It’s quite a trip all the way back to 1971 through the Bowie back catalogue to when Hunky Dory was released, and the journey back from then to now makes it difficult to cast a critical eye over work that was an integral part of what he developed through and into. Luckily, Hunky Dory is, for the most part, a very good album, apart from a couple of tracks, which I’ll get to in a little while.
I have expressed a preference previously for his later work, partially due to familiarity, but an opportunity arose to pick up a job lot of 5 Bowie albums at a good price, so I took it and one of the 5 was Hunky Dory, an album I’d heard before but many of the tracks only ever received one listen while others are an integral part of the Bowie canon.
The album is considered as either the 3rd or 4th official album depending on who you choose to believe and followed ‘The Man Who Sold The World“. Looking at reviews from 1971 it seems to be accepted in some quarters that this is the album where Bowie found his voice and sound, in hindsight it is pointing to what was to follow with Ziggy Stardust only 6 months or so later.
Changes and Oh!You Pretty Things are quite brilliant album openers, to be followed by Eight Line Poem, which I find disposable, and then Life on Mars. Take out Eight Line Poem and put it after Life on Mars and it would probably be a nice break from brilliance.
Eight Line Poem
The tactful cactus by your window
Surveys the prairie of your room
The mobile spins to its collision
Clara puts her head between her paws
They’ve opened shops down the West side
Will all the cacti find a home
But the key to the city
Is in the sun that pins
The branches to the sky, oh, oh, oh
Kooks is a nice tune in an appropriately kooky way. Bowie wrote this song to his newborn son Duncan Jones. The song being a pastiche of early Neil Young as Bowie was listening to a Neil Young record at home on 30 May 1971 when he got the news of the the birth.
We bought a lot of things
To keep you warm and dry
And a funny old crib on which the paint won’t dry
I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
When they pick on you
‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too
Quicksand is, lyrically, in a similar vein to much of Bowie’s work around this time, influenced by Buddhism, occultism, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman. The song refers to the magical society Golden Dawn and name-checks one of its most famous members, Aleister Crowley, as well as Heinrich Himmler, Winston Churchill and Juan Pujol, apparently under the code name Garbo.
Kicking off side 2 is Fill Your Heart, a cover of a song by Biff Rose, who I’ve never heard of, so I went and looked it up and if you are of a mind to you can listen to it below:
and you can compare with the Bowie version as well:
and there was even. version by Tiny Tim:
That’s quite enough of that, although I will say I prefer the Bowie version.
I was really surprised listening to Andy Warhol again as think it really paints a picture of him extremely well, particularly this expert:
Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he’s fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise
When he wake up on the sea
He sure to think of me and you
He’ll think about paint and he’ll think about glue
What a jolly boring thing to do
It just sounds like a film that Warhol would make and it creates Super 8 Black and white images in my mind of the man himself, which is difficult thing for a song to do. In complete contrast I find Song for Bob Dylan to be completely fan boy and rather cringe inducing in places, a track I could do without.
Fortunately, the album ends with a pair of great tracks, Queen Bitch is heavily influence by the Velvet Underground and is a bit Glam Rock, again suggestive of what was to come with Ziggy Stardust and a couple of months ago I heard on Radio 6 and didn’t remember having heard it before, it was like being given a brand new, previously unreleased track. Bowie named his publishing company in the late 1970s Bewlay Bros. Music and used the name as a pseudonym for himself, Iggy Pop and Colin Thurston as producers of Pop’s 1977 album Lust for Life. Bowie admitted that the lyrics made absolutely no sense and is quoted as saying in 2008, “I wouldn’t know how to interpret the lyric of this song other than suggesting that there are layers of ghosts within it. It’s a palimpsest, then.” I spent years listening to the Cocteau Twins, loved it, and never understood a word so I don’t find that a particular problem.
I almost forgot to mention Rick Wakeman, he play son the album, most notably on this:
A1 Changes – 3:33
A2 Oh! You Pretty Things – 3:12
A3 Eight Line Poem – 2:53
A4 Life On Mars? – 3:48
A5 Kooks -2:49
A6 Quicksand 5:03
B1 Fill Your Heart – 3:07
B2 Andy Warhol -3:53
B3 Song For Bob Dylan – 4:12
B4 Queen Bitch – 3:13
B5 The Bewlay Brothers – 5:21
I was quite sure that Oh! You Pretty Things was released as a single but when I checked it wasn’t, which, after further investigation means that I actually know it from the Peter Noone (of Hermansd Hermits) version, which Bowie apparently played piano on.
Anyway, it’s a really good early career album and I’m going with an 8.4
Here is the album, performed at various times and locations;