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Music

David Bowie's homage to The Beatles on 'Young Americans'

David Bowie’s legacy cannot be underestimated. Iconoclastic in every sense of the word, he showed that art can be whatever you want it to be, and through his constant experimentation, he opened everyone’s eyes to the infinite possibilities of the future by undermining the established prosaic social mores in the most unapologetic of ways. From glam rock to industrial, Bowie tried his hand at everything over his long career, leaving behind an oeuvre that contains something for everyone. 

Bowie was the postmodern spirit personified, and nothing could stop him in his quest to achieve his ultimate goal, total artistic enlightenment. He led by example and had a significant hand in the development of future stars such as Kurt Cobain, Shirley Manson, and Chris Cornell, and these are just three from an extensive list. 

Given that Bowie was such a consequential figure, it was only fitting that other legends were aware of his splendour. Notably, he worked with a host of legends across his career, from Tony Visconti to Mick Ronson and even disco master Nile Rodgers. However, the most prominent is the former Beatles frontman John Lennon, whom he collaborated with for two tracks on 1975’s Young Americans.

As with everyone he came into contact with, Lennon left an unforgettable impression on Bowie. “Uninvited, John would wax on endlessly about any topic under the sun and was over-endowed with opinions. I immediately felt empathy with that,” Bowie told Berklee College of Music in 1999. “Whenever the two of us got together, it started to resemble Beavis and Butthead on ‘Crossfire.’”

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The two would hit it off so profoundly that in the years following Lennon’s death in 1980, Bowie would consider the ‘Imagine’ mastermind as “probably (his) greatest mentor”.

Fittingly, the collaborations that the two made on Young Americans stand out as highlights in both artists’ respective back catalogues. Whilst the hit single ‘Fame’ is the more famous of the two, everyone seems to forget the rendition of The Beatles track ‘Across the Universe’ that the pair undertook, which makes a strong claim to be better than the original and ‘Fame’.

On this version of ‘Across the Universe’, Lennon recalled: “I thought, great, because I’d never done a good version of that song myself. It’s one of my favourite songs, but I didn’t like my version of it.” Bowie agreed with this sentiment, labelling The Beatles‘ original version “very watery”, revealing that he wanted to “hammer the hell out of it.”

According to some fans, this wasn’t the only homage Bowie paid to The Beatles on Young Americans. Some have claimed that Bowie cleverly references ‘A Day in the Life’ on the title track. During the track, Bowie sings “I heard the news today, oh boy”, which is quite famously the chorus for ‘A Day in the Life’, and it just seems too specific to be a coincidence, particularly when you consider the impact The Beatles had on Bowie.

Listen to ‘Young Americans’ below. 

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