This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music
#244: Young Americans by David Bowie.
I will hand it to the United States…..they have done a superb job of mythologizing themselves in the eyes of the world: Things are bigger in Texas! Hooray for Hollywood! I’m going to Disneyland! New York! New York! If you can make it there……..! The world knows about “the Windy City”, “Big Sky Country” and “The Big Easy”, too. I am willing to make a fairly substantial wager that many, if not more, Canadians know about “The Alamo” than they do “The Battle of the Plains of Abraham”….and that is not so much a criticism of Canadian History as it is an acknowledgement that the US has done a tremendous job of promoting itself and waving its own flag.
Not surprisingly, for many who do not reside in the US, there can be an allure to America. By that, I am not talking about the physical geography of the country but more, the myth of America and, specifically, the promise of “The American Dream”. The American Dream promises that if you work hard and play fair, you can rise above your station and prosper. You can be anything you want in America. All that’s required is a dream big enough to fill a football stadium on a Friday night. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes that promise in the eyes of the world; welcoming in the downtrodden of the world in search of a better life.
When it comes to music, David Bowie followed in the footsteps of countrymen, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones by coming to America in search of the roots of Rock n’ Roll. Prior to the release of the album entitled, “Young Americans”, Bowie had released a string of iconic songs in the UK such as “Changes”, “Space Oddity”, “Rebel, Rebel”, “Starman”, “The Jean Genie” and “Diamond Dogs”, just to name a few. And, yet, he hadn’t made a single dent in the US music charts. So, Bowie came to America.
After touring around a bit, he went to the home of The Blues, Chicago. Once there, he was inspired to write some songs about his impressions of America, from inside of the land. So, he enlisted the help of some friends such as John Lennon (who sang on “Fame”) and Luther Vandross (who sang on the song, “Young Americans”). Bowie is a talented singer but, he is equally adept at marketing himself and his music. In this case, he appealed to the vanity of many Americans by appearing to write his lead single about them. The song, “Young Americans”, became Bowie’s first charting single in America.
The song, “Young Americans”, follows the ups and downs experienced by a young, fictional couple as they transitioned through their lives. Bowie insisted that the song wasn’t a critique of America nor, a lancing of the pomposity ingrained within an idea such as “The American Dream”. Instead, he claimed to be merely observational in how America really works for ordinary people as they move through the various stages of their lives. “Young Americans” is, also, a history lesson hidden within the lyrics of a song. It talks about the disgrace of President Nixon, about racism, poverty, feminism and much more. However, most Americans who listened to the song were simply happy to hear Bowie sing about “America” and tended to not over-analyze the lryical content too greatly.
In the years that followed, David Bowie became a huge star in America. Songs such as “Young Americans”, “Fame”, “Suffragette City”, “Heroes”, “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl” and many more happened after Bowie had arrived in America. I guess it just goes to show you that anyone can come to America and make their dreams come true, if your name is David Bowie. As for the couple portrayed in “Young Americans” well….not so much.
“Young Americans” is a boppy song but, it is an epic song, too, when it comes to storytelling. Take your time when you listen to it and you will hear David Bowie’s take on the real “America” that he came to know. Is it the America of myth or is it something else altogether? I will let you decide that for yourselves.
Let’s quit the gabbing and start the listening. Here is “Young Americans” by David Bowie. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Young Americans” by David Bowie, can be found here.
The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for playing the best music from America and from around the world, too. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.