Updated: Apr 5, 2021
This year, David Bowie’s album “Hunky Dory” celebrates its 50th anniversary. Aside from being absolutely iconic, it is a beautifully crafted album but also not merely an album. It is a poem, an epic story, and a sweet sentiment to those that Bowie loved and admired. It is strange, and one could even go so far as to call Hunky Dory Bowie’s first aim at undeniably weirdness. Either way, however, no matter what one wants to call it, Hunky Dory is pure, unfiltered, unadulterated Bowie.
It opens up with ‘Changes’, which is about embracing change, and perhaps signifies the beginning of a new era in Bowie’s music. It is a powerful first song, as it has wonderful harmonies
and deep but not too heavy lyrics. One of the lines in the song was used in the movie The Breakfast Club: “and these children that you spit on, as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware what they’re going through”. Similarly, the next song also seems to be dedicated to young people. “Oh! You Pretty Things” alternates between musings on a world in need of repair and musings on kids, perhaps at odds with their parents. “Eight Line Poem”, though piano heavy like the first two tracks, seems to be more focused on painting a picture than Bowie’s impressions. He uses imagery to describe a scene of a desolate room where a girl named Clara sits as the sun shines out her window. It is a lonely song, and the lonely theme carries into “Life on Mars”. It follows a protagonist, “the Girl with the Mousy Hair” as
she goes to the movies to escape her parents and realize she can’t find her friend. It’s a beautiful, heartsick song, and though it is hyper emotional and dramatic, it also contains an element of comfort that has made listeners feel seen for years since its initial release.
The melancholy tone is momentarily broken with the fifth track; is a cheerful one called “Kooks”, and it contains many loving sentiments that seem to be directed towards a child growing up. Indeed, it was written for a very special child; David Bowie’s own son, Duncan Jones. Though the song has very specific intent behind it, the supportive tones have made it quite the favorite for parents and kids alike. The next song, “Quicksand”, is quite different, as it strays from the
Track nine is yet another tribute: “A Song for Bob Dylan''. Though far less helter skelter than Andy’s song, Bob’s similarly seems to represent him perfectly. He describes Dylan as having “a voice like sand and glue” as well as “words of truthful vengeance”. Needless to say, Bowie knew his friend. Picking up the pace again, is “Queen Bitch”; another narrative. The song is about a sharply dressed femme fetale who eats her men alive and can do just about anything. Oddly, it’s an empowering song, as the narration seems to view the Queen Bitch herself with begrudging
admiration. Listeners find themselves in the same position; marveling at the woman who “if she says that she can do it, she can do it”. However, the fast paced catchiness transitions into something far darker, “The Bewlay Brothers”. An epic ballad about two con men brothers, it is full of drug and schizophrenia illusions. Are the brothers different sides of the same person? Are they
demons? Are they real at all? The song leaves more questions than answers as well as a strange, haunting feeling. Rather than finishing the album with a bang, “The Bewlay Brothers'' fades out, but not without a trace.
Though it is also immensely entertaining, “Hunky Dory” is more than that. It is iconic, having inspired numerous covers and various other forms of media. It is transcendent, having stood the test of time, and has not lost its ability to speak to generations of listeners. It is multifaceted, with its fantastic layers of music, lyrics, symbols, and vocal performance. It is Bowie working with the rawest of materials, fleshing out an image for himself, and experimenting with new techniques. In a sense, it is for that reason that it paves the way for the rest of Bowie’s career, as he would never settle in one place for long, and would always find new ways to make music. In brief, “Hunky Dory” is many things, but most of all it is a triumph.