The Young American
Magazine Articles - 1974
The Village Voice (US) 25 July 1974 - Dancing at disaster’s edge In the course of his pilgrim's progress toward stardom, DAVID BOWIE'S artistic vision, as documented by his vinyl forays, has become increasingly bleak. The dream of redemption by the next generation or interstellar travellers that pervaded "Hunky Dory" and "Ziggy Stardust" has crumbled into the radioactive wreckage of the "Diamond Dogs" where the only hope of survival lies in total humiliation and submission. In light of this growing pessimism, Bowie's performance on his current concert tour seemed a step back from the abyss, an elaborate divertissement at the edge of a disaster. The atmosphere of anticipation in the Garden had far more of the gunpowder in the nostrils of an art gallery on opening night than the electric excitement of a concert hall. Where the Alice Cooper brand of "theatrics" subordinates the visuals into a function of the music. Bowie's simultaneous contempt for and fascination with the latest incarnation of his vision results in the sacrifice of excitement for an elaborately choreographed production. Everything about the show bespoke tremendous attention to even the smallest details. In the process, all spontaneity of rock 'n' roll has been lost. Bowie's new backing band with only pianist Mike Garson remaining from the old Spiders, is the thoroughly disciplined and professional, but they are seldom given a chance to do more than play their charts. The only time they really cut loose at the show I saw was on the old Eddie Floyd r&b standard "Knock On Wood", dropping the postures and poses. Bowie threw back his red mane and strutted through it.   Taken on its own level, as neither rock raveup nor musical show, the concert worked as a stupendously orchestrated entertainment. Beginning with rocking versions of "1984" and "Rebel Rebel", the more than two-hour performance spanned the last five years of Bowie's music. "Space Oddity," midway through the show, was the first superproduction, with Bowie singing into a telephone while being slowly lowered from a blood-dripping skyscraper by a crane. "Jean Genie," formerly a tough electric blues, was transformed into a torch ballad, replete with Garson's tinkling piano flourishes and beer garden sax. In the course of a "Big Brother" / "Time" / "Width of a Circle" medley, he was disgorged and then swallowed by a mirror-studded cross between a space capsule and a tank, and Ziggy's invitation to freak out in a "Moonage Daydream" became a wistful memory of an earlier and more innocent age before daydreams became an insupportable luxury. Bowie is taking rock 'n' roll someplace it's never been before, but only time will show whether his chosen road leads to a breakthrough or a blind alley. If those who will inevitably follow are able to experiment with the new possibilities in rock staging he's opened up, some real excitement could get back into the music. And since the future of rock right now seems about as bleak as Bowie's vision of the future, any change at all could only be an improvement. DAN NOOGER   Circus Raves (US) September 1974 - The secrets behind his ‘Dog’ tour Throughout the increasingly balmy nights of spring, the famous face of David Bowie could be seen up and down the avenues of New York, and each evening the city of a thousand moods had something more intriguing in store for him. Again and again the lily-skinned rocker swept up to Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre to see The Impressions, The Persuasions or The Spinners. He popped into Gary Glitter’s press party with Marc Bolan (after Glitter had left) and toasted Todd Rundgren’s Carnegie Hall concert accompanied by Eva Cherry, the black former-Bowie back-up and Astronette whose new hairdo made her look like a tennis ball. As the moon spun farther across the sky, he journeyed to the red- lit smoke of Max’s Kansas City or the city’s sharpest after-hours decadent disco, The 82 Club, where he danced with the hot tramps of Long Island and New Jersey until dawn. Meanwhile, across the Hudson River, a very different sort of cityscape was being prepared for Bowie’s arrival. Just as David was shutting his multi-colored eyes and making it with the sandman behind drawn shades, highly skilled technicians assembled every morning at Design Associates in Lambertville, New Jersey to erect the props and scenery for Bowie’s 28-city tour of the East. Commented one veteran special effects designer - co-ordinator Paul Stange, "It’s the heaviest rock and roll show ever to go out on the road – literally. There are three tractor trailer loads of equipment and more special effects than has ever been seen before in a rock and roll show." Canine concept: Bowie popped in and out of his suite at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel all April and May to frequent RCA’s recording studios and rehearse the "Diamond Dogs" stage act with his new band (ex-Spider Mike