Feb 21, 1975: David Bowie Issues ‘Young Americans’

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This ad for the Young Americans album appeared on the back cover of the March 15, 1975 issue of Record World

Conquering America was initially a challenge for David Bowie. His glam-rock personae like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane didn’t click with the nation’s mainstream rock fans. But when he became the Thin White Duke, a purveyor of soul music, things began to change.

Released on this day, “Young Americans” was the beginning of Bowie’s U.S. breakthrough. It was recorded during sessions in the latter part of 1974 for what became the album of the same name at Sigma Sound Studios. The recording facility was the home of what was known as “The Sound of Philadelphia” – a heavily rhythmic soul style with florid arrangements developed by producers Thom Bell and partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and artists like the O’Jays, the Spinners, MFSB and Patti LaBelle.

The song references such varied topics in its lyrics as President Richard Nixon, black/white racial contrasts and suicidal impulses (to name a few). Bowie said it packed his American experience to date in one song ostensibly about a newlywed couple.

It quotes the Beatles line, “I heard the news today, oh boy,” from “A Day In The Life.” John Lennon also recorded with Bowie on two of the album’s tracks – “Fame” and his cover of “Across The Universe.”

Watch Bowie perform “Young Americans” a little over two months before its release…

Like most all of the Young Americans album, the song was largely recorded live. It took two days to get it down. The background vocals on “Young Americans” were arranged and sung in part by a then-unknown Luther Vandross. The saxophone solo is by David Sanborn, who soon became popular music’s premier sax player. The single was the first of many recordings issued by Bowie that featured the contributions of guitarist Carlos Alomar, who Bowie first heard playing in the house band at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

“Young Americans” didn’t chart until March 22 and rose to “just” #28 on the Hot 100, not a huge hit but his second-highest up to that point. (A re-release of “Space Oddity” in 1973 reached #15.) The album was rush-released in March, eventually reached #9.

Related: 9 signature rock classics that weren’t chart hits

The next single, “Fame,” soared to #1 and launched Bowie to superstardom.

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