Released: March 7, 1975
Peak: 9 US, 2 UK, 17 CN, 9 AU
Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.1 UK, 3.5 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Songs written by David Bowie unless indicated otherwise.
Total Running Time: 40:13
3.677 out of 5.00 (average of 23 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
For Young Amerians, David Bowie’s ninth studio album, he abandoned the glam rock of previous releases in favor of R&B. Bowie biographers have considered the album one of his most influential, noting he was one of the first white musicians from the time to “overtly engage with black musical styles.” WK “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me” and “1984” from previous album Diamond Dogs exhibited “elements of funk and soul” WK and the subsequent tour dropped hints as well, “but the full-blown blue-eyed soul of Young Americans came as a shock.” AMG
He enlisted “first-rate sessionmen” AMG including then-unknown singer Luther Vandross as a backup singer and funk guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had played with James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Wilson Pickett. Alomar had never heard of Bowie, but they made an immediate connection and worked together for nearly fifteen years hence. WK Bowie also hired drummer Andy Newmark, who’d worked with Sly & the Family Stone, and bassist Willie Weeks from the Isley Brothers. WK
The result was “a set of songs that approximate the sound of Philly soul and disco, yet remain detached from their inspirations; even at his most passionate, Bowie sounds like a commentator, as if the entire album was a genre exercise.” AMG Bowie himself labeled the new direction “plastic soul.”
In January 1975, David Bowie and John Lennon met at Electric Lady Studios in New York to record a cover of the Beatles’ song Across the Universe and new song Fame. WK The latter, which “had a beat funky enough that James Brown ripped it off,” AMG hit #1 in the United States. Bowie was surprised by how successful it was, saying it “was really out of left-field for me.” WK
The “plastic, robotic soul helped inform generations of synthetic British soul. What does hurt the record is a lack of strong songwriting. Young Americans is a masterpiece…[as is ‘Fame’] but only a handful of cuts (Win, Fascination, Somebody up There Likes Me) comes close to matching their quality. As a result, Young Americans is more enjoyable as a stylistic adventure than as a substantive record.” AMG
Other critics echoed similar sentiments. Pitchfork’s Douglas Wolk said it “comes off as an artist trying very hard to demonstrate how unpredictable he is.” WK He called it “distinctly a transitional record,” WK an observation seconded by NME’s Ian MacDonald, who considered the record a result of Bowie “not knowing where to take his career next.” WK
However, author David Buckley says the record “brought fans of both glam rock and soul together in the wake of the disco era.” WK Biographer Nicholas Pegg said “Bowie had undertaken the first significant excursion into Black Soul by a mainstream white artist,” paving the way for others to engage in similar styles. WK
Notes: The 1990 Rykodisc reissue adds previously unreleased tracks “Who Can I Be Now?” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” as well as the 1974 A-side single of “John, I’m Only Dancing Again.”
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First posted 2/20/2008; last updated 7/31/2021.