‘Golden Years’ was released as a single on 17 November 1975, in an edited form with an early fade-out, reducing its length from 4:03 to 3:27.
The b-side worldwide was the Young Americans song ‘Can You Hear Me’, except in New Zealand, where it was issued in March 1976 with ‘TVC 15’.
We had all the guys from RCA come down to Cherokee to hear the album for the first time and it was quite an experience because they were all basically suits at the time, I knew they weren’t going to understand what they were going to hear. Because it was quite different from Young Americans , and it was quite different from what had gone before. And they sat on this couch in front of the console, said, ‘That’s just marvellous.’ They didn’t know what else to say. They knew that ‘Golden Years’ was a potential single, but I don’t think they understood or appreciated anything else.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
The single peaked at number eight in the United Kingdom, nine in Ireland, and six in the Netherlands. In Sweden it peaked at number 10, as it did on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In Canada, ‘Golden Years’ reached number 17, and in Australia it went no higher than 34.
On 4 November 1975, David Bowie appeared on the ABC TV show Soul Train, where he mimed to ‘Golden Years’ and ‘Fame’.
Bowie later revealed he was drunk during the Soul Train appearance. ‘Golden Years’ was yet to be released as a single, and Bowie had trouble remembering the words.
The edition of Soul Train was broadcast on 3 January 1976. Bowie was interviewed before the performances, and took questions from the audience.
I wasn’t even buoyant enough to feel apologetic. I mean I really was a little shit in that way, I hadn’t bothered to learn it. And the MC of the show, who was a really charming guy, took me to one side after the third or fourth take and said, ‘You know there are kids lining up to do this show who have fought their whole lives to try and get a record and come on here?’ And I know that at the time it made no impression on me, his little speech, which was absolutely necessary. And I just screwed up the lyrics.
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
“I’m very drunk in this,” he told Russell Harty in 1975 about the Soul Train performance. “I was very nervous so I had a couple of drinks, which I never do and I really shouldn’t have. It’s lovely. It’s very funny.”
Despite its flaws, the performance of ‘Golden Years’ effectively became the promo for the single, and haS featured in various subsequent video compilations and clip shows.
Despite having been a worldwide hit single, and chosen for inclusion on the 1976 compilation Changesonebowie, David Bowie did not perform ‘Golden Years’ live until 1983’s Serious Moonlight Tour.
It was played several times in 1990 during early Sound + Vision Tour dates, but thereafter not for a full decade. His final live performance of the song came at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2000.
This is a song we haven’t done, oh, for so long. Just this last week was the first time we’ve done it for a long time.
Glastonbury Festival, 25 June 2000