THE LONG PLAY

 

The Long Play with Al Neff" is a continuing Sunday evening Feature on The GOAT. This year, Every Sunday Evening, Album Rock WXYG, The GOAT will feature a full album at 8:00 PM from the halcyon musical days of 1971.
1971 was Quite an amazing year in Album Rock history. Gonna be a tough choice every week. So many great ones to choose from.

We hope you’ll tune in Next Sunday evening, December 5, 2021 at 8:00 PM for “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie. Hunky Dory is the fourth studio album David Bowie, released on December 17,1971 by RCA Records. Following the release of his 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie took time off from recording and touring. He settled down to write new songs, composing on piano rather than guitar as on earlier tracks. Following a tour of the United States, Bowie assembled a new backing band consisting of guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey, and began to record a new album in mid-1971 at Trident Studios in London. Future Yes member Rick Wakeman contributed on piano. Bowie co-produced the album with Ken Scott, who had engineered Bowie's previous two records.

Compared to the guitar-driven hard rock sound of The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie opted for a warmer, more melodic piano-based pop rock and art pop style on Hunky Dory. His lyrical concerns on the record range from the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention on "Changes", to occultism and Nietzschean philosophy on "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Quicksand"; several songs make cultural and literary references. He was also inspired by his stateside tour to write songs dedicated to three American icons: Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. The song "Kooks" was dedicated to Bowie's newborn son Duncan. The album's cover artwork, photographed in monochrome and subsequently recolored, features Bowie in a pose inspired by actresses of the Hollywood Golden Age.

Upon release, Hunky Dory and its lead single "Changes" received little promotion from RCA who were wary that Bowie would transform his image shortly. Thus, despite very positive reviews from the British and American music press, the album initially sold poorly and failed to chart. It was only after the commercial breakthrough of Bowie's 1972 follow-up album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars that Hunky Dory itself became a commercial success, peaking at number three on the UK Albums Chart. Retrospectively, Hunky Dory has been critically acclaimed as one of Bowie's best works, and features on several lists of the greatest albums of all time. Within the context of his career, it is considered to be the album where "Bowie starts to become Bowie", definitively discovering his voice and style.

After David Bowie completed his third studio album The Man Who Sold the World in May 1970, he became less active in both the studio and on stage. His contract with music publisher Essex had expired and his new manager Tony Defries was facing prior contractual challenges. Bowie was also without a backing band, as the musicians on The Man Who Sold the World – including its producer and bassist Tony Visconti, guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick Woodmansey – departed in August 1970 due to personal conflicts with the artist. After hearing a demo of Bowie's "Holy Holy", recorded in autumn 1970, Defries signed the singer to a contract with Chrysalis, but thereafter limited his work with Bowie to focus on other projects. Bowie, who was devoting himself to songwriting, turned to Chrysalis partner Bob Grace, who loved the demo of "Holy Holy" and subsequently booked time at Radio Luxembourg's studios in London for Bowie to record his demos. "Holy Holy", recorded in November 1970 and released as a single in January 1971, was a commercial flop.

The Man Who Sold the World was released in the United States by Mercury Records in November 1970. The album sold poorly but fared better both critically and commercially in the US than in the UK. It was played on American radio stations frequently and its "heavy rock content" increased interest in Bowie. The critical success of the album prompted Mercury to send Bowie on a promotional radio tour of the US in February 1971. The trip inspired him to write tribute songs for three American icons: artist Andy Warhol, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, and the rock band the Velvet Underground, more specifically their singer Lou Reed. After the tour, Bowie returned to his apartment in Haddon Hall, Beckenham, where he recorded many of his early 1970s demos, and began writing. According to his then-wife Angela, Bowie had spent time composing songs on piano rather than acoustic guitar, which would "infuse the flavor of the new album". In total, he composed over three-dozen songs there, many of which would appear on Hunky Dory and its follow-up album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The first song Bowie wrote for Hunky Dory was "Oh! You Pretty Things" in January 1971. After recording its demo at Radio Luxembourg, Bowie gave the tape to Grace, who showed it to Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits. Noone decided to record his own version and release it as his debut single.

