Low (David Bowie album)

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Low (album).jpg
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 14 January 1977 (1977-01-14)
Recorded September – October 1976 (except "Subterraneans", originally recorded December 1975, Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles)[1]
Length 38:26
Label RCA Records
David Bowie chronology
Station to Station
Singles from Low
  1. "Sound and Vision" b/w "A New Career in a New Town"
    Released: 11 February 1977
  2. "Be My Wife" b/w "Speed of Life"
    Released: June 1977

Low is the eleventh studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on RCA Records on 14 January 1977. Recorded following Bowie's move to West Berlin after a period of drug addiction and personal instability, Low became the first of three collaborations with musician Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti later termed the "Berlin Trilogy". The album was in fact recorded largely in France, and marked a shift in Bowie's musical style toward an electronic and avant-garde approach that would be further explored on subsequent albums "Heroes" (1977) and Lodger (1979).

Though it was initially met with mixed critical reviews, Low has since become widely acclaimed as one of Bowie's best and most influential works. Pitchfork placed it at number 1 in its list of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s,[8] while Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.[9] In 2013, NME listed the album as the 14th greatest of all time.[10] It was also listed as one of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time.[11]


Main article: Berlin Trilogy

The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie's previous album Station to Station and in the music he recorded for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound, although John Phillips (the chosen composer for the soundtrack) described Bowie's contributions as "haunting and beautiful".[12] Elements from these pieces were incorporated into Low instead. The album's cover, like Station to Station, is a still from the movie: the photographic image, under the album's title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase "low profile".[13] The album's working title was New Music Night and Day.[14]

Following Bowie's Thin White Duke-period and the commercial success of the singles "Fame" and "Golden Years" in 1976, he was eager to escape the drug culture of Los Angeles,[15] where he had developed a deleterious cocaine habit.[16] Bowie had also become embroiled in controversy regarding comments he made seemingly in favour of fascism.[17] He blamed his erratic behaviour around his Thin White Duke period on his addictions and precarious mental state,[18] He later explained: "It was a dangerous period for me. I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had serious doubts about my sanity." [19] Bowie would move to Switzerland in the second half of 1976. Later that year, he, along with friend and singer Iggy Pop, would retreat to Berlin in a further attempt to kick his drug habit and escape the spotlight:

Apartment building on Hauptstraße 155 in Berlin Schöneberg where Bowie lived with Iggy Pop from 1976 to 1978

"For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary-like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity. I was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn't care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway."[20]

While sharing an apartment with Pop, Bowie would become interested in the German music scene, including acts such as Kraftwerk and Neu!. During the months of his recovery, he had also become interested in Brian Eno's minimalist album Discreet Music (1975), eventually meeting with him in 1976[14][21][22] and soon after beginning collaborations with Eno, producer Tony Visconti, and Pop.[23] In 1976, Bowie also cowrote and produced Pop's solo album debut The Idiot (1976).[24]


The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, with contributions from Brian Eno.[25] As a recovering cocaine addict, Bowie's songwriting on Low dealt with difficult issues: "There's oodles of pain in the Low album. That was my first attempt to kick cocaine, so that was an awful lot of pain. And I moved to Berlin to do it. I moved out of the coke centre of the world [i.e. Los Angeles, where Station to Station was recorded] into the smack centre of the world. Thankfully, I didn't have a feeling for smack, so it wasn't a threat".[26] Visconti contended that the title was partly a reference to Bowie's "low" moods during the album's writing and recording.[27]

The album marked a movement for Bowie into electronic[5] and ambient music.[6] Side one of the album contained short, direct avant-pop song-fragments;[4] side two comprised longer, mostly instrumental tracks. On these tracks help was lent by ex-Roxy Music keyboardist and conceptualist Brian Eno, who brought along his EMS 'suitcase' AKS synthesiser (Bowie was later given this particular synthesiser as a birthday present after a friend obtained it in an auction).[28] Often incorrectly given credit as Low's producer,[29] Eno was responsible for a good deal of the direction and composition of the second side of the album and wrote the theme and instrumentation for "Warszawa" while Bowie was in Paris attending court hearings against his former manager. Eno in turn was helped by producer Tony Visconti's four-year-old son who sat next to Eno playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano. This phrase became the "Warszawa" theme.[30] On Bowie's return Eno played him the work which impressed Bowie who then composed the vaguely Eastern European-sounding lyrics.[31]

Although the music was influenced by German bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!,[14][29] Low has been acclaimed for its originality and is considered ahead of its time, not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer.[13][32] On the release of Low, Visconti received phone calls from other producers asking how he had made this unique sound, but would not give up the information, instead asking each producer how they thought it had been done.[32] In 2004, Bjorn Randolph of Stylus Magazine said that "had the album been released twenty years later, this would have been called "post-rock.""[33]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[4]
Blender 5/5 stars[34]
Chicago Tribune 2.5/4 stars[35]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[36]
NME 9/10[37]
Pitchfork 10/10[38]
Q 5/5 stars[39]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[40]
Spin 4/5 stars[41]
The Village Voice B+[42]

