Bowie performed ‘Young Americans’ on a handful of key TV shows to support the release. On 2 November 1974, three months before its release, he sang the song on The Dick Cavett Show.
This performance was also shown on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. It later appeared on the Best Of Bowie DVD compilation and on the CD/DVD reissue of Young Americans released in 2007.
On 23 November 1975, a full year after the Dick Cavett appearance, Bowie appeared on The Cher Show. He sang ‘Fame’ and duetted with the host on ‘Can You Hear Me’, before the pair performed a medley bookended with ‘Young Americans’, which also took in ‘Song Sung Blue’, Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’, ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, Maybe Maybe Baby’, ‘Day Tripper’, Blue Moon’, Only You (And You Alone)’, Temptation’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, and ‘Young Blood’.
I’d got this thing in my mind that I was through with theatrical clothes and I would only wear Sears & Roebuck, which on me looked more outlandish than anything I had made by Japanese designers. They were just like this middle America dogged provincialism. They were loud check jackets and check trousers. I looked very bad. And very ill.
Q magazine, October 1999
Bowie performed ‘Young Americans’ on the Soul Tour (1974), Serious Moonlight (1983), Glass Spider (1987), and Sound + Vision (1990).
In July 1990, during a concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Bowie stopped a performance of ‘Young Americans’ to speak out against music censorship, in the wake of the banning of 2 Live Crew’s album As Nasty As They Wanna Be.
I’ve been listening to the album by 2 Live Crew. It’s not the best album that’s ever been made, but when I heard they banned it, I went out and bought it. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech – it’s one of the most important things we have.
The Sound + Vision tour opened in Canada on 4 March 1990, taking in five continents in seven months before concluding in Argentina on 29 September 1990. For his part, Bowie claimed the tour would be the last time he would play some of his biggest hits – a circumstance he had mixed feelings about.
I was so ambivalent about that. It was really hard. But it did two things for me. One, the money was so big that I would have been stupid not to do it. Two, it was a good way of me stopping that side of what I’ve done. For a long time, I’ve wanted to stop fucking doing those songs. I mean, it’s really hard for me to get it up for ‘Major Tom’ at this point. I absolutely loathe singing ‘Young Americans’. So I killed two things off that way. Yet it was a gamble that it wouldn’t do irreparable harm to the band. But knowing how strong this band is, I didn’t think it would.
Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991
Bowie never again performed ‘Young Americans’ after the Sound + Vision Tour. His guitarist in that period, Adrian Belew, felt that Bowie’s decision to bring a smaller band on the road hampered the song’s effectiveness.
I played guitar synths, which I could make to sound like violins and trumpets. However, a saxophone is vital on ‘Young Americans’, and I always felt that you couldn’t fill that role with the guitar. Occasionally, of course, it would have been nice to augment a few things here and there.
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
During A Reality Tour in 2003 and 2004, Bowie’s drummer Sterling Campbell teased audiences by opening ‘All The Young Dudes’ with the drum intro from ‘Young Americans’.
In soundcheck today, Sterling began playing the drumbeat to ‘Five Years’ and David actually started singing it – and enjoying it. Me, I would just die and go to heaven if we would do ‘Young Americans’ one time. That has been my one request for the last eight years.
A Reality Tour diary