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This article is about the David Bowie song. For other uses, see Subterranean (disambiguation).
Song by David Bowie from the album Low
Released January 14, 1977
Recorded December 1975, September-October 1976
Genre Ambient
Length 5:39
Label RCA
Writer David Bowie
Producer David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Low track listing
Weeping Wall

"Subterraneans" is a song by David Bowie, the closing track of his 1977 album Low. "Subterraneans" is mostly instrumental, with brief, obscure lyrics sung near the song's end.

"Subterraneans" was meant to invoke the misery of those in East Berlin during the Cold War. According to Bowie, people who "got caught in East Berlin after the separation - hence the faint jazz saxophones representing the memory of what it was."[1]

Musical characteristics[edit]

Together with "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" and "The Mysteries" from The Buddha of Suburbia, this song is among Bowie's most subdued and ambient. "Subterraneans" was ultimately the most heavily edited song on Low, with the reversed instrument sounds, saxophone, and multilayered synthesizers from Brian Eno which float underneath a moaned vocal that is wordless until about the final ninety seconds. The synthesiser melody is identical to a motif from Edward Elgar's "Nimrod", the 9th Enigma Variation.

The piece was rumoured to be originally intended for use in the soundtrack to the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie played the lead role. Though this rumour was false, the reversed track used as the bassline in this piece was actually the only remaining intact part of the film soundtrack that Bowie used on the Low album.


The lyrics are amongst Bowie's most inaccessible, and - superficially at least - seem to make no sense. Bowie reports[2] that during the recording of Low he was "intolerably bored" with conventional narrative rock and roll lyrics. The lyrics of "Subterraneans" seem to resemble the "cut-up" technique popularized by William S. Burroughs, which Bowie had previously used and expressed admiration for.

According to the liner notes to the 1999 Virgin Records rerelease of Low, the lyrics are:

Share bride failing star
care-line riding me
Shirley, Shirley, Shirley, own
Share bride failing star

Live versions[edit]

  • The song was used as an introduction to Bowie's set during the 1995 Outside tour. It was different from the album version in that its lyrics and musical themes were merged from the song "Scary Monsters" (which would follow "Subterraneans" on the setlists). This version was performed alongside the co-headliners, Nine Inch Nails.

Cover versions[edit]



External links[edit]