Right (“Never No Turnin’ Back,” early take).

Near the end of Alan Yentob’s documentary Cracked Actor, Bowie is filmed rehearsing a new song. Luther Vandross, Robin Clark and Ava Cherry are gathered in a semi-circle around him, everyone glancing at their lyric sheets as though they’re actors about to go off book. Bowie guides them through the rapids of his call-and-response vocal bridge, and seems delighted and slightly abashed by what he’s done.

“Right,” the song being rehearsed, is the first of Bowie’s Sigma Sound tracks to work primarily as a groove piece, and so marks the break between the early Sigma recordings, which were basically standard Bowie songs with an R&B tinge, and the more committed funk tracks cut later in the sessions (“Fascination,” “Fame”). Where the first batch of Sigma recordings, like “Young Americans” and “It’s Gonna Be Me,” feature Bowie’s usual time shifts and rapid harmonic rhythms, “Right” is only two chords, twined back-to-back, played relentlessly through the song—and structurally “Right” is basically just a repeated chorus (with two sets of lyrics) interrupted only by a 16-bar vocal “breakdown” section and a guitar solo.

‘Right’ is putting a positive drone over. People forget what the sound of Man’s instinct is—it’s a drone, a mantra. And people, say: ‘Why are so many things popular that just drone on and on’. But that’s the point really.

Bowie, 1975.

“Right”‘s relaxed, circular feel is owed mainly to Carlos Alomar’s guitar line, which spreads out over six bars and mirrors the vocal. Willie Weeks’ bass and David Sanborn’s saxophone, the latter thankfully mixed down, churn the rhythm and offer supplementary colors, while Mike Garson, on clavinet*, dedicates himself to the groove. The blissed-out confidence of Bowie’s lead vocal in the first chorus is shaken during the call-and-response section, the singers forcing Bowie out of his comfort zone, making him make his case. Bowie cedes the song to them for its last minute.

First recorded ca. 11-18 August 1974 (a take that got out on bootlegs has “Right” in near-final shape, though Bowie initially sang the opening chorus higher), then recut in November-December ’74. “Right” ended the A side of Young Americans and was never performed live.

Top: Joseph Beuys, “I Like America and America Likes Me,” 1974. (Beuys’ most famous Action took place in May 1974, when he spent three days in a room with a coyote. After flying into New York, he was swathed in felt and loaded into an ambulance, then driven to the gallery where the Action took place, without having once touched American soil. As Beuys later explained: ‘I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.’)

* Is Garson playing a clavinet here? Really sounds like one, but could find no evidence.

8 Responses to Right

  1. David Jones says:

    One of my favourites from Young Americans – it doesn’t have the faux soul of some of the other tracks and the guitar is exquisite

  2. eekahil says:

    Your photo illustrations just kill me. So well thought out, so immediate, so I don’t know, but they are so yes. Spirit, not letter= win.
    Seeing this one, Beuys w/ Coyote just made me have to write and be-kudo you.
    Ha – I am listening to Lodger as I write and realised that “Boys Keep Swinging” is on now.
    Oh Universe, you are such a wag.

  3. Maj says:

    I’m not a fan of the album & don’t listen to it very often so I only noticed the existence of this little gem of a song abt a year ago. I’m not sure what I like abt it, exactly, maybe it is the mantra quality of it. It sounds optimistic w/o being annoying and compared the cascade of lyrics that is the title track it doesn’t make you listen to the lyrical content very much & allows some sort of rest (yay!). (or whatever 🙂 )

  4. Pierce says:

    Good little track, somewhat underrated.

    The photos on this whole blog are totally awesome.

  5. stuartgardner says:

    I just saw Francis Whately’s superb 2013 documentary, David Bowie: Five Years. A fascinating highlight is singer Robin Clark recalling how the complicated call-and-response chorus of Right was put together. Don’t miss it.

  6. President Joan says:

    Poll! This is the one … Yes, this is the #1.



  7. eekahil says:

    Revisiting this topic (apparently) whilst listening to YA ,and was as delighted / surprised to see the Beuys image this time. Was further surprised to see that I’d already talked about it -had completely forgot.

    Anyway, one thing I hadn’t notices was your brilliant Bowie/Beuys homophone on top of everything else.

  8. dlgladwin says:

    Reminds me of You Sure Love To Ball from Marvin Gaye’s 1973 album Let’s Get It On.

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