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Thursday, 10 October 2013

WORDS FOR THE MUSIC #1: David Bowie

POET OF THE MONTH #10: David Bowie



DAVID BOWIE, 1975






Young Americans
DAVID BOWIE
from the 1975 RCA LP, Young Americans





YOUNG AMERICANS


They pulled in just behind the fridge
He lays her down, he frowns
'Gee my life's a funny thing
 Am I still too young?'
He kissed her then and there
She took his ring, took his babies
It took him minutes, took her nowhere
Heaven knows she'd have taken anything

All night
She wants the young American
Young American, young American
She wants the young American
All night
But she wants the young American

Scanning life through the picture window
She finds her slinky vagabond
He coughs as he passes her Ford Mustang
But heaven forbid she take anything
But the freak and his type all for nothing
Misses a step and cuts his hand
Showing nothing he swoops like a song
She cries 'Where have all papa's heroes gone?'

All night 
She wants the young American
Young American, young American
She wants the young American
All right
She wants the young American

All the way from Washington
Her bread-winner begs of the bathroom floor
'We live for just these twenty years
Do we have to die for the fifty more?'

All night
He was the young American
Young American, young American
He was the young American
All right
But he was the young American

Do you remember your President Nixon?
Do you remember the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?
 
Have you been the un-American?
Just you and your idol singing falsetto
'bout leather, leather everywhere
And not a myth left from the ghetto
Well well well would you carry a razor
In a case, just in case of depression?
Sit on your hands on the bus of survivors
Blushing at all the Afro Sheeners
Ain't that close to love?
Well, ain't that poster love?
Well, it ain't that Barbie doll
Her heart's been broken just like you

All night
All night you want the young American
Young American, young American
You want the young American
All right
You want the young American

You ain't a pimp and you ain't a hustler
A pimp's got a Cadi and a lady got a Chrysler
Black's got respect and white's got his Soul Train
Mama's got cramps and look at your hands shake
(I heard the news today, oh boy)
I got a suite and you got defeat
Ain't there a man who can say no more?
Ain't there a woman I can sock on the jaw?
And ain't there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain't there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain't you proud that you've still got faces?
Ain't there one damn song that can make me
Break down and cry?

All night
I want the young American
Young American, young American
I want the young American
All right
I want the young American, young American
Our love was new, honey
Our love was you, honey
You want I, I want you
You want I, I want you, honey
I want you, I want you, I want you
You want I, I want you
And all I want is the young American




Words and Music by DAVID BOWIE

                                                                       Young Americans (1975)





The Songwriter:  David Bowie was born 'David Robert Haywood Jones' in the London suburb of Brixton on 8 January 1947 (a birthday he shares with Elvis Presley, one of his earliest childhood influences along with black performer Little Richard).  After performing as a saxophonist/vocalist in various school and local bands throughout his teen years, he began his professional career in 1963 with the formation of a rhythm and blues outfit called Davie Jones & The King Bees which would go on to release an unsuccessful debut single, Liza Jane, in June 1964.  This was the first of three groups –– The Manish Boys and Davy Jones and The Lower Third being the others –– he would form and lead during the next two years, none of which caught on with the public or brought him to the attention of those with the power to make him a star.

In 1966, eager to find an audience for his growing catalogue of original material, he went solo and adopted the stage name 'David Bowie' to differentiate himself from the 'other' Davy Jones, then at the height of his popularity as a member of the popular American television band The Monkees.  Bowie's self-titled debut album – a hybrid of Mod-pop and the kind of family friendly variety-style music popularized by Anthony Newley – appeared on the British Deram label in 1967.  (The fact that it was released on the same day as The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was an unfortunate coincidence that did not see it widely reviewed or help its sales.)  It was not until 1969, however, with the release of his single Space Oddity –– launched just weeks before the Apollo II moon landings –– that Bowie began to be appreciated as a singer/songwriter with a sound that, while clearly indebted to its influences, nevertheless managed to be uniquely and unmistakably his own.

Although he made several landmark albums over the next six years it took until 1972 –– and the release of his audacious fifth solo album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars –– for Bowie to find the sort of recognition and mainstream commercial success which had previously eluded him.  The phenomenon this LP became quickly established him as the most original and, by the time the decade ended, most influential recording artist of the 1970s.  His decision to 'play' the Ziggy Stardust character, on-stage as well as off, also made him the leading figure of Britain's emerging glam rock movement –– a label that, while never harmful to his career, tended to overshadow his achievements as a composer and as a witty, often highly insightful lyricist. 

Abandoning the Ziggy persona in 1973, Bowie went on to record the equally adventurous albums Aladdin Sane (1973), Pin Ups (also 1973, consisting entirely of cover versions of songs originally performed by Them, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and other UK bands he had seen at The Marquee and other London clubs as a teenager) and Diamond Dogs (1974, loosely based on George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four) before confounding the critics and his fans, yet again, by abandoning rock music altogether for the smooth 'plastic soul' of Young Americans (1975).

The album's second single Fame (co-written and performed with ex-Beatle John Lennon) handed Bowie his first US #1 while the album itself went on to become one of his biggest sellers, with a punchy, radio-friendly title track that confronts the listener with an extraordinary outsider's vision of what was then post-Watergate America, packed with up-to-the-minute references that are as trenchant as they are cannily observed.  In a little over five minutes, Bowie gives you the story of a young American couple – their wedding and honeymoon, their disappointment and eventual alienation from each other and the safe suburban middle class life they've been raised to expect to lead together.  The fact that it's all backed up by an infectious beat which looks ahead to disco while completely avoiding that genre's sometimes ludicrous banality only emphasizes what a thought provoking, brilliantly conceived dissection of the American dream Young Americans is and remains forty-one years after it was written.

 
DAVID BOWIE released his twenty-fourth album, The Next Day, on 8 March 2013 following a ten year absence from the music industry.  Click HERE to view clips from it and from many of his earlier albums on YouTube and HERE to read more of his insightful early lyrics at the A-Z LYRICS UNIVERSE website.

You can also click HERE to read a list of DAVID BOWIE's 100 favourite books.

Special thanks to those who took the time to upload this music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere.


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2 comments:

  1. I always thought the first line was:

    "They pulled in just behind the fridge"

    Gives it a more urgent flavour. Also more domestic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks CB. You're probably right re: the first line. I've amended the text accordingly. Thanks for the comment too.

    ReplyDelete