Readers of Mojo have likely seen the article that I wrote for them this month (a preview here). Though commissioned to coincide with the announcement of The Gouster as part of the upcoming Bowie boxed set, the article is far more about the early days of the album sessions, in Philadelphia in August 1974. This was research I did for the book—I went to Philly and heard the various studio tapes held in Drexel University’s Audio Archives, which document the raw, loose first takes of things like “Young Americans” as well as the legendary “Shilling the Rubes” and the Bowie-sung “I Am a Lazer.” For more, read the article or check out the book. Also, if you’re going to the Bowie conference in Lisbon this September, excerpts from the tapes should be played during Leah Kardos’ and Toby Seay’s presentations.
The Gouster has been talked up as being a “lost” Bowie album but that’s a bit of marketing—all of the restored songs (“John, I’m Only Dancing Again,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and “Who Can I Be Now”) have long been available as bonus tracks on other editions of Young Americans. And perversely, the new set doesn’t include previously-issued outtakes like “After Today” and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint In the City” (the latter a confusing track that started during Diamond Dogs and was possibly completed as late as Station to Station). But it is an interesting sequencing—Young Americans reconsidered as a slow-jam album, dominated by lengthy ballads. Would it have sold as well without having “Fame”? Maybe not.
What’s notable is that “Fascination” and “Win” aren’t on The Gouster sequence, though they were recorded prior to Tony Visconti leaving for London to mix and arrange the tracks, unaware that Bowie would upend things with his John Lennon collaborations. Any sequence without the masterful “Win” in particular seems just wrong, but perhaps it goes to show that the song, one of Bowie’s most gorgeous pieces, was underrated from the start.
Originally posted on 15 November 2010, all you’ve got to do is:
Win (live, 1974).
Win (live, tantalizing fragment, 2004).
The finest Young Americans ballad, “Win” is the closest Bowie came to the Philly Soul sound, using it to cushion a study of obsession and control. Softening David Sanborn’s alto saxophone, which plays dreamy scales throughout, and adding sweeps of low strings, Bowie and Tony Visconti made the track seem swathed in cotton. Along with the promiscuous use of sixth and major seventh chords, the arrangement gave “Win” a narcotic lassitude.
Like “Fascination,” “Win” has little in common with the rambling early Sigma Sound recordings —it’s the track on Young Americans to most foreshadow Station to Station, signaling an end to Bowie’s American soul project. Bowie said the chord structures in “Win” were “much more of a European thing than an American thing,” though they were also apparently a Brooklyn thing, too, as Earl Slick claimed in 2014 that he and Bowie “came up with that whole chord structure” in a hotel one night on tour. It was a standoff between G major and F major in the verses (with an A major posing an unresolved question, rather than moving the song anywhere) and a modulation to D major in the refrain.* It may have come from Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me,” with which “Win” shares a taste for sixths and major sevenths and a rhythmic hiccup: in the latter case, it’s two bars of 6/8 capped by a bar of 2/4 at the close of the refrain (compare “all you’ve-got-to-do-is-win” with the bridge of “Hello It’s Me,” “I’d nev-er-want-to-make-you-change,” a little steal first noted by Jeff Norman).
Singing his most inspired lines on the album (“someone like you should not be allowed to start any fires,”“Me, I hope that I’m crazy”), Bowie made a vocal in brushstrokes. The Philadelphia DJ Ed Sciaky, who attended the last “Win” session, said Bowie worked by “sing[ing] three lines, then having the engineer play them back, keeping the first line every time…hitting every line the way he wanted.” Finishing around seven in the morning, Bowie had the track played back twice, then nodded and pronounced it done.
While on other Young Americans tracks, Bowie had been foiled by his backing singers, on “Win” he keeps them in check. He paces them, undermines them (take the threatening “it ain’t over” that closes the second refrain). The refrain’s a set of knife blows, with an organ high in the mix and a Carlos Alomar arpeggio that calls back to the closing guitar figure of the Beatles’ “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Bowie sings “all…you’ve got…to do…is…win” like a piece of extortion, dreamily lingering on the last word (he’d developed the refrain from riffs during live performances of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”: “you’re not alone! All you’ve got to do is win!”). At the close, Bowie sings “it ain’t over” in a rising melody over an out-of nowhere E major chord. It’s as if “Win” was just prelude so far, that the song’s about to move somewhere else, that Bowie’s barely exhausted his reserves. The sudden fade comes as a small mercy.
