David Bowie is a performer that has tapped into the styling of glam rock, jazz, soul, and theatre; the jack-of-all-trades that can write himself into hundreds of different personas that faze in and out of the physical world. From the “Thin White Duke”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “The Chameleon of Rock”, or just simply “David Bowie”, he was able to perform to an audience of all that found his lovable charm and incredible talent a present focus on all of his work. He would design without limits, and his ninth-studio record, Young Americans is a break away from his glam rock glory days for instead a turn into the more soulful use of slower, more paced tracks.
He begins the soulful journey with the self-titled “Young Americans”, a track that delves heavily into saxophone and background vocals to illustrate a more funk focused rendition of Bowie’s America. David Sanborn worked with Bowie to bring together the constant saxophone and backing vocal banter that is consistently present through Young Americans. Together, the two created a memorable journey of shallow percussion, spacious horns and vocal performances, and a focus on experimentation through using the environment as an instrument. In the following track, “Win”, Bowie relies on the acoustics of the electric guitars and the reverberation of the backing vocals to create a large amount of space. “Win” is a beautiful display of string ensembles that play a wonderful mix of backing and foreground layering that works synonymously with Bowie’s classy, silk voice that transfers over the instrumental like satin.
Young Americans is a time-stamp of the 1970’s where psychedelic rock was beginning to be on the out, and more popular, almost danceable rock music was starting to come into frame. Young Americans is caught right directly in the middle, a safe-spot where Bowie can illustrate a sense of dance and pop behind his musical style, but also display a slower side that can focus more on the musical progression or on Bowie’s storytelling style of writing.
When discussing Young Americans, the conflicting style can be pointed out with “Right”, and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” as they are simultaneously, two tracks that follow each other and they both display how Bowie can transfer from a subtle, 1970’s-esque New York nightlife that paints the dirty streets of Times Square. While “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is a sunset-ridden glory track that uses uplifting saxophone and keys to illustrate a sense of beauty behind the idealistic thinking. Young Americans is a tale of gracefulness from Bowie, where he can rely on his musicians to work like fine parts of a machine that prove a sense of authenticity behind his compositions. Not only is there a fascination with the way that Bowie conducts himself outside of the studio, but being able to hear the raw, unfiltered emotion that he displays is simply breathtaking. In the final moments of Young Americans, Bowie displays “Fame”, a catchy, funk-filled track that uses bouncing guitar and a feature from John Lennon on guitar and on backing vocals. The track itself is fairly one-dimensional and feels great as a radio hit, but when compared to some of the other tracks on Young Americans, it does not compete quite as well.
Through Young Americans, Bowie is a mastermind of sound; he is able to display a true power behind the saxophones and vocals as well. Having Sanborn, a secondary pioneer musician to help Bowie helped monumentally. Without Sanborn, it would be difficult to imagine Young Americans being the incredible display that it truly is. David Bowie is the conductor, but every now and again he shows that he can use some help in creating an emotional display of glory.