In the studio

David Bowie recorded ‘Can You Hear Me’ during the first set of Young Americans sessions in August 1974.

The sessions took place at Sigma Sound Studios, at 212 North 12th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bowie had first visited the studio when his girlfriend and backing singer Ava Cherry had recorded three tracks there on 9 July 1974, including a version of ‘Sweet Thing’.

Young Americans was amazing because at that time David was one of the first white artists they’d recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. David was immediately accepted by the black community. Before he arrived I’d heard that some people were sniping about him coming to the city, but I never saw anything like that. I heard there were some players who didn’t want to be on the record because David was white, but I don’t believe that. David had already mapped exactly how he wanted to do it. He had met Carlos Alomar, and he didn’t really care if there was a stigma. We went in there and just played away. David was very detailed about everything that he wanted to do. He would be writing it down and he would write in a diary and write different things every day, all the time. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and was not ruffled by any of those things. We went in and it was great.
Ava Cherry
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

The songs Bowie recorded in August 1974 were, in their original titles: ‘The Young American’; ‘Shilling The Rubes’; ‘Lazer’ (‘I Am A Laser’); ‘After Today’; ‘I’m Only Dancing’ (‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’); ‘Never No Turnin’ Back’ (‘Right’); ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me‘; ‘Who Can I Be Now?’; ‘Come Back My Baby’ (‘It’s Gonna Be Me’); and ‘Can You Hear Me’.

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

That piano part on ‘Young Americans’ is me and ‘Can You Hear Me’ is me, so I’m on quite a few things but not everything.

I was playing straighter because his music was not as weird as it was in the Aladdin Sane period, so I went with the flow, you know?

Mike Garson, June 2004

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, working 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 version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’, which may have originated during the Diamond Dogs sessions.

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 – then known The Gouster – was mixed at Visconti’s London home studio, Good Earth, with reference to an 18-page telex from Bowie containing detailed instructions for how the songs should be treated. At that stage it 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’.

For mixing ‘Can You Hear Me’, Bowie gave Visconti the following instructions:

Upfront guitar riff, intro –

In verse keep conga just behind drum as he tends to ride the beat a little

Guitar should be given a good play i.e. the lead instrument. Some of his are monsters.

Don’t forget sax in the 4th verse

Conga can increase in volume at last chors. Get the guitar-riff up. Interplay between.. Barking vocals – me – sax

Let it ride!

The Gouster was released in 2016 in the Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976) box set. It included a recording of ‘Can You Hear Me’ from the August 1974 sessions.

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