Garson, Herbie Flowers, Tony Newman, and Earl Slick). Sandwiched between these activities, the artiste met with Mark Ravitz of Jules Fisher’s Associates to conceive the stage setting which would be his home for 36 performances over the course of a month. The two had prolonged conversations about the aesthetic meanings of various scenic elements. Once Bowie and Ravitz knew what they wanted, they enlisted the aid of Chris Langhart, the man who fashions such super-creations as the Barnum & Bailey circus carousel. Langhart’s second floor office which looks out over a local teenage gathering place, is set in fairly tranquil surroundings, but when the four telephone lines all star ringing at once , the blond engineer feels like he’s in the middle of Manhattan. "The plans don’t come to you with everything thought out," the masterbuilder confided to Circus RAVES Magazine. "The designer comes to me with the basic ideas and says ‘How can we capture a, b anc c?’ He comes to me to make his concepts function. Then after they get their minds made up what size it’s all going to be, they want it instantly. It’s a super coordinating job. Rock and roll in its present state owes a lot to the telephone as a timesaver. It’s not like the Ringling Bros. Circus where you have half a year to put something together."   Lightning sculpture: The cityscape itself, with "pools of essence" dripping down the face of the buildings, was Ravitz’s design. "It’s not as simple as a backdrop," Langhart said of the three-dimensional set which Bowie can move through, coming out from between different buildings and appearing in windows illuminated from the back. Among the buildings there is a giant lightning bolt, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane symbol, which chases up and down as light sculpture – "stationary lights changing their on and off relationship to each other." It appears as a building when not illuminated and then suddenly becomes the familiar jagged slash. "It’s done with scrims," Langhart explained. "It’s a theatrical technique that’s existed for years but hasn’t been applied to rock and roll before." Engineering extras: The most spectacular engineering feats in the "Diamond Dogs" extravaganza, though, are the three elements which move in coordination with David’s choreographed movements – the diamond, the bridge and the catapult. •The diamond is a space car on wheels which looks like a jewel. Bowie can be either inside it or on top of it. It appears upstage and comes down toward the audience to reveal the singer, somewhat like Bette Midler’s well known entrance to the Palace Theatre last fall from a high heeled shoe. It has microphones that come out so he can sing on it, and all the cables for sound and power for the DC motors are passed upstage with little rollers. •The bridge is similar to a painter’s trestle. It has winches of variable speeds on the ends so it can go up and down in time with various songs. The bridge moves between the buildings of the cityscape, and Bowie can dance across it, or leap over the railing and slide down ropes like a warbling buccaneer. Explaining the freedom of the concept, Langhart offered, "Bowie has the choice of going up the towers on the ends to get to it and then coming down, or he can board it from ground level, ride up in it, and then get off on the towers. It’s full of options for him." •The catapult doesn’t really hurl Bowie into the air, but the apparatus does allow him to sit in a chair at the top and be lowered down into the lap of the audience, over the first few rows. A kind of giant arm, it comes out of a "pool of essence." "It’s a monster quantity of flashy electronic special effects," observed Stange. The triple trailered caravan lumbers onto the road once again in September for the red-haired MainMan’s swing through the western U.S.A. SIMON DECKER   Melody Maker (UK) 14 September 1974 - Bowie finds his voice! It's back to R & B for Ziggy Stardust who now wants to be recognised as a singer. Bowie talks exclusively to Robert Hilburn in Los Angeles - and previews his next two albums! "I really shouldn't do this", teased David Bowie as he walked across the room of his Beverly Hills hotel suite toward a mound of tape equipment. I had come to talk to him and hear his new live album (a two-record set from his current United States tour), but there was something else he wanted to play first. "This isn't the new album, but the one after it, and the record company doesn't like me to do that. They want me to talk about the new one, the live one that'll be out soon. But I'm so excited about this one. We cut it in a week in Philadelphia and it can tell you more about where I am now than anything I could say." This was Bowie's first interview since he began his massive US tour last June, a tour that included such ambitious staging that many reviewers have hailed it as the most spectacular rock show ever. Bowie doesn't like interviews and rarely does them anymore. They