Upon its release, critical reaction to Low was relatively divided. Rolling Stone magazine's John Milward stated that "Bowie lacks the self-assured humour to pull off his avant-garde aspirations" and found the album's second side weaker than its first, stating: "Side one, where Bowie works within more conventional rock trappings, is superior to side two's experiments simply because a band forces discipline into Bowie's writing and performance".[43] In his review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau found side one's seven "fragments" to be "almost as powerful as the 'overlong' tracks on Station to Station", but felt "the movie music on side two" to be banal[42] (though he later revised his opinion on the second side after the release of "Heroes", writing that the album "now seems quite pop, slick and to the point even when the point is background noise").[44] Christgau included Low at number 29 on his "dean's list" for the 1977 Pazz & Jop critics poll.[45] Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn shared a similar sentiment and stated "For 12 minutes, this is Bowie's most striking and satisfying album since Ziggy. But the remaining 26 minutes, including all of Side 2, deal with a spacy art rock style that is simply beyond mass pop sensibilities for it to build much enthusiasm".[2]

By contrast, Billboard called the album's second side "the most adventurous and a stark contrast to the few distorted hard rock cuts on side one" and wrote that Low "emphasizes Bowie's serious writing efforts which only time can tell will appeal to the people who have watched him go through various musical phases".[46] John Rockwell of The New York Times wrote that "There are hardly any vocals, and what there are mostly mindless doggerel heard from afar. And the instrumentals are strange and spacey. Nevertheless, the whole thing strikes this listener as remarkably, alluringly beautiful".[47] Rockwell described its sound as "a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Eno's own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan. Yet it still is recognizably a David Bowie album", and concluded that "once Mr. Bowie's fans overcome their initial shock at his latest change in direction, they may realize that he's made one of the finest disks of his career".[47] The album was a commercial success, peaking at number 2 on the UK Albums Chart and number 11 on the US Billboard Pop Albums chart. "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" were released as singles; the former reached number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.


Low appears on a number of critics' "best album" lists. Pitchfork placed it at number 1 on the website's "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s".[8] In 2000 Q placed Low at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.[9] In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[11] In a retrospective review, The Rolling Stone Album Guide states "it's the music of an overstimulated mind in an exhausted body [...] sashays through some serious emotional wreckage".[48] Philip Glass based his 1992 classical composition Low Symphony on Low, with Bowie and Eno both influencing the work.[49] In 2013, NME listed the album as the 14th greatest of all time.[10]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by David Bowie except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Speed of Life" 2:46
2. "Breaking Glass" (Bowie, Dennis Davis, George Murray) 1:51
3. "What in the World" 2:23
4. "Sound and Vision" 3:03
5. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" 3:29
6. "Be My Wife" 2:55
7. "A New Career in a New Town" 2:51
Total length: 19:18
Side two
No. Title Length
8. "Warszawa" (Bowie, Brian Eno) 6:20
9. "Art Decade" 3:43
10. "Weeping Wall" 3:26
11. "Subterraneans" 5:39
Total length: 19:08 (38:26)


The album has been released three times on CD, the first between 1984 and 1985 by RCA Records, the second in 1991 by Rykodisc (with three bonus tracks on silver CD and later on AU20 Gold CD), and the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

The Rykodisc edition of this album was released in the United Kingdom on CD, Cassette and LP in 1991 by EMI Records. The three bonus tracks were added to the end of side two of the LP and cassette editions so not to spoil the original running order.

Rykodisc/EMI 1991 remaster bonus tracks
No. Title Length
12. "Some Are" (previously unreleased track recorded 1976–79) 3:24
13. "All Saints" (previously unreleased track recorded 1976–79) 3:35
14. "Sound and Vision" (remixed version, 1991) 4:43
Total length: 49:42


Based on the album credits:

  • David Bowie – vocals (2–6, 8, 10–12, 14), saxophones (4, 11), guitar (6, 9–11), pump bass (6), harmonica (7), vibraphone (9–10), xylophone (10), pre-arranged percussion (10), keyboards: ARP synthesiser (1, 10–11), Chamberlin: Credited on the album sleeve notes as "tape horn and brass" (1), "synthetic strings" (1, 4, 9–10), "tape cellos" (5) and "tape sax section" (7), piano (7, 9–11), "instruments" (13)
  • Brian Eno – keyboards: Minimoog (2, 8–9), ARP (3, 11), EMS Synthi AKS (listed as "E.M.I.") (3, 5), piano (7–9, 11), Chamberlin (8–9), other synthesisers, vocals (4, 14), guitar treatments (5), synthetics (7), "instruments" (12–13)
  • Carlos Alomar – rhythm guitars (1, 3–7, 14), guitar (2)
  • Dennis Davis – percussion (1–7, 14)
  • George Murray – bass (1–7, 11, 14)
  • Ricky Gardiner – rhythm guitar (2), guitar (3–7, 14)
  • Roy Young – pianos (1, 3–7, 14), Farfisa organ (3, 5)

Additional musicians[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

Hugo Wilcken, David Bowie's Low (A&C Black, 19 Aug 2005).