As Philadelphians, we rightly take great pride in David Bowie’s Young Americans LP and completely wrongly rep hard for David Live. David Live was the one recorded at the Tower Theatre, a bloated live set that the rest of the world has always regarded as being pretty meh, but Young Americans still stands tall today as the place where what should have been a kinda gross act of cultural appropriation — Bowie steals Gamble & Huff’s vibe on their own home turf! — instead resulted in something magnificent in both its inventiveness and soulfulness.
But what about The Gouster? Long discussed among Bowie fanatics, The Gouster was Bowie’s first stab at what would later become Young Americans. Recorded in Philly at Sigma Sound with Tony Visconti at the mixing desk, the record featured many of the songs that would return in other forms on the YA record. And the sounds themselves will be familiar, too — there’s that David Sanborn sax, and a young Luther Vandross amid the backup vocal section. What's different about it is the very thing that's so intoxicating about hearing it now — where Young Americans is glitz and style, The Gouster is languid and candid; it's the same sounds, and most of the same songs, but the manner of delivery is slower, more narrative. And though tracks from The Gouster have wound up on a variety of releases, it’s available in sequence for the first time ever now, as part of the just-released Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976] box set. Among the windows into why The Gouster was not Young Americans is the key track, “It’s Gonna Be Me,” a bare-it-all confessional that even alludes to Bowie’s alleged thing for underage groupies.
In the end, Bowie deemed it “too personal,” and The Gouster begat Young Americans, as iconic a Philly record as there ever was, even if it was fashioned out of borrowed cloth.