Probably for David Bowie Aficionados Only! Interesting Though...
As the early seventies morphed into the mid seventies, David Bowie found himself in a state of transition. As 1973, the year which had finally brought him a string of stunning commercial successes, drew to a close, he wasn’t so much freaking out in a moonage daydream as branching out in the direction of soul, funk, disco and even jazz. The Spiders from Mars discarded, he was charting a course as he sailed out into uncharted waters, bound for the reef of the strangest metamorphosis in rock history. As if revamping Lulu’s career and recording Diamond Dogs wasn’t enough to be going on with, he was simultaneously producing an album for his latest set of protégés, The Astronettes.
While clues to his new direction were apparent on Diamond Dogs, the album which by a long and tortuous process became People from Bad Homes by Ava Cherry and the Astronettes, recorded in December 1973 and January 1974, made it explicit. This, in the light of hindsight, was the dry run for Young Americans, so, to those of us who were paying attention, that landmark album shouldn’t have come as such a shock to the system a year later.
While People from Bad Homes, which remained unreleased for twenty years largely slipped under the radar (I only just found out about it myself), there are compelling reasons why all serious Bowie fans should buy a copy or at the very least give it a proper listen. It provides a unique insight in his mental and creative processes at that crucial time, as well as providing a prognosis of where he was headed, not just in the immediate term but for several years still to come.
The Astronettes were first unveiled as the trio of backing vocalists on The 1980 Floor Show. They are therefore the missing link between the briefly-resurrected Ziggy Stardust and Bowie’s subsequent flirtation with soul. They were Ava Cherry, Geoff MacCormack (aka Warren Peace) and Jason Guess. Guess appears to have sunk without trace but the other two were integral components to the success of Bowie’s American phase, lasting from mid-1974 well into 1976.
The band had more or less the same composition as the Diamond Dogs line-up. Thus we are afforded the opportunity to take a much closer look at the individual members of Bowie’s entourage around that time. As well as producing, Bowie played a number of instruments, sadly not specified in the credits but apparently including sax, guitar and vocals. Aynsley Dunbar played drums, Herbie Flowers bass and Mike Garson piano, though he never quite hit the heights he reached elsewhere. Mark Carr Pritchard contributed guitar, which was entirely fitting as this project was Arnold Corns II, with Bowie using other artists to test the water for a radical change in direction. The last of the musicians credited was Luis Ramirez, a Puerto Rican arranger who added overdubs.
The Track List
Four of the twelve tracks are previously unknown Bowie compositions, each of them a total departure from all that had gone before; I Am Divine, I Am a Laser, People From Bad Homes and Things to Do.
Two other tracks, Having a Good Time and Only Me, are credited to ‘Cherry’, presumably Ava. The remaining six, Seven Days (Peacock); God Only Knows (Wilson / Asher); Highway Blues (Harper); How Could I Be Such a Fool (Zappa); I’m In the Mood For Love (MacHugh / Fields) and Spirits In The Night (Springsteen) are covers.
In this endeavour I am much assisted by the liner notes, penned by no less than Daryl Easlea, author of 'Talent Is An Asset: The Story of Sparks'.