Oh! You Pretty Things [3.12]
Eight Line Poem [2.53]
Life On Mars? [3.48]
Fill Your Heart [3.07]
Andy Warhol [3.58]
Song For Bob Dylan [4.12]
Queen Bitch [3.13]
The Bewlay Brothers [5.21]
Bonus tracks on 1990 Reissue:
The Supermen (Alternate Version) [2.41]
Quicksand (Demo Version) [4.43]
The Bewlay Brothers (Alternate Mix) [5.19]
RCA Victor SF 8244 - December 1971
RCA International INTS 5064 - January 1981
RCA BOPIC 2 - April 1984
RCA International NL 83844 - November 1984
EMI EMC 3572 - April 1990
EMI 7243 5218990 - September 1999
Parlophone 0825646283439 - September 2015 (CD)
Parlophone DB69733 - February 2016 (LP)
David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Saxophone, Piano
Mick Ronson: Guitar
Trevor Bolder: Bass, Trumpets
Mick Woodmansey: Drums
Rick Wakeman: Piano
Trident Studios, London
Ken Scott, David Bowie
Following the completion of The Man Who Sold The World in May 1970, Bowie's activities both on stage and in the studio slowed to a virtual standstill for nearly a year. There were a number of practical reasons for this, not least the series of contractual challenges confronting David's new manager Tony Defries. In mid-1970 Bowie was without a publishing contract. His deal with Essex Music had expired the previous June, and Kenneth Pitt had rejected a renewal offer as unacceptably low. In October 1970 Defries negotiated a publishing deal with Chrysalis, then a young company whose major signings were Jethro Tull and Ten Years After. Impressed by David's demo of a new song, "Holy Holy", and seduced by Defries's grandiose assurances, Chrysalis agreed to a fifty-fifty royalty split and a shockingly generous upfront payment of £5000. The interpretation of an additional royalty clause would later be disputed by Chrysalis, leading to lawsuits with both Defries and Essex Music in 1973. Like Defries's ongoing financial dispute with Kenneth Pitt, these were just some of the aggravations that would dog the endlessly litigious MainMan years.
Meanwhile, Bowie had been channelling his energies into a period of intensive songwriting. Bob Grace, the Chrysalis partner who had courted him on the strength of "Holy Holy", hired Radio Luxembourg's London studios for the recording of Bowie's new demos. It was here that David - sometimes alone, sometimes with friends - essayed much of the material that would eventually find its way onto Hunky Dory. Angela Bowie attests that by the end of 1970 David's songwriting had undergone a development which would infuse the flavour of the new album: he was now composing not on acoustic guitar, but on the piano. One of the demos recorded in early 1971 was "Oh! You Pretty Things", enthusiastically seized by Bob Grace and farmed out to Peter Noone, who made it a hit in the summer.
Over the next few months, Bob Grace was to play a significant role as Bowie's most influential galvanizer, facilitator and professional champion: to all intents and purposes, the publisher found himself acting as a de facto manager. This turn of events was chiefly down to an initial lack of attention from Tony Defries, who spent the early months of 1971 concentrating less on his new client than on an ambitious attempt to net a far bigger fish. Tamla-Motown's contract with Stevie Wonder was due to expire when the singing sensation reached his twenty-first birthday in May, and Defries was channelling most of his energies into a pitch to become Wonder's new manager. It was not until that dream evaporated in May, when Stevie Wonder elected to use his newly-acquired creative control to negotiate improved terms with Motown, that Defries began to focus his attention fully on Bowie - by which time, largely thanks to the efforts of Bob Grace, David's stock was already on the rise as Peter Noone's single made its way up the charts. But all of this lay several months ahead: at the beginning of 1971, Tony Defries had yet to recognise the true potential of his client.
