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2023 Albums Thing #031 - David Bowie “Low”

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Bowie dragged The Thin White Duke out on the Isolar tour from February to May 1976 in support of “Station To Station”. Stacy Hayden replaced Earl Slick on guitar otherwise it was the same band as on the album. The tour was stark, Bowie dressed in black and white with only white light on stage. Iggy Pop was along on the tour too and the pairs drug use was getting serious. They were arrested in Rochester NY for possession. Bowie’s arrival in London resulted in the infamous “Nazi salute” photograph, Bowie claims he was caught mid-wave. (The tour is documented on the live CD “Live Nassau Coliseum '76” which was released as a bonus disc with “Station To Station” in 2010).

The tour concluded in Paris. After being driven out of the city by fans and then bouncing around the Château d’Hérouville (where he had recorded PinUps), recording Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot”, swinging through Munich and needing somewhere to escape the drug culture back in Los Angeles, Bowie and Iggy ended up in Berlin…the Heroin capital of Europe !

In September 1976 Bowie and band (Alomar, Murray, Davies, guitarist Ricky Gardiner and pianist Roy Young) along with Visconti and Brian Eno returned to the Château d’Hérouville where the majority of what was to become “Low” was recorded. Yes, you read that right, most of the album that is often described as the first in The Berlin Trilogy was recorded in France. 

Bowie was at this time involved in litigation with a former manager, his marriage to Angie was breaking up and she visited the studio with her new beau resulting in a huge row (out of which we at least got “Breaking Glass” and “Be My Wife”) he wasn’t in a good place. Visconti was also dissatisfied with the Château’s studio engineer. So everyone shipped back to Berlin where the album was finished at Hansa TonStudios.

Brian Eno’s contribution to “Low” cannot be denied or underestimated. Bowie had for sometime been a big fan of Krautrock artists like Kraftwerk and Neu!, and that can be heard, but Eno was an equally big influence. Bowie only sings on 5 of 11 songs on “Low” (although Visconti has said that both “Speed Of Life” and “A New Career In A New Town” were originally intended to have vocals but Bowie decided to leave them as instrumentals, bookends for Side 1) which led to much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth at RCA Records where some executives suggested he should return to Philadelphia and make “Young Americans II” !

On its release “Low” was advertised with the slogan “There’s New Wave, there’s Old Wave and there’s David Bowie” which at least shows someone at RCA understood him. The “songs” (as opposed to the instrumentals) are among his best. I’d put them up against anything he’d done before, especially “What In the World” and the single “Sound And Vision”. The instrumental tracks were a jarring shift in style for many, not jarring as in the music was jarring, it’s not, the instrumentals on side 2 are all very gentle and soothing in actual fact, “Warszawa” possibly being my favourite of the four. But hey, if you’d been paying attention over the last 6 years you could almost have expected the shift, right ? 

What In The World - https://youtu.be/HP8btAVedPg

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