David Bowie–Young Americans

David Bowie always had an affinity for America.  As much as he is associated with British glam and German austerity, his greatest successes (commercially and artistically) often came when he was reworking established American sounds.  But more than that, he seemed to genuinely care about the country whose culture he was so liberally borrowing from.  He would write about the political and economic turmoil of the US on multiple occasions, wrapping his apocalyptic fears in shimmering soul and funk arrangements.  Bowie clearly drew parallels between the depression of American cities with the growing turmoil at home in the UK.  Young Americans is a triumph of political pop.  Slightly lyrically obtuse, but clear in overall meaning, Bowie also used the sound of the song to make a statement.  Luther Vandross helped sculpt the track, with its gospel backing vocals and ripping saxophone.  A full eight years before he’d call out MTV for not playing enough black artists, he was collaborating and featuring them in a song that directly addressed their struggles.  It’s no coincidence, either, that the track makes explicit reference to The Beatles’ Oh! Darling, a song that itself draws heavily on several genres created and popularized by southern black artists (although the reference to A Day in the Life seems purely a result of John Lennon’s cameo work on the album).  But above all, the song is undeniably groovy and joyfully soulful, featuring one of the greatest vocal performances of Bowie’s career.  It stands as a towering, timeless tribute to all involved.

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