Few songs signify the intent of the artist and rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest chameleon, David Bowie, like his Hunky Dory number ‘Changes’. It’s a song that not only allowed the rocker to lay down a marker and demonstrate how and why he would soon become the emperor of pop, but it also showcased one of the singer’s keenest vulnerabilities. Through the isolated vocal below, we get to hear that vulnerability be banished to the backrooms.
‘Changes’ is regarded as one of the songs that, for many people, is one of the best that Bowie ever wrote. It’s equally a song that Bowie admits “started out as a parody of a nightclub song, a kind of throwaway”— we think it’s fair to say that we’re all glad he didn’t ball it up and send it into the rubbish bin because it went on to showcase the shining star Bowie was about to be.
The truth is, by the time 1971 had rolled around, the world was only partially aware of David Bowie. The singer had enjoyed great success with his song ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969 but had struggled to impose himself on a constantly changing pop music market. Albums had come and gone not really had the desired effect on kickstarting Bowie’s career. It had all proved to be a longer career than many people knew.
For almost a decade, Bowie had been trying to crack the pop music world. ‘Space Oddity’ had certainly made a dent, and Bowie was well-trained in movement, acting and other kinds of performance, which all set him up perfectly for the decade of hip-thrusting ahead. But one thing Bowie never professed to truly command was a powerful vocal range. Certainly not famed for any kind of pitch accuracy, Bowie made do by employing enthusiasm above all else.
It was something he put into all his work. Bowie was a devoted artist and made sure that whatever he could do to put his name up in lights, he was actively pursuing. By the time Hunky Dory was about to be released, it felt as if the scene was set for Bowie’s rise to the top, and the Starman matched his unique songwriting with a vocal tone all of his own — one that would banish his insecurities and set him on a path to stardom. No better is this seen than on ‘Changes’.
What transpires is a song drenched in optimism and guarded enthusiasm for life and art. As well as being an indictment of the previous generation’s lack of control, Bowie stating in 1968: “We feel our parents’ generation has lost control, given up, they’re scared of the future. I feel it’s basically their fault that things are so bad.” The song is also an anthem for evolution and tolerance, two pillars of the singer’s legacy and two rivers of flowing inspiration for his vocals.
It’s a mark of Bowie’s character and his artistic destination. It’s a manifesto for his career as a rock and roll chameleon, for his life as a patron of the arts and creativity, and his legacy as one of the most iconic men in music. When you strip away the music and listen purely to Bowie’s vocals, you can hear this poetry, and more, pulsating across the airwaves.
Listen to David Bowie’s remarkable isolated vocal for ‘Changes’ below.