After his promotional tour of America in February 1971, David returned to Haddon Hall and Radio Luxembourg, where he churned out new demos with insatiable speed. Among those providing instrumental backings during these sessions was a trio called Rungk, who had formed in 1967 while schoolboys at Dulwich College, and had shared the bill with David at a couple of gigs the previous year. Their guitarist, Mark Pritchett, was a regular at the Beckenham Arts Lab and a neighbour of David's at Haddon Hall and had occasionally joined Hype on stage in 1970. Rungk's other members were drummer Tim Broadbent and bassist Pete de Somogyl, who had chosen the band's name from his native Swedish, in which it was slang for masturbation. It was with these musicians that David recorded early versions of "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang On To Yourself" at Radio Luxembourg's studios on February 25th. Bob Grace proposed releasing the tracks as a single to recoup some of the costs of the demo sessions, and in order to bypass David's Mercury contract, it was decided to to do so under an assumed name. Thus it was that Rungk were re-named Arnold Corns - apparently after David's favourite Pink Floyd song "Arnold Layne", and perhaps also with a T Rex-style play on "A Corns", from which mighty oaks might grow - and the single was released on B&C Records in May.
Although the Arnold Corns project made no commercial impact, it gave Bowie the chance to indulge in a spot of Warholian star-manufacture. He bestowed unwieldy stage names on the members of Rungk: the guitarist was re-styled "Mark Carr-Pritchard", the drummer "Timothy James Ralph St Laurent Broadbent", and the bassist "Polak de Somogyl". All that was missing now was a glamorous figurehead, and David soon located one. Freddie Burretti (real name Frederick Burrett) was a flamboyant, openly gay 19-year-old fashion designer whom David had met at the Sombrero, then London's trendiest gay nightclub. Burretti, who was now providing David and Angela with some of their extravagant apparel, was re-styled "Rudi Valentino" and presented as the group's lead singer, even though he hadn't even been present at the sessions. "I believe that the Rolling Stones are finished and that Arnold Corns will be the next Stones," Bowie declared preposterously. In an interview for Curious magazine, "Rudi" camped it up in a manner that made Bowie's subsequent gay revelations seem positively tame. "On Saturday I was very stoned and I dressed up like a little boy and looked quite cute," he declared, going on to add that, "I always wear just my own hair and just a little make-up." His pet hates were apparently "spots, snobs, closet queens and big mouths," and he intimated that a full-length album entitled Looking For Rudi was on the way. In fact the Arnold Corns project went no further than two more tracks recorded in June, "Man In The Middle" and "Looking For A Friend", to which Burretti is said to have made contributions alongside Pritchett and the Hunky Dory band; the former appeared as an Arnold Corns B-side in 1972, but the latter was shelved.
At around the same time, Bowie was working in the studio with another of Burretti's circle, a male prostitute called Mickey King who took lead vocal on the infamous out-take "Rupert The Riley", recorded in April 1971. Further demos were recorded in May with bassist Ian Ellis and drummer Harry Hughes, members of a Scottish band called Clouds who, in their incarnation as 1-2-3, had befriended David during his Deram period several years earlier. Another drummer recruited for the occasional demo was Henry Spinetti, who had recently played on the John Kongos single "He's Gonna Step On You Again" and would later work with everyone from Eric Clapton to Katie Melua. Also in the spring of 1971, David began writing songs for his old friend Dana Gillespie, who had been introduced to Tony Defries and was hoping to launch a singing career.
Some Bowie chroniclers have found it inexplicable that these excursions into anonymity should have coincided with the preparation of an album as strong and definitive as Hunky Dory. Others have suggested that Bowie's assumption of the role of starmaker was nothing more than a narcissistic attempt to emulate the methods of his idol du jour Andy Warhol without appreciating that he'd need to be a celebrity himself before such a scheme was likely to work. But there was another, more significant reason for David to hide behind flimsy pseudonyms while he honed his new material: Tony Defries, whose ambitions to manage Stevie Wonder had now been cast aside, was adamant that Mercury would never release another David Bowie record.
David's contract with Mercury was due to expire in June 1971, but the company had every intention of taking up its renewal option and was even planning to offer David improved terms. In May, however, Tony Defries informed the company's representative Robin McBride - who had flown to London from Chicago specifically to offer a new three-year deal - that "under no circumstances would David record another note for Mercury." McBride tells the Gillmans that Defries went on to explain that if Mercury pursued their renewal option and insisted on a new album, "we will deliver the biggest piece of crap you have ever had. That's not a direct quote. But that's pretty much what he said." In theory, Mercury could have called his bluff; in practice, they agreed to terminate David's contract. Through Gem Productions Defries paid off David's outstanding debts to Mercury, who in turn surrendered their copyright on the previous two albums.
