It opens with a big bang, Changes, a huge contender for his best song. I was swayed on that a few years ago. Gosh, it’s just perfect though isn’t it? The title alone tells you what a good place Bowie was in here. Everything was just hunky dory for him.
Piano is the best instrument, and there’s a lot of piano jams, ballads, and everything in between on the album. Rock music is overrated, and as much as I may like The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory is really more my style. Piano is as much a tool to expand your music as it is an instrument itself. The guitar is a very noisy instrument, meaning that it doesn’t always leave a lot of room for other things to take the stage, but the piano often is a jumping point for great lyricism. It’s why I love Paul McCartney so much, his piano songs were lovely, and Bowie is even better. The lyrics here are taken to a much higher level than his previous albums, opening up some recurring themes of loving your peculiarities, and adding a little more philosophy and life-musings.
It’s sequenced so well too, with every song transitioning perfectly, one of my favorite transitions being from Oh! You Pretty Things to Eight Line Poem, which isn’t a strong song on its own, but that’s wonderful and lovely in context. Pretty much every song flows from one to the next like water going from glass to glass. Fill Yr Heart’s final kick is the first note of Andy Warhol!
The arrangements are beautiful as well, from the tone of the acoustic guitar to the violins that all swell together and aid Bowie’s voice and lyrics, elevating them to huge levels. Quicksand comes to mind immediately when I think of a fantastic example of the way strings were used on this record.
And I know that Bowie’s first instrument was the saxophone, but this is the first time we really get to hear that in full force.
It’s not all heavy existentialism and philosophy. If you thought there was whimsy on Space Oddity, just wait until you hear Kooks. It’s an absolute delight. Then there’s the underrated highlight Queen Bitch that’s one of the catchiest songs, like, holy cow.
Life on Mars? is almost revolutionary for me. I really got into David Bowie in my last two years of high school. I got a car, and I always listened to him while driving. That’s when I started checking out his proper albums outside of the compilation album I had had before. I had tears in my eyes every time I listened to Life on Mars? I remember I was meeting my dad and my brother for breakfast. I took my car, and my dad and brother left to go there together, and it was only a five minute drive but I bellowed out Life on Mars? during those five minutes with tears down my cheeks when I arrived. Bowie had that effect. He’s big and dramatic but at the same time intimately emotional. I think that was one of the keys to his success. Like Valentine from Stranger in a Strange Land, Bowie was like an alien that inspired and brought people together in an emotional way. It’s taken to literal levels one album later.