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Bowie never was a young American - he was born and raised in England. Bowie said that this was the result of cramming his "whole American experience" into one song.
This was recorded between tour dates at Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios, which was the capital of black music in the area. The Soul influence had a very obvious effect on Bowie's style. He even completely redesigned the stage for the rest of his Diamond Dogs tour.
Over the course of about eight very creative days, Bowie recorded most of the songs for Young Americans
at Sigma Studios. He usually recorded his vocals after midnight because he heard that's when Frank Sinatra recorded most of his vocals, and because there weren't so many people around.
Sigma had a staff of very talented producers and musicians (known as MFSB - the same folks who had a #1 hit with "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)
"), but Bowie used his own people - Tony Visconti produced this track.
The line near the end, "I heard the news today, oh boy," is a reference to the Beatles song "A Day In The Life
." John Lennon worked with Bowie on "Fame
" and also Bowie's cover of "Across The Universe
." Both songs are on this album.
The lead instrument in this song the saxophone, which was played by American Jazz player David Sanborn, who was just starting to get noticed when Bowie brought him in to play on this.
Bowie hired Luther Vandross, who had yet to establish himself as a solo artist, to sing backup and create the vocal arrangements on the Young Americans album.
Near the end of the song, Bowie sings, "Black's got respect and white's got his soul train." Soul Train
is an American TV show targeted to a black audience that started in 1970. The show features lots of very expressive dancing as well as a musical guest, and in November 1975, Bowie became one of the first white singers to perform on the show, something he was very proud of. The "Young Americans" single was released in February 1975, so Bowie performed "Fame
" and "Golden Years," which was his current single.
Young Americans was the first Bowie album that guitarist Carlos Alomar played on. Bowie first saw Alomar playing in the house band at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and convinced him to play on this album and join the tour. Alomar became a major contributor, playing on several of Bowie's albums and coming up with guitar riffs for songs like "Fame" and "Golden Years."
The album was going to be called "Dancin'" before Bowie decided to name it after this track.
At a performance at Giants Stadium, Bowie stopped after singing the line, "Ain't there one damn song that can make me...", and dropped to the stage, where he stayed for 10 minutes. The crowd went nuts, but got concerned after a while. Bowie did it to see what kind of reaction he would get.
The Cure did a version of this in appreciation of Bowie, their long time friend. The lyrics "Do you remember President Nixon?" were changed to "...President Clinton?" The Cure's version was originally released on a British radio demo CD only, but can now be found on various bootlegs.
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Little Big Town
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The "A Thousand Miles" singer on what she thinks of her song being used in White Chicks
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