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Song Stories

“Young Americans”

David Bowie | 1975

“Over here, it’s bright young Americans,” Bowie said of his decision to cut an LP in the soul-music hotbed of Philadelphia. “In England, it’s a dirge.” Puerto Rican-born guitarist Carlos Alomar, who’d introduced the glam god to the vibrant U.S. club scene, assembled a multiracial American studio band for the recording. “It was only about four hours into the first session,” Alomar recalled. “We got to the guitar breakdown and we knew we’d got something.” By the next morning, they’d nailed down a keeper take of a song originally titled “The Young American,” initiating a radical change of pace for Bowie that he self-mockingly labeled “plastic soul.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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