Released in April 1971, Noone's version of "Oh! You Pretty Things" was a commercial success, peaking at number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. It was the first time most listeners had heard of Bowie since "Space Oddity" (1969). Noone told NME: "My view is that David Bowie is the best writer in Britain at the moment...certainly the best since Lennon and McCartney." Following the success of the single, Defries sought to extricate Bowie from his contract with Mercury, which was set to expire in June 1971. Defries felt that Mercury had not done Bowie justice financially. Although Mercury had intended to renew it on improved terms, Defries forced the label to terminate the contract in May by threatening to deliver a low-quality album. Defries then paid off Bowie's debts to Mercury through Gem Productions, and the label surrendered its copyright on David Bowie (1969) and The Man Who Sold the World.

After his short-lived band Arnold Corns folded in February, Bowie returned to the studio in May 1971 to record his next album. He concluded that he could not do the project without Ronson, who was enthusiastic when Bowie contacted him for the first time in nine months. Woodmansey returned with Ronson, who began looking for a bass player to replace Visconti. Ronson initially suggested Rick Kemp, with whom Bowie had recorded in the mid-1960s, but Bowie was unimpressed with Kemp's audition at Haddon Hall. According to some reports, per biographer Nicholas Pegg, it was Defries who rejected Kemp, because of his "receding hairline". Ronson then suggested his acquaintance Trevor Bolder, a former hairdresser and piano tuner who had previously seen Bowie in concert in 1970 and met Ronson at Haddon Hall. After Bolder was hired, the trio grouped at Haddon to rehearse some of Bowie's new material, such as the song "Andy Warhol". Bowie and his new backing trio, soon to be named the Spiders from Mars, played for the first time on June 3rd on BBC DJ John Peel's radio program In Concert. The set included debut performances of several songs Bowie had recently written such as "Queen Bitch", "Bombers", "Song for Bob Dylan" and "Andy Warhol". The title "Hunky Dory" was also announced at this session.

Bowie and the future Spiders officially started work on the new album at Trident Studios in London on 8 June 1971. Ken Scott, who had engineered Bowie's two previous records, was hired to co-produce alongside him. Scott accepted the position as a way to gain experience, although at the time he didn't believe Bowie would become a huge star. His debut as a producer, Scott would borrow some of the acoustic sounds of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (1970), an album he engineered. Scott would retain the role of co-producer for Bowie's next three records: Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups. Bowie played demos for Scott and the two picked which ones would be recorded for the album. On 8 June, the band recorded "Song for Bob Dylan", although according to Pegg this version was scrapped and the released version was not recorded until June 23rd. Scott later recalled that recording went very quickly: "Almost everything was done in one take." He was surprised when he and the Spiders would think a vocal or guitar part needed re-recording but Bowie would say "No, wait, listen", and when everything was played simultaneously it would sound perfect. Regarding Bowie's talent as a vocalist, Scott stated: "He was unique. [He is] the only singer I ever worked with where virtually every take was a master." Bolder described recording with Bowie for the first time as a "nerve-wracking experience", saying: "When that red light came on in the studio it was, God, in at the deep end of what!" As a co-producer Bowie took an active interest in the album's sound and arrangements, an about-face from his generally hands-off attitude during the Man Who Sold the World sessions. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman, noted session musician and member of the Strawbs, plays piano on the album; he previously played Mellotron on David Bowie (1969). In 1995 he recalled that he met with Bowie in late June 1971 at Haddon Hall, where he heard demos of "Changes" and "Life on Mars?" in "their raw brilliance ... the finest selection of songs I have ever heard in one sitting in my entire life ... I couldn't wait to get into the studio and record them." The piano Wakeman played was the same 1898 Bechstein used by Paul McCartney for "Hey Jude" and later by Queen for "Bohemian Rhapsody". According to Wakeman, the first few sessions started poorly as the band had not learned the songs. He recalled that Bowie had to halt the sessions, telling the musicians off and to come back when they knew the music. When they returned after a week, Wakeman thought "the band were hot! They were so good, and the tracks just flowed through." This story has been contested by other band members, including Bolder, who told biographer Kevin Cann: "[That's] rubbish. David would never have told the band off in the studio. Especially as Mick and Woody had already left him once, and everyone was now getting on. The band would not have survived that – it definitely didn't happen." Scott contended: "I definitely don't remember that, and it's not something I would forget. I would definitely dispute that one."

