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David Bowie — Hunky Dory

February 6, 2013

David Bowie

Hunky Dory

1971

Bowie exercised his creative muscle in 71 with an album of songs that showed off his range and disparate influences. The sleeve notes and titles declare some of these – Velvet underground on Queen Bitch (a masterful pastiche of Sweet Jane) and Sinatra on the pop classic Life on Mars in which a My Way type progression has the top line on a trampoline – climbing ever higher till the seemingly impossible denouement, is there life on mars? Neatly preceded by the eloquent Eight-line Poem – a sort of slow tempo suburban blues – Life on Mars was to be a big hit in 73 during the Ziggy period and the uninitiated suddenly realised the kid could sing. No doubt Bowie’s voice was at its peak on Hunky Dory – not yet having travelled too far down the accented road, and not having sunk into the dubious mannerism of his pseudo Scott Walker that has marred the post seventies work.

From the impressive mock Dylan on Song for Bob Dylan to the riff-driven Andy Warhol – penned after Bowie met the artist in New York – the self assured voice changes persona like pairs of pants.

The most outstanding song is the downbeat and Lennoesque The Bewley Brothers, with rich twelve string open chords. The references it contains reveal a kind of childhood exposure to adult ideas and themes:

…Like the grim face on the cathedral floor

More Ginsberg than Dylan, this haunting piece, after which Bowie eventually named his publishing company, is seemingly connected with his half brother Terry whose disturbed life was perhaps reflected in Bowie’s alter egos:

…My brother lies upon the rocks/ he could be dead/ he could be not/ he could be you… 

Changes has shades of Lady Madonna and My Generation. This should have been a hit single, but no one was ready for Bowie, even at his most commercial and, despite some mainstream radio 1 airplay, Changes failed to have an impact. However the album itself scored rave reviews and Peter Noon’s MOR interpretation of Oh You Pretty Things was top ten in the UK.

Regular and significant collaborator Mick Ronson, session wonder kid Rick Wakeman and producer Ken Scott makes for a classy sound. And sporting a fine cover put together by Brian Ward and George Underwood, this is the essential Bowie album (but then again they are nearly all essential!).

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