May 4, 2022
Oh, yeah Mmm
Still don't know what I was waitin' for And my time was runnin' wild A million dead end streets and Every time I thought I'd got it made It seemed the taste was not so sweet So I turned myself to face me But I've never caught a glimpse How the others must see the faker I'm much too fast to take that test
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes Don't want to be a richer man Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes There's gonna have to be a different man Time may change me But I can't trace time
I watch the ripples change their size But never leave the stream Of warm impermanence And so the days float through my eyes But still the days seem the same And these children that you spit on As they try to change their worlds Are immune to your consultations They're quite aware of what they're goin' through
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes Don't tell them to grow up and out of it Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes Where's your shame? You've left us up to our necks in it Time may change me But you can't trace time
Strange fascinations fascinate me Ah, changes are taking The pace I'm goin' through
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes Ooh, look out, you rock 'n' rollers Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes Pretty soon now you're gonna get older Time may change me But I can't trace time I said that time may change me But I can't trace time
The lyrics of "Changes" focus on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream. Perone calls them "thought-provoking," and "clearly autobiographical." At this point in his career, Bowie was frequently being told how to musically progress by his managers and labels, leading him to experiment with genres such as folk, hard rock and soul. This is reflected in the first verse, in which the narrator looks at himself through a mirror to help find his true identity. Perone argues that the verse serves as a "public acknowledgment" that these earlier styles, all of which failed to earn him stardom, were not the "true David Bowie style." Biographer Nicholas Pegg identifies the line "I turned myself to face me" as mirroring Bowie's encounter with himself in his 1970 track "The Width of a Circle". O'Leary writes that with "Changes", Bowie commits to a "life of constant revision." By saying "look out you rock 'n' rollers", Bowie is "throwing the gauntlet down to existing rockers" and "putting a distance between himself and the rock fraternity."
Like "Life on Mars?", "Changes" was a response to Frank Sinatra's "My Way"; biographer David Buckley cites the line "turn and face the strange" as "not a valedictory farewell, but a prophetic hello." According to Buckley, the phrase 'strange fascination' "not only embodies a continued quest for the new and the bizarre but also carries with it the force of compulsion, the notion of having to change to stay afloat artistically." The first verse elucidates the three most important components in Bowie's quest for stardom: the themes of identity, the "mutability" of character" and a "sense of play" in both first and third person, signaling the creation of Ziggy Stardust. Throughout the 1970s, Bowie had a "pathological fear" of repeating himself, both musically and visually. He gave himself the epithet 'faker' and proclaimed himself as "pop's fraud; the arch-dissembler." Pegg states that his identification of himself as the 'faker' gives him anxiety, believing that he is "much too fast" to be affected by how others' opinion of him.
The song's chorus, Bowie stuttering the 'ch' at the beginning of the word 'changes', has been compared to the English rock band the Who, specifically their 1965 song "My Generation". Both songs have stuttering vocals and similar lyrics ("hope I die before I get old" versus "pretty soon now you're gonna get older"). The second verse concerns clashes between children and their parents, urging them to allow their children to be themselves as teenagers. This is reflected in the line "Time may change me, but I can't trace time", which Pegg believes resembles Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'". Bowie had previously spoken about this issue in an interview with The Times in 1968: "We feel our parents' generation has lost control, given up, they're scared of the future. I feel it's basically their fault that things are so bad." In Rolling Stone's contemporary review of Hunky Dory, John Mendelsohn acknowledged this, considering "Changes" to be "construed as a young man's attempt to reckon how he'll react when it's his time to be on the maligned side of the generation schism." The song has also been interpreted by NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray as touting "Modern Kids as a New Race".