Recording: Young Americans

The second recording session for David Bowie’s Young Americans album took place on 12 August 1974.

The first batch of sessions ran from 1122 August 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios, at 212 North 12th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The initial two days were largely experimental. Bowie’s band during these sessions was Carlos Alomar on guitar, Mike Garson on piano and keyboards, Andy Newmark on drums, Willie Weeks on bass guitar, David Sanborn on saxophone, and Pablo Rosario and Larry Washington on percussion. The backing singers were Ava Cherry, Luther Vandross, Robin Clark, Diane Sumler, Antony Hinton, and Geoff MacCormack.

Producer Tony Visconti arrived from England on 13 August. Bowie asked Sigma’s chief engineer Carl Paruolo to engineer the initial sessions, but was unhappy with the results.

I could hear the problem he had with the sound. In those days, in America, engineers recorded ‘dry’ and ‘flat’, waiting for the mix to add the equalization, reverbs and special effects. But the British often recorded with the special effects right on the session! I was British-trained and David was used to this sound! So I rolled up my sleeves and got right into it. By 2am we’d recorded our first official backing track – ‘Young Americans’.
Tony Visconti

The Sigma songs recorded in August were, in their original titles: ‘The Young American’; ‘Shilling The Rubes’; ‘Lazer’, a reworking of ‘I Am A Laser’; ‘After Today’; ‘I’m Only Dancing’, later retitled ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’; ‘Never No Turnin’ Back’, later re-recorded as ‘Right’; ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me‘; ‘Who Can I Be Now?’; ‘Come Back My Baby’, eventually released as ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’; and ‘Can You Hear Me’, sometimes known as ‘Take It In, Right’.

On this second day, guitarist Carlos Alomar brought two people to the studio: his wife Robin, and his friend Luther Vandross.

Vandross had sung an opening set with the Garson Band during the Soul Tour. One of his songs, titled ‘Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me)’, was reworked by Bowie with new lyrics, and was retitled ‘Fascination’ – one of Bowie’s working titles for the album.

I started making little vocal arrangements and showing them to Robin. I didn’t know that Bowie had overheard all this. He was sitting right behind me at the board, and he said, ‘That’s a great idea. Put that down.’ So I put it down and next thing you know one thing led to another, and I was doing the vocal arrangements for the whole album. I wrote one of the songs on the album. Bowie overheard it and said, ‘I want to record that. Do you mind?’ When I did it, it was called ‘Funky Music’. Bowie changed it to ‘Fascination’. He said he didn’t want to be so presumptuous as to say ‘funky music’, since he was a rock artist. He said, ‘Do you mind?’ And I said, ‘You’re David Bowie, I live at home with my mother, you can do what you like.’
Luther Vandross
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Bowie’s band began the Young Americans sessions by jamming on a number of the singer’s song ideas. The title track, initially known as ‘The Young American’, was the first to be recorded. Luther Vandross had the idea for the hook in the chorus.

I said to Robin, ‘What if there was a phrase that went, “Young American, young American, he was the young American – all right!’ Now, when ‘all right’ comes up, jump over me and go into harmony.’
Luther Vandross
Spin, April 1987
Last updated: 31 May 2023
Recording: Young Americans
Recording: Young Americans
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