While Defries pursued another, better record deal, David prepared to take his new material into the studio. Several of the musicians who had dropped in and out of the Haddon Hall circle over the preceding months were considered for the forthcoming sessions. Arnold Corns guitarist Mark Pritchett was one; Space Oddity drummer Terry Cox was another, as was David's former Turquoise colleague Tony Hill. Both Tim Renwick and Herbie Flowers were approached, but both were busy on other projects. By May 1971 David had arrived at the conclusion that there was one colleague he could not do without. He telephoned Mick Ronson.
Since the end of The Man Who Sold The World sessions and the short-lived attempt to continue under the name Ronno, Mick Ronson had returned to Hull and, he later revealed, sunk into a deep depression. Now Bowie asked him to return to London, bringing with him Woody Woodmansey and a bassist to replace Tony Visconti. It would appear that Ronson's first choice was his former King Bees colleague Rick Kemp, with whom he had played on Michael Chapman's Fully Qualified Survivor. Kemp travelled south to meet David at Haddon Hall, but the collaboration was not to be: according to some reports Defries vetoed Kemp on the grounds of his receding hairline. Kemp instead joined the emerging folk-rock outfit Steeleye Span, and in his place came Ronno bassist Trevor Bolder.
The three musicians moved into Haddon Hall to rehearse David's new material. Led by Ronson, they also assisted David on the recording of tracks by Dana Gillespie at Trident, including "Mother, Don't Be Frightened" and the original "Andy Warhol". Meanwhile, Bowie elected to exploit his forthcoming June 3rd BBC session as a showcase for his growing circle of performers and a clutch of new songs, one of them freshly composed to commemorate the birth of his son on May 30th. June 8th saw an early attempt to record "Song For Bob Dylan", but it was not until a few days after David's appearance at Glastonbury Fayre on June 23rd that the band decamped to Trident to begin working in earnest on the new album.
The title Hunky Dory, which had been revealed at the BBC gig (almost uniquely: Bowie usually leaves the naming of his albums until the last minute), was suggested by Bob Grace of Chrysalis, who tells the Gillmans of an ex-RAF pub landlord he knew in Esher, "one of those classic Battle of Britain types" whose vocabulary was peppered with upper-crust jargon "...like 'prang' and 'whizzo'; another was 'everything's hunky dory.' I told David and he loved it."
In the absence of Tony Visconti David recruited Ken Scott, the studio engineer on his Mercury albums, to produce and mix the sessions. Scott had recently completed work on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, whose acoustic textures were not far removed from the eventual sound of Hunky Dory. The first hint of a co-production credit for David himself would be manifested in the sleeve-note "assisted by the actor". Meanwhile, Visconti's arranging role was taken over by Bowie and Ronson who, together with Bob Grace, shortlisted the tracks one night at Ken Scott's house. Among the rejected demos were "How Lucky You Are" and "Right On Mother" (although the latter was recorded the same year by Peter Noone), while others, like "Bombers" and "It Ain't Easy", would be recorded at Trident but dropped from the final album.
Bowie is understood to have taken an active interest in the sound of his new recordings which could not have presented a greater contrast with his attitude during the previous album's sessions. A late addition to the studio band was Rick Wakeman who, since his work on "Space Oddity", had become a full-time member of The Strawbs and one of London's most sought-after session players. "He invited me round to his flat in Beckenham, which I used to call Beckenham Palace," recounted Wakeman later. "He told me to make as many notes as I wanted. The songs were unbelievable - "Changes", "Life On Mars?", one after the other. He said he wanted to come at the album from a different angle, that he wanted them to be based around the piano. So he told me to play them as I would a piano piece, and that he'd then adapt everything else around that. And that's what happened. We went into the studio and I had total freedom to do whatever I liked throughout the album. Everyone literally played around what I was playing. I still rate it as the finest collection of songs on one album."
