Australian singer/songwriter, Neil Finn had this to say of Hunky Dory, released on RCA records on this day in 1971.
“Hunky Dory is still my template for songwriting and full arrangements. But he kept doing it album after album.”
K T Tunstill took a similar view when interviewed about her influences in late 2007.
“It’s the only album where I have experienced total jaw dropping awe for the whole of the record! That feeling of being totally lost and being taken somewhere else is so strong.”
Elbow frontman, Guy Garvey cited Hunky Dory as “More influential than any other album!”
A plethora of singers and songwriters have also cited Hunky Dory as a major influence. These include Brett Anderson, Kate Bush, Dave Grohl, Bernard Fanning, Damon Albarn and Madonna. So why has one particular album struck such a chord with so many people? And how did the finished work come into being? Are you sitting comfortably? Good! Shall we begin?
After returning from America in early 1971, David Bowie was looking for a new direction. He had already grown tired of his previous effort, The Man Who Sold The World and was looking for a new record label despite his then current label, Mercury wanting to extend their deal. With a newly acquired manager in Tony DeFries, Bowie was signed to RCA Records in September of 1971 at their New York City office. Hunky Dory had only been completed a month before hand on August 6th and despite this, Bowie had already moved into putting The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars Together for release in the summer of 1972.
The first character of Bowie’s had already been in gone through the disappointing Arnold Corns releases, firstly Moonage Daydream/Hang Onto Yourself then in June with Man In The Middle/Looking For A Friend. The project was fronted by 19 year old, Freddi Burretti, an openly gay fashion designer.
One of the first Hunky Dory related releases was Oh! You Pretty Things which was a hit single for the forgettable Peter Noone in the summer of 1971. Diabolical would be the most apt descriptive term for the effort.
Earlier in the year, Bowie had decamped to Radio Luxembourg studios in London to begin work on Hunky Dory. The basic formation of his Spiders From Mars outfit was already in place and an extra addition in Rick Wakeman had also arrived to play piano. Tony Visconti had departed as producer and Ken Scott returned to guide all involved through the recording process.
Wakeman played his part on an 1898 Bechstein. The same piano that had previously given us Hey Jude by The Beatles and would also deliver Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody some years later.
During July, Tony DeFries packaged together a selection of Hunky Dory early takes along with a series of songs by Dana Gillespie and packaged them together as the BOWPROMO LP that was pressed up in a limited run of 500 copies and distributed to various connections to begin the hype. Side A is notable for the inclusion of Oh! You Pretty Things/Eight Line Poem/Kooks/It Ain’t Easy/Queen Bitch/Quicksand/Bombers-Andy Warhol Intro whilst the B Side consists of Gillespie numbers which included her own version of Andy Warhol!
As was the case with most artists of the day, Hunky Dory was debuted, in parts on BBC radio live recordings. The first session was recorded on June 3rd at the Paris Cinema Studio to be transmitted later that month on the 20th. The other BBC session of note took place on September 21 and was first transmitted on October 4 with a repeat on November 1st.
Anothet notable performance during the year came in the shape of a live slot in the early hours of the morning at the Aylesbury Friars Club on September 25th 1971. It would turn into a career landmark for Bowie and a recording of the concert appeared in late 2001. By this time, Bowie’s live set included covers of The Velvet Underground.
When Hunky Dory hit record stores by late December 1971, it was already garnering glowing reviews in the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Sadly, the record buying public were not yet ready for an album of this magnitude and it eventually reached a peak of #3 in the U.K. charts by September 1972 thanks to the success of Ziggy a few months prior.
Tellingly, Hunky Dory had spent time in the charts not just during the 1970’s but the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and as recently as January 2016 sat in the #14 position. Very few albums will ever enjoy the cultural influence that Hunky Dory has. It’s not just an album. It’s a work of art that should stand proudly in the collection of any music fan the world over.