March 1975: David Bowie Releases "Young Americans"

Monday, March 8, 2021

The rock and roll world was in no way ready for David Bowie's radical reinvention with the release of the Young Americans album. Recorded in the city of Philadelphia during the dog days of summer 1974, the glam-rock aesthetics of Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane had been replaced by the sleek and urbane "Thin White Duke," a persona that would reach its full form with Station to Station.

Immersing himself in the city's black culture, Bowie holed up in the Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios, recruiting a cadre of musicians including Carlos Alomar, Sly and the Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark, and future R&B legend, Luther Vandross.

The LP would be preceded by its first single, the evocative title track, which featured a young David Sanborn on saxophone. Released on February 21, 1975, it would break into the US top 40, peaking at #28 on the Hot 100 over the week of May 10, 1975. The #1 song in America that week: Tony Orlando & Dawn's "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)."

The album's lush, soulful sound would be pegged by Bowie as "plastic soul," which the singer himself would later describe as "the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey."

Bowie would delve even deeper into the sound of black America with the album's second single, "Fame." Written and recorded with John Lennon in early 1975, the track found both artists raging against the trappings of celebrity. For Bowie, it was a reflection of his contentious relationship with former management company, MainMan. Released on July 25, 1975, the funky summer anthem would fly up the charts en route to becoming David Bowie's first US #1 over the week of September 20, 1975.

Young Americans featured some of Bowie's finest deep album tracks, including "Right," which highlights Luther Vandross on backing vocals and David Sanborn on sax. "People forget what the sound of Man's instinct is--it's a drone, a mantra," Bowie said about the song during a 1975 interview. "And people say, 'Why are so many things popular that just drone on and on?' But that's the point really. It reaches a particular vibration, not necessarily a musical level."

Young Americans proved to be a huge hit for Bowie, crashing the top 10 to peak at #9 on the album charts over the week of April 12, 1975. The #1 album in the US that week: Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.