In his book Any Day Now, Kevin Cann reports an unsuccessful attempt to engage the services of a second pianist: on July 14th 1971, by which time Rick Wakeman had already joined the Hunky Dory sessions, Tony Defries wrote to the celebrated comedian and accomplished jazz pianist Dudley Moore, inviting him to contribute to "a three-hour session some time during the next few weeks". Which particular song David had in mind for Dud is a matter for conjecture (it can't have been "Quicksand", which was taped on the same day that Defries wrote his letter), but whatever the case there is no sign that Moore ever responded to the offer.
According to Rick Wakeman, the Trident sessions began with a serious hiccup, when it transpired that certain band members had failed to learn the songs. As Wakeman recalled on Radio 2's Golden Years documentary, David was forced to call a halt: "He said, you've had good rehearsal facilities, you're being paid, this is a wonderful opportunity - and you haven't learned them. He said, you can pack your stuff up, go and practice them, and we'll come back in the studio when you've learned them...if you want to go back and be a small band up in Hull or whatever, that's fine." When the sessions reconvened a week or two later, Wakeman recalled, "the band were hot! They were so good, and the tracks just flowed through." This account has since been disputed by other members of the band: Trevor Bolder described it to Kevin Cann as "rubbish. David would never have told the band off in the studio. Especially as Mick and Woody had already left him once, and everyone was now getting on. The band would not have survived that - it definitely didn't happen." Ken Scott, meanwhile, said: "I definitely don't remember that, and it's not something I would forget. I would definitely dispute that one."
The actual piano played by Wakeman on Hunky Dory (and later by Mick Ronson on Ziggy Stardust) was a celebrity in itself: it was the same 1898 Bechstein used for The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and many of the early albums by Elton John and Harry Nilsson, and would later star on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Under Wakeman's tutelage, Bowie and Ronson deferred to the piano-led nature of the compositions in a predominantly acoustic set of arrangements from which the only major deviations were the Lou Reed guitar pastiche of "Queen Bitch" and the plangent electric solo on "Song For Bob Dylan". But Mick Ronson's talents were by no means being suppressed; in place of the heavyweight guitar workouts he had brought to The Man Who Sold The World, he was now showing the mettle of his classical training with sumptuous string orchestrations on tracks like "Fill Your Heart", "Life On Mars?" and "Quicksand". Ken Scott was besotted by Ronson's ability, not only as a guitarist ("he was better than any of The Beatles") but as an instinctively talented arranger: "he didn't really know what he was supposed to do, so he was much freer."
Recording continued until August 6th, when "Life On Mars?" and a final take of "Song For Bob Dylan" brought the sessions to an end. A fortnight earlier, with recording still in full swing, Defries had arranged the pressing of 500 promo discs ("with my stuff on one side and some of David's songs on the other," explained Dana Gillespie later) to use as bait for record companies. This now ultra-rare promo (BOW-PROMO 1A-1/1B-1) featured early mixes of "Oh! You PrettyThings", "Kooks", "Queen Bitch", "Quicksand" and "Bombers", plus - of particular interest to collectors - an entirely different vocal take of "Eight Line Poem". The promo also included "It Ain't Easy" and a shorter early mix of Dana Gillespie's "Andy Warhol". In August, while Ken Scott mixed the album, Tony Defries flew to New York with some of the new recordings. Within days he had secured a deal with RCA, whose head of A&R, Dennis Katz, was "knocked out" by the material: "It was theatrical, musical, the songs were excellent, there was real poetry, it seemed to have everything," he told the Gillmans. Defries accepted Katz's offer of $37,500 per album, a major improvement on Bowie's fortunes but small beer by the standards of RCA, who were accustomed to paying their artists well into six figures per album. In subsequent years Defries would manoeuvre the terms of the deal to his greater favour, and it has been speculated that he initially favoured RCA as Bowie's label because of its reputation for the kind of internecine strife that allowed quick-witted operators to manipulate its executives. David needed little persuasion that Elvis Presley's label was his natural home, and Defries, who made no secret of his admiration for the method's of Presley's notorious manager Colonel Tom Parker, was no less entranced by the idea. Before RCA announced their new signing, Dennis Katz was canny enough to purchase the masters of Bowie's previous two albums from Mercury for a reported bargain of $10,000 apiece: in the wake of Bowie's commercial breakthrough the following year, RCA's reissues of Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World would add to his snowballing success.
