Perfectly Satisfactory

Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell. I guess it provided me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience – I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, ‘Good album, good songs.’ That hadn’t happened to me before. It was like, ‘Ah, I’m getting it, I’m finding my feet. I’m starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?’ There was always a double whammy there.”

David Bowie

 
 

Hunky Dory is the fourth album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1971. It was his first release through RCA, which would be his label for the next decade. Hunky Dory has been described by Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine as having “a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class.” The slang hunky dory (of uncertain origin), would mean perfectly satisfactory, about as well as one could wish or expect; fine

 
 

The style of the album cover was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie brought with him to the photo session, which was taken by Brian Ward. Terry Pastor achieved the silk-screen printing appearance in the manner of Andy Warhol, using an airbrush. However,  the album’s sleeve would bear the credit “Produced by Ken Scott (assisted by the actor)”. The “actor” was Bowie himself, whose “pet conceit”, in the words of NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, was “to think of himself as an actor”. George Underwood was also involved in the creative process of the album cover design.

 
 

The opening track, Changes, focused on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention (“Strange fascination, fascinating me/Changes are taking the pace I’m going through”) and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream (“Look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers”). However, the composer also took time to pay tribute to his influences with the tracks Song for Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground inspired Queen Bitch.

Following the hard rock of Bowie’s previous album The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of Space Oddity, with light fare such as Kooks (dedicated to his young son, known to the world as Zowie Bowie but legally named Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones) and the cover “Fill Your Heart” sitting alongside heavier material like the occult-tinged Quicksand and the semi-autobiographical The Bewlay Brothers. Between the two extremes was Oh! You Pretty Things, whose pop tune hid lyrics, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, predicting the imminent replacement of modern man by “the Homo Superior”, and which has been cited as a direct precursor to Starman from Bowie’s next album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.