Recorded: ca. 20-24 November 1974, Sigma Sound; ca. 3-10 December 1974, Record Plant; January 1975, Air Studios, London (strings, arr. Visconti). First release: 7 March 1975, Young Americans. Only one live recording of “Win” exists: 1 December 1974 at the Omni Theater in Atlanta, the last night of the “Soul Dogs” tour. It’s unknown whether “Win” debuted there or in Nashville or Memphis gigs in late November, neither of which were taped. Bowie hummed the first lines of “Win” after a performance of “Station to Station” in his penultimate show in the US (Jones Beach, 4 June 2004), then cruelly yelled “enough!” to his band.
* “Win” is in G mixolydian (the G major scale with a flattened VII chord, here the song’s “rival” chord, F major). The verse sequence of G-G6-A-A6-G-G6-Fmaj7-F6 is odd, as the A major chord, instead of the expected A minor, seems as though it should have a “purpose” of some sort, but it doesn’t change the key: you go right back to G major and then move on to the flatted VII chord, F. A major is merely a strong flavor in Bowie’s soup.
Top: Tammy Hackney, “Death,” ca. 1974-75. “Death’s newly unearthed recordings reveal a remarkable missing link between Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5 from the late 1960s and early ’70s and the high-velocity assault of punk.”
Just want to say thanks! Welcome surprise in my mailbox.
Didn’t I recently see a chronology that suggested that “Win” and “Fascination” were (mostly) recorded later than the rest of the YA material — at the December NY sessions with Visconti (prior to his departure for London), not mainly at Sigma? Which means that The Gouster line-up pre-dates the completed recording of those two cuts, and explains why they don’t feature in the proposed “slow jam” lineup. Does this make sense? It would explain why two such strong tracks were initially omitted, if they were deemed incomplete/unfinished at the time…
(And now I need to find a local place that still sells Mojo!)
yeah see the dates at the end of this piece. likely the reason, though V. scored “Win” for strings, suggesting it was a serious contender for LP. Jeff Rougvie at Ryko has said there were multiple sequences of YA flying around until the last minute, basically
The other disconnect for me is Visconti currently saying that the 40-minute Gouster sequence was the technical max for the quality they were going for: “With the time limitations of vinyl (big volume drop with more than 18 minutes a side) we could only fit two other long songs on side one…. Side two also hit the twenty-minute mark with ‘Can You Hear Me’ saving the day with its quiet passages. Forty minutes of glorious funk, that’s what it was and that’s how I thought it would be.”
Compared to his older comments regarding the inclusion of “Win” and “Fascination”: “We didn’t have enough songs recorded, so David wrote “Win”, and turned one of Luther Vandross’ songs, “Funky Music” into “Fascination”…. The day arrived that I was ready to take the tapes back to London to mix the album, tentatively called The Gouster.”
Anyway, I don’t expect a definitive resolution to this, just throwing that out there to add more fuzz to the murk.
Wait a minute…so “I am a Lazer” will NOT be part of the release? Damn, I was so excited for a moment…then I did some googling. That’s the one song I really want.
no, only “new” stuff is different mixes and single edits
“Win” was the last cut from my Top 30, and I’ve regretted it ever since. Incredible, lush song, and interesting in a way that the other slow songs from the YA sessions aren’t, at least to me. Thanks, Chris, for the great write-up, and for reminding us of this song.
(Funny story: back in the day, I would sometimes download MP3s from YouTube rather than buying actual songs. I stopped doing this when I realized just how bad the quality was, but some songs persisted in my library. Unknowingly, I had always been listening to “Win” this way, so when I finally bought the real version, it blew me away. So THAT’S what this song sounds like!)
I started to delve into Bowie discography the same time I found the blog and reading this article back then made me pay way more attention to the song. I used to overlook it but could finally notice how gorgeous this track is with the help of the blog (there is other songs as ‘Thru’ These Architects Eyes’ and so many others, which he blog helped me to notice too). Thank you for that.
Ah…finally. My favorite, all time, number one Bowie song. So beautifully constructed….it’s slow, loving soul but it’s not just that..it’s also a bit strange and enigmatic, both musically and lyrically and is basically, very Bowie. A jewel shrouded behind a cloud of mysterious smoke.
I always thought it was a love song, then I read Bowie somewhere say it was about “going out and getting yours, and to stop crying or complaining“.I was a bit dissapointed with the much less romantic explanation of the song, until I realized both were true, and that the song is Bowie’s premise set to a love song…sort of a “I love you, I know you love me, I’m your’s for the taking, stop pussyfooting around and playing games and letting insecurities get to you and just take me. Just win“. So both inspirational and romantic whatever way you chose to hear it.
