It’s Gonna Be Me

It’s Gonna Be Me.
It’s Gonna Be Me (live, 1974).

“It’s Gonna Be Me,” Bowie’s epic outtake from the Young Americans sessions, is in the same realm as “Can You Hear Me”: both are sung by a wayward man regretting his actions, wondering if he’s left the real thing behind, and slowly circling into obsession, with the chorus serving as reassurance, or possibly only voicing his delusions.

Bowie had done his research before going to Sigma Sound, listening to recent Philly Soul, Aretha Franklin and Al Green records, and tracks like “It’s Gonna Be Me” find Bowie playing with soul conventions, particularly with vocal choruses. In a typical Green track, the chorus is under Green’s complete control, keeping quiet until he gives his cue; so in “Let’s Get Married” it’s only after Green finally reaches his conclusion (“I wanna settle down”) that the chorus rushes in to sing the title phrase. They elaborate on his thought, but they’re only ratifying a decision he’s already made. And in many of Franklin’s classic songs, like “Respect” or “Don’t Play That Song,” the chorus serves as her confidant, backing her plays, urging her on, fueling her indignation.

In “It’s Gonna Be Me,” the backing singers are barely there in Bowie’s three long, tortured verses, cropping up only to softly underline a particular phrase (like “weep over the breakfast tray”). Then they emerge as a support system in the chorus, singing simple, upward-moving lines while Bowie scurries around them. Bowie can barely bring himself to sing the title line, which he nearly mutters in its first appearance, leaving the chorus singers to provide the melodic hook.

With the church-trained Luther Vandross helping to craft the vocal arrangements, it’s easy to argue that the vocal narrative casts Bowie’s lead as a wandering penitent, one eventually reconciled to community in the chorus. Yet there’s often a disunion between Bowie’s vocal and the chorus—they come together, they work together, but there’s still a feeling of estrangement. Bowie seems unable to accept his singers’ reassurances, his jittery phrasing undermines their solidarity. The last verse, in which all but Mike Garson’s piano abandon Bowie, is so brutal, the singer walling himself up in desperate fantasy, that when the singers finally reappear to help Bowie play out the final chorus, it seems like they’re only doing so out of pity.

“It’s Gonna Be Me” initially was considered a central track for Young Americans, and Tony Visconti wrote a typically understated, sumptuous string arrangement once he returned to London in late 1974. But it was cut to make room for Bowie’s collaborations with/homages to John Lennon (“Who Can I Be Now?” also got axed).

Recorded 11-18 August 1974 and performed in some of the late ’74 Philly Dogs shows (the performance linked above is from Los Angeles in Sept. ’74). The studio take wasn’t released until the Ryko CD issue of Young Americans in 1991.

Top: Neil Libbert, “New York,” 1974.

8 Responses to It’s Gonna Be Me

  1. Hotfoot says:

    It’s never been clear to me why this song was left off YoungAmericans. Of course, it’s widely understood that it is a mark of the quality of the work that Bowie was producing around this time that stuff like this (and, to only a slightly lesser extent “Who Can I Be Now?”) could be discarded at the time. So, it is interesting to learn that they made way for the Lennon stuff (presumably “Fame” and “Across the Universe”).

    Still, some questionable judgment there, as this tune has to be better than about half the stuff that did make the cut, including “Across the Universe”.

  2. David Jones says:

    “Across the Universe’ is pretty limp but so is “It’s Gonna Be Me” if for entirely different reasons. Young Americans is part homage part pastiche, part rip-off impersonation. When it works all those elements are held in taught suspension and the white boy from Bromley pulls it off. On “It’s Gonna Be Me” he just sounds like somebody going through the soul (e)motions.

  3. giospurs says:

    At some moments, I think this song has that “taut suspension” you talk of David, but unfortunately it’s a few minutes too long.

  4. J.D. says:

    A brave Davy stands on the same patch that Harold Melvin & Bluenotes made famous and actually nails it. As above, can’t imagine why not a side-closer on YA. Gripping blue-eyed soul channeling Aretha circa “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You”, all the stutter-steps, starts, stops and big close-out …
    Not a far reach to picture that Mainman & RCA could care less about any of that, when they had Actual Beatle Participation on tap, to hype instead. Shame.

  5. Sonnyboy says:

    I think this may be one of his greatest songs…certainly better than his interpretation of ‘Across The Universe’…I think I prefer the version without strings…

  6. Emannekat says:

    I’m not that fond of this, by Bowie standards. It seems to sag under its own weight and I find it a little overbearing after a while. Perhaps if it were shorter I’d like it better (but then several Young Americans tracks would be improved – for me – by having a minute or two lopped off).
    I think After Today and the short version of John I’m Only Dancing (Again) were bigger losses from the album.

    Of course, maybe one day I’ll be listening and It’s Gonna Be Me will all make sense and I’ll regret ever having typed this.

  7. James Baillie says:

    Been listening to Bowie for 30+ years now and this is probably my favourite track, can’t understand why it’s not more popular. Include this and WCIBN, lose Fame and ATU and YA is easily best Bowie album ever imho

  8. […] A full list of records played is below (along with a Spotify playlist), but for those who have been asking about the Young Americans outtake ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ and where to find it, it’s available on the 1991 and 2007 reissues of the Young Americans album and the 40th anniversary edition of the ‘Young Americans’ single. Find out more about the song here. […]

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