Who Can I Be Now? box set coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 11-18 August 1974
Producer: Tony Visconti

Released: 14 May 1991

Available on:
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976)

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals
Carlos Alomar: electric guitar
Mike Garson: piano
David Sanborn: alto saxophone
Willie Weeks: bass guitar
Andy Newmark: drums
Luther Vandross, Ava Cherry, Robin Clark: vocals

‘Who Can I Be Now?’ was recorded in August 1975 for David Bowie’s Young Americans album. It was one of three songs dropped to make way for ‘Fame’ and ‘Across The Universe’.

It was taped during the first phase of Young Americans sessions, at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in August 1974.

The title was the perfect encapsulation of Bowie’s shapeshifting image throughout the 1970s, and provides an insight into his self-image during his excursion into soul music:

If it’s all a vast creation
Putting on a face that’s new
Someone has to see
A role for him and me
Someone might as well be you
‘Who Can I Be Now?’

In the studio

The Sigma songs 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’, sometimes known as ‘Take It In, Right’.

‘Who Can I Be Now?’ was one of seven songs on The Gouster, the original iteration of Young Americans. Following Bowie’s session with John Lennon in January 1975, which yielded ‘Fame’ and ‘Across The Universe’, he dropped ‘Who Can I Be Now?’, ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’, and ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’.

The finished Gouster didn’t have ‘Across The Universe’ and ‘Fame’. It was all finished. It’s more about what isn’t on there than what is. I was OK with losing ‘Who Can I Be Now’, but I was sad about ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ and ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ – that they weren’t going to be heard.
Tony Visconti
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Prior to the Lennon session, Bowie sent producer Tony Visconti detailed notes on how he wanted the album to sound. His comments on ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ were as follows:

I think maybe double-time tamb: on in chors: and such parts.

as big a sound as poss: reducing to intimate sound on verses.

Calling the the last section chors: 1, 2
I would like the fade to extend through the ‘I vow’ section of chors: 3.

David Bowie's mixing notes for Young Americans

The release

‘Who Can I Be Now?’ was first issued on the Rykodisc reissue of Young Americans in 1991. It was the first of three extra tracks, the others being ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ and ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’.

The Gouster – Bowie’s original vision for the 1975 recordings – was released in 2016 in the Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976) box set. The song was also used during promotional videos for the box set.