David Bowie “I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74)” (2020 Record Store Day LP and CD)

By now, I’m sure you are aware that Record Store Day 2020 has been postponed until June 20th due to the coronavirus. Certainly this is a sad circumstance, but hopefully we will be able to safely browse through the bins in independent record stores two months from now. Whatever happens, we will get through this terrible pandemic together.

In the meantime, I would like to talk about one of two Record Store Day 2020 releases from the late David Bowie. I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) will be issued in both 2-LP and 2-CD editions, in limited quantities. This live double-album mostly documents Bowie’s October 20, 1974 concert at the Michigan Palace in Detroit, with three added encores from his show at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville on November 30th of that year (marked with an asterisk in the track listing below).

The “soul tour” which the title refers to took place in late 1974, during a break in the Diamond Dogs tour. This “soul tour” added then-unreleased songs from the Philadelphia Young Americans sessions to the set list, and featured a band that included musicians and vocalists from those sessions (including David Sanborn, Carlos Alomar, and a then-unknown Luther Vandross). This band was given the name The Mike Garson Band, giving band-leader billing to the piano player. Just as the Philly soul stylings of the Young Americans album were a radical departure from Bowie’s earlier glam rock works, this “soul tour” was a similarly unexpected departure from the extravaganza that was the Diamond Dogs tour – which was the source of the 1974 live album David Live. This Soul Tour album is a companion piece to Cracked Actor, the 2017 Record Store Day live album recorded during the same 1974 “soul tour”. But this set captures Bowie and company more than a month later than that concert date, showing them farther along in the development of this transitional phase.

Having heard a poorly-recorded bootleg of the Detroit show, I am hoping that the sound quality will be far superior on this official release. Based on what I was able to hear, this concert might serve as an illuminating musical glimpse of Bowie during one of his most unexpected genre transitions.

Tracks 10 through 13 – “Young Americans”, “Can You Hear Me”, “It’s Gonna Be Me”, and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” – are the songs which had recently been recorded during the Sigma Studio sessions in Philadelphia for Young Americans, but were still unreleased as of then. (The same is true of the elaborate soul remake of Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing”, the studio version of which was eventually released as a “disco” single in 1979). The Philly soul vibe of that album was reproduced quite faithfully by Bowie and the band in this setting, even if these songs were not always reproduced with note-for-note exactness. Also, some of the selections from Bowie’s previous works received more soulful interpretations by the so-called Mike Garson band, whose horns and background vocals added new layers of emotion to such songs as “Moonage Daydream”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me”, and “Suffragette City”. In particular, “Changes” took on a cabaret-like sound that almost made it seem like a “Young Americans”-era song. The opening track, “Memory Of A Free Festival”, was performed by the Mike Garson band before Bowie came out onto the stage. Notably, this album omits the performance of “Diamond Dogs” from this show, in favor of the version from the Nashville encores (which I have not heard).

Besides those Nashville encores, another thing I am looking forward to hearing is how well the sound from this recording has been cleaned up for this Record Store Day release, especially if it is sourced from the bootleg. If its sound quality is presentable, I’m Only Dancing has the potential to succeed even better than Cracked Actor at capturing the chameleonic Bowie in the process of a major musical metamorphosis.

9/16/2020 Update: Having now heard the Record Store Day release, I can report that the sound quality has been cleaned up well on this album. The downside is that Bowie’s vocals are revealed to have sounded very raspy during this concert; on some tracks, such as “Moonage Daydream” and “Young Americans”, he seemed to be struggling, indeed. But the so-called Mike Garson Band was in good form, and the cleaned-up sound quality gives clarity to the instrumentation, presenting this concert as an effective and enjoyable “soul show”. “It’s Gonna Be Me” – which ended up becoming an outtake from the Young Americans sessions – is a particular standout. As for those Nashville encores, the last three tracks are more Memphis-style soul than Philly-style, giving the album an energetic finish. Warts and all, I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74) is a good follow-up to the Cracked Actor album, showing Bowie when he was further along in his evolution from glam to soul.

David Bowie “I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74)” (Parlophone 0190295314170) 2020

Track Listing:

1. Introduction – Memory of a Free Festival
2. Rebel Rebel
3. John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)
4. Sorrow
5. Changes
6. 1984
7. Moonage Daydream
8. Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me
9. Love Me Do / The Jean Genie
10. Young Americans
11. Can You Hear Me
12. It’s Gonna Be Me
13. Somebody Up There Likes Me
14. Suffragette City
15. Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide
16. Panic In Detroit
17. Knock On Wood *
18. Foot Stomping / I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / Foot Stomping *
19. Diamond Dogs / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) / Diamond Dogs *