are, he feels unnecessary links between him and his audience. Like so many, he feels his music conveys, everything he wants to say. Besides, he hates to read later when his views on a subject may have changed drastically. And David's views - he's the first to admit - do change often and drastically. He was a bit nervous when he entered the room. He simply walked over to the tape equipment and rummaged through some boxes until he found the right one, and began threading the machine and adjusting the controls. For those who still take note of his fashion, he now parts his hair down the side - a bit like the 1930s look. The popular Ziggy hairstyle is gone. He was wearing black tux trousers, a blue and white check shirt and bold white suspenders. His shoes were black, rather like a conservative banker might wear. No platforms. Satisfied the tape equipment was working properly, he moved to a chair and listened as the music came from the speakers. From the opening track (a new version of "John, I'm Only Dancing"), it was clear some changes had been made in Bowie's style. The musical backing featured a strong touch of rhythm and blues, but mainly it was the confidence, increased shading and range of his voice. It was far less one-dimensional than in the past. More human and "authentic". The next track - "Somebody Up There Likes Me" - was even more telling. It was a socio-political commentary, very direct in its lyrics. The other tracks - including a ballad about love having slipped through one's grasp, and a lament about the loss of emotion in this era that contains the line "Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?" - were also more direct and accessible than much of Bowie's previous work. There's no resort to science fiction or indirect statement. When the tape ended, there was less nervousness in Bowie's manner. He was obviously delighted with the new album. It was as if the music gave him greater confidence. Later, the nervousness would reappear from time to time and when it did he would usually end his comment with a nervous laugh as if to underscore his uncertainty about the particular answer. "I think it is the closest thing I've ever done on record to being very, very me," he said. "I always said that on most albums I was acting. It was a role, generally. "And this one is the nearest to actually meeting me since that very first 'Space Oddity' album, which was quite personal. I'm really excited about it." There seemed to be much less tension and more focus in the new album - tentatively titled "One Damn Song" - than in the recent "Aladdin Sane" and 'Diamond Dogs" albums. I asked him about that. He said he had been through a strain on both of those albums. " 'Aladdin Sane' was a result of my paranoia with America at the time," he said. "I hadn't come to terms with it, then. I have now, I know the areas I like best in America. "I know the kind of people I like. I've been here a long time - since April. I've had a chance to clarify my feelings. And I'm quite happy over here. I found different people. "But I ran into a very strange type of paranoid person when I was doing 'Aladdin.' Very mixed up people, and I got very upset. It resulted in 'Aladdin'… And I know I didn't have very much more to say about rock 'n' roll. "I mean 'Ziggy' really said as much as I meant to say all along. 'Aladdin' was really 'Ziggy' in America. Again, it was just looking around, seeing what's in my head. "The 'Pin-Ups' album was a pleasure. And I knew the band (the Spiders) was over. It was a last farewell to them in a way. 'Diamond Dogs' was the start of this new album, actually. "Things like 'Rock and Roll With Me' and '1984' were embryonic of what I wanted to do. I tried all kinds of things. It' was not a concept album. It was a collection of things. "And I didn't have a band. So that's where the tension came in. I couldn't believe I had finished it when I did. I had done so much of it myself. I never want to be in that position again. "It was frightening trying to make an album with no support behind you. I was very much on my own. It was my most difficult album. It was a relief that it did so well." Was he worried during "Diamond Dogs" about where he was going next musically? "No, I knew it was toward this album. Even then. The songs on 'Diamond Dogs' that I got the biggest kick out of - like 'Rock and Roll With Me' and '1984' - gave me the knowledge there was another album at least inside of me that I was going to be happy with. "I mean, if I can't make albums that I'm happy with, I'll not make them. I won't just go in and knock off dozens of albums. They must mean something to me. "It just happens that I write very fast. I write a lot. That's why I seem to have so many bloody albums out." Though the new album, then, is a departure for Bowie, he gave clues to it all along. Even during the peak success of "Ziggy Stardust," he had said he was not interested in just being a rock 'n' roller. He wanted