måndag 31 januari 2022

David Bowie - Hunky Dory (1971)

Immune to your consultations

My relationship with “Honky dory” is made up of different stages of longing. Back when I started collecting vinyl records, the first time around, I couldn't buy all albums at once. A big part of record collecting was "the chase". Sometimes it was really hard to find them! Me and my friends went to the one record shop there was in Skövde. Then we went to record fairs in Gothenburg and Hova. Collecting records could be very frustrating indeed. But browsing bins of vinyls and finding that one you had been looking for could give feelings of true satisfaction. But the album I always seemed to miss out on was “Hunky dory”.

It is funny how the impressions you get when you’re young stick around. Even though I now have multiple copies of the album in multiple formats, I still feel in the back of my mind that it is scarce, and that I need it. Funny thing.

Let’s see what we have on this LP then. Hmm, the first four songs… Yes. It is so similar to Neil’s 1972 LP “Harvest”. Two very, very good tracks followed by a weaker one and followed by the fourth song, the most iconic songs on both albums. The same structure! Two great albums released within two months. One on each side of the pond. How does “Hunky dory” rate compare to “Harvest”? Well, that is for another review, isn’t it? Ok, ok, ok, I give in. Of course, “Harvest” is better. But some of the songs from “Hunky dory” may be more known, especially over here in Europe.

“Hunky dory” is the start of Bowie’s exceptional run in the seventies. It would be ranked in the top half in the list of 26 studio albums. In my last ranking of Bowie studio albums I had it in at eleventh. That means it’s a very good album! The album art is also iconic. Bowie in long golden hair and blue eyes in a Garbo-esque pose. A great album cover can be a part of my feelings about it.

And so it begins, the curse of the cover songs… Another thing I come to think about is the trend of David using at least one cover song. That all started with “Hunky dory”. I famously stated on my Swedish podcast Shinypodden that Bowie didn’t do covers often (except for the covers album Pin ups). How utterly incorrect I was. Embarrassing.

The first song on the album is “Changes”, a song I think readers of any music review blogs already know of. It’s such a great song for the youth in all of us. The second “Oh! You pretty things” can’t disappoint anyone. As on all the songs on this album Rick Wakeman’s piano is the most important instrument accompanying David’s singing. You also must not miss the hand clapping! Catchy!

Now to the mega hit, one of the best songs ever by Mr. Bowie, “Life on Mars?”. What can be said of the song that is not already said? Well I don't know, heck, I even don't know what actually has been said. I love it because it has always been there. Listening to the song feels like time travel to me, for a moment I am myself as a youngling again. 

Bowie was the first major artist I discovered and he filled me with joy for music. I love Rick’s piano, Bowies melancholic lyrics and his singing. Some lines from the song pop up now and then when I am totally unprepared. Is there life on Mars?

The remaining songs on the first side of the LP are nice enough, they are enjoyable, but still they’re kind of fillers. Except for “Quicksand”. That one is really nice.

The second side of the LP is not as good as the first side. The first song is a cover and it’s at its best a fun and quirky filler. Often the covers just seem to be less worthy to me, I want his true material. It’s like documentaries in the movies, often interesting but they seldom feel like a “real, full” movies.

After a bridge of curious studio banter we are thrust into the glorious “Andy Warhol”. The acoustic guitars are great, David’s singing top notch and the melody is slightly jarring. It’s clearly one of the two best songs on the second side.

“A song for Bob Dylan” is calm and seems earnest enough, but I find it a little boring. “Queen bitch” is a fun song that would have been a perfect fit on the next album also. It was often great when played live.

The last song “The Bewlay Brothers” seems to have been a mystery to the audience back in the seventies. Nowadays we think it’s about David and his schizophrenic brother Terry. It is a haunting slow song written by David one night in the studio. Later on he would more frequently write songs on site in the recording studio. His creative mind blows my mind.

This is a very nice album. High floor with some spectacular peaks.

My rating: 8/10

Side A:
1. Changes
2. Oh! You pretty things
3. Eight line poem
4. Life of Mars?
5. Kooks
6. Quicksand

Side B:
1. Fill your heart (cover of the Biff Rose song)
2. Andy Warhol
3. Song for Bob Dylan
4. Queen bitch
5. The Bewlay brothers

Best songs: “Life on Mars?”, “Changes” and “Oh! You pretty things”

Produced by: Ken Scott

Released: December 17, 1971


Today I give you David's last ever live performance of "Life on Mars?". Together with old friend Mike Garson they graciously present to us a stripped down and very heartfelt version of the classic song. Live at Radio Music Hall, New York City, September 8th, 2005.

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