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The Story Behind The Song: How David Bowie created ‘Changes’

The beloved David Bowie song ‘Changes’ turns 50 years old this week and, in celebration, we cast our eyes back to the electric moment the song was created in his early career and explore its prevailing beauty.

With a career spanning 50 years of relentless creative metamorphosis, David Bowie created a legacy that has gone largely unparalleled in popular music. Long before his experimental spell in Berlin with creative mastermind Brian Eno, or his humbly-admitted ‘Phil Collins era’ of the mid-1980s, Bowie was a young scamp circling the streets of London that seemed to explode with the creative energy of the 1960s. 

Throughout the 1960s, Bowie would make regular earnest attempts toward public recognition beginning with small function gigs with his first band the Konrads, whom he quickly moved on from to form the King Bees after becoming increasingly solitary in his ambitions amongst the other members’ comparatively limited aspirations. After leaving school in his late teens, Bowie told his parents of his ambitions to become a world-renowned rockstar. 

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Bowie’s subsequent rise to stardom had a lift-off similar to that of an Airbus A380 in comparison to the jump-jet flights to fame experienced by most of the other star acts emerging from the ‘60s. He was limited by the nature of his early material which seemed somewhat detached from the normal boundaries of rock and roll with its tongue in cheek sound that often seemed to belong in some bizarre nursery rhyme stage production. Alas, Bowie’s 1967 debut album was a critical disappointment and so marked the beginning of a quiet two years for the frustrated artist.

Bowie’s first commercial breakthrough came with the release of Space Oddity, an album that still wasn’t critically acclaimed, but its eponymous lead single was timed perfectly with the US moon landings with its release in 1969 and became his first major hit. This saw Bowie’s name begin to circulate ahead of his next, even stronger album The Man Who Sold the World. However, it wasn’t until the release of his fourth album, Hunky Dory in 1971, that Bowie had really caught his flight toward superstardom. 

Hunky Dory was the first album of his that contained a strong selection of listenable tracks. Where creativity had never been an issue for Bowie, his eye for pleasing his audience had finally caught up. Of the wonderful tracks on the album, ‘Changes’ was a stand-out single with its high energy and catchy production involving Bowie’s cracking saxophone sections and keys played by Rick Wakeman. 

‘Changes’ marked the beginning of a new chapter for Bowie as he had begun to write songs from the keyboard as opposed to his guitar. This caused a significant change in the composition of his music as it diversified the possibilities within the tracks; he could now be more creative with melodies and structure.

The song, as Bowie once recalled, began as a parody of a cheesy nightclub song that was never really intended as a serious contender for public release, a “kind of throwaway” as he put it. However, the song stuck with Bowie and his band and soon, the bright and colourful optimism of the song shone through as they decided to record the song for Hunky Dory. The lyrics of ‘Changes’ are particularly of interest as they appear to foreshadow the constantly changing public persona that Bowie would present over the course of his career to come. 

Whatever Bowie phase most tickles your fancy, the prevailing importance of Hunky Dory, and in particular, ‘Changes’ is worthy of note, and most definitely worthy of a play on its 50th birthday.

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