To me, the song is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard in my life. The ultimate Bowie love song
I’m not certain that ‘Win’ is a romantic song, but it is sexy as hell. I don’t think DB’s voice was ever more seductive than it is here. Definitely the highlight of the album for me. I agree, it’s strange and gorgeous and very Bowie.
“Someone like you should not be allowed to start any fires” is in serious contention for my favorite Bowie lyric.
The finest song on one of Bowie’s finest albums. Pretty much perfect, from the lyric to the backup singers to the saxophone watercolor clouds. In the original post, a commenter related a story about staring into their aquarium, watching the bubbles float up and listening to this song and getting lost in it all. I can totally understand that.
Still disappointed about “The Gouster” business, but in total honesty I’m not sure what my desired outcome would be. The Bowie fiend in me desperately wants to hear full takes of Shilling and Lazer (and hey, throw in a studio take of Foot Stompin’ and the Ava-sung Sweet Thing while I’m dreaming), but I don’t doubt folks who have relayed how raw they are. None of these songs were ever likely serious contenders for the final tracklisting. And it is hard to reconcile the desire to hear your favorite musician’s lost songs when he made it plain while he was still here that he didn’t want them coming out. But still, but still. Sigh.
What I like about “Shilling the Rubes” is how much it sounds like the missing link between Diamond Dogs and Young Americans. I think “Fascination” kind of serves the same purpose, to a lesser extent. And I just love Bowie’s singing on the snippet of “Lazer,” and the piano bit that seems to anticipate “TVC-15.”
I do hope that, if it’s in accordance with his family’s wishes, we Bowie freaks get thrown a few more bones once the cash-grabbing shows signs of slowing up. One thing’s for sure, at least from my perspective: Young Americans in any form is a much stronger album without “Across the Universe” and “Fame.” My love of “Fame” extinguished within the first year of my fandom. It’s just really not a good song, strictly from my perspective.
It’s my understanding that the primary goal of these sets was to compile all of Bowie’s officially released output into one homogeneous series. No bonus tracks other than single edits and the occasional early version (i.e. The Gouster) or remix (Ziggy, S2S, David Live). Anything further (like the Ryko bonus tracks or previously unreleased stuff like Rubes) will be saved until after this series is complete.
I’ve a feeling that’s all Visconti meant when he teased “unreleased Bowie music”: only technically “unreleased” bonus tracks. Likely nothing DB truly kept under lock and key.
That makes sense! And it would explain the handful of random/strange track omissions so far in the series. The sets definitely appear geared to newish fans or people wishing to easily amass an (admittedly well-packaged) physical collection. Heck, if I had the fun money available for it I’d pick this and Five Years up for sure. May still do so if I can find a good deal on them at some point down the line. As much as I love Bowie, I have surprisingly few corporal Bowie “things” (a handful of reissued CDs and vinyls, Rebel Rebel of course, and a Reality Tour poster framed with my ticket – one of my prized possessions). I’d love to fix that.
I will definitely maintain hope that the next waves of things after Parlaphone’s series includes unreleased tracks. It’s probably too much to hope for (and it’s been mentioned on other Bowie sites), but I’d love for Bowie to get the same treatment as the upcoming Pink Floyd box set. Just a ridiculous amount of material – unreleased tracks, demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, everything. I’d love Bowie’s catalog to get that “warts and all” treatment, though I doubt that’s realistic (or would even be possible).
I suppose part of what stings about The Gouster it seems like such a great concept to explore this type of thing; roads not taken, etc. The cover photograph is wonderful. It’s a great idea. I just wish I was less familiar with the two outtakes so that I’d be even more excited about it. Definitely keen to hear the alternate mixes included, though.
One of my all time favourites. Thanks. Don’t know what people think of Sun Kil Moon but this was on his last album and I think it’s brilliant
I like it! I’m not a huge fan of Mark Kozelek as a media personality (which is really neither here nor there), but I very much like Red House Painters and a good handful of his solo offerings.
My favorite cover of Win below. The musician gives the song a warmth and sincerity that the original (intentionally of course) lacks:
This song is beautiful and breathtaking. I take it as evidence that Bowie was really listening to black popular music of the time and picking up not only on its rhythms and textures but also on the angst that underlies so many “feel-good” songs.
Maybe my favourite YA song, Win is fabulous
Glad I took the book with me on vacation. 😉
I adore “Win,” and it’s (usually) not even my favorite song on the original release of Young Americans. That varies from listen to listen, but “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and the title track…yeah.