It was during the latter stages of the Hunky Dory sessions that another crucial element of Bowie's future career fell into place. A succés de scandale on London's theatre scene in the summer of 1971 was an imported American production called Pork which played at the Roundhouse (the scene of Hype's coming-out party a year earlier) for 26 nights from August 2nd. Adapted from Andy Warhol's collection of taped conversations with the New York demi-monde, Pork was presented by the LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Company who, under the direction of Tony Ingrassia and his assistant Leee Black Childers, constituted a Warholian freakshow of the first order. There was Wayne (later Jayne) County, a transvestite who played a character called Vulva, obsessed with different kinds of excrement; the huge-breasted Geri Miller, who gave herself a douche on stage; the similarly endowed Cherry Vanilla, who played the title role (based on Warhol's superstar Brigid Polk); and Tony "Zee" Zanetta, who held court as Warhol himself, a voyeur who dressed his friends up just for show. To a British theatre released only three years earlier from the Lord Chamberlain's censorship restrictions, Pork's parade of masturbation, homosexuality, drugs and abortion offered a thrilling onslaught of bad taste. Predictably, the production was granted acres of free publicity by the affronted splutterings of the press. The News Of The World obligingly announced that it made Hair and Oh! Calcutta look like the proverbial "vicar's tea-party", while The Times judged it "repellently narcissistic...a witless, invertebrate, mind-numbing farrago". The Daily Telegraph declared that "It's nude, it's crude and it's a heap of rubbish." Wayne County later recalled that..."there was someone else who said 'Pork is nothing but a pigsty. Pork is nothing but nymphomaniacs, whores and prostitutes running around naked on stage.' The next night we were packed to the rafters!"
A few days before Pork opened at the Roundhouse, Leee Black Childers led a delegation of the company to see Bowie perform at the Country Club in Haverstock Hill. According to County, "We were all dressed up: glitter, ripped stockings, make-up...Leee had done his hair with magic marker, and David was just fascinated with us. We were freaks, and that was where he started thinking, 'Oh, I'll be a freak as well.'" There is undoubtedly an element of truth in this, but over the years County and his colleagues have overplayed their influence; his assertion in 1996 that "Without any of that, David would have just continued having long floppy hair and singing folk songs" is pushing it a bit. It's instructive to note that the Pork veterans have tended over the years to champion Angela Bowie's role in the story and vice versa. Angela's appetite for kooky outrage drew her like a magnet to the Pork company and it was she, not David, who fraternised with them. Bowie, as ever, assimilated much of what he saw, but County's claim that "If it hadn't been for Pork, there would never have been a MainMan, or for that matter a Ziggy Stardust" is frankly ridiculous. "Many of my influences were primarily British - Lindsay Kemp and his coterie," Bowie said in 2002. "Much as I enjoyed the Warhol crowd, my map was already drawn."
All the same, David saw Pork night after night and wasted no time in introducing the cast to Tony Defries on his return from America. Ronson considered the New Yorkers "a bunch of loonies", but Bowie was entranced by their outrageousness, their sleazy sexuality, their New York street cool, their connections with Warhol, and above all their dedication to superficiality and role-playing. When Defries took David to New York in September to sign his RCA contract, it was Tony Zanetta who engineered Bowie's first audience with Warhol himself. And when, the following year, Defries set up his management company MainMan, it was the cast of Pork who was enlisted to run the office. Their contribution to the madness that followed cannot be underestimated.
For Hunky Dory's sleeve image, David turned to photographer Brian Ward, to whom he had been introduced by Bob Grace. "I did a lot of trying out of images with Brian around this time," David later recalled. Among the concepts mooted for Hunky Dory was the image of an Egyptian pharaoh, an idea David had first trailed in his Rolling Stone interview earlier that year ("He plans to appear on stage decked out rather like Cleopatra," reported John Mendelsohn). It was a topical enough idea; in late 1971 the media were whipping themselves into a frenzy with their coverage of the British Museum's forthcoming Tutankhamun exhibition, and for a few weeks Britain went Egypt-mad. Although the Bowie photos, in which he posed both as a sphinx and in the lotus position, have survived (one of them appears, entirely misleadingly, in the packaging of the 1990 reissue of Space Oddity) the image, thankfully, did not. "We didn't run with it, as they say," Bowie commented later. "Probably a good idea."
