Living To Music – David Bowie ‘Hunky Dory’




YEAR: 1971

This Sunday (November 4th) at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. If it’s not possible to make the allotted time, hopefully you can join in at your convenience at some point during the following week. See update here:

The second David Bowie Living To Music selection (the first being ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ in Jan ’11: https://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2010/12/living-to-music-david-bowie-the-rise-and-fall-of-ziggy-stardust-and-the-spiders-from-mars/), ‘Hunky Dory’ flopped on its UK release in Dec ’71 failing to even enter the lower regions of the chart (although it was a minor hit in the US, reaching #93), but in Sept ‘72, following the success of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, Bowie’s breakthrough album (which had been released just 6 months after, in June ’72), it would finally enter the chart in its slipstream, eventually peaking 2 places higher, at #3. It’s regarded by many as their favourite Bowie album – it’s certainly right up there alongside ‘Ziggy’ for me.

The first track I heard from ‘Hunky Dory’ was ‘Changes’, which had been the single prior to ‘Starman’, my entry point for Bowie in July ’72 (see: https://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2012/07/ziggy-at-40/). I was 12 at the time and only buying singles at this point, so when the next 2 Bowies releases, ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ and ‘The Jean Genie’ also turned out to be major winners, completing a hat-trick of 1972 hits, I enquired at Strothers in Liscard, one of the shops in which I’d buy my 45s (Strothers was a chain of high street electrical stores that stocked records), if they had anything by him pre ‘Starman’. The shop assistant had a rummage around behind the counter, before emerging with another RCA single in hand, his first for the label – this was ‘Changes’.

I immediately went into one of the shops listening booths to check it out, and was blown away by this incredible song that, only a few minutes earlier, I didn’t even know existed. Like the album it was taken from, ‘Changes’ had failed to make any impression on the chart, which is why I’d completely missed it when it was released at the start of the year, having only recently begun to get my info via the weekly music publication Record Mirror (plus the odd copies of Sounds, Melody Maker and the NME, depending on who was featured) – prior to this I’d been restricted to what I was hearing over the airwaves (Radio 1 by day, Radio Luxembourg by night), or by studying the charts, which were usually up on the walls in the record shops, or the new release sheets that were sometimes left on the counter.

In the school holidays I got a job at a local amusement arcade, the Golden Goose, just across the road from where I used to live in New Brighton, and it was with the money I earned here that I was able to purchase all of Bowie’s available albums, ‘Hunky Dory’, his 4th release, included. Although I’d previously bought, or had bought for me, albums by some of my Pop favourites of the time (including then big-hitters T. Rex, Alice Cooper, Slade, Rod Stewart and the now infamous Gary Glitter), David Bowie was the first artist whose albums I collected – I just had to own everything I could get hold of by him, the obsession in full grip.

On first listening to ‘Hunky Dory’, apart from ‘Changes’ (and the flip side ‘Andy Warhol’), the most familiar track was ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, an unlikely hit for Peter Noone 7 months before the album’s release (Noone had been the lead singer with ’60s Manchester hitmakers, Herman’s Hermits). The album’s best-known cut is the sublime ‘Life On Mars’, which would eventually be belatedly released as a single in 1973, reaching #3. Check out the video here, directed by the famous Pop photographer, Mick Rock:

‘Hunky Dory’ was the first Bowie album that featured all 3 of the musicians who would be subsequently known and loved as ‘The Spiders From Mars’, Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey (drums). The other significant musician on ‘Hunky Dory’ would be pianist Rick Wakeman, an accomplished session man soon to be a successful recording artist, initially in the progressive Rock band Yes, but ultimately in his own right.

