“Hunky Dory”, David Bowie’s first masterpiece

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The safe ” Divine Symmetry » by David Bowie shows how he made “ Hunky Dory » his profession of faith for the rest of his career.

Five years after the release of Hunky DoryDavid Bowie constructed his own myth in an interview given to Melody Maker. In 1976, he explained that the song “ Song for Bob Dylan ” of Hunky Dory had “ defined what I wanted to do in rock (…) It was at this time that I said: “OK, if you don’t want to do it, I will”. I saw the lack of leadership “.

The rest of the demos show how Bowie developed a sound and stuck to his vision when he entered the studio. The acoustics Quicksand “, recorded in a San Francisco hotel room for John Mendelsohn of WECB, who wrote the magazine’s original review, contains some clunky lyrics, but most of the demos reflect the songs as they were recorded. He plays ” Kooks “, his song for his recently born son Zowie, on a 12-string guitar (or 11 strings, according to the memoirs of his ex-wife Angie Bowie), and his piano playing on the first version of ” Life on Mars? » seems laborious because it reappropriates the chords of “ My Way » by Frank Sinatra in an attempt to write a better song than Sinatra’s. (Rick Wakeman of Yes played the growling, filigree version from the album). “ Changes » is just as rudimentary. As for “ Shadow Man “, it held out the promise of a song that could rival any Elton John song, but Bowie didn’t record it for years, with a version eventually being released around his album Heathen.

A facsimile of David Bowie’s notebooks from the period, included in the box set, suggests that he also had dozens of other songs, and was rumored to have already written most of Ziggy Stardust at that time. Curiosities include deleted lyrics from the song “ Life on Mars? ”, which contain the phrase “ Kiss the face of a race of subhumans ”, several occurrences of the title “ Andy Warhole ” spelled this way and a reference to a title titled ” Charles Manson », probably abandoned in 1971 when Bowie realized that Manson was not a simple hippie but a dangerous criminal. On one page, Bowie, still in his twenties, scribbles: “ I believe my mental state is extremely illegal “. On the cover of the notebook, Bowie spelled Hunky Dory in Hunky-Dorrey? And Hunky Doreyeven sketching a crate of records on the back, sandwiched by a logo “ Dorey “. Inside are several sketches of Bowie’s costumes, showing how he discovered who he was.

The three live recordings also show a more mature Bowie. On the Peel session, recorded a few days after Zowie’s birth, he plays an early version of ” Kooks ” of Hunky Dory, and on recording Sounds of the 70s: Bob Harris, Bowie appears hesitant as he readjusts to rock stardom after months away from the spotlight. On this last performance, he sings an astonishing “Oh! You Pretty Things » all alone at the piano. And on ” Andy Warhol », He and Mick Ronson intertwine their acoustic guitars to give a little more depth.

On the third live in the collection, an almost complete recording of a concert in Aylesbury on September 25, 1971 (a few months before the release of Hunky Dory), we hear Bowie gaining confidence. He begins shyly, asking Ronson to “ come a little closer » before specifying with a laugh: “ from the microphone “. He nervously evacuates “ Space Oddity » (“ This is one of mine that we’re going to finish as quickly as possible. “, he says) and finally seems at ease when his group joins him for ” The Supermen ” And ” Pretty Things “.

Although some of the songs sound messy (he admits he doesn’t know how to play ” Changes “), the audience applauds louder and louder until the repeats of ” Round and Round » by Chuck Berry and « Waiting for the Man » by the Velvet Underground, which close the set. “ We really don’t have any other songshe says to the crowd of about 500 people who demand another one. We only rehearsed for today and I killed myself singing. » The promoter of the show, who greets him at the end, describes the performance as “ one of the most beautiful evenings of my life “. This was the moment David Bowie realized he could actually fill the void…

A disc of alternative versions of songs from Hunky Dory also contains revelations. The complete recording of “ Life on Mars? ” isn’t cut off at the end, allowing you to fully hear Ronson cursing the ringing phone that ruined the perfect take. And several remixes show different facets of the pillars of Hunky Dory. The best are the Biff Rose cover « Fill Your Heart ”, which was a carbon copy of Rose’s recording on the disc, but now sounds less claustrophobic with only a piano arrangement. It also has a “ Bewlay Brothers » less abundant and with a wider range of weird voices at the end. (The final disc, a Blu-ray, contains high-definition versions of the box set’s tracks).

Generally, Divine Symmetry expands the canvas of Hunky Dory. David Bowie was willing to try anything to prove he wasn’t just a curiosity who released a hit, and ultimately transformed the album into a delightful and welcoming instant classic. In a 1971 interview with the NME, he wondered: How can you be a serious pop artist at 24? “. At the end of the same year, the release of Hunky Dory answers his own question. A few months later, he redefined himself again, telling Melody Maker that he was gay and dyed his hair red to record the many songs he had written at the same time as Hunky Dory… as Ziggy Stardust.


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.