Instead, he adopted for a simpler image reflecting the album's preoccupation with the silver screen. By the late summer of 1971, David had foregone his predilection for frocks in favour of flowing shirts, fluffy blouses, loose flares and floppy hats, his latest accessory an affected cigarette holder. "I was into Oxford bags, and there are a pair, indeed, on the back of the album," said David later, explaining that he was attempting "what I presumed was kind of an Evelyn Waugh Oxbridge look." The front cover image was a close-up of Bowie living out his Bacall/Garbo fantasies, gazing wistfully into space as he pushes the flowing locks back from his forehead. Shot by Brian Ward at his Heddon Street studio, the monochrome photograph was then re-coloured by Terry Pastor, an illustrator who had recently set up the Main Artery design studio in Covent Garden with David's old friend George Underwood; Pastor would later go on to provide the tinting, lettering and layout of the Ziggy Stardust sleeve. Bowie's decision to use a re-coloured photo suggests a hand-tinted lobby-card from the days of the silent cinema and, simultaneously, Warhol's famous Marilyn Diptych screen-prints. At a time when many album sleeves were locating the artist as a diminutive figure in an artfully contrived landscape of post-psychedelic paraphernalia, Bowie tellingly chose to emphasise the notion of his own iconic, ironic star status.
Hunky Dory was released in the UK on November 17th 1971, by which time David was halfway through recording his next album. Presented with the sleeve image as a fait accompli and informed that Bowie was already planning a further change of both image and musical style, RCA's marketing department was at a loss over how to promote the album. There were disagreements over the amount of money already being spent on an artist regarded by many as an unproven one-hit wonder, and the resulting campaign was something of a damp squib. Even so, Hunky Dory rapidly found admirers. The NME called it Bowie "at his brilliant best", while Melody Maker considered it "not only the best album Bowie has ever done, it's also the most inventive piece of songwriting to have appeared on record for a considerable time." The same review went on to dub David "Mick Jagger's heir".
American critics were similarly impressed when the US edition was released on December 4th: the New York Times hailed Hunky Dory as evidence that Bowie was "the most intellectually brilliant man yet to choose the long-playing album as his medium of expression", while Rock magazine considered him "the most singularly gifted artist making music today. He has the genius to be to the '70s what Lennon, McCartney, Jagger and Dylan were to the '60s." Despite such glowing notices the sales figures were poor, and it was not until after the impact of its successor that Hunky Dory was widely heard; belatedly entering the UK chart in September 1972, the album went two places higher than even Ziggy Stardust. "Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell," Bowie recalled in 1999. "I guess it proved to me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience - I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, 'Good album, good songs.' That hadn't happened to me before."
Much of Hunky Dory's background, from its early titling to the fact that most of the songs were written and demoed prior to the sessions, stands in contrast not only with Bowie's previous album but with the instinct for spontaneous studio improvisation that has dominated his career. And it shows; Hunky Dory is by no means an aberration, but more than any other Bowie album it is first and foremost the coherent, polished work of a songwriter. A glance at the dense black type of its lyric-sheet reveals what is for Bowie an unusually verbose collection of songs, while the richness and sophistication of the music - notably the extraordinary fluidity of Bowie's chord changes - is something entirely new. Crucially, he had also perfected a voice of his own at last, a unique high baritone slipping imperceptibly in and out of the deranged falsetto, music-hall Cockney and affected Americanisms of earlier recordings but underscoring them all with a strong sense of its own identity: embedded even in the album's most blatant impersonations of Dylan and Reed can be heard a timbre that is quintessentially Bowie. Mick Ronson's scintillating orchestral arrangements and the helter-skeltering virtuosity of Rick Wakeman's piano (without doubt the album's defining feature) provide the finishing touches to a work staggeringly superior to anything Bowie had produced before. Tony Visconti, a great admirer of the album, later said that "there was no indication that he had this one in him when we parted after The Man Who Sold The World." For some Hunky Dory remains Bowie's finest album, and its influence on the history of pop music continues to be felt in the work of countless artists as diverse as Suede, Blur, Kate Bush and Eurythmics. "Hunky Dory - I love the sound of it," confirmed Dave Stewart in 1999. "I still kind of use it as a sort of reference point". Boy George has gone further, citing Hunky Dory as the record that changed his life: "The album as a whole is so unusual, so far removed from anything you heard on the radio," he said in 2002. "It's so complete, it all fits together." In 2007 K T Tunstall declared Hunky Dory her all-time favourite album, telling Mojo that "It's the only record where I've experienced total jaw-dropping awe for the whole of it because that feeling of being lost and being taken somewhere else is so strong." The following year Elbow's Guy Garvey told NME that Hunky Dory had influenced him more than any other record. Its status as one of rock's milestone albums is borne out by the fact that reissues have charted in every decade since the 1970s (most recently in 2002, when a post-Heathen summer sale of Bowie albums by high street chains carried the 1999 reissue to number 39 in the UK chart).
