David Bowie – Young Americans – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This is one of my favorite Bowie albums. Nobody seems to care about it anymore. They dismiss it as disco junk, but it actually has some of his best music on it. I especially like the song Win. David Sanborn’s saxophone sounds like it’s coming from 60 feet behind Bowie, a nice effect.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Young Americans  
Win

My favorite track on the album, an undiscovered gem in the Bowie catalog.

Fascination
Right

Side Two

Somebody up There Likes Me

One of the best tracks on the album. Sanborn is out of his head on this track. Another gem that never gets enough credit.

Across the Universe 
Can You Hear Me

This is one of the best tests for side two. It’s the rare copy that gets those soulful background voices to sound clear and clean. They often sound squawky, veiled, or thin. Grain and smear are big problems with mass-produced vinyl like this. It takes a very special pressing to show you that those problems are in the vinyl, not on the tape.

Fame

Learning the Record

We recently finished a shootout for Young Americans, having at our disposal a variety of pressings we believed to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best. You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, against other pressings of the same album.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty shootouts. And we might have learned something new from almost every one.