David Bowie and America have had an uncomfortable relationship over the years. Not so long ago, on 1997's failed techno/jungle experiment Earthling, he wrote a song called "I'm Afraid of Americans," which succinctly expressed Europeans' fear of U.S. military and social aggression in paranoid ambient textures and fearful beats and rhythms.
And then you had Young Americans, another about-face for an artist frequently compared to a chameleon. But as far as I know, Bowie has never changed color. But he has always been up for altering his sound and exploring new genres. With 1974's Young Americans, Bowie adopted blue-eyed soul as his flavor of the month.
While it's not Bowie's best work, Young Americans, not so ironically Bowie's most "American" sounding album, did accomplish two things: it made white soul palatable for the mainstream and its chart success cemented Bowie's place in popular music as a honest-to-goodness superstar. Even the radio at work here at F&W Publications headquarters in little Iola, Wis., plays that soaring title track, with that bleating saxophone solo and gospel-style backing vocals, over the loudspeakers now and then. And of course, the album also featured the robotic funk workout "Fame." Belying the somewhat superficial nature of Bowie's white soul experiment were pointed lyrics about drugs, unhealthy sexual relations and socio-political issues, and that makes Young Americans, if not essential, then pretty damn important.
On June 5, an expanded special edition CD/DVD reissue of Young Americans streets. Done up by Virgin/EMI, It includes a remastered version of the original album, plus three bonus tracks, new audio mixes — overseen by none other than famed producer Tony Visconti — and rare TV clips, including a Bowie performance on the "Dick Cavett Show." One of the bonus tracks is one of my personal Bowie favorites, "John, I'm Only Dancing."
Along with the Young Americans reissue, there'll be more Bowie on the way in the form of yet another greatest hits package. This one spans the Let's Dance, Tonight and Scary Monsters era and is titled The Best Of David Bowie 1980-1987: Sight & Sound. As expected, the first half of the album is fantastic, packed with singles versions of "Let's Dance," the creepy, "Major Tom" revisitation "Ashes To Ashes," "Fashion," "Modern Love" and "China Girl." The 1999 digitally remastered version of "Up The Hill Backwards" is included, along with the film version single edit of "Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)" and Bowie long-forgotten collaboration with the Pat Metheny Group, "This Is Not America."
The DVD sports 15 video clips of Bowie's top '80s cuts, most of them previously mentioned above. Previously unavailable videos for "The Drowned Girl" and "When The Wind Blows" make it a promising collection.
But seriously, do you really need another collection of Bowie's best? Actually, the more I think about it, I might, if only for the DVD. But if you're bored with the assembly line frequency of Bowie greatest hits packages, I don't blame you.