Friday, 21 June 2013

David Bowie is (part 18): 'Sometimes I feel the need to move on'

In December 1977, David Bowie narrated Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. It was released in May 1978. Bowie has since said that he did the project as a Christmas present for his then 7 year old son, Duncan Jones. The narration was then used for a Disney cartoon (see it here).

At the end of January 1978, David Bowie began filming Just A Gigolo, Bowie's second major film role. The film was set in Berlin and Bowie was excited to filming in many of his old haunts and, in particular, to meet Marlene Dietrich, in her first film appearance for 18 years. Unfortunately for him, all her parts were filmed separately in a studio set in Paris and Bowie had to act to a chair. The two parts were cut together later. The hostile reception the film received led Bowie to joke that it was "my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one" (see a clip here).

The Isolar II 1978 World Tour, more commonly known as The Low / Heroes World Tour or The Stage Tour, was a worldwide concert tour by David Bowie. The tour opened on 29 March 1978 at the San Diego Sports Arena continuing through North America, Europe and Australia before reaching a conclusion at the Nippon Budokan in Japan on 12 December 1978. The tour comprised the usual central group of Alomar, Davis and Murray fortified with guitarist Adrian Belew from Frank Zappa's band, violinist Simon House, pianist Sean Mayes and keyboardist Roger Powell. The show would last an hour and a half beginning with 'Warzawa', combining tracks from Low and "Heroes" as well as Ziggy-era stuff and a Station to Station set. On 8 September Bowie released a live album from the Philadelphia shows called Stage. At that time Bowie was taking advantage of a short break in the tour to begin recording another album. Here is the Stage album. This show is from the later Japanese leg.

The third and final instalment of the Berlin trilogy or 'Triptych' as Bowie was now calling it was Lodger. Although not having the same epic grandeur of the previous two albums Lodger retained the same spirit of experimentation; it was quirky and highly original and inventive. Bowie also abandoned the idea of an instrumental side two. This change in style is partly because of the location. Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland had much more comfortable and conventional surroundings than Hansa in Berlin.

Guitarist Carlos Alomar and violinist Simon House felt as though Brian Eno's creativity was beginning to dry up although some of the techniques employed by Eno, Bowie and Visconti helped the musicians to find something great within themselves. Guitarist Adrian Belew was asked to play a solo over a track he had never heard before. They refused to even tell him what key it was in. He was told, "Just play!" He had three chances and then they would move on to another song and do the same thing again. His solo on 'Boys Keep Swinging' is incredible yet he has no memory of playing it. Sometimes seen as one of Bowie's more underrated albums there is much to pique ones interest. On 'Boys Keep Swinging' the musicians changed instruments to give the track a rough edge; 'Yassassin' has a Turkish feel; and 'Red Money' used the same music as the song 'Sister Midnight' that Bowie had given to Iggy Pop for The Idiot. 'Boys Keep Swinging' is also notable because (in the words of co-producer Tony Visconti) it features the "exact same chord changes and structure, even the same key" as 'Fantastic Voyage', another song on the album. Tracks like 'D. J.' and 'Look Back In Anger' are among Bowie's best from the period. After the Isolar II Tour was over in December and a long break the album was finished off in Record Plant Studios in New York in March 1979 and released in May. Despite weak reviews, the album reached number 4 in Britain and number 20 in the US.
All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by Bowie and Brian Eno, except where noted.

Side one

  1. 'Fantastic Voyage' – 2:55
  2. 'African Night Flight' – 2:54
  3. 'Move On' (Bowie) – 3:16
  4. 'Yassassin' (Bowie) – 4:10
  5. 'Red Sails' – 3:43

Side two

  1. 'D.J.' (Bowie, Eno, Carlos Alomar) – 3:59
  2. 'Look Back in Anger' – 3:08
  3. 'Boys Keep Swinging' – 3:17
  4. 'Repetition' (Bowie) – 2:59
  5. 'Red Money' (Bowie, Alomar) – 4:17

Next time: Fripp, Merrick and Baal

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