a broader, more multi-directional career. While the new album, is the boldest step in that direction, songs like "Time" on "Aladdin Sane" gave hints of his future. "Exactly," he said, "it has always been there. It was just a question of when I was going to come out of my particular closet. The answer, obviously, was when I had the confidence to. "Presumably, the next album will be a further graduation. But, maybe, it'll be a retrostep. We'll see." The nervous laughter popped up briefly. I asked him about the rhythm and blues influence. Was it something new? "No. But it's only now that I've got the necessary confidence to sing like that. That's the kind of music I've always wanted to sing. I mean those are my favourite artists… the Jackie Wilsons… that type. That was one of the great things about this trip. I could go to any black place in America and not be recognised. And that was really fantastic. The only time, really, we got any kind of recognition on a large scale was at the Jackson 5 concert because there was a younger audience. But at most of the R&B shows, they're married couples, not kids, so it was marvellous for me to be able to go out and rave and yell. I went to the Apollo a lot, saw dozens of people." When did the vocal confidence come to him? "When I started rehearsing with the band for this tour, I suddenly realised I was enjoying singing again. I hadn't enjoyed it in a long time. "It was just a way to get my songs across. But when I started rehearsing I began enjoying it and I found I actually had a voice. "That's really exciting for me. My voice has improved in leaps and bounds. I've been flattered by some of the things the musicians have said about my singing. "I'd really like to be recognised as a singer. I'd love that." Was singing always a goal? "I don't know," he smiled. "Once upon a time… when I was very young… like 22 or something… I had my eye on that, but I never really took it seriously. "I didn't have any sort of faith in my voice. I knew that I had an individual voice, but how I'm beginning to believe it's good as well. Maybe I just want to be a crooner…". That laughter popped up again. One of the most interesting songs on the new album is "Somebody Up There Likes Me," a warning about the danger of hero worship.  "There are several things on this album that lead front other things I've done," he said. "Really, I'm a very one track person. What I've said for years under various guises is that 'Watch Out, the West is going to have a Hitler!' I've said it in a thousand different ways. That song is yet another way.  "I just feel we are very open to…" he continued, then paused and broke off his thought by saying he hates to pontificate in that way. He just feels, he said, we all have a temptation to let others make our decisions for us - to lead us. "That's what Ziggy was. That's what they all are… all the little characters I come up with." Wasn't it ironic, then, I suggested, that so many of Bowie's own fans look to him as a leader - someone give them answers. "That's just it," he said. "That's what I said in 'Rock and Roll With Me.' I mean, the verse of that talks about that… you're doing it to me. Stop it." Again, the nervous laugh.  "That's why I'm happy my music is going in the new direction. It's responsible music. I mean, one could play an enormous game with people, but I am not prepared to do it. I could see how easy it was to get a whole rally thing going. "There were times, frankly, when I could have told the audience to do anything, and that's frightening. Well, I've got that responsibility so I've got to be very careful about what I do with it. It needs a bit of forethought." How does he feel his audience will respond to this new album? "When we were recording, a bunch of kids stayed outside the studio all night until 10 o'clock in the morning, so we let them in and played some things from the album and they loved it, which was amazing. Fabulous, because I really didn't know what they'd think about the change in direction."  What about the absence of science fiction in the new album? Was that part of his increased confidence?  "Yes it is in a way. I used a lot of science fiction patterns because I was trying to put forward concepts, ideas and theories, but this album hasn't anything to do with that. "It's just emotional drive. 'It's one of the first albums I've done that bounds along on emotional impact. There's not a concept in sight." He'd felt a concept was important? "Yes, very much so. That's what I felt my area as a writer was, but I've obviously changed. When I finished this album, I felt. 