auto IV.
- Smoking Is Cool and Smoking Is Glamorous: Bowie on the album cover.
- Special Guest: John Lennon appears on "Across The Universe" (a cover of Lennon's song from The Beatles' Let It Be album) and "Fame", an original song that Lennon, Bowie, and Carlos Alamar wrote together. This was some of the last recording Lennon did before his five-year retirement from the music business.
- Uncommon Time: "Win" contains some passages of 5/4, while "Who Can I Be Now?" throws occasional 3/4 measures into otherwise 4/4 passages.
- Young Future Famous People: A Real Life example. Luther Vandross received his big break as one of the backing vocalists and arranger of the backing vocals and co-writer of "Fascination".