Hunky Dory stands at the first great crossroads in Bowie's career. It was his last album until Low to be presented purely as a sonic artefact rather than a vehicle for the dramatic visual element with which he was soon to make his name as a performer. It was also perhaps the last album ever on which he was not, to a greater or lesser degree, playing out a role - although this, given the album's silver-screen fixation and David's description of himself as 'the actor' on the sleeve, might be contested. "This album is full of my changes and those of some of my friends," he announced in a press release in 1971, and certainly Hunky Dory stands alongside its predecessor as arguably the most intimate and revelatory of Bowie's recordings.
"The album got a lot out of my system, a lot of the schizophrenia," David later admitted. Precise readings are to be attempted at the listener's discretion, but there can be no doubt that this is an album which bristles with cryptic significance and resonates with provocative imagery. In January 1972 Bowie told Melody Maker's Michael Watts that his songs "can be compared to talking to a psychoanalyst. My act is my couch." Built into Hunky Dory's dense lyrical landscape is a host of suggestive leitmotifs and recurring obsessions. The pursuit of musical pastiche, already a strong element in Bowie's work but previously restricted to momentary effects, is here consolidated in a systematic series of cross-references: he incorporates masses of quotations and allusions to rock lyrics both famous and obscure, but even more obviously, the second side of the album opens with a cover version - albeit one impeccably crafted to the style of the surrounding songs - heralding a succession of homages to Bowie's American heroes Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. "The whole Hunky Dory album reflected my new-found enthusiasm for this new continent that had been opened to me," said David in 1999, explaining that "It all came together because I'd been to the States...that was the first time that a real outside situation affected me so 100 per cent that it changed my way of writing and changed the way that I looked at things."
Lyrically Hunky Dory is also the most openly 'gay' album Bowie had yet recorded. In August 1970 The Kinks had reached No.2 with their subversive transsexual hit "Lola", heralding a revival of pop's dalliance with a fringe of society that had fascinated Bowie since the days of the Manish Boys. The spring of 1971, when he wrote most of Hunky Dory, was a period which saw him embracing London's gay sub-culture with regular trips to the Sombrero and much socialising with Freddie Burretti's exotic coterie. According to Angela, "The Sombrero people began supplying the fuel very quickly; the material on Hunky Dory...came directly from their lives and attitudes." David and Angie pursued a cross-dressing policy, he in a succession of gowns from Mr Fish, she in pin-stripe suits and a haircut taken, in David's words, "one hundred per cent" from Burretti's friend Daniella Parmar. On April 24th, spurred on by the then current release of The Man Who Sold The World in its transvestite sleeve, the Daily Mirror photographed David in his dress on the Haddon Hall lawn. Pre-dating his famous "I'm gay" interview by nine months, he happily told the Mirror that he was "queer and all sorts of things," declaring that "I cannot breathe in the atmosphere of convention...I find freedom only in the realms of my own eccentricity." By January 1972, just as Hunky Dory was garnering its good reviews, the scene was set for the final push.