'My God, I'm a different writer than I used to be.' Before you put it all together, you don't know what you've really got - just bits and pieces. "But then when we listened to it all together, it was obvious that I had really, really changed. Far more than I had thought. Every time I play a finished album I get a shock. I think - wow, is that where I am now?" It seemed like a good time for Bowie to put on another tape. This one was the live album, which is due to be released this month (September). Titled "David Live," it contains 17 songs, most of them vastly redesigned instrumentally from the original album versions, and sung with the greater character and texture of Bowie's improved style. The first track - "1984" - burst into the room, and again he settled back in a chair to listen. While the album was playing, several of the musicians travelling with him and some of the MainMan staff came into the room to hear it. Bowie was very much a musician, not a "personality" in the manner of so many rock stars when they listen to their own music. He was like a fan pointing out special touches - some crisp guitar lick or a particularly hot saxophone solo - that delighted him. There were, quite justifiably, many reasons far his delight. Though it is a bit dangerous making such judgements on the basis of a single listening, "David Live" is quite possibly the best live rock album I've ever heard - an urgent, highly accessible, brilliantly performed collection. One of its special features is the absence of the long delays (for crowd applause) between songs. Just as one song dies down another begins. The result is a lively continuing pulse. As with Dylan and "Before the flood, " "David Live" updates Bowie's material - even though some of it is only a few months old - in a way that almost makes the original version irrelevant. Bowie's vocals give all sort of new insights and interpretations to the lyrics, particularly on songs like "Changes" and "All The Young Dudes." The album's only non-Bowie song is "Knock On Wood," the old R&B hit. Here is the order of songs on the album: •SIDE ONE: "1984," "Rebel Rebel," "Moonage Daydream," "Sweet Thing." •SIDE TWO: "Changes," "Suffragette City," "Aladdin Sane," "All The Young Dudes," "Cracked Actor." •SIDE THREE: "Rock 'N' Roll With Me," "Watch That Man," "Knock On Wood",."Diamond Dogs." •SIDE FOUR: "Big Brother," "The Width Of A Circle," "The Jean Genie," "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide." The album, clearly is a testament to a phase in Bowie's career that is as satisfying as the "Rock of Ages" album is to the first phase of the Band's career. And Bowie does, quite definitely, feel it is the end of a phase of his career. When someone suggested the live album could be subtitled "David Bowie Vol.1" He smiled in agreement. The first step in the new phase - even before the arrival of the next studio album - is the termination of his elaborate stage show. When his Los Angeles concerts are finished, he'll recross the U.S. with another tour, but this one, without the huge staging, will be a fairly straight concert. "I think I always know when to stop doing something," he said. "It's when the enjoyment is gone. That's why I've changed so much. I've never been of the opinion that it's necessarily a wise thing to keep on a successful streak if you're just duplicating all the time. "That's why I tend to be erratic. It's not a matter of being indulgent, I don't think. It's just a case of making sure I'm not bored, because if I'm bored then people can see it. I don't hide it very well. "Everything I do I get bored with eventually. It's knowing where to stop. "I have now done what I wanted to do three or four years ago. Stage an elaborate, colourful show… a fantasy … and I don't think I want to go any further with it because I know it can be done. "I know I could do an even bigger, grander kind of production. But when I know it can be done, I don't have to do it any more. "Doing a straight show is very exciting to me now; suddenly jumping into a new kind of tour after this one. Couldn't imagine just doing the same show over and over again. It would be terribly boring. That's why I gave up the last time. That's why I 'retired' last time." "Besides the new musical direction, Bowie's current enthusiasm is boosted by some new musicians who'll be joining him later in the year. He feels he finally has a band again. Andy Newmark, a drummer with Sly & The Family Stone, and Willie Weeks, a bassist who has worked with Aretha Franklin among many, will join him as soon as their present obligations are finished. Both men worked with Bowie on the new studio album and, like many who have read so much about the controversial Bowie Image, they approached the project with a bit of uncertainty. "When Andy, and Willie came to see me in the studio, they were very wary," Bowie admits with a smile. "They didn't know what to expect. They came in looking for silver capes and all, I imagine. "But once we started playing the songs, it worked itself out. It ended in a very, very solid friendship and a group that is going to work with me." Thus Bowie, as he prepares to recross the US seemed more confident and enthusiastic than on his first two visits here. He agreed things were going well. It might be just the kind of quote that'll make him shudder