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David Bowie goes Soul - I mean Plastic Soul - Sept 2014

David Bowie during his Plastic Soul Days

I was walking past a record shop here within Ipswich Town, (England - where I live) recently and I noticed an album cover within the shop front of the store. The album that was staring back at me was "Young Americans", It was this album which proved to the world  David Bowie's pure love of Soul music.

The albums development began during his breaks between his USA tour that was called the Diamond Dogs tour (1974). He wasn't to know it, but it was this album that was to end his portrayal of his Alto ego characters that he had built up over the years known as Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Slane.

The album was recorded at the Sigma Studios within Philadelphia, USA, which was one of the most famous music studios within the world at the time. In fact it was the home to the World famous song writing team that was Gamble and Huff.

In order for the album to sound as authentic as possible, Bowie bought in the best musicians that he knew within the Soul and Funk Community at the time.

For instance, in came Funk Drummer Andy Numark from the group, Sly and the Family Stone.  Also included to the party was Luther Vandross, who was to be known later as one of the best vocalists. Also Carlos Alomar was invited. Andy had worked with the one and only James Brown as a guitarist. Another star performer that we take for grated these days was David Sanborn the saxophonist. At the time David was an up and coming musician; but today he now known as a word famous saxophonist. And finally bassist William Weeks who had played with some the world top artists such as Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan.

Fans of Bowie who lived around the area of Sigma Studios within Philadelphia, USA had heard that he was recording a new album; and at each session that Bowie and the band single frocompleted. A huge crowd were waiting outside the studios just to get a glimpse of one of the biggest stars in the world at the time which was David Bowie.

David Bowie these days

There was a few problems encountered a few problems as told by the chief engineer of the time that was Tony Visconti.

"David and the band had been recording their rehearsals for three days, and I could hear the problem he had with the sound. In those days, in America, engineers recorded "dry" and "flat", waiting for the mix to add the equalization, reverbs and special effects. But the British often recorded with the special effects right on the session! I was British-trained and David was used to this sound! So I rolled up my sleeves and got right into it. By 2 am we'd recorded our first official backing track – "Young Americans."

 

The session guys were great to record with. My fears were quickly dispelled. To contrast the "slickness" of Newmark, Weeks and Sanborn, David was trying out a gang of NYC kids from the Bronx, whose manager had sent in a demo tape weeks earlier. They were Carlos Alomar on guitar, his wife Robin Clark on vocals and their vocalist friend Luther Vandross! What a lineup! Mike Garson on piano was the only link left over from the Spiders from Mars days.

 

 It was agreed we had to record live, no overdubs! But David also wanted to record his vocals live in the same room! This presented a big problem because the instruments were much louder than his voice, so I had to rig up a special microphone technique which cancelled the band but recorded his voice. This required two identical microphones placed electronically out of phase. In other words, the diaphragm of one mike is pushing when the other is pulling. The band's sound is picked up by the two mikes, but is out of phase and consequently cancelled! David was told to sing only into the top mike so that his voice was not cancelled! For the non-technically-minded this probably doesn't make any sense, but it saved the day, and what you hear on the recordings is about 85% "live" David Bowie."
David Bowie Golden Years article link

At the completion of the album, Bowie, invited the most loyal supporters who stayed outside the studios when the album was being made. One the final day of the album being completed he invited a small band of them into the studio to see them complete it. - David Bowie Golden Years Website Link

The first to be released from the Album called "Young Americans" was the title track which is of course ""Young Americans". It was released here within the UK on the 21st February 1975. It reached number 18 over in the UK. However, in the USA it reached number 28.

The second single to be release from the album was "Fame". The single was written by David Bowie. Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. It reached number 17 here in the UK. However, in the USA it to Number 1. His first ever USA number 1.

Bowie described this period of his time, on making this kind of music as "Plastic Soul". A description by him, on his take on soulful and funky music being made and played by white musicians. In fact David Bowie via the release of this album was one of the first white artists to perform on Soul Train.

Here below is a small caption of an interview that took place in 1975 via talking with Playboy magazine.

PLAYBOY: Let's go back to disco music. You say it's a dirge, yet you had the biggest disco hit of last year in Fame and you scored again this year with Golden Years. How do you explain that?

BOWIE: I love disco. It's a lovely escapist's way out. I quite like it, as long as it's not on the radio night and day--which it is so much these days. Fame was an incredible bluff that worked. Very flattering. I'll do anything until I fail. And when I succeed, I quit, too.

I'm really knocked out that people actually dance to my records, though. But let's be honest; my rhythm and blues are thoroughly plastic. Young Americans, the album Fame is from, is, I would say, the definitive plastic soul record. It's the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey. If you had played Young Americans to me five years ago and said, "This is an R album," I would have laughed. Hysterically -  

The David Bowie and Playboy Interview Link

A 3rd single did not arrive from the album until 1979 would you believe.  The as called edited version of "John I'm Only Dancing Again" that was originally on the album. This single was released in the UK only.

The album that is "Young Americans" bought much success for David Bowie. It reached number 10 in the USA album charts of 1975 for instance

On listening to the album in regards to albums that have come out since, allot of people will be saying to themselves. What was all the fuss about in regards to this album release? In fact it's not that soulful compared to other white, blue eyed Soul artists such as Hall and Oates, Justin Timberlake, KC and the Sunshine Band, George Michael, Bobby Caldwell, etc over the years.

However, it did have a massive influence within popular music at the time. It allowed music audiences to stop their "hating" over certain styles of music's and enjoy it for what was.

Also Bowie allowed for the world to see the emergence of two world class artists in their own right. One was Luther Vandross and the other was David Sanborn.

We saw the end of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Slane as his stage alter ego and the moving onto his new alter stage ego which was to become known as "The Thin White Duke".

David Bowie is/was a huge influence around the world due to his visual image and stage act especially to the Uk version of the Punk Rock music Scene of the 1970's; and with the music sound and the music cult within England known as the New Romantics (for instances groups such as Duran Duran, Culture Club, Visage, A Flock of Seagulls, Spandu Ballet, Generation X all name check David Bowie as a huge musical influence in their careers) in the early 1980's.

The album that is "Young Americans" is probably not the most Soulful album you will ever hear. However, when it was released all those years ago it created all kinds of "Noise" around the music industry world.

No one could quite believe it. Bowie had gone "Soul" they all said.

And they were right, he had.

Well that all folks for me now anyway.

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Dj Mistri and the Electric Soul Show © www.electricsoulshow.com