It’s remarkable to think that an artist like Bowie might not have made the grade during more recent times. Having failed to make any impact with his first 4 albums, nowadays it’s unlikely that he’d have anything like as many bites at the cherry. However, despite his previous failures on the Deram, Philips and Mercury labels, RCA realised they had a star on their hands and, despite the general indifference when ‘Hunky Dory’ was first released, the label held their nerve and would reap the rewards when, during ’72 and ’73, Bowie became Britain’s biggest artist, with the label also cashing in on his previous albums, 1970’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and ‘Space Oddity’ (originally released in 1969 as ‘David Bowie’ in the UK and ‘Man Of Words / Man Of Music’ in the US), whilst subsequent releases, ‘Aladdin Sane’, ‘Pin Ups’ (both ’73) and ‘Diamond Dogs’ (’74), would all go to #1. Before the end of 1974 his various albums spent an incredible 327 weeks on the UK chart, ‘Hunky Dory’ contributing 69 weeks in total (second only to the 106 weeks totted up by ‘Ziggy Stardust’).

Your own thoughts are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

Hunky Dory Wikipedia:

Living To Music Facebook Events Page:

Original Living To Music Post (including guidelines):

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13 Responses to Living To Music – David Bowie ‘Hunky Dory’

  1. cezza November 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    I have not listened to this album for 23 years! Though I still have the orginal ‘record’. I would spend hours lost in the fantasy creative world of Bowie as a moody distant teenager. I cant really explain the satisfaction it gave me, as we discussed after listening to this album, Bowie’s music is theatre, and I think its that theatrical side of his music that I most love, it transports me into another world that I like. Bowie is so original, so creative, so expressive that to me he will always be completely unique, I was listening to his earlier stuff in the 80’s, Im not sure what led me to him as I didnt really enjoy his 80’s music of ‘Lets Dance’ etc, dont get me wrong, I liked it but it never touched me really deeply, maybe it was chart music that made me delve into him a bit more and listen to his earlier albums.

    A brilliant refreshing night, again one to be listened to more regularly as LTM has once again succeeded in bringing another loved album into my life.

  2. Nadia November 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    I dont know if this album changed my life but it my life definitely changed whilst listening to it. I first heard it being played by a woman who had a great influence upon me. She was the elder sister of a friend and she was at University in Liverpool. I can remember what she was supposed to be studying but she told us all she had learnt about Probe and Eric’s and Brian’s Cafe and Mac and Copey and many other subjects equally strange and fascinating to me. She lectured and gave us practical demonstrations in how to protest for peace and dress at the Army and Navy and how to make hair stand on end with hairspray and shock. She made us truly pretty things. She smuggled me under a crombie coat through the barrier at the station and took me on a journey to somewhere different where I could be the same.Just like the other Kooks. I lost contact with Ann and her sister and found out only a few years ago that she had died. I never had a chance to thank her for all she had given me but she will always be in my heart when I hear this album. Thanks for being my reason to go back to a special time.

  3. lec November 16, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Nadia, that really moved me!!!
    I love, love, love, love this album. I have loved it since I snuck it out of my brothers room to listen to it first on my dad’s stero, then later on my own.
    There are tracks I like more than others, but there’s no track that I think, UGGG let’s skip this one.
    He has never been the best singer (nor actor if the truth be told) BUT his theatre and art and the way he puts over a song is incredible and honest and original and unique and just bloody brilliant in my humble opinion.
    Each track is completely different to the last and each one has it’s own magic and merit and his lyrics are bonkers and beautiful and I love him.
    The world of music is definitely a better place for having him in it and though there are many songs by him, that really don’t move me (just like Cezza says) there are many more that really, really do!

    “She’s so swishy in her satin and tat, in her frock coat and bibbity bobbity hat, o God I could do better than that!!!”

  4. Dan Soulsmith November 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Fantastic album! I like it more than Ziggy! Enjoyed the tracks I’d not heard before, particularity ‘Kooks’ and ‘The Bewley Brothers’.

  5. greg wilson November 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Yeah, he was hitting the heights lyrically here. I was originally taking this in when I was 13 and had no idea of what he meant, but the word imagery transported me to another realm. Later down the line I understood more, and a track like ‘Quicksand’ sounded like he was making some kind of Faustian pact – ‘I’m closer to the Golden Dawn, immersed in Crowley’s uniform of imagery’. Now I’m aware of what the Golden Dawn was and, indeed, who Aleister Crowley was, you can see what he was getting at. He was certainly looking more towards the occult for inspiration. When he sings ‘I ain’t got the power anymore’, it’s like he’s giving himself over to a greater force – interestingly, a matter of months later, the self-doubt gone (at least on the surface), he’d shape-shifted into Ziggy Stardust, and his career would subsequently take off in a major way.

