Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between soul and glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 


Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

~

1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Hunky Dory by David Bowie

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Hunky Dory by David Bowie Classic Rock Review has launched a new feature called “What Did We Miss?” to revisit some albums that we overlooked the first time through our voyage into the classic rock years. We start with 1971, the very first year we covered when we launched in 2011, and a truly amazing year for music. And so it was that we overlooked a truly great release from 1971, David Bowie‘s fourth studio album, Hunky Dory. This was a landmark album for Bowie in many ways, as a transition between his folksy origins and his movement into what would become his signature sound for years to come. Thankfully some wrongs CAN be undone and in this is a big one.

Looking at this album with a larger lens, one can clearly see that this album is not only the opening of a new phase for Bowie but a loving goodbye to the sixties and those artists who inspired him. In fact, this album is filled with artistic, societal and pop culture references. Bowie refers to The Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol in the song titles and, in turn, a later band (The Kooks) and television show (Life On Mars) took their names from song titles on Hunky Dory. There are also historical references through the lyrics that mention Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Heinrich Himmler, Juan Pujol, and the society Golden Dawn.

But the real magic on this album lies in the music and melodies. The first side of Hunky Dory may be as good a side of musical excellence that you’ll find anywhere and, throughout the album, none of the songs go exactly where your ear expects them to go, as they throw in subtle or sometimes blatant changes. Co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, the album is a departure from Bowie’s previous 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a more solid rock sound. This album prominently features Rick Wakeman on piano, who comes to the forefront of the arrangement of most songs.


Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Released: December 17, 1971 (RCA)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June–August 1971
Side One Side Two
Changes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life On Mars?
Kooks
Quicksand
Fill Your Heart
Andy Warhol
Song for Bob Dylan
Queen Bitch
The Bewlay Brothers
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Mellotron, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Piano
Trevor Bolder – Bass, Trumpet
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

The album opens with “Changes”, which makes excellent use of layering Bowie’s unique voice on top of an entertaining pop rock and bluesy jazz mix. The lyrics of “Changes” evoke a sense of the upheaval of the past decade as well as the present state of Bowie himself as he would jump through multiple persona over the next few years. This is the most played radio song from the album and developed into the quintessential Bowie song of the era. “Oh! You Pretty Things” is a much softer piano-driven song through first verses but breaks into a rousing chorus halfway through as other instruments join the piano as Bowie’s vocals get more impassioned. The lyrics speak of discontent with humanity and technology in the Cold War setting,

Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use…”

“Eight Line Poem” is a short track with Wakeman’s surreal piano topped by the bluesy guitar of Mick Ronson. The animated and emotional vocals recite Bowie’s “eight line poem” and feel like they’d fit perfectly in a small beat poet performance area. “Life On Mars?” is the real masterpiece of the album. Bowie’s emotional vocals lead Wakeman’s quietly beautiful piano into a full band, jazz-infused jam before Ronson’s guitar comes in with a quick riff leading back to the piano accompanied by the drums. Wild flute sounds add depth to the song. “It’s the Freakiest Show” and Life On Mars by David Bowie“Is there life on Mars?” are just a few of the poetic lines to which every person must add their own meaning, as this is the musical equivalent of the modernism movement in literature. The song has an orchestral sounding ending like some great show has just come to its climax, after which the piano gets the final say as it quietly fades out.

With the addition of bass player Trevor Bolder, all the members of the band that would become known as the “Spiders from Mars” were in place. On “Kooks”, this band shows their versatility as the pleasant traditional-sounding English pop song contains apt acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and melodically dances on the drum beats of Mick Woodmansey. It has a certain sort of grooviness to it as horns and violins enter into the mix. The words “A Trumpet you can blow” lead to the sound of a trumpet. The song was written for Bowie’s newborn son, Duncan Jones, with the “kooks” being Bowie and his wife Angie. “Quicksand” concludes the fantastic first side as a steady, dark folk, featuring double-tracked acoustic guitars and a string arrangement by Ronson. This song’s sad but beautiful melodies are accented by an ever-increasing intensity in the backing music and lyrics referring to occult magicians like “I’m closer to the dawn immersed in Crowley’s Uniform”. The theatrical inspirations come through on this song and if this album was a character’s journey, this would be the moment when the character hits rock bottom.

