Friday, 14 June 2013

David Bowie is (part 15): 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere'

In October 1975, at the height of his cocaine habit, David Bowie went into Cherokee Studios in LA, a 24-track recording studio, to record his tenth studio album Station to Station. With guitarists Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, bassist George Murray and drummer Dennis Davis, Bowie produced an album that was the result of "experimentation - and don't worry about how long it takes", as Bowie put it. Bowie went into the studio with nothing written, a way in which he had never worked before but almost always would in future.

It turned out to be a transitional album in more ways than one. Musically, it develops the funk and soul music of Young Americans, while presenting a new direction towards synthesisers and motorik rhythms that was influenced by German electronic bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!. These elements would be more fully explored on later albums. Station to Station was also a move away from America, which he had now cracked, towards Europe. Indeed it is an album that stands between the American and European traditions of music. The album’s lyrics reflected his preoccupations with Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley, mythology and religion, including Buddhism and Christianity. With the character from 'The Man Who Fell to Earth', Thomas Jerome Newton staying with him (the album cover is a still from the film), Bowie developed the character of the Thin White Duke. Impeccably dressed in white shirt, black trousers and waistcoat, he was a hollow man, "throwing darts in lovers' eyes", who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing, "ice masquerading as fire".
Bowie had done what he would advise others to do, "do the contrary action - do something you're not used to. Let's not make it comfortable - let's make it uncomfortable". Bowie claims to remember almost nothing of the album's production, not even the studio, later admitting, "I know it was in LA because I've read it was". The singer was not the only one doing copious amounts of cocaine during the sessions. Carlos Alomar has said, "if there's a line of coke which is going to keep you awake till 8 a.m. so that you can do your guitar part, you do the line of coke... the coke use is driven by the inspiration." Like Bowie, Earl Slick had somewhat vague memories of the recording: "That album's a little fuzzy—for the obvious reasons! We were in the studio and it was nuts—a lot of hours, a lot of late nights." The first single 'Golden Years' was released in November 1975, two months before the album. It reached number eight in Britain and number ten in America. Station to Station was released in January 1976 and it reached number five in Britain and number three in America.

Station to Station
All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one

  1. 'Station to Station' – 10:14
  2. 'Golden Years' – 4:00
  3. 'Word on a Wing' – 6:03

Side two

  1. 'TVC 15' – 5:33
  2. 'Stay' – 6:15
  3. 'Wild Is the Wind' (Ned Washington, Dimitri Tiomkin) – 6:02

In 1975, shortly before the release of the album, Bowie appeared as the Thin White Duke on an American chat show, Dinah Shore. As well as the interview and a bizarre karate lesson, Bowie performed a song from the album, 'Stay' as well as 'Five Years' from ...Ziggy Stardust...

You can watch the show by clicking on the following clips:
1. Performance of 'Stay'.
2. Interview with Dinah Shore
3. Interview with Dinah Shore and Henry Winkler (Fonzie from Happy Days)
4. Karate lesson
5. Performance of 'Five Years'

In January 1976, David Bowie  renewed his friendship with Iggy Pop before rehearsing for another tour. The 1976 'Station to Station' tour, also known as the 'Isolar Tour', began on 2 February 1976 with 39 arena shows across North America ending the first leg on 26 March where Bowie met Christopher Isherwood at an after-show party. The conversation inspired Bowie to base himself in Berlin rather than Switzerland as he had been planning. The second leg began in April and went across Europe. The dates in Britain were his first shows since Ziggy's farewell show. At one point Bowie and Iggy went on a train trip to Moscow where they met the KGB. The journey through Poland and particularly Warsaw had a profound effect on Bowie and the bleakness led him to write the haunting instrumental 'Warzawa' that would appear on his next album.

Click on each track to listen to it:
1. Station to Station
2. Suffragette City
3. Waiting For The Man
4. Word On A Wing
5. Stay
6. TVC15
7. Sister Midnight
8. Life On Mars / Five Years
9. Panic In Detroit
10. Fame / Changes
11. The Jean Genie
12. Queen Bitch / Rebel Rebel

Next time: Idiots, Berlin and Eno

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