Play-acting or not, David's new-found gay sensibility feeds directly into Hunky Dory. The album contains his most obviously gay lyric yet in the form of "Queen Bitch", while the contemporaneous Arnold Corns out-take "Looking For A Friend" pushes back the barriers even more ostentatiously. Some have detected similar coding elsewhere on the album, notably in "The Bewlay Brothers" and "Oh! You Pretty Things", but the gay pose is merely part of the wider conceit of theatrical role-playing which Bowie was rapidly propelling to its logical conclusion. His fascination with artifice and insincerity - his own and others' - is manifested in the opening and closing tracks of Hunky Dory, both of which see David pondering others' perception of him as a 'faker'.
There are other, perhaps less superficial motifs running like seams through Hunky Dory's lyrics. A new kind of fantasy existence is much in evidence, perhaps spurred by David's trip to America in 1971: "Life On Mars?" and "Andy Warhol" both refer directly to the "silver screen" which, alongside the observation that "I'm living in a silent film", ushers in a parade of cinematic icons from Greta Garbo to Mickey Mouse. There is a continuation of previous albums' ambivalent approaches to self-appointed leaders, icons, and 'prophets', some more disturbing than others: Dylan, Lennon, Himmler, Churchill, Crowley. The occultist poet, sometime member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and scourge of the Edwardian moral majority would exert a more tangible grip on Bowie's work four years later, but in the meantime the notion of "Crowley's uniform" of cultivated notoriety is just another allusive ingredient in Hunky Dory's eclectic melting pot. "I used him because he was such an obvious symbol," said Bowie later, "it's an inbuilt icon." Such figures inform the album's troubled awareness of man's slender grasp on relationships and morality which are all that raises him above barbarism. Alongside the "cavemen" of "Quicksand", there are repeated references to "Homo Sapiens" and "children", "mothers", "fathers", "brothers" and "friends". The ultimate plea of "Song For Bob Dylan" is "Give us back our family". Bowie has confirmed that the most impenetrable lyric of all, "The Bewlay Brothers", addresses his relationship with his half-brother. The Nietzschean notions of The Man Who Sold The World are also back with a vengeance, and a further species of Ubermenschen is introduced on "Oh! You Pretty Things" with its references to Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race. Above and beyond the mortal figures there are reappearances by the "supermen" and "devil" who had figured so heavily on The Man Who Sold The World, part and parcel of Bowie's rapidly refining but always obscure blend of religious imagery. Nietzschean philosophy and sci-fi apocalypse. Hunky Dory's cathedral floors, cracks in the sky and "bullshit faith" provide a thematic bridge between the previous album and the next.
But if Hunky Dory has a principal theme then perhaps it is the Wildean dread of "impermanence", the knowledge that youth and urgency will be consumed by the inevitability of change and decay as Bowie stumbles into a "million dead-end streets" and begins to fear that he "ain't got the power anymore," becoming a "king of oblivion" while a new generation of "strangers" and "Pretty Things" inherits the earth. Bowie later described Hunky Dory as a "very worried" album, and a persistent thread appears to be his anxiety that the creative well is running dry, that in the absence of inspiration he is killing with intellect a talent he has always regarded as instinctive: "sinking in the quicksand of my thought" when he should be following the advice of the album's only cover version: "forget your mind and you'll be free." The process of writing, and its loss permeate the album. In "The Bewlay Brothers", "the solid book we wrote cannot be found today": in "Oh" You Pretty Things" "some books are found" in "a world to come": in "Song For Bob Dylan" the "old scrapbook" is renewed by the arrival of "the same old painted lady from the brow of the superbrain" - presumably Pallas Athena, the goddess of the creative arts who emerged from the brow of Zeus: and an early demo of the out-take "Bombers" even concludes on a plaintive line about how "you used to look in my holy book". And over it all hangs the threat that "pretty soon now, you're gonna get older."
Of course, Hunky Dory covers more ground than Bowie's creative angst - we must not dismiss the optimistic edge introduced by "Kooks", whose subject matter put a more positive construction on "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Changes" - but it's difficult to hear David's cry of "Oh God, I could do better than that!" on "Queen Bitch" without concluding that part of the game-plan is a severe spring-cleaning in preparation for the birth of a superstar. Having exorcised some of the most frighteningly withdrawn and introspective material he had ever written, Bowie could free his mind to concentrate on the conquest of pop. Perhaps ironically, in the process, he produced in Hunky Dory an album that occupies a privileged place at the very heart of his recorded legacy.