David Bowie band 1971

The album’s only cover song is the upbeat and philosophical jazz dance of “Fill Your Heart”. This old-time, sing-songy tune with piano, saxophone, driving bass, and especially pitched vocals by Bowie. There is a bit of a psychedelic bridge into the next track, “Andy Warhol”, using spacey synths and a vocal collage. When the song fully kicks in, it has a Spanish acoustic drive throughout with some creative percussive sounds by Woodmansey.

“A Song for Bob Dylan” is interesting because it refers to Dylan as a separate mythical character apart from Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s actual name). It’s an interesting reflection of him as his legend certainly grew beyond his control in the sixties leading to his famous slaughter of his folk only persona at the Newport Folk Festival. It would be hard to believe that Dylan’s own experimentation with changing persona didn’t directly influence Bowie’s future work. As Bowie states in the song,

Now, hear this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote a song for you about a strange young man named Dylan, with a voice like sand and glue
Some words of truthful vengeance that can pin us to the floor…”

The album winds down with a couple of more unexpected twists. “Queen Bitch” is highly influenced by the Velvet Underground, but with their overall effect brought to the next level. This song sounds like it could have been fresh and new six or seven years later and may well be a precursor to “Rebel Rebel” on 1974’s Diamond Dogs, as both seem like anthems of strong women you’d dub punks in the best way. While this song features overt textures of acoustic and electric guitar, the song is real showcase for Bolder on bass. “The Bewlay Brothers” sounds like a quiet acoustic post party song when it starts but it gets louder as it goes. You can almost picture Bowie walking down a quiet street after a wild night before singing it. The multiple voices that suddenly break in are oddly disconcerting near the end of the song, as this masterpiece of an album concludes as oddly as possible.

Hunky Dory was not an immediate hit upon its release but it reach the Top 5 following the commercial breakthrough of Ziggy Stardust in 1972. “Life on Mars?” was released as a single the year after that, reaching #3 in the UK. Wakeman was not around to directly enjoy this success, as he had moved on to join the band Yes and make an immediate impact on their album Fragile. In short, Hunky Dory is a sublime listen and it feels like the true start of David Bowie’s super-stardom. It is a must listen for music fans of all kind.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s “What Did We Miss?” series, looking at 1971 albums.

 

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

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Diamond Dogs by David BowieFollowing the successful album and tours of the conceptual The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie decided to try another rock-opera-style piece based on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, when the author’s estate refused publishing rights, Bowie shifted slightly to the New York based, post-apocalyptic world of Diamond Dogs, with much of the Orwell related material reserved for the second side. The album is also transitional on several levels. It was the first release in five years not to feature Bowie’s early seventies backing band, which had featured guitarist Mick Ronson, as Bowie took over all guitar duties himself. Further, it was stylistically the final album to contain “glam” elements musically. This album is unique and the raw approach has been credited as an early influence of the emerging punk sound.

Bowie had tasted his first bit of stardom in 1972 as both Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust charted and and his non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing” became a hit in the UK. Further, Bowie wrote and produced the smash hit “All the Young Dudes” for Mott the Hoople and co-produced Lou Reed’s solo breakthrough album Transformer with Mick Ronson. His 1973 album Aladdin Sane became his first number one album and a follow-up album of covers called Pin Ups also did well. All the while, Bowie continued to tour as “Ziggy Stardust” but got so entangled in the persona that it started to effect his offstage personality. Finally, Bowie decided to give the persona an abrupt “death” after a July 1973 press conferences and show in London, where footage for a film was shot.

In 1974 Bowie moved to New York, leaving his former backing band behind and gaining inspiration for this new concept album. Diamond Dogs does feature its own lead character “Halloween Jack”. While Bowie self produced this album, it was the first of many in which he collaborated with Tony Visconti, who would co-produce much of Bowie’s future work.


Diamond Dogs by David Bowie
Released: May 24, 1974 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie
Recorded: Olympic Studios and Island Studios, London, October 1973-February 1974
Side One Side Two
Future Legend
Diamond Dogs
Sweet Thing
Candidate
Sweet Thing (Reprise)
Rebel Rebel
Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me
We Are the Dead
1984
Big Brother
Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Saxophone, Keyboards
Mike Garson – Keyboards
Herbie Flowers – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums

 

The long droning synths with spoken word, doomy lyrics make up the short intro track “Future Legend”, where the stage for Diamond Dogs is set with “fleas the size of rats and rats the size of cats”. The title track “Diamond Dogs” then begins with Bowie’s interesting intro guitar riff and settles in a theatrical rock n’ roll track which seems to hold back a bit from full-fledged production. Released as the album’s lead single, the track was a disappointment on the charts.

