In the studio

The precise recording date of ‘Changes’ is unknown. Hunky Dory was recorded between 8 June and 6 August 1971. It was omitted from the BOWPROMO promotional album pressed at the end of July, suggesting it was one of the last songs to be recorded.

I was particularly pleased with the drums on ‘Changes’, because I managed to pull off a balance of economy and expression on that song. My aim was to find a feel that allowed Bowie’s vocal to breathe. He needed enough space and time to express himself, and my drums had to make that happen. For that reason there’s a lot of space in this song where I don’t play anything.
Woody Woodmansey
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie

‘Changes’ was recorded at Trident Studios, at 17 St Anne’s Court in Soho, London. As he did on much of Hunky Dory, Rick Wakeman used the in-house piano, an 1898 Bechstein grand with a characteristically bright tone, which had previously been used by the Beatles on ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Martha My Dear’, and other songs.

I think that ‘Changes’ was the first mix I did and it set a way of working that I continued for many years. Up to this point, as ‘just’ engineer, I’d been used to several hands helping with a mix, but not now. David rarely showed up to mixes to that just left me and sometimes my assistant engineer to deal with everything. I wanted sounds to vary throughout but there weren’t enough hands to deal with it, thus I started to mix in short planned sections.

As an example, I envisaged Rick’s piano being brighter and thinner during the choruses so I set about mixing the first verse and once happy with that I’d put it to one side and then make the changes I heard, mix the chorus, and once happy with is I’d edit that onto the verse, make sure the edit worked and then reset everything for the next verse. This continued until the song had been completed.

Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969-1973) book

The release

‘Changes’ was first released on the Hunky Dory album, on 17 December 1971.

Upon the album’s release, David Bowie wrote brief notes on each of the songs, which were used in press advertisements around the time of the release. The entry for ‘Changes’ read: “This album is full of my changes and those of some of my friends.”

‘Changes’ was released as a single in the United Kingdom on 7 January 1972, the day before Bowie’s 25th birthday. ‘Andy Warhol’ was on the b-side of the single, Bowie’s first for the RCA label.

The single was not a commercial success, but the airplay it received helped Bowie’s rising profile. It was made single of the week by BBC Radio 1 breakfast DJ Tony Blackburn, although Bowie was reportedly not pleased by the accolade.

‘Changes’ was Bowie’s first single to chart in the US, where it reached number 66. The single was released in December 1971 in both mono and stereo.

In France, the single’s label indicated that the b-side was ‘Andy Warhol’, whereas it actually played ‘Song For Bob Dylan’.

‘Changes’ was also released as a single in 1971 in Australia and Canada, and in 1972 in Germany, Japan, and New Zealand.