- A killer copy of Bowie’s one and only soul album with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
- This pressing was simply bigger and fuller than the competition, with plenty of funky energy and three-dimensional studio space
- On an exceptionally transparent copy such as this one, it’s much easier to pick out all the background vocalists in the relatively dense mixes that Bowie favored here, and that’s the kind of sound that wins shootouts
- One of our favorites by The Man, with so many killer tracks: Young Americans, Win, Fascination, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Across the Universe and, of course, Fame
Truly stunning sound throughout. The strings have amazing amounts of texture — you can really hear the sound of the rosin on the bow. The highs are silky sweet and the bottom end is punchy and powerful. You won’t believe how lively the cymbal crashes sound — you’re right there in the room with all these guys and gals.
This is one of our 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.
What the best sides of this Blue-Eyed Soul Classic from 1975 have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with the guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we listed above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Bowie and Sanborn
This was the record that turned me on to David Sanborn. After hearing this album, and reading that he was responsible for the amazing sax work found here, I went out and bought a bunch of his jazz albums. They were uniformly awful I’m sorry to say. It was years before he actually made a good one, Backstreet, which is still a personal favorite.
By the way, that’s John Lennon on guitar for Across the Universe and Fame.
What We’re Listening For on Young Americans
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Size and Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.
Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many of even the most dedicated of audiophiles would have more than one of two clean vintage pressings with which to do a shootout? These kinds of records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of vintage pressings of Classic Rock albums.
One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.
My favorite track on the album, an undiscovered gem in the Bowie catalog.
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.
David Bowie had dropped hints during the Diamond Dogs tour that he was moving toward R&B, but the full-blown blue-eyed soul of Young Americans came as a shock. Surrounding himself with first-rate sessionmen, Bowie comes up with a set of songs that approximate the sound of Philly soul and disco..
Domestics or Imports
The domestic copies we’ve played over the years of Young Americans are clearly better sounding than any import we’ve ever auditioned. It may be counterintuitive but these are exactly the kinds of things you find out when doing shootouts. We have little use for intuitions (UK artist, UK pressing) and similar rules of thumb.
Hard data — the kind you get from actually playing lots and lots of copies of the same album — trumps them all.