Next comes a mini-suite, centered around the track “Sweet Thing”, which starts with more doomy, backwards-masked effects before breaking into  a pleasant ballad with great singing. Bowie’s first real guitar lead is also featured at end of (the first) “Sweet Thing”. The avante garde “Candidate”, the middle part of the medley, contains rolling drums, piano, saxophone, and distorted guitars. Lou Reed-inspired, this builds into a more upbeat and intense number before abruptly coming back down for “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” A sax solo and calmer demeanor, this piece was recorded during album sessions in 1973. The outro piano is interrupted by Herbie Flowers‘ thumping bass to complete the piece on an up note.

Rebel Rebel singleThe most upbeat moment on the record, “Rebel Rebel” is a simple, fun, and direct rocker, where the repetition and unrelenting riff actually work to enhance the song. Dating back to 1973, the song became a glam rock anthem. Driven by its infectious guitar riff, “Rebel Rebel” reached Number five on the UK charts.

The second side begins with “Rock n’ Roll with Me”, co-written by Warren Peace. This piano ballad with edge, is much like Bowie’s earlier seventies work but with anthemic elements such as the harmonized chorus and great lead notes in the second verse. “We Are the Dead” is perhaps the most moody and theatrical track on the album. It starts as a ballad but soon morphs into a long lyrical litany in the ‘B’ section before returning back to the pleasant, electric piano driven track with steady, rounded bass notes.

“1984” is built on pure 1970s funk, with squeezed chords, high strings, much hi-hat action by drummer Aynsley Dunbar. This Orwell-inspired track has a good hook and sounds like Bowie was trying to take the most futuristic approach possible in this song written about a time then ten years in the future. The album closes with a medley starting with “Big Brother”, as a trumpet intro morphs into the thumping bass of the song proper. Lyrically, the song mirrors the finale of Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the character’s love of “Big Brother”. “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” contains scat vocals of barely legible chants under rotating riff and percussion, as the last, classic-style Bowie track on record, throwing in the kitchen sink stylistically.

Diamond Dogs reached the Top five on both sides of the Atlantic and spawned a lavish North American Tour that was recorded for the live album, David Live, released later in 1974.

~

1974 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Let’s Dance by David Bowie

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Let's Dance by David BowieAn artist who seemed to constantly reinvent himself, David Bowie created a stylized and soulful new-wave album with a romantic signature on the 1983 album Let’s Dance. It was Bowie’s 15th overall studio album and was co-produced by Nile Rodgers, formerly of Chic, which gave the album (through implicit and explicit suggestion) a post-disco novelty. The result was an album which broke a long commercial slump (Bowie hadn’t had a Top Ten album in seven years) while sacrificing some of the critical cred that Bowie had built with his previous three releases known as the “Berlin Trilogy”, (1977′s Low, 1979′s Lodger and 1980′s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. )

Rodgers was not Bowie’s original choice for the album, as he planned to once again use producer Tony Visconti as he had on the previous five studio albums (including the three listed above). However, Bowie suddenly switched to Rodgers and Visconti was not informed until two weeks into the recording process for Let’s Dance. Bowie also used the album and its subsequent MTV videos to reinvent his image for the 1980s. Having just signed a big deal with EMI Records, Bowie and Rodgers worked to produce a commercially viable album that fused the popular sub-genres of party-funk with the “big drum” eighties dance with just enough Avant Garde edge to keep it interesting.

The album is also notable as one of the earlist recordings for blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, who met Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival and agreed to play on the project despite admitting to being unfamiliar with much of Bowie’s music. However, Vaughan was impressed with Bowie’s knowledge of funky Texas blues and the two talked for hours on the subject.