Just read the entire YA chapter in Rebel Rebel last night, and it was a joy to read in all of its detail. I took particular inspiration from the 1975 period when I was younger…and I still do! Really appreciate the insights.
This is what I love about this blog, it makes me re-evaluate songs I think I know and find out I don’t really. I’ll admit that YA is my least favourite DB album of the 70’s (pinups excepted) so I thought I’d give ‘Win’ a quick listen. I must have been in the right mood because had to listen again straight away it sounded so lush, then thought I’d listen to YA straight through to put it in context.
The thing that struck me is once ‘Young Americans’, so familiar from radio, finished the remaining three tracks on side 1, ‘Win’ / ‘Facination’ / ‘Right’ are beautifully sequenced. Side 2 seems less so, ‘Across the Universe doesn’t help although not such a bad track in its own right, I never liked the original anyway.
I like the idea of what ifs about alternative versions of albums but am unfamiliar with the bonus YA tracks never having bought a cd of it, so I had a quick listen on youtube.
Can anyone suggest a good track sequencing for the bonus tracks and ‘Win’ ‘Facination’ ‘Right’ ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ & ‘Can You Hear Me?’ for a real slow jam. Now going to have to look out for a cd reissue and ‘sound + vision’ box set so I can put together a good quality playlist.
Above I gave Matthew the playlist he requested. But if I were “re-doing” Young Americans, it would be more like
Who Can I Be Now?
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Can You Hear Me?
It’s Gonna Be Me
…and I’d be sorely tempted to make “Fame” a single release only with “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)” the B-side and leave them both off the album…
Yes a redone YA should have ‘Fame’ on it as well as ‘Young Americans’. DB made up for putting ‘Across the Universe’ on YA by consigning ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’ to the bin ( I never liked any version much) at 7 minutes it would have used up precious space.
1. After Today
5. Somebody Up There Likes Me
6. Can You Hear Me?
7. Who Can I Be Now?
8. It’s Gonna Be Me
1. Who Can I Be Now?
5. Somebody Up There Likes Me
6. Can You Hear Me?
7. It’s Gonna Be Me
I wouldn’t include “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)”…but I’d miss “Young Americans” in both cases…
Thank you, maybe the second list is better as ‘After Today’ has a little too much kick, I see why you put it first on your other list. I think the ordering of tracks on an album can make or break it sometimes.
it’ s a fun game. Here’s mine
I Am a Lazer
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Can You Hear Me
It’s Gonna Be Me
Who Can I Be Now?
Your warms would be my cools (and vice versa), Chris, except “Somebody Up There.” Definitely one of my warms.
Ooh, how I can never resist a good dream tracklist!
Who Can I Be Now?
Somebody Up There Likes Me
It’s Gonna Be Me
Can You Hear Me
John I’m Only Dancing (Again)
Yeah, that’s smooth.
What?? No-one wants to keep ‘Across the Universe’ !
Thanks for all the suggestions.
here is my tracklist:
Shilling the Rubes
Can you Hear me
Who Can I be Now
It’s Gonna be me
Love ’em! Young Americans seems uniquely suited for dreaming up different track listings due to the presence of so many strong non-album tracks and lost songs from the period. Plus, all of the conversation over The Gouster seems to practically be an invitation for fans to do it. Some albums I wouldn’t think about touching (Station to Station), but Heathen’s fun to think about in this regard too, considering the large number of outtakes and Toy tracks.
Reposting my YA from a different thread, albeit with some revisions and explanations, just because it’s more relevant here than its original home:
I Am a Laser
It’s Gonna Be Me
Can You Hear Me?
Shilling the Rubes
Who Can I Be Now?
Right sets the tone of the project so well I think, and Lazer establishes the concept. I left It’s Gonna Be Me off originally, but it’s too good to set aside, and a good break in the energy before it picks up with Foot Stompin’. Can You Hear me kind of calls back to Right with the “Take it in right” bits, so I like having them positioned as side opener and closer.
Side 2 is my “jive fascist” half – Fascination kicks off wonderfully on its own, but both it and Shilling (from what we can tell) musically sound “dystopian” to me for some reason, and they both remind me of Diamond Dogs. Who Can I Be Now is the side’s centerpiece, and Win’s a great way to start bringing the album to a close – always seemed like it should have been sequenced closer to the end to me. Young Americans is a great way to say goodbye to the project to me – happy, lively music disguising a cynical outlook in the story the lyrics tell.