in some future moment of depression, but now it fits. "Yes, I really am more confident. I'm not sure it is supreme confidence or anything, but I am happier." ROBERT HILBURN   Rolling Stone (US) 10 October 1974 - Bowie: Time for Another Ch-Ch-Change LOS ANGELES…. David Bowie hadn't slept for 36 hours. He'd just gone through his rigorous show at the Universal Amphitheatre for the fourth night in a row (three to go), and he'd returned to the hotel to find a battlescarred Iggy Pop asleep in his bed. Now he lithely paced the living room and exuded the animal grace he sang of on Ziggy as he launched off on a speed-jive recital of a freaked-out moon-age daydream. He said that he comes up with one of these scripts every day, and he narrated it in an arrestingly manic rush, periodically springing from his chair to pace again, toying with an unlit cigarette for a solid half hour, ignoring the steak and potatoes that sat on the table beside him. He called it "a musical parody based on the mass death of tens of thousands of people," and it involves a mutant band called Impact whose star, one Cat Tastrophe, has a shocking effect on his immediate environment – when he -walks down the street old men collapse with heart attacks, children fall out of windows, shops explode and the roadway becomes a bloody battlefield of mangled steel. Cat himself is never touched. The punchline finally comes at an Impact concert, where accelerated aging is the day's disaster. When the teenage audience has become a dead heap of wrinkled flesh, the band's Warholish manager strolls onstage and asks, in a Truman Capote whine, "Well, should we give them an encore?" Bowie has always - been theatrical rock's straw hero. Somehow he found himself labelled a pioneer in a field in which he actually dabbled only minimally. On his first two U.S. tours, the extent of his theatre was a costume change every five minutes. On the tour that began earlier this summer and resumed that week in LA after a long intermission, he would suddenly and stunningly justify the theatrical tag with an elaborate presentation. And now, just as suddenly, it's going to change again. You could see it- happening at the Amphitheatre shows. The huge hand cradling Bowie inside the neon interior of a monolithic mirrored capsule, the astronaut's chair in which he floated over the stage during "Space Oddity," the movie lights, flashing camera, makeup man - and cocksucking skull that surrounded the "Cracked Actor," the frantic cubist skyline that loomed over it all the props were spectacular and effective. But the real moments, the screams and the hysterical assaults of the stage, were powered by Bowie himself and his mercurial parade of personalities the empty, pretty-boy movie star, the playful, lascivious bar crawler singing the legend of "The Jean Genie," and especially the unadorned, spontaneous David Bowie-as-entertainer with his audience in the palm of his hand.   The imminent change in Bowie's stage show is dictated by evolving musical interests, and the direction is becoming more and more pronounced. Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood (which contains the Bowie-esque line, "Thunder, lightnin', the way you love me is frightnin' ") is in the show, and songs like Aladdin Sane, Changes, 1984," two new tunes: The Young American and It's Gonna Be Me, and particularly the extensively revised Bowie single, John, I'm Only Dancing, further reflect heavy involvement with black and Latin styles. According to the show's producer, Tony Zanetta, Bowie's long-smouldering interest in that sound surfaced during his long stay in New York in the spring, where he associated extensively with black and Puerto Rican musicians. Carlos Alomar played on some Lulu tracks he was mixing there, and Bowie's touring ensemble now includes former members of Santana and the Main Ingredient and several black backup vocalists, all of whom help transform the encore, John, I'm Only Dancing, into a Jackson Five-Graham Central Station rave-up. Accordingly, says Zanetta, the show that goes back on-the road October 5th (covering 20 cities-with at least two nights in nearly all of them) will be considerably altered. "The set's being redesigned," he says. "We want to use the essential elements of it, so we will be carrying the four towers with us and will keep the lighting in those towers, but we won't be using the bridge or any of the special effects. Basically, it'll be a much simpler thing. Originally, we were going to use this one for the whole tour, but once the first half finished and David started working on his new material, he felt that he would rather have something a little different, that he wanted to do something that was closer to the new material." "I've always thought that 'theatrical' wasn't the right word to describe David. I thought he was theatrical in that he was an extremely accomplished and professional performer and his abilities as a performer are those usually associated