ARTIST: DAVID BOWIE
ALBUM: HUNKY DORY
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):