On December 17, 1971, David Bowie released his fourth studio album "Hunky Dory".
Similar to the name of the opening track "Changes", this album reflected the "changes" that David Bowie went through at the time. It began with the death of his father in August 1969, continued with a deterioration in the mental state of his half-brother, who exposed him to music and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, the marriage to his wife Angie and her pregnancy with their eldest son Duncan. Beyond the changes in his personal life, Bowie replaced his manager, his record company, and bassist Tony Visconti with Trevor Bolder.
These changes were also reflected in the themes the album deals with, in the musical style and the form of Bowie's writing.
If the previous album "The Man Who Sold the World" was dark and gloomy and dealt with heavy issues like schizophrenia and paranoia, influenced by his brother's mental state, then this album is much lighter. It is a kind of tribute to the sixties and artists who inspired Bowie, like Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and is full of artistic, social, and cultural references, with words reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche, John Lennon, Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill and more. If the previous album marked Bowie's transition from the acoustic sound of the previous two albums to a heavier and more electric sound, then in this album Bowie abandons folk origins and solid rock and concentrates on writing lighter and more accessible songs, even a little "popish". He also leaves the guitar and starts writing the songs on piano and this opens up new possibilities for him.
The real magic of this album lies in the music and the melodies. On the one hand, they are surprising, and dynamic and include quite a few changes, and on the other hand, they are incredibly receptive and accessible. There is no doubt that one of the highlights of the album is Rick Wakeman's wonderful piano playing, which reaches the forefront of the arrangement of most of the songs on the album. This is the album where everything started to connect for Bowie, the album where his unique sound was formed, and the wonderful band that will accompany him in the years to come, especially during the "Ziggy Stardust" era.
The album opens up with "Changes", the song that summarizes the changes that took place in Bowie's life at the time, but in a sense also predicts the future of "The Man with a Thousand Faces", who over the following decades knew how to reinvent himself. The song is a clear antithesis to the previous album and the choice to place it at the beginning of the album is not coincidental. An entertaining mix of jazz, blues, pure pop, melodic, commercial, cheerful, and yet incredibly soft.
Right after that comes "Oh! You Pretty Things" the first song Bowie wrote for the album. Also based on Wakeman's piano, it's much softer, but power up during the chorus. The words speak of dissatisfaction with humanity and technology in the Cold War environment. They refer to Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The "Eight Line Poem" track was intended to sound like a sequel to the previous one. This is a short track of "Eight Lines" which this time too is led by Wakeman's surrealistic piano and Mick Ronson's blues guitar playin On this pastoral poem, Bowie almost recites the story about the room, the cat and the cactus ...
From here we move on to the true masterpiece of the album "Life on Mars?" Bowie's moving vocals, recorded in one take, lead Wakeman's delicate piano to a sweeping chorus accompanied by strings, which add so much to the song's charm. They blend wonderfully with Ronson's guitar line which connects us to the next verse, where the sounds of the flute await us and undoubtedly adds depth to the song. The track addresses the media frenzy coverage of the Russian-American race to reach Mars. The melody of the song is a kind of parody of Frank Sinatra's "My Way". It includes the same sequence of chords in its opening part, when even the back cover of the album reads: "Inspired by Frankie".
"Kooks" showcases the amazing abilities of bassist Trevor Bolder who also plays the trumpet. It also illustrates the band's versatility, combining melodic and groovy pop with a scent of "ballroom dance music". The song was written several days after the birth of Bowie's eldest son and is dedicated to him, with the "Kooks" being Bowie and his wife Angie.
"Quicksand" sums up the fantastic first side with steady, dark folk, featuring acoustic guitars and Ronson string arrangements. A melancholy and sad melodic song that enjoys the power of strings. The lyrics were influenced by Bowie's first visit to the US and include references to Alistair Crowley, Winston Churchill, Heinrich Himmler, Friedrich Nietzsche and more.
The only cover version of the album is the track "Fill Your Heart" which was written by Biff Rose and Paul Williams. A jazz-based bouncy piece, featuring a saxophone solo played by Bowie. The piece connects through a psychedelic bridge (a kind of tribute to the subject of the next song) to “Andy Warhol”. Contrary to the psychedelic introduction the song itself is based on a Spanish rhythm guitar playing, with Spanish percussion. This is a tribute song to American artist, producer and director Andy Warhol, who has been an inspiration to bowie since the mid-1960s. When Bowie met Warhol in September 1971 and played him the song, Warhol hated it and left the room.
We continue with another tribute to another admired character of Bowie. "A Song for Bob Dylan" refers to Dylan as a separate mythological character from Robert Zimmerman, as if his legend grew beyond his name and eventually led to his famous fall at the Newport Folk Festival. There is no doubt that the song is a kind of mirror Bowie puts in front of him and reflects on everything that has changed, starting his name from David Jones to David Bowie, as well as the musical style.
We're nearing the end with another tribute called "Queen Bitch" which is heavily influenced by The "Velvet Underground" and especially Lou Reed , when on the back cover of the album it even reads: "some V.U. White Light returned with thanks". Unlike the other songs on the album, this song is led by a rough guitar and it gives us a glimpse into the sound that will characterize Bowie on the next album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", even the way "Rebel Rebel" from "Diamond Dogs" will sound, Since both songs are the anthems for strong women.
The closing track "The Bewlay Brothers" begins as an acoustic, quiet section, but later intensifies and takes on a psychedelic tone with strange singing voices.
"Hunky Dory" was not an instant "hit" with its release, but it was boosted in sales about a year later, following the major breakthrough and the commercial success of "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". Today it is already clear to everyone that this is a true "classic" in which Bowie's unique sound began to take shape.
In 1988, readers of British music Q magazine ranked the album 43rd among the greatest albums of all time. In 2000 another magazine ranking was held and the album reached number 16 on the list of the 100 greatest British albums of all time. VH1 TV channel ranked the album that year at number 47, on the list of greall-timel time albums, and even "Time Magazine" included it on the 100 greatest albums of all time list.
And if that's not enough, the album is on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die," list, and in 2020 Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album 88th on the renewed list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
In case you did not understand, the album "Hunky Dory" is a must-have album for music lovers of all kinds.