 


Let’s Dance by David Bowie
Released: April 14, 1983 (EMI)
Produced by: David Bowie & Nile Rodgers
Recorded: Power Station, New York City, December 1982
Side One Side Two
Modern Love
China Grove
Let’s Dance
Without You
Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Shake It
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Horn Arrangements
Nile Rodgers – Guitars, Horn Arrangements
Carmine Rojas – Bass
Tony Thompson – Drums

 

Let’s Dance comes tearing out of the gate with “Modern Love”, about as upbeat and effervescent rocker by David Bowie as you will find in his vast catalog. The track starts with a unique, deadened-guitar sound, which quickly blends with the strong and consistent drum beat by Tony Thompson, who provides this quality throughout the album. Bowie has claimed the song is inspired by Little Richard, and he uses a “rock voice” which almost to the point of being strained. The third single released from the album, “Modern Love” peaked at #2 in the UK while hitting the Top 20 in America.

“China Girl” is a reinterpreted version of a song Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop on that artist’s 1977 album The Idiot. An almost deceptive track, which morphs from a light and poppy tune into something much deeper (even darker) during the bridges with ever-odd sections that build the tension until returning to the original chorus. This song (which also peaked at #2 in the UK) contains a strong bass riff by Carmine Rojas along with bright guitar chords beneath the soft and directed vocals by Bowie.

“Let’s Dance” is David Bowie’s fastest ever selling single, reaching the top of the charts. Released ahead of the album by the same name, the song set the pace for the great commercial success Bowie enjoyed in 1983. It is built on a moderate but methodical bass line with Bowie using yet another style of singing voice above a perfect dance drumbeat. There are some great extended middle parts, which go ludicrously far near in hammering home the brittle funk intent of the song and album, as well as Bowie’s latest image transformation.

The fine original first side of the album concludes with “Without You”. A bit off-beat, yet still very refined, this song is almost like soft version of disco with its high-register vocals, strong bass presence, slight female backing vocals, and just a touch of funky guitar overlay.

However, Let’s Dance is a very uneven record, as the second side sounds like a much cheaper version of the first. “Ricochet” seems to try a bit too hard to get the off-beat syncopation and the result is a song which sounds forced, especially with the elongated arrangement and overuse of spoken voice effect. “Criminal World” is a remake of a track by the glam rock group Metro and employs some eighties production techniques and arrangements. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is a bit more intense but still kind of standard track, with the only real highlight being Vaughan’s lead guitar. The closer “Shake It”, returns to the very funky dance formula (almost an alternate version of “Let’s Dance”) which, if nothing else, solidifies Rodgers influence on this album.

Let’s Dance peaked at #4 and actually Bowie’s first-ever Platinum-selling album, although later sales of earlier albums surpassed that feat. The surprise commercial success of the album proved to be a double-edged sword – it did introduce a whole new generation to the artist but also initiated a prolonged artistic “slump” starting with the disappointing follow-up Tonight a year later, and lasting the better part of a decade.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

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J.D. Cook and Ric Albano

                

Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

Buy The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David BowieThrough a very long and distinguished career, David Bowie’s absolute classic is the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It takes the musicianship and experimental of Bowie’s previous album, Hunky Dory in 1971, to a whole new level where Bowie really hit his stride and forged his distinctive sound. Although it is a concept album, nothing feels forced and nowhere is it repetitive, just a grand parade of songs which collectively tell a story. Bowie’s lyrics and vocals are deep and emotive, albeit tragic, while guitarist Mick Ronson held the music down to a respectable rock level with his sharp and fat guitar riffs.

The concept follows the character “Ziggy Stardust”, a space alien who manifests himself as a self-indulgent rock star who takes this form to try and convince humanity to alter their path of destruction. As Bowie described;

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll…”

The character of Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a collection of real life personalities, including singers Vince Taylor and Stardust Cowboy, and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. Bowie planned for the album to coincide with a stage show or television production but neither fully materialized.

There were also several extra compositions and recordings created during the sessions for this album. One of the most famous was “All the Young Dudes”, written within the context of the “Ziggy Stardust” concept but ultimately given to the band Mott the Hoople, for whom the song would be a big hit. A couple of songs that would become radio hits for Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Jean Genie” – were also recorded during these sessions but not included on the album.