    The opening verse on the album sets the tone – ‘I still don’t know what I was waiting for
    and my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets, Every time I thought I’d got it made it seemed the taste was not so sweet, So I turned myself to face me but I’ve never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker, I’m much too fast to take that test”. He’s done his soul searching, but now he’s stood at a crossroads, disillusioned, and seemingly not knowing how to move on. Yet all this was about to drastically change and, with Ziggy’s huge success, ‘Hunky Dory’ was transformed from flop to masterpiece. Some alchemy!

  6. greg wilson November 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Interesting you zoomed in on those 2 particular tracks Dan – both to do with family (‘Kooks’ about his son, Zowie, whilst ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ is said to be about his brother Terry, who suffered from mental illness).

  7. Lou Lou November 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Listen to this album quite a bit and have always loved it. I worked with someone when I was 17 who introduced me to Bowie and when I left they all bought me about 5 of his albums Sadly, they’re now buried in my parents loft. My favourite track will always be Changes. Made me chuckle the first time Sav and Ind heard it from the album and said “hey that’s from Shrek!”. Down through the generations in so many ways eh?
    Great choice but listened alone, which I didn’t find as much fun but made the most of the opportunity to sing along 😉
    cheers G man

  8. Gavin November 27, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I was late listening this month, and although I’ve had the CD in my collection for a year or so, this was the first time I’d listened in full. Great set – ‘Changes’ is a killer opening track and agree with the above comments about his powerful lyrics. Looking forward to listening again more closely.

  9. BrianE November 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    Lots of Blues and Rock influences in most of the tracks and some classic tracks: Changes, Life on Mars, Queen Bitch, etc. Nice inventive lyrics on quicksand and throughout. Not heard the Andy Warhole track before, interesting! The first few chords at the start of ‘Dylan’ reminicscent of ‘Knockin! on Heavens Door’. Good album in the typical Bowie theatrical style!

  10. Henry November 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I have finally made sense of my scribblings (just).

    I’ve got to make a confession, I’ve never “got” Bowie, or even particularly liked much of his music – with the exception of Fame and Let’s Dance, all those funky ones…Before my time, and it’s too quirky for me, I think, all that alter-ego business, plus I’m just not a fan of the sound (timbre, if you will…) of his voice. Glam just doesn’t really do it for me, m’afraid.

    He does seem like a top dude these days though, and I respect the hell out of him as much as I do any other hard-working musician.

    I like a lot of the playing on the record – The rhythm section on Oh! You Pretty Things is pretty beefy and there’s some fairly virtuoso shit going on all over the place.

    The flanged acoustic on Quicksand made me stifle a groan/giggle…reminds me of the stuff my Dad liked when I was little, there’s a 70s staple if ever there was one…nice strings on that one though.

    Andy Warhol gets close to having a groove, but generally it’s emphatically about words and melodies rather than bass and drums, which probably sums up why I’m not a fan. “Can I hear anything I want to sample?” tends to be the unspoken question 🙂

    I confess I actually laughed out loud at some of the lyrics…sample from The Bewlay Brothers:

    I was Stone and he was Wax
    So he could scream,
    And still relax, unbelievable
    And we frightened the small children away
    And our talk was old
    And dust would flow
    Thru our veins and Lo!

    Dude. Hewn into the living rock….

    I feel bad that I can’t find nicer stuff to say about this LTM LP, I think a lot of the problem is negative associations with more recent acts who wear the Bowie influence on their sleeve – plus a million parodies, of course.

    Properly looking forward to Rufus though.

  11. Dean Cavanagh December 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I too first heard “Hunky Dory” in a listening booth: Woods in Bradford. To this day I still consider it Bowie’s most accomplished work. Lyrically it is up there with Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ in painting a landscape of the interior.

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