Station to Station
|Station to Station|
|Studio album by|
|Released||23 January 1976|
|Studio||Cherokee, Los Angeles|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Station to Station|
Station to Station is the 10th studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 23 January 1976 by RCA Records. Regarded as one of Bowie's most significant works, Station to Station was the vehicle for Bowie's Thin White Duke persona. Co-produced by Bowie and Harry Maslin, the album was recorded at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California, in late 1975, after Bowie completed shooting the film The Man Who Fell to Earth; the cover artwork featured a still from the film. During the sessions, Bowie was dependent on drugs, especially cocaine, and later said that he recalled almost nothing of the production.
Station to Station was a transitional album for Bowie, developing the funk and soul music of his previous release, Young Americans (1975), while presenting a new direction influenced by German bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk. The lyrics reflected his preoccupations with Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley, mythology and religion. Drawing on funk and krautrock, romantic balladry and occultism, Station to Station has been described as "simultaneously one of Bowie's most accessible albums and his most impenetrable". Bowie said that Station to Station was "a plea to come back to Europe for me".
Preceded by the single "Golden Years", Station to Station made the top five in the UK and US charts. Bowie supported the album with the Isolar tour, where he often performed in character as the Thin White Duke. He attracted controversy during the tour after making statements related to supporting fascism. At the end of the tour, Bowie moved to Europe to remove himself from the drug culture of Los Angeles. The styles explored on Station to Station culminated in some of Bowie's most acclaimed work with the "Berlin Trilogy" over the following three years. In 2020, the album was ranked number 52 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It has been reissued multiple times and was remastered in 2016 as part of the Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976) box set.
According to biographer David Buckley, David Bowie, fuelled by an "astronomic" cocaine habit and subsisting on a diet of peppers and milk, spent much of 1975–76 in Los Angeles in a state of "psychic terror". Stories—mostly from one interview, pieces of which found their way into Playboy and Rolling Stone—circulated of the singer living in a house full of ancient Egyptian artefacts, burning black candles, seeing bodies fall past his window, having his semen stolen by witches, receiving secret messages from the Rolling Stones, and living in morbid fear of fellow Aleister Crowley aficionado Jimmy Page. Bowie would later say of Los Angeles, "The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the earth".
It was on the set of his first major film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, that Bowie began writing a pseudo-autobiography called The Return of the Thin White Duke. He was also composing music on the understanding that he was to provide the picture's soundtrack, though this would not come to fruition. (At Bowie's recommendation, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas would write and produce all the original music for the film instead.) Director Nicolas Roeg warned the star that the part of Thomas Jerome Newton would likely remain with him for some time after production completed. With Roeg's agreement, Bowie developed his own look for the film, and this carried through to his public image and onto two album covers over the next twelve months, as did Newton's air of fragility and aloofness.
The Thin White Duke became the mouthpiece for Station to Station and, often during the next six months, for Bowie himself. Impeccably dressed in white shirt, black trousers and waistcoat, the Duke was a hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing—"ice masquerading as fire". The persona has been described as "a mad aristocrat", "an amoral zombie", and "an emotionless Aryan superman". For Bowie himself, the Duke was "a nasty character indeed".
Station to Station was recorded in late 1975 at Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles. In 1981, NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray surmised that it was cut—"in 10 days of feverish activity"—when Bowie decided that there was no hope of his producing a soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth. More recent scholarship contends that the album was recorded over a couple of months—with the sessions beginning in late September or early October 1975 and ending in late November—so that it was in the can before Bowie began his abortive sessions on the soundtrack.
Originally to be titled The Return of the Thin White Duke, or Golden Years, Station to Station was co-produced by Harry Maslin, Bowie's associate for "Fame" and "Across the Universe" on Young Americans. Tony Visconti, who after a three-year absence had recently returned to the Bowie fold mixing Diamond Dogs and co-producing David Live and Young Americans, was not involved due to competing schedules. The recording did cement the band line-up that would see Bowie through the rest of the decade, with bassist George Murray joining Young Americans drummer Dennis Davis and rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar.
The recording process developed with this team set the pattern for Bowie's albums up to and including Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in 1980: backing tracks laid down by Murray, Davis and Alomar; saxophone, keyboard and lead guitar overdubs (here by Bowie, Roy Bittan and Earl Slick, respectively); lead vocals; and finally production tricks to complete the song. According to Bowie, "I got some quite extraordinary things out of Earl Slick. I think it captured his imagination to make noises on guitar, and textures, rather than playing the right notes." Alomar recalled, "It was one of the most glorious albums that I've ever done ... We experimented so much on it". Maslin added, "I loved those sessions because we were totally open and experimental in our approach".
