Friday, March 08, 2013

Bowie Week - Station to Station (1976)

It's not the side-effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love
Station to Station, Bowie's tenth studio album, presented yet another new character to the world - "The Thin White Duke". Having seen off Ziggy in 1973 and tried his hand at funk and soul in 1975 on "Young Americans" Bowie was about to leave the pop/rock scene and enter Krautrock territory, he was also about to explode the myth that drugs can harm the creative process spending most of the recording of this album out of it on cocaine - who said the drugs don't work?

                                      thin, white and rock royalty

This was the first post-Tony Visconti produced album, Bowie worked with Harry Maslin who had also been a producer on "Young Americans". The musicians involved included Carlos Alomar on guitar, Roy Bittan (of E Street Band fame) on piano, Dennis Davis on drums. On lead guitar duties was Earl Slick (who had been the lead guitarist on the Young Americans album) and if you listen to "Stay", the second of side two's three tracks you  can hear why Slick became such a favourite among Bowie aficionados.

Station to Station consists of six songs, Side One: "Station to Station," "Golden Years" and "Word on A Wing". Side Two: "TVC 15", "Stay" and "Wild is The Wind," - the last track not a Bowie composition but his version of the Nina Simone classic, written by Ned Washington, probably best known for writing the lyrics to "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Pinocchio, and the four time Oscar winner Ukrainian film composer Dimitri Tiomkin.

"Station to Station" clocks in at 10:14, the longest track to date recorded by Bowie, and introduces the listener to the "return of the thin white duke,"  a character Bowie had been working on whilst filming the Nic Roeg film "The Man Who Fell To Earth".  As a sign of where things are going it couldn't be more clearer as it takes three minutes eighteen seconds before Bowie opens his mouth with the line, "The return of the thin white duke, throwing darts in lovers eyes".  It's a strange old track because there is a point around six minutes where it gets all prog before Earl Slick takes the track in a completely different direction and for the final four minutes we are treated to what is almost a distillation of the Bowie career thus far even though none of the Spiders are present, it's almost as if we are crossing a musical rubicon.  We are treated to a chorus that is repeated six times:

"Should I believe that I've been stricken?
Does my face show
Some kind of glow?
It's too late
- to be grateful
It's too late
- to be late again
It's too late
- to be hateful
The european cannon is here, yes it's here"

Ah yes, the European cannon has arrived, the influence of Neu!, Can and above all Kraftwerk are soon to take us off in yet another direction.

Second track, "Golden Years" was one of those 'fooled you' moments in Bowie's career. An edited version of the track was released as a  single released two months before the album and lured everybody into thinking that the album would be following in the "Fame," style of the preceding album - how wrong we were! One of my strangest memories of this song is seeing it being performed on "Crackerjack" by Jan Hunt and Peter Glaze, it's available, well 26 second worth is available, on YouTube, fortunately the embed feature has been disabled. Anyway here's the man himself on the American show "Soul Train" introduced as David Booey.

Side One closes with the six minute long "Word on a Wing". It begins with one of Bowie's most beautiful lyrics: "In this age of grand illusion you walked into my life out of my dreams/ I don't need another change, still you forced away into my scheme of things".  It's a strange track because it is reminiscent of so many artists and yet at the same time it remains quintessentially Bowie, it actually reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, which could be the Roy Bittan piano influence. With three tracks running for just over twenty minutes this was the antithesis of what had gone before during the 'glam' years and what was just around the corner with the emergence of punk and a return to the three minute song.

Side Two opens with "TVC 15" a track that was inspired, if that's the right word, by a strange incident involving Iggy Pop who whilst suffering a bad drugs trip thought a television set was swallowing his girlfriend. "TVC 15" was incidentally the subject of one of the stranger dance routines ever subjected on the Top of The Pops watching audience in May 1976, Bowie was due to perform the song but was ill and so dance group/troupe Ruby Flipper were asked to "interpret" the song in their own inimitable way.

Caution: If you have any small children present you might like to ask them to leave the room before you press the play button.

Caution PS: If you have any sense of good taste you might like to skip the video completely and move on to "Stay."

"Stay" was, according to legend, recorded like much of the album in a haze of drugs, Earl Slick later claimed that he couldn't remember any of the recording, this despite him producing some of the finest musicianship on any Bowie album. I remember reading that Hendrix's recording of "All Along the Watchtower" is the only example in rock music of a track containing three different solos in three different styles, I think Earl Slick comes pretty close to playing three different styles of guitar on this six minute track, from choppy, through funky to full on rock.

"Wild is the Wind" closes the album, as I've said up post this was a Nina Simone standard and it was actually through hearing her sing it and later meeting her that Bowie decided to record his version.

A clue as to where Bowie's career would go next came during the tour to promote "Station to Station" when he used tracks from the Kraftwerk album "Radioactivity" before and after his appearance on stage. We were about to say goodbye to the "thin white duke" and hello to a bloke with orange hair wearing a duffel coat!


Span Ows said...

I loved Wild is the Wind, haunting.

Love your Caution P.S by the way. LOL.

Paul said...


I agree about Wild is the Wind, it is different to Nina Simones version but without losing anything.

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