David Bowie: “Young Americans” (1975)
Bowie wholly abandons glam and his entire Ziggy and post-Ziggy persona to indulge in some “plastic soul”, working with a bevy of soul and R&B performers — including a young Luther Vandross — to record an album that will produce his first #1 single in the US. The single, “Fame”, sees Bowie working with John Fucking Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar; Alomar will stay by Bowie’s side as both an axeman and bandleader for almost the next twenty years.
This album didn’t quite grip me the way “Diamond Dogs” did, but I still found it beautiful. While some of the blue-eyed-soul indulgence gets a little on-the-nose at times — “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and the remake of “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)” — Bowie seems to be able to find a take on soul that is uniquely his own and that avoids typical white appropriation. Really, the toolbox he assembles here is going to see a lot of use over the course of his career.
The standout tunes are obviously the aforementioned “Fame” and title track “Young Americans”, both of which are some of Bowie’s best work. All of side one is stellar, though: “Win”, “Fascination”, and “Right” all show Bowie comfortable in the genre, yet still distinctively himself. “Across the Universe” — the other collaboration with Lennon on this album — stands out despite the Philly soul treatment. It may be that a Beatles song, even funkified, will remain a Beatles song. It’s a wonderful take on the tune, but to me feels more like Ziggy than any of the rest of the album.