with the theatre rather than rock & roll.... What we did with this show was we created a really theatrical environment for him to work in. Which was interesting. Now, not so much because he's tired of that or sick of that, but because his music is changing and going in a slightly different direction, and because he wants to use more people, like lead vocalists, onstage, he's just interested in a different visual presentation." So for the moment Bowie has set a standard for those working at a coherent synthesis of theatre and rock. While they're at it, he's slipped out of his platform boots and into dancin' shoes as he boogaloos off into the final months of the Year of the Diamond Dogs. RICHARD CROMELIN   Rolling Stone (US) 10 October 1974 - Bowie: Philly Stopover: Fans and Funk PHILADELPHIA…. La Bowie and his entourage made elegant camp here for two weeks before the start of the West Coast swing of his current tour. Pitching tents amid the staid and somewhat geriatric prestige of Rittenhouse Square's Hotel Barclay, the Bowie mob had come from its New York headquarters after booking some 120 hours of recording time at Sigma Sound Studios, home of the Gamble-Huff-Bell R&B empire and one of the busiest hitmaking studios in the country. Bowie's intention had been to record with the rhythm section from MFSB, Sigma's resident body whose TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) had recently pinned Philly Funk to the top of the charts for an extended reign. However, some confusion over commitments left Bowie with only MFSB conga player Larry Washington. Bowie then recruited a New York crew: guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Andy Newmark and saxophonist David Sanborne, in addition to his pianist, Mike Garson, and some rafter-razing gospel in the voices of Ava Cherry, Luther Vandross and Alomar's wife, Robin. Tony Visconti engineered the sessions and was assisted by Sigma's Carl Paruolo. Accompanied by his secretary, Corinne Schwab, and his bodyguard, Stuart George and frequently visited in the studio by wife Angela and son Zowie, both of whom had checked into the Barclay with him–Bowie made nightly journeys to Sigma. For a corps of ten "Bowiemaniacs" who maintained a sleep-out vigil in front of Sigma and who greeted, begged autographs and won kind words from their main man upon his entrances and exits (Bowie worked from the early evening into the late morning), the Sigma sessions were apparently as traumatic as they were God-sent. Bowie had decided that the faithful would be brought into the studio after completion of the album for a party. But that didn't happen until early in the morning of the final session, after Bowie had put in a long night of finishing touches some vocal fragments, a few overdubbed keyboard parts and some additional harmonies from Ava, Robin and Luther. The album, thanks to Bowie's organized approach he would prepare reams of precise arrangements during the day for efficient, methodical run-throughs at night had come together quickly and, it appeared, to the considerable satisfaction of all concerned. So much so that, by the final night, the atmosphere in Sigma's second-floor studio had depressurised to a state of genial calm.   The album, which Mike Garson has suggested Bowie call Somebody Up There Likes Me, arguably the strongest and most immediately engaging of the seven songs, seems far from the conceptual mosaicism of past efforts such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs, and is perhaps the first Bowie album you'll be able to dance to all the way through. Bowie's version of Philly Sound a slickly stylised, "discophonic" brand of urban soul pioneered at Sigma by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bellis largely propelled by the soaring vocal backup of Ava, Luther and Robin, while behind them the instrumentalists produce a blistering rhythm. The songs range from a new, remarkably revamped version of John, I'm Only Dancing – once a straight-ahead rocker and now rhythmically expanded, ultraprogressive excursion- to new material in a superbly soulful vein. Apart from the obvious single, Somebody Up There Likes Me, there is an extended, magnificently punctuated torch song, It's Gonna Be Me, featuring an aching vocal from Bowie that should keep Al Green and Marvin Gaye on their toes; bouncy, high-humoured number, The Young American, written recently enough to treat Richard Nixon in the past tense, and the album's closer, Right! –an exhortation of the funk God. Bowie played the album for the ten blissed-out, formerly camped-out, devotees, who'd been ushered into the studio, finally, at 5AM by Stuart George. With wine, tears and adulation flowing around and from the blessed, Bowie was an affable host as he signed more autographs, apologised for the unfinished mix of the album and agreed to play it a second time, at which point the party erupted into dance. Bowie took centre floor with a foxy stomp. MATT DAMSKER