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Music / Young Americans

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"Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?"

"Bowie. Soul. Period."
Tagline from the 1991 Rykodisc reissue's advertising campaign (also used for the label's Station to Station reissue that same year).

Young Americans, is the ninth studio album by British musician David Bowie, released on March 7, 1975 through RCA Records. The album was mostly recorded in Philadelphia in August 1974, with overdubbing done the following November; additional tracks were recorded in New York City in January 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 had deep roots in Bowie's life and career. Bowie had long been an admirer of Black music, having first gotten into the medium and industry 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. He attempted to produce a studio album for soul singer Ava Cherry before the sessions for Diamond Dogs (though the project ultimately fell through), and on the latter album, he experimented with Rhythm and Blues and Funk Rock with the tracks "Rock 'n' Roll With Me" and "1984", respectively. Furthermore, he shifted the supporting tour for Diamond Dogs 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).

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.

The album spawned two singles: the Title Track and "Fame", both of which became both commercial hits and fan-favorites. Much to Bowie's surprise, "Fame" additionally served as his 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 when noted otherwise.

Side One

  1. "Young Americans" (5:10)
  2. "Win" (4:44)
  3. "Fascination" (5:43) (Bowie, Luther Vandross)
  4. "Right" (4:13)

Side Two

  1. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (6:30)
  2. "Across the Universe"note  (4:30) (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
  3. "Can You Hear Me?" (5:04)
  4. "Fame" (4:12) (Bowie, Lennon, Carlos Alomar)

Bonus Tracks (1991 Reissue):

  1. "Who Can I Be Now?" (4:36)
  2. "It's Gonna Be Me" (6:27)
  3. "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.
  • Bowdlerise: Live performances of the Title Track altered the exceptionally dark line "Ain't there a woman I can sock on the jaw?" to the comparatively tame "Ain't there a man I can sock on the jaw?"
  • Call-and-Response Song: The choruses of "Fascination" feature the backing vocalists singing each line and Bowie interjecting in turn.
  • 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".
  • Digital Destruction:
    • Due to a mastering error, the initial US CD release by RCA Records cuts off the first two drumbeats in the Title Track; a similar issue affects RCA's US CD release of "Heroes".
    • Due to a lack of cross-referencing with the original 1975 release, the 1991 Rykodisc reissue mistakenly replaces the original versions of "Win", "Fascination", and "Right" with earlier mixes, most prominently distinguished by their heavy reverb; this version of "Fascination" was previously featured in the 1989 Sound + Vision Boxed Set as a result of this. The 1999 and 2016 remasters of Young Americans and the 2003 reissue of Sound + Vision corrected the error, reinstating the original mixes.
  • Don't Look Back: "Right"
    Never no turning back
    Never, 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: Spun darkly in "Somebody Up There Likes Me", in which a charismatic neo-fascist claims that 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
  • Gratuitous Panning: "Win" prominently features a saxophone trill that sweeps from channel to channel. This effect is absent on the Rykodisc mix, which has the saxophone stay in the center of the mix.
  • 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, love
    Take it in right (take it in right)
    Take it in right (take it in right)
  • 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.
  • Obsession Song: "Fascination"
    Fascination takes a part of me
    I can't help it
    I've got to use her
    Fascination comes around
  • One-Word Title: "Fame", "Fascination", "Win", "Right".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Win"
    Now your smile is wearing thin
    Seems you're trying not to lose
    Since I'm not supposed to win
    All 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 Ford Mustang, the Black-oriented hair care product Afro-Sheen, a Barbie doll, a Cadillac, 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?"
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "Fascination" is a retouched version of "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)", written by vocal arranger and backing vocalist Luther Vandross. Bowie wrote new lyrics for the song, while Vandross rearranged the backing vocals to fit Bowie's approach. Vandross would re-record "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)" for his debut album the following year.
    • "Fame" was remixed for the Greatest Hits Album Changesbowie and the film Pretty Woman, both of which came out in March 1990. Aptly titled "Fame '90", this version featured a large number of alternate versions, including one with a guest rap by Queen Latifah. According to Bowie, he wanted to remix either "Fame" or "Let's Dance", and picked "Fame" both because "Let's Dance" was too new and because he felt that "Fame" still held up 15 years later. The 1996 reissue of Changesbowie would replace "Fame '90" with the original version due to the remix's unpopularity with fans and critics.
  • Re-Cut:
    • 8-track releases in various regions adjust the tracklist due to the limitations of the four-program format. The UK 8-track release moves "Somebody Up There Likes Me" to the penultimate track and splits it into two parts due to its new location overlapping with the changeover between programs three and four. The Italian 8-track release swaps sides one and two and moves "Somebody Up There Likes Me" between "Can You Hear Me?" and "Fame". North American 8-tracks follow the LP running order, but split "Across the Universe" into two parts due to it overlapping with the changeover between programs three and four.
    • The UK cassette release swaps "Right" and "Across the Universe" in order to even out the lengths of each side.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: The album cover depicts a glamour shot of Bowie holding a lit cigarette, with the lighting and framing making the cigarette smoke accentuate his image as a slick soul man.
  • 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 Alomar wrote together. This was some of the last recordings Lennon did before his five-year retirement from the music business.
  • Studio Chatter: Careful listeners can hear someone coughing during the intro to "Fame".
  • Surprisingly Moving Song: Discussed in the Title Track. During the song's breakdown, the narrator lists off all the things he can no longer find in the midst of America's declining society, culminating in the anguished plea "ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?"
  • Uncommon Time:
    • "Win" is mostly in 4/4, but the first half of each chorus is in 5/4.
    • "Who Can I Be Now?" (included as a bonus track on the 1991 Rykodisc reissue) throws occasional 3/4 measures into otherwise 4/4 passages.
  • Would Hit a Girl: One of the things that the narrator of the Title Track covets is "a woman I can sock on the jaw," hinting that despite his constant lamentation of the decline of American society, he himself is just as dysfunctional, if not more so.
  • 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".