[Review] David Bowie: Hunky Dory (1971)

A transitional and frequently sentimental record that features Bowie’s signature tune, “Changes.”

Kronomyth 4.0: Ch-ch-ch-charming.

Hunky Dory is a radical departure from his last record, a shock that listeners would learn to brace themselves for in the new decade. Abandoning the excessive heaviness of his last effort, this album features music hall arrangements led not by Mick Ronson’s guitar but Rick Wakeman’s piano. In some ways, these songs are an extension of his earliest work, though the skill that David Bowie brings to bear on the material is the difference between night and day. Opening with “Changes” might have been fortuitous placement, but it serves as a statement of direction for the artist.

Bowie had created the super superstar: an artist whose imagination and restlessness not only kept apace with the quick-gratification quorum of celebrities du jour but in time set the pace. Simply look to the range of styles evident on Hunky Dory and you’ll see elements of all his earlier (and some future) work swirled together. The Reedian rock of “Queen Bitch” looks forward to Ziggy, “Kooks” could have come from his pre-Space Oddity days, “Song For Bob Dylan” recalls the homage of “Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” “Quicksand” might have turned up on The Man Who Sold The World. Designed like a sprawling musical revue, Hunky Dory succeeds at every step without stating a preference, an artist in perpetual transition.

As a young teenager, Hunky Dory was a holy relic I carried with me on various road trips (having taped it from my elpee, which was and still is perfectly legal, although I chafe at the concept of “legal” and “illegal” in lieu of “right” and “wrong”). I still remember listening to this at Ocean City, NJ, letting my young mind be transported by “Oh! You Pretty Things” and “Life On Mars?,” two of the greatest science-fiction pop songs I’ve ever heard. Although I still enjoy Hunky Dory on many levels today, the suggestion by some that this is better than the post-Ziggy albums seems misguided. It’s simply too eclectic a collection to create the self-sustaining universe of an Aladdin Sane. The Rykodisc CD includes four bonus tracks, including the nonalbum “Bombers” and an alternate mix of “Bewlay Brothers” that keeps the album’s original odd ending intact.

Original elpee version

A1. Changes (3:33)
A2. Oh! You Pretty Things (2:53)
A3. Eight Line Poem (2:53)
A4. Life On Mars? (3:48)
A5. Kooks (2:49)
A6. Quicksand (5:03)
B1. Fill Your Heart (Biff Rose/Paul Williams) (3:07)
B2. Andy Warhol (3:53)
B3. Song For Bob Dylan (4:12)
B4. Queen Bitch (3:13)
B5. The Bewlay Brothers (5:21)

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Bombers (2:38)
13. The Supermen (1971 alternate version) (2:41)
14. Quicksand (demo version) (4:43)
15. The Bewlay Brothers (alternate mix) (5:19)

All songs written by David Bowie unless noted.

The Players

David Bowie (vocals, guitar, sax, piano), Trevor Bolder (bass), Mick Ronson (guitar, arrangements), Rick Wakeman (piano), Mick Woodmansey (drums). Produced by Ken Scott, assisted by the actor; remixed by Ken Scott.

The Pictures

Front cover art work by George Underwood (of Main Artory) and Terry his partner. Photography by Brian Ward.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in December 1971 in the UK (RCA, SF-8244) and the US, Australia and Canada (RCA, LSP 4623), and in 1972 in France (RCA, 443.041), Germany (RCA, LSP-4623) and Greece (RCA, MFL-RCLP 20246) with picture innersleeve and lyrics insert; reached #3 on the UK charts and #93 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in January 1981 in the US and Canada (RCA, AYL1/AYK1-3844) [Dynaflex] and the UK and Ireland (RCA, INTS/INTK 5064) [mid-price reissue], and on March 5, 1981 in Italy (RCA, YL 13844) [Best Buy series]; reached #32 on the UK charts (1981).
  2. Re-released on picture disc elpee in April 1984 in the UK (RCA, BOPIC2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in Germany (RCA, PD-84623).
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered clear vinyl 2LP, cassette, compact disc and 24k gold compact disc in April 1990 in the UK (EMI, CDP 7 91843 2) and the US (Rykodisc, RALP/RACS 0133, RCD 10133, RCD 80133); reached #39 on the UK charts. Also re-issued on elpee in 1990 in Brazil (EMI, 7981431).
  5. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1991 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-6204).
  6. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 1999 in the UK (EMI, 521 8990) and on remastered compact disc in 1999 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-65307).
  7. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2001 in the UK (Simply Vinyl, SVLP 265).
  8. Re-packaged with The Man Who Sold The World + Space Oddity on 3CD in 2003 in the UK (EMI, 5918540).
  9. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-70143).

1 thought on “[Review] David Bowie: Hunky Dory (1971)

  1. Here’s another one of your quirky descriptions from your old website about David Bowie: “Possibly a time travelling alien, but who knows?”

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