UK album release: Hunky Dory

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album was released in the United Kingdom on 17 December 1971.

It had issued in the USA on 4 December.

With his strongest set of songs to date, a three-album record deal, and beautifully intricate production, Hunky Dory looked set to become Bowie’s commercial breakthrough.

However, it was not to be. RCA’s marketing division was involved minimally in the cover selection and production, and were furthermore informed that Bowie was intending to make imminent changes to both his image and sound. This left the company unsure at to how to promote Hunky Dory, and there was internal disagreement on how much money to allocate to a marketing campaign.

Hunky Dory album cover

Despite RCA’s uncertainty, the album was well received critically. In the UK, the NME described it as “a breath of fresh air compared to the usual mainstream rock LP of today. It’s very possible that this will be the most important album from an emerging artist in 1972, because he’s not following trends – he’s setting them… Hunky Dory is a masterpiece from a mastermind.”

Melody Maker, meanwhile, said it was “not only the best album Bowie has ever done, it’s also the most inventive piece of song writing to have appeared on record for a considerable period of time.”

Critical notices in the US were similarly enthusiastic. Rolling Stone described Hunky Dory as Bowie’s “most readily enjoyable work since his Man Of Words/Man of Music album of 1969.”

With his affection for using intriguing and unusual themes in musical settings that most rock “artists” would dismiss with a quick fart as old-fashioned and uncool, he’s definitely an original, is David Bowie, and as such will one day make an album that will induce us homo superior elitist rock critics to race about like a chicken with its head lopped off when he learns that he’s a couple of pretentious tendencies he’d do handsomely to curtail through the composition of an album’s-worth of material. Until that time, Hunky Dory will suffice hunky-dorily.

The record-buying public were less enamoured, however. Hunky Dory came out on 17 December 1971, and initially sold poorly. Bowie was undeterred, and – spurred on by his three-album deal with RCA – was midway through recording the Ziggy Stardust album by the time it was released.

It was only in 1972, with the success of ‘Starman’ and Ziggy, that sales rose, and Hunky Dory peaked at number three in the UK.

RCA released ‘Life On Mars?’ as a single in the UK in 1973, and like the album it reached number 3. US chart success was less forthcoming, and a 1972 single of ‘Changes’ peaked at 66 in the Billboard Hot 100.

Last updated: 18 December 2023
US album release: Hunky Dory
Rehearsal: Underhill Studios, London
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