Matt Reynolds tells us why Hunky Dory is still groovy today.
After binging on freedom, excess and revolution in the 60s, the music world emerged blinkingly into the 70s with a monumental hangover. The jangly, carefree riffs and saccharine harmonies of The Beatles, Small Faces and The Hollies seemed incongruous with the subdued new world order. The promises of the 60s had simply failed to materialise. Within a year Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin were dead, Vietnam was looking unwinnable and the polarisation between the USSR and the USA dominated world affairs.
Cue David Bowie and an album that washed away the creeping greyness of the decade and replaced it with a philosophy that was full of hope, sexuality and kitsch ideals. Paying homage to his heroes; Dylan, Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Bowie created a new ethos for a new generation. With Hunky Dory, Bowie opened the door to the possibility that effeminate men could be sexy. A far cry from the bowl-cut hair and boy-next-door look of the British Invasion bands, Bowie was a sex object in a whole new way. While The Beach Boys put forth the kind of good impression that you wouldn’t mind exposing your mother to, one gets the impression that inviting Bowie round for a tentative introductory meal may end up with him flirting with your older brother while you desperately try and persuade your mother that the cocaine on your kitchen table is really just leftover icing sugar from those hash cakes you made earlier.
In a departure from the other rebels of the time, Bowie raised the possibility that counterculture was more than wearing slightly shorter skirts than your mother and shouting ‘fuck you’ at ‘The Man’. Bowie embraced those whose feelings of disillusionment were less directly placed and who just didn’t quite fit in. Instead of lamenting this detachment, Bowie revelled in it. He invited others to join him, identifying his fans as ‘Kooks’: “‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too.”
In this last album before his Ziggy Stardust era, Bowie made a bold statement: he offered himself up to public judgement through an innovative soundscape of surrealist imagery and pure hope. It’s this hope that really marks this album as a classic that still as innovative today as it was in 1971. With songs such as ‘Changes’ and ‘Life on Mars?’ Hunky Dory is an album that consistently has its eye on some point far off on the horizon; somewhere hazy, yet with a timeless and ineffable sense of hope and beauty.