This is a fake 2-LP Bowie album from 1974, made up almost entirely of officially released songs. It is intended to be the soul-funk-disco Bowie edifice that the year’s albums implied but never quite pulled off, IMO.
Soul-funk-disco Bowie got put in a lot of different places: “Young Americans," “The Gouster,” “David Live,” to a limited extent “Diamond Dogs," and the more recent "Cracked Actor," a live show from late in the 1974 tour. Beyond those sources, I've pulled in an old Rykodisc bonus track (from a better source), and an astounding alternate mix of "Across the Universe" (from a bootleg).
I would argue that the year’s output was great, but that it was not a trail-blazing moment for Bowie. Instead, it was mostly a shaggy homage to varied Black American music, some of it old, some of it contemporary. He was definitely intuitive about where popular music was going in the mid-to-late 1970s, but he didn’t make it thoroughly his own the way he did glam beforehand and Krautrock/”new wave” afterwards.
So, I don’t think you get to the strongest case for 1974 soul-funk-disco Bowie by trying to find the 10 best songs; you aim to cover as many angles as possible, with as many songs as possible. I got to 20.
This particular Bowie pose feels natural and complete to me, blown out into a double-LP. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, as it arguably is with many of the Seventies’ double albums. Quantity, variety, and pacing make it seem like a bigger deal.
Maybe that’s why Bowie and Visconti struggled with the track list for a single LP that year – first proposing the 7-song “The Gouster” configuration, then releasing the 8-song “Young Americans,” each including tracks the other doesn’t. Neither strikes me as a balanced album; you need all of the combined tracks, plus some more.
Most of those additional, necessary tracks come from “David Live,” which documented a blurry transitional tour, in which Bowie began to sort out his soul-funk-disco moves, ahead of “The Gouster”/”Young Americans” sessions. It’s a good album – a good band and tour – but it delivered a mix of songs played straight (rock and roll) and songs played through the 1974, “American year” aesthetic. I pulled those latter tracks into this mix.
Between Ziggy and The Thin White Duke, there was this guy.
- Young Americans
- The Gouster
- David Live
- Cracked Actor
- Diamond Dogs