Bowie himself remembered 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 alone in his use of cocaine during the sessions, Carlos Alomar commenting, "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 sleeve front cover used a black-and-white still from The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie, as the character Thomas Jerome Newton, steps into the space capsule that will return him to his home planet. Bowie had insisted on the cropped black-and-white image as he felt that in the original coloured full-size image the sky looked artificial; when Rykodisc reissued Bowie's catalogue in the early 1990s the colour version was used. The back cover showed Bowie sketching the Kabbalah Sephirot with chalk—something he had been doing on the set of the film.
Style and themes
Station to Station is often cited as a transitional album in Bowie's career. Nicholas Pegg, author of The Complete David Bowie, called it a "precise halfway point on the journey from Young Americans to Low", while for Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, it "effectively divides the '70s for David Bowie. It ties off the era of Ziggy Stardust and plastic soul, and introduces the first taste of the new music that was to follow with Low." In terms of Bowie's own output, Station to Station's Euro-centric flavour had its musical antecedents in tracks like "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)" and "Time" (1973), while its funk and disco elements were a development of the soul sound of Young Americans (1975). More recently Bowie had begun to soak up the influence of krautrock and electronic music by bands like Neu! and Kraftwerk. Thematically the album revisited concepts dealt with in songs such as "The Supermen" from The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and "Quicksand" from Hunky Dory (1971): Nietzsche's 'Overman', the occultism of Aleister Crowley, Nazi fascination with Grail mythology, and the Kabbalah. Pegg considered the album's theme to be a clash of "occultism and Christianity".
Writer David Sheppard described the music of Station to Station as "glacial, synthesized funk-rock." AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that, "at its heart, Station to Station is an avant-garde art-rock album", which includes "everything from epic ballads and disco to synthesized avant pop" while extending "the detached plastic soul of Young Americans to an elegant, robotic extreme." According to Robert Christgau, Bowie's experimentation with African-American music styles had matured by the time Station to Station was recorded, as the record appropriated them "in a decidedly spacy and abrasive context"; he said it added soul to the "mechanical, fragmented, rather secondhand elegance" explored on Aladdin Sane. Pitchfork's Laura Snapes described the record's sound as "a hybrid of electronic R&B," while Erlewine considered it "eerie avant-pop." In 2016, Michael Gallucci of Ultimate Classic Rock characterised the tracks as "art-funk".
The musical style of "Golden Years", the first track recorded for the album, built on the funk and soul of Young Americans but with a harsher, grinding edge. It has been described as carrying with it "an air of regret for missed opportunities and past pleasures". Bowie said that it was written for—and rejected by—Elvis Presley, while Bowie's wife at the time Angie claimed it was penned for her. Though a top ten single on both sides of the Atlantic, it was rarely performed live on the subsequent Isolar Tour. "Stay" was another riff-driven funk piece, "recorded very much in our cocaine frenzy", according to Alomar. Its lyrics have been interpreted as reflecting on "the uncertainty of sexual conquest", and as an example of "the Duke's spurious romanticism".
The Christian element of the album was most obvious in the hymn-like "Word on a Wing", though for some commentators religion, like love, was simply another way for the Duke to "test his numbness". Bowie himself has claimed that in this song, at least, "the passion is genuine". When performing it live in 1999, the singer described it as coming from "the darkest days of my life ... I'm sure that it was a call for help". The closing ballad, "Wild Is the Wind", was the album's sole cover, and has been praised as one of the finest vocal performances of Bowie's career. Bowie was inspired to record it after he met singer/pianist/songwriter Nina Simone (whose version is on the eponymous 1966 album).
The spectre of The Man Who Fell to Earth's Thomas Jerome Newton sprawled in front of dozens of television monitors is said to have partly inspired the album's most upbeat track, "TVC 15". Supposedly also about Iggy Pop's girlfriend being eaten by a TV set, it has been called "incongruously jolly" and "the most oblique tribute to the Yardbirds imaginable".
The title track has been described as heralding "a new era of experimentalism" for Bowie. "Station to Station" was in two parts: a slow, portentous march, introduced by the sound of an approaching train juxtaposed with Earl Slick's agitated guitar feedback, followed by an up-tempo rock/blues section. Berman for Pitchfork wrote that "the title track's momentous prog-disco suite [...] charts a course from spiritual void toward ecstatic religious reawakening." In 1999 Bowie told UNCUT magazine, "Since Station To Station the hybridization of R&B and electronics had been a goal of mine". Despite the noise of a train in the opening moments, Bowie says that the title refers not so much to railway stations as to the Stations of the Cross, while the line "From Kether to Malkuth" relates to mystical places in the Kabbalah, mixing Christian and Jewish allusions. Fixation with the occult was further evident in such phrases as "white stains", the name of a book of poetry by Aleister Crowley. The lyrics also gave notice of Bowie's recent drug use ("It's not the side effects of the cocaine / I'm thinking that it must be love"). With its krautrock influence, it was the album's clearest foretaste of Bowie's subsequent 'Berlin Trilogy'.
Singles and unreleased tracks
Every song on Station to Station eventually appeared on a single. "Golden Years" was released in November 