David Bowie – Hunky dory (1971)

Immune to your consultations

My relationship with “Honky dory” is a strange one. Back when I started collecting vinyl records, in my first vinyl era, I didn’t have the means or tools to buy all albums at once. A big part of the thing was to actually not be able to find all the albums right away. We went to the one record shop there was in Skövde. Then we went to record fairs in Gothenburg and Hova. Browsing bins of vinyls was the happy times. And the album I always seemed to miss out on and longed for was “Hunky dory”.

It is funny how the impressions you get when you’re young stick. Even though I now have multiple copies of the album in multiple formats, I still feel it in my head that it is scarce, and that I need it. Funny thing.

Let’s see what we have on this LP then. Yes, the first four songs… Yes. It is so similar to Neil’s 1972 LP “Harvest”. Yeees, two very, very good tracks followed by a weaker one and followed by the fourth song, the most iconic songs on both albums. The same structure! Two great albums released within two months. One on each side of the pond. How does “Hunky dory” rate compare to “Harvest”? Well, that is for another review, isn’t it? Ok, ok, ok, I give in. Of course, “Harvest” is better. But some of the songs from “Hunky dory” may be more known, especially over here in Europe.

“Hunky dory” is the start of Bowie’s exceptional run in the seventies. It would be ranked in the top half in the list of 26 studio albums. In my last ranking of Bowie studio albums I had it in at eleventh. That means it’s a very good album!

And so it begins, the curse of the cover songs… Another thing I come to think about is the trend of David using at least one cover on his albums. That all started with “Hunky dory”. I famously said in my podcast Shinypodden (in Swedish), that Bowie didn’t record many covers (except for the covers album). How utterly incorrect I was. Embarrassing.

The first song on the album is “Changes”, a song I think readers of any music review blogs already know of. It’s such a great song for the youth in all of us. The second “Oh! You pretty things” can’t disappoint anyone. As on all the album through Rick Wakeman’s piano is the most important instrument accompanying David’s singing. You also must not miss the hand clapping! Catchy!

Now to the mega hit, one of the best songs ever by Mr. Bowie, “Life on Mars?”. What can be said of the song that is not already said? What is said about it? I love it because it has always been there. I remember myself as a youngling in the summers on Tjörn. It is in my blood. Remember Bowie was the first major artist I discovered. I love Wakeman’s piano, Bowies melancholic lyrics and his singing. Some lines from the song pop up now and then when I am totally unprepared. Is there life on Mars?

The remaining songs on the first side of the LP are nice enough, they are enjoyable, but still they’re kind of fillers. Except for “Quicksand”. That one is really nice.

The album art is iconic. Bowie in long golden hair and blue eyes in a Garbo-esque pose.

The second side of the LP is not as good as the first side. The first song is a cover and it’s at its best only a fun and quirky filler. Often the covers just seem to be less worthy to me, I want his true material. It’s like documentaries in the movies, often interesting but they seldom feel like a “real, full” movie.

After a bridge of curious studio banter we are thrust into the glorious “Andy Warhol”. The acoustic guitars are great, David’s singing top notch and the melody is slightly jarring. It’s clearly one of the two best songs on the second side.

“A song for Bob Dylan” is calm and seems earnest enough, but I find it a little boring. “Queen bitch” is a fun song that would have been a perfect fit on the next album also. It was often great live.

The last song “The Bewlay Brothers” seems to have been a mystery to the audience back in the seventies. Nowadays we think it’s about David and his schizophrenic brother. It is a haunting slow song written by David one night in the studio. Later on he would more frequently write songs on site in the recording studio. His creative mind blows my mind.

This is a very nice album. High floor with some spectacular tops.

My rating: 7/10

Side A:

  1. Changes
  2. Oh! You pretty things
  3. Eight line poem
  4. Life of Mars?
  5. Kooks
  6. Quicksand

Side B:

  1. Fill your heart (cover of the Biff Rose song)
  2. Andy Warhol
  3. Song for Bob Dylan
  4. Queen bitch
  5. The Bewlay brothers

Best songs: “Life on Mars?”, “Changes” and “Oh! You pretty things”

Produced by: Ken Scott

Media: Remastered 180 gram vinyl, reissued in 2015 as part of the Five Years (1969-1973) box.
Media 2: Remastered 180 gram vinyl, Reissued Limited edition 2017, Gold

Released: December 17, 1971

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