Can You Hear Me

The story behind David Bowie's 1975 song 'Can You Hear Me'
Ava Cherry and David Bowie
Ava Cherry and David Bowie


Album: Young Americans

Released: 7 March 1975

Recorded: Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia (August & November 1974)

Length: 5:03

Production: Tony Visconti, Harry Maslin, David Bowie

Musicians: David Bowie (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Carlos Alomar (guitar), Mike Garson (piano), David Sanborn (saxophone), Willie Weeks (bass guitar), Andy Newmark (drums), Larry Washington (conga), Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, Luther Vandross (backing vocals)


The story behind ‘Can You Hear Me’

‘Can You Hear Me’ is one of the highlights of Bowie’s album Young Americans, which was released on 7 March 1975.

The song began life as ‘Take It In Right’, which was demoed at Olympic Studios on 1 January 1974 during the sessions for the Diamond Dogs album. Deeming the song unsuitable for his own album, Bowie instead offered it to Lulu for inclusion on an album he was planning to produce following her successful cover of the ‘Man Who Sold The World‘.

The pair had collaborated on the abandoned ‘Dodo’ during the Diamond Dogs sessions, and on 25 March 1974 they convened at Olympic to record ‘Can You Hear Me’. Overdubs were later added to the Lulu version at RCA’s New York studios on 17 April, where a young Puerto Rican guitarist called Carlos Alomar, a regular RCA session player, played with Bowie for the first time.

David Bowie duets with Cher

In the run-up to the Diamond Dogs tour Bowie was still enthusing to journalists about Lulu. “I’d like to take her to Memphis and get a really good band like Willie Mitchell’s and do a whole album with her, which i will do,” he told Rock magazine in April 1974.

“Lulu’s got this terrific voice and it’s been misdirected all this time, all these years. People laugh now, but they won’t be in two year’s time, you’ll see! I produced a single with her, ‘Can You Hear Me’, and that’s more the way she’s going. She’s got a real soul voice, she can get the feel of Aretha.”

Neither album nor single ever happened, and Lulu’s version of ‘Can You Hear Me’ remains in the vaults.

‘Can You Hear Me’ was revived for the Young Americans album at Sigma Sound in August 1974. Work continued on the song in November and the finished track, benefitting from an elegant Tony Visconti string arrangement, is one of the album’s highlights.

In 1975 Bowie told an interviewer that ‘Can You Hear Me’ was “written for somebody, but I’m not telling you who it is. That is a real love song. I kid you not.” It’s usually assumed that the song is addressed to Bowie’s then girlfriend Ava Cherry.


David Bowie and Cher duet of ‘Can You Hear Me’

David Bowie performed ‘Can You Hear Me’ as a duet with Cher on CBS’ Cher Show. This episode was broadcast on 23 November 1975.

Bowie also performed ‘Fame’ on the show, and duetted with Cher on a medley of Young Americans / Ain’t No Sunshine / Blue Moon / Doo Doo Ron Ron / Day Tripper / Maybe Baby / Only You / Song Sung Blue / Temptation / Wedding Bell Blues / Youngblood / Young Americans.

‘Can You Hear Me’ performed live on the Philly Dogs tour in 1974

To date, this is the only video of a full song, and the only soundboard recording from the third and final leg of Bowie’s 1974 shows, the so-called “Philly Dogs Tour”, to emerge.

The 1974 tour resumed in early October, after recording sessions for the Young Americans album. The shows had become almost unrecognisable from the earlier part of the Diamond Dogs tour. Gone was Hunger City and the elaborate staging. The set-list was also very much changed, and only Mike Garson, Earl Slick & David Sanborn remained from the original touring band. Significantly, the rhythm section of the band had now become Carlos Alomar on guitar, Dennis Davis on drums and Emir Kasan on bass. This was the band that would a few weeks later, in January 1975, record ‘Fame‘. And then later that year, with Emir Kasan being replaced by George Murray, the D.A.M. Trio were formed – that band that would be the backbone of Bowie’s music until Scary Monsters, in 1980.

Another significant difference with the Philly Dogs shows, was the additional backing singers. At the beginning of the tour there had been two backing singers, whereas the Philly Dogs shows boasted six, including Luther Vandross.

Unfortunately the overall quality of this video is not great. Visually, it’s a fairly distant fuzzy one-angle take. It was likely either shot on unsophisticated equipment, or has been poorly transferred and/or has deteriorated over the years. But thankfully the audio is a pretty decent recording. Bowie’s vocal is rough it has to be said, but the band sound absolutely superb.


Listen to the original album version

Listen to the alternative Gouster version


‘Can You Hear Me’ Lyrics

Once we were lovers, can they understand?
Closer than others I was your, I was your man
Don’t talk of heartaches, ohh, I remember them all
When I’m checking you out one day, to see if I’m Faking it all

Can you hear me?
Can you feel me inside?
Show your love, love
Take it in right (take it in right)
Take it in right (take it in right)

There’s been many others (Oo-oo-oo-oohh) so many times
Sixty new cities, an’ what do I, what do I
What do I find?
I want love so badly, I want you most of all
You know, it’s harder to take it from anyone
It’s harder to fall
Can you hear me call ya?

Well, can you hear me? (yeah)
Can you feel me inside (I do)
Show your love, show your sweet, sweet love
Show me your love
Take it in right (take it in right)
Take it in right, yeah (take it in right)
Take it in right to your love life, baby
Take it in right to your love life
Take it in right, take it in right, right to your love life

Take it in right, ah
Take it in, take it in right
Right down, right down
(Why don’t you take it?)
Mmmm, why don’t you take it?
(Right to your heart)
Can you hear me?
(Why don’t you take it?)
Can you feel me?
(Why don’t you take it?)
Can you? Take it in right
(Why don’t you take it?)
Wuhh, right down, right down
(Right to your heart)
Can you take it? Feel me?
(Why don’t you take it?)
Down, to right down
(Why don’t you take it?)
To your heart
(Why don’t you take it?)

To your heart
(Right to your heart)
Take it down, take it down
(Why don’t you take it? Why don’t you take it?)
Take it in right
(Right to your heart)