The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars
by David Bowie
Released: June 6, 1972 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, September 1971–January 1972
Side One Side Two
Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang Onto Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock n’ Roll Suicide
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Piano, String Arrangements, Vocals
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

An off-beat drum pattern by Mick Woodmansey fuels the opening song “Five Years”. Moody and low key with a definite influence from Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon, the character of Ziggy Stardust is introduced in dramatic yet elegant fashion with profound lyrics, such as;

“my brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare / I had to cram many things to store everything in there…”

“Soul Love” is also percussion-driven with a steadily strummed acoustic and unique vocal choruses by Bowie. There is some strongly accented layered electric guitars by Ronson during the chorus and Bowie’s saxophone solo to close the album. “Moonage Daydream” continues the acoustic trend with a steady but animated bass by Trevor Bolder and sharp electric riff overtones. This song adds a lot more sonic flavoring than its predecessors with piano, backing vocals, orchestration and a wild, “moon age” guitar lead towards the end.

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

“Starman” is the best song on the album and a late addition to the album. It is classic David Bowie hearkens back into the same groove thematically as his first major hit “Space Oddity”. An acoustic ballad accentuated by space age transitional effects, orchestration, and great post-chorus riff by Ronson, the song was Bowie’s first commercial hit in three years and persists as one of his classics to this day. Some have even stated that it is the single most influential song in his entire catalog. The song is also a pivitol point in the album’s concept where the protagonist morphs from being manipulative to delusional.

The first side concludes with the only cover song on the album; “It Ain’t Easy”, written by Ron Davies and covered by many artists including Three Dog Night who had a 1970 album of the same name. It may seem l;ike an oddity to include a cover on a “concept” album, by “It Ain’t Easy” fits right in with the vibe of this album even though it uses unique instrumentation such as a 12-string acoustic and a harpsichord in the mix.

The moody piano of “Lady Stardust” starts off side two with a ballad of almost Elton John quality and structure. There is once again great bass by Bolder but little to no guitar presence on this tune loosely dedicated to Marc Bolan of T. Rex and the “glam” scene in general. “Star” is a sort of retro piano rocker which speaks of gangs and cliques in London, while “Hang On to Yourself” comes off like early proto-punk with a definite glam twist. This latter song contains an interesting slide guitar by Ronson and sets the album up for a climatic conclusion.

Suffragette City single“Ziggy Stardust”, the album’s default theme song, is interesting and unique rocker with tight instrumentation which heavily leans towards riff-driven classic rock during the verses, while the choruses drift towards the newly-established Bowie sound. Mick Ronson really shines on this song with his crisp, distorted, and methodical guitar riff which gives the song an eternal signature. Bowie accents the two parts of the song with distinct vocals and well delivered lyrics in each. The original album mix segued from “Ziggy” into “Suffragette City”, another standard with rocker with great edge and execution by both Bowie and Ronson. Drawing inspiration from a range of artists that span from Little Richard to the Velvet Underground, “Suffragette City” reminds the listener that David Bowie is, in fact, a rock star first and foremost, no matter how “out there” the bulk of his material may drift. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople before they chose “All the Young Dudes” for their own project.

After the frantic, top-notch electric rock, the album closes with the calm and acoustic “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”, which documents Ziggy’s collapse as a washed-up performer (showing an amazing sense of self-awareness at time when rock was still relatively young). The song gradually builds though subtle, tremolo electric guitar effects and into full orchestration as a dramatic coda for the album.

A concert film of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and eventually released in 1973, a slight consolation to the intended television special which never materialized. The album was vastly more successful in the U.K. than in the U.S. upon release, but has grown to become universally renowned over the past 40 years as one of the best ever produced.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Low by David Bowie

Buy Low

Low by David BowieLow was a 1977 breakthrough album by David Bowie, which contained avant-garde tracks rich with experimental synthesizers and unique compositional approaches. The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti and is considered the first of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” along with Heroes later in 1977 and Lodger in 1979. All three of these albums were collaborations with composer Brian Eno. Much of the album’s second side grew from music Bowie had developed for a soundtrack in 1975 but was rejected by the film’s director. The later-written first side contains a balance of art-rock experimentalism and rock n’ roll tradition, in a mix of instrumentals and uniquely arranged pop/rock fragments of songs.

The songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues.  Bowie was attempting to kick a cocaine habit which was an agonizing experieince for him. The title was partly a reference to Bowie’s “low” moods during the album’s writing and recording. Also influencing the album’s darker themes was the hopelessness of people beyond the Iron Curtain, as symbolized by the Berlin Wall. Bowie had moved to Berlin when he decided to get clean from drugs, bringing him within close geographic contact to the European population without freedom or opportunity in East Germany and other Soviet bloc nations.

