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David Bowie

1971, when David Bowie's Hunky Dory album foretold the music to come

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 January, 2015, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 4:05pm

Hunky Dory
David Bowie
RCA

The watchword for David Bowie has always been "change": from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, from soul crooner to stadium rocker, his very career has been an evolving performance copied by many, matched by none. Changing characters, changing music and changing appearance - stylistically Bowie has never stood still.

The signs of his future trajectory were made apparent early in his career on Hunky Dory and as if to presage the future, Changes - the opening track and one of the album's many standouts - was a prescient nod to what lay in store not only for Bowie but for the next 40-odd years of rock music.

Though Hunky Dory was Bowie's fourth album under his own name, it was his first fully realised collection, with a clutch of sure-fire singles that laid the foundation for his genre-setting next album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

By Hunky Dory's release in 1971, Bowie had experimented with hard rock in The Man Who Sold the World, touched on 1960s psychedelia in Space Oddity and rummaged around the music hall cupboard on his eponymous debut in his search for a pop identity.

But until then he'd been a follower. By Hunky Dory, with his killer band led by guitarist and eventual lead Spider Mick Ronson in place, Bowie was able to manifest the stunning talent that would shape rock music forever after.

Changes, with its rumination on the future and a rueful look over the past, is in hindsight not only a prophetic opener, ushering in a set of songs that would establish Bowie as an original and eclectic songwriter, but also a declaration of intent. It's Bowie letting us know that the musician we thought we knew from the past decade was no more - a new Bowie was emerging with changes "taking the pace I'm going through".

Oh! You Pretty Things is the perfect follow-up, speaking of a new generation baffling its elders. The stirring if pessimistic Life on Mars? foreshadows the messianic Ziggy and its lyrical imagery of a world in decline finds a bedfellow in the following album's opener Five Years.

Hunky Dory was not merely a sketchpad for Ziggy. Queen Bitch's lascivious lyrics and swaggering boogie are a nod to Bowie's fascination with Lou Reed, a subject that also finds expression in the song Andy Warhol.

Hunky Dory has stood the test of time, and arguably has matured over the past 43 years. It has recently begun creeping into the top-10 lists of rock's most important and influential albums and until he stopped touring nine years ago, Bowie had begun resurrecting some of its album tracks at his shows. When he played Hong Kong in 2004, he altered the set list and played Quicksand, to rapturous applause.