With Wakeman in the line-up, on July 9th Bowie and his band recorded two takes of "Bombers" and "It Ain't Easy", the latter featuring backing vocals by Dana Gillespie. Five days later, on July 14th, the group recorded four takes of "Quicksand", the last of which appears on the finished album. On July 18th the group spent the day rehearsing and mixing. Further mixing sessions were carried out between 21 and 26 July to compile a promotional album for Gem Productions. By this point, the songs "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Eight Line Poem", "Kooks", "Queen Bitch" and "Andy Warhol" had been recorded; the mixes of "Eight Line Poem" and "Kooks" on the promotional album differed from the final versions on Hunky Dory. Two takes of "The Bewlay Brothers" were recorded on July 30th the second appearing on the final album; it was recorded on a tape that contained scrapped versions of "Song for Bob Dylan" and "Fill Your Heart". On August 6th, the band recorded "Life on Mars?" and "Song for Bob Dylan", after which the recording process was considered finished. Before the sessions ended, Bowie asked Wakeman if he wanted to be a part of the Spiders from Mars. Wakeman declined and joined the progressive rock band Yes instead.

Hunky Dory was met with very positive reviews from several British and American publications. Melody Maker called it "the most inventive piece of song-writing to have appeared on record in a considerable time", while Danny Holloway of NME described it as Bowie "at his brilliant best". Holloway added that "[Hunky Dory is] a breath of fresh air compared to the usual mainstream rock LP of [1972]. It's very possible that this will be the most important album from an emerging artist in 1972, because he's not following trends – he's setting them". In the US, John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone called the album Bowie's "most engaging album musically" up to that point and praised his songwriting, particularly his ability to convey ideas without employing "a barrage of seemingly impregnable verbiage". Billboard gave the album a positive review, praising it as "a heavy debut for RCA, loaded with the kind of Top 40 and FM appeal that should break him through big on the charts. Strong material, his own, for programming includes 'Changes', 'Oh! You Pretty Things', and 'Life on Mars?'".
Several reviewers praised Bowie as an artist. The New York Times wrote that with Hunky Dory, Bowie became "the most intellectually brilliant man yet to choose the long-playing album as his medium of expression", while Rock magazine called him "the most singularly gifted artist making music today. He has the genius to be to the '70s what Lennon, McCartney, Jagger and Dylan were to the '60s." In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau hailed Bowie as "a singer-composer with brains, imagination, and a good idea of how to use a recording console", and the album "a quick change tour de force that is both catchy and deeply felt".

Retrospectively, Hunky Dory has received critical acclaim and is regarded as one of Bowie's best works. Many reviewers have praised the songwriting, with a writer for Blender calling the songs some of the best Bowie has ever written. Others, including Bryan Wawzenek of Ultimate Classic Rock, have commended the wide array of genres present in the songs and their ability to blend together throughout. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote: "On the surface, [having] such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie's improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop's traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music". Similarly, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune described the album as "the first taste of Bowie's multifaceted genius".
In a 2013 readers' poll for Rolling Stone, Hunky Dory was voted Bowie's second greatest album, behind Ziggy Stardust. Douglas Wolk of Pitchfork reviewed the album's remaster for the 2015 box set Five Years 1969–1973 and gave it a 10-out-of-10 rating, believing the songs to be "scattered but splendid" and finding Bowie's songwriting a "huge leap" from his previous works. Another Pitchfork writer, Ryan Schrieber, stated: "The album is by no means his most cohesive release, but it remains one of his most charming, and unquestionably, one of his best." Following Bowie's death in 2016, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone listed it as one of Bowie's essential albums, writing, "Hunky Dory was the album where he staked his claim as the most altered ego in rock & roll."

Tune In and Turn On Next Sunday Evening, December 5th, and every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM for The GOAT'S "The Long Play with Al Neff.” Don’t forget, right after the “Long Play”, we do a “Replay” of this week’s GOAT GUEST DJ SHOW.



 

 

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