November 1974: Sigma Sound

David Bowie returned to the studio in Philadelphia for five days on 20-24 November 1974, to continue work on the Young Americans album.

With some new songs road-tested, and the touring band gelling better than before, some of the earlier recording were judged to be substandard, and new backing tracks and overdubs were laid down. Tony Visconti was again producing, with Sigma engineer Harry Maslin.

The recordings are likely to have included new versions of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’, ‘Can You Hear Me’, and ‘After Today’; and overdubs for a cover version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’, which may have originated during the Diamond Dogs sessions.

This was supposed to have been the conclusion of the recording, so Tony Visconti returned to London to finish the mixing. At Kennedy Airport, he accidentally left the tapes at a shop counter; realising his mistake at the departure gate, he hurriedly returned and found them still at the store.

Visconti scored the songs ‘Can You Hear Me’ and ‘Who Can I Be Now’ for strings, which were recorded at George Martin‘s Air Studios. The album was mixed at Visconti’s home studio, Good Earth, with reference to an 18-page telex from Bowie containing detailed instructions for how the songs should be treated.

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I mixed The Gouster in London with instructions delivered from New York by David in the form of long telegrams, over twenty pages long. ‘Listen to the snare drum on this record… listen to the bass on that record… put a slap back on the congas on the ‘Young Americans’ breakdown…’ Using DHL, I sent the mixes back to New York where David listened and felt the album was not yet finished. Some songs could use real strings, including the two songs we recorded later in New York with Harry Maslin, ‘Fascination’ and ‘Win’. To me that also meant those songs might be contenders for The Gouster so some others would have to go.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) book

At this stage the album had seven songs: ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’, ‘Who Can I Be Now?’, ‘Can You Hear Me’, ‘Young Americans’, and ‘Right’. This version was released as The Gouster on the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976).

Gouster was a word unfamiliar to me but David knew it as a type of dress code work by African American teens in the ’60s, in Chicago. But in the context of the album its meaning was attitude, an attitude of pride and hipness. Of all the songs we cut we were enamored of the ones we chose for the album that portrayed this attitude.
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) book
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