Bowie was a rock pioneer during the early days of rock’s glam era. In the mid seventies he tried to find his place with different styles, including a bit of avant-garde with 1976’s Station to Station. With Low put Bowie back at rock’s cutting edge by exploring the new frontier of analog synthesizers and electronic effects. The result would be one of the most critically acclaimed albums of Bowie’s long career.
 


Low by David Bowie
Released: January 14, 1977 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Tony Visconti
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, France, and Hansa Studio by the Wall, West Berlin, 1976
Side One Side Two
Speed of Life
Breaking Glass
What In the World
Sound and Vision
Always Crashing In the Same Car
Be My Wife
A New Career In a New Town
Warszawa
Art Decade
Weeping Wall
Subterraneans
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone, Harmonica
Brian Eno – Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carlos Alomar – Guitar
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 
Although Low was Bowie’s eleventh studio album, none of the previous ten had included a pure instrumental. That streak is broken  with the album’s opener, “Speed of Life.”  Even though the pattern is rather simple and repetitive, the ambiance of sound lets the listener know from the jump that this is no ordinary rock n’ roll album by making immediate implications about the content of the album and its heavy use of synthesizers as both effects and instruments. “Breaking Glass” follows clocking in at under two minutes, which is really a shame because this fragment is very entertaining and could be tolerated for another minute or two. The funk-influenced track features great bass by Rick Murray.

“What in the World” employs a very 1980s sound well before that decade commenced, with a cool “digital blipping” effect and and other heavy use of synthesizer by Eno. The song also features Iggy Pop on backing vocals. “Sound and Vision” is a funky jazz piece with long intro and small doses of vocals doled out before the actual verses begin about 2/3 through the song. This song was the one singled out by RCA when they warned that the release of Low was tantamount to commercial and artistic suicide, citing the extremely long instrumental intro of “Sound and Vision.” Ironically, “Sound and Vision” became Bowie’s biggest U.K. hit in several years and was adapted by the BBC as background music for its program announcements.

“Always Crashing in the Same Car” may be the song that best personifies this album, with sparse (albeit profound) lyrics and vocals and direct and interesting instrumentals, especially the outtro guitar lead by Carlos Alomar. The lyrics express the frustration of making the same mistake over again and are backed up by more inventive synths and interesting, metallic-tinged guitars by Ricky Gardiner.

Be My Wife single“Be My Wife” is almost like two alternating songs in one – the Beatle-esque “sometimes it gets so lonely” part, and the more traditional Bowie style of the “Be My Wife” section. The overall electronic feel is toned down a bit for a heavier, guitar-driven rock arrangement decorated by sharp “ragtime” piano notes. The first side ends with another instrumental called “A New Career in a New Town”, which breaks from a decidedly new-age intro into an interesting fusion of New Wave and Blues. The song features a harmonica solo by Bowie, giving it a whole new dimension.

As odd as the seven-song first side is, it pales in comparison to the quartet of dramatic pieces which make up side two. “Warszawa” is a collaboration between Bowie and Eno, which sounds like something off Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother or Obscured By Clouds. It contains long, trance-like chord progressions and vocal motifs of nonsensical lyrics, revealing its original intent to be part of a film score. Visconti’s four-year-old son actually played a part in developing this piece by playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano while Eno worked out the synth parts. “Warszawa” was titled for the Polish city which Bowie visited during 1976 and its bleak mood was inspired by the the feeling he got from the city itself. “Art Decade” is a pun on ‘art decayed’ and reflects Bowie’s concern over his own artistic inspiration. The core melody is performed on heavily produced keyboards and was influenced by the German band Kraftwerk.

“Weeping Wall” refers to the Berlin Wall, with the melody being an adaptation of the traditional song “Scarborough Fair”. On this track, Bowie played all instruments including several percussion and synthesizers. The album concludes with “Subterraneans”, which Bowie says was also influenced by the misery in East Berlin. Unfortunately, this piece is really an uninspired ending to an otherwise interesting album.

Although critical reaction to Low was tepid upon its release, it has come to be acclaimed for its originality and is universally considered ahead of its time for 1977.
 
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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1977 albums.