I was 19 when I decided that ‘Young Americans’ was my second favourite single of all time. I’d say it’s settled somewhere between five and nine now, and it still makes me feel like I’m the coolest catwalk model in south west London when I listen to it. Junior has no concept of cool, despite her natty pink Biggles hat and snow white woolly hoodie, but she understood the record the moment it started. The drums kicked, the piano and saxophone rolled by and she was right on the button joining the late, great Luther Vandross on backing vocals. She seemed to get a touch scared towards the end, possibly wondering what could make someone “break down and cry” apart from an unscheduled delay to the next feed. Maybe that haunted Dave as well.
I think she liked the barrel load of words streaming out. I think that’s what grabbed me back then when I was seeing that great pop didn’t have to be verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus. The song fits that loosely, I suppose, but Bowie saw how much more fun there could be in the “ad lib to fade”. When I was 11, my friend Neil and I used to laugh at Tom Robinson’s ‘War Baby’, scoffing at him trying to shoehorn as many words as possible into each line. We thought his scansion was rubbish, or that he was holding the wrong lyric sheet.