Never cared for John (Again), the cover of Across the Universe, or Fame, so I’d chuck ’em. I’ve played After Today a few times in recent weeks, and I’ve kind of cooled on it too. The only non-Lennon-involved song from the official tracklisting that I’m not crazy about is Somebody Up There Likes Me; not sure why, it just doesn’t do much for me.
Your set makes total sense without it, but still…
“Footstompin'” (even though I live for that Cavett performance) instead of “SOMEBODY”?!?
STS? Ooh I don’t know, I could almost pinch ‘Golden Years’ and add it to a YA mix leaving room for something else on STS.
@Paul: Hah, I know I’m nuts! “Somebody” seems to be one of the YA songs that most people like; I’m not sure why I’m not enamored with it. I don’t skip it when I’m listening to YA like I do “Fame,” but it’s not one of my favorites. I don’t dislike it, though. It would likely fit well on my side 2.
As for “Footstompin’,” I think I just have an unhealthy obsession with that song! I’d never heard it before reading Chris’ site, and since listening to it the first time it’s become one of my very favorite things that Bowie did during this general time period. It’s fascinating to hear “Fame” take shape within it. “Fame” just sounds dinky and self-indulgent to the point of being dull to me (I hate rock songs about being a rock star). When I do listen to it, it’s usually one of the later live versions.
@Matthew: I used to feel the same way about “Golden Years!” It took me a while to love it. It’s probably still my least-favorite song on STS, but considering it’s my favorite Bowie album that statement really doesn’t mean much. If I were to tinker with the track listing to STS, really the only thing I’d want to do is add a couple of songs of comparable quality to it. Of course, that could run the risk of watering it down. Who knows!
@ James & Matthew
When “Golden Years” was released, it was generally considered a stylistic follow-up to “Fame,” but over the years I find them more and more dissimilar. Still, I’ve always loved both songs, danceable tracks destined to be hit singles…even if they’re far from my favorites on their respective albums.
Don’t get me wrong I like ‘Golden Years’ it just always catches me out on STS and lyrically it talks about fame as well.
Loving all the personalised tracklists (and the reasonings behind them), but can’t understand the lack of love for John I’m Only Dancing (Again). If memory serves me, Chris isn’t terribly enamoured with it either (open to correction!). I know it’s ‘just’ a disco beat, but I love the way the band ramp up the song throughout, really bulding to a sustained finish- a perfect start to side two for me. I believe the young (advance in all electric) would today call it a ‘floor-filler’!
I personally much prefer the not-Again “Johns.”
THE GOUSTER (remastered tracks)
1. John I’m Only Dancing (Again)
2. Somebody Up There Likes Me
3. It’s Gonna Be Me
1. Who Can I Be Now
2. Can You Hear Me
3. Young Americans
For some reason, in this order, followed by these mixes of the other songs, John (Again) appeals more to me than it has in a while..
I totaly agree. The Gouster as it is, is the ultimate soul tribute that Bowie wanted to make. Without the rock involvement from John Lennon. Get me right I loved and still love YA, but the Gouster with It’s gonna be me and Who can I be now is the real soul tear-jerker. And even John I’m only dancing is after twenty plays falling in a James Brown place.
After playing around with track lists I must have listen to YA more times in the last 2 months than in the last 20 years! I’ve come to realise that, with the bonus tracks, I seriously underestimated this album.
Ok forget ‘Across…’ , stick ‘Fame’ on a single with ‘John Again’ on the B side and the remaing 9 tracks form a cracking album (I can’t help but visualise things in vinyl format).
Still playing around with the ordering but like to start with ‘After Today’ whilst ‘It’s Gonna be Me’ makes a superb side 2 closer.
Thanks Chris and everybody for the fresh perspectives, I’ve got so much enjoyment from these songs which, without you, I might have overlooked forever.
mmm… maybe ‘hours…’ isn’t as I remember, where’s that cd?
Actually… speaking of “Hours” I always thought the album production was lacking compared to the the other versions and remixes… SO I made an compilation cd-r using several of the remixes to make “Hours” a bit more… sparkling, weird and interesting production wise:
Thursday’s Child (Rock Mix)
Something In The Air (American Psycho Remix)
Survive (Marcus de Vries Remix)
If I’m dreaming My Life
Seven (Marcus de Vries Remix)
What’s Really Happening?
The Pretty Thing Are Going To Hell (Stigmata Version)
New Angels Of Promise
After hearing all the out takes and demos, it seems that YA would have made a decent double album.