On January 10, 2016, the world lost music icon David Bowie days after his sixty-ninth birthday. This signature glam rocker is known for his successful career spanning five decades with numerous hit singles and an exemplary catalogue of music to explore. With the third anniversary of his passing days away, it’s only fitting that we revisit an album from an earlier point in his career, Hunky Dory.
Released in December of 1971, Hunky Dory proved to be a success both commercially and critically. This was the album that signed him a deal with RCA Records, who would continue to represent him for the following ten years and release albums widely recognized by the public like Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Low, and Heroes, among many others.
Hunky Dory marked the transition from the blues sounds of his previous works into the experimental art rock he would be known for. The album contained a dangerously poppy edge that was different from the sunshine pop and blues rock popular at the time. These songs didn’t contain culturally dominant themes of the time such as war protests and psychedelic drugs, but rather, down-to-earth songs about his life and themes of culture, relationships of various kinds and spirituality. The themes in Hunky Dory resembled an urban grit that differed from the flowery optimism of the late 60’s. The album represented a musical shift that was starting to occur with the development of what would be known as “alternative music.”
To top it all off, Hunky Dory was released at a pinnacle time in Bowie’s life—it was the year he welcomed his first child, Zowie, who played a big influence on the writing of this record. The opening and most-played track on the album, “Changes,” encompasses the shift his life took that year. It is a song that encourages people to “turn and face the strange,” which Bowie does by embracing his new role as a parent and making an important lifestyle change, even if he is feeling apprehensive about these changes. The main idea in this single extends to every other track on the record.
“Oh! You Pretty Things” contrasts the dance-y opening track by starting with soft, piano melodies, then breaks out into an upbeat chorus when other instruments are layered on top of the piano and Bowie’s vocals. “Making way for the homo superior” is a phrase symbolic of the alienation older people feel when they are replaced by a younger generation and have to witness the culture they once cherished transform before their eyes. Another song, “Kooks,” is a warmer, lighthearted tune that shares a positive message about appreciating and respecting others for who they are. It is one of the more traditional, folksy tracks on the record, though nevertheless catchy and inviting.
The album also manages to captivate its audience with a couple of ballads, notably my favourite of which is “Quicksand.” Here, Bowie catches the attention of his audience by continuously introducing new instruments throughout the song, building up to a grand, dramatic finale.
This album is one of the most memorable works of that era. David Bowie will always remain a music legend, and hopefully this review will inspire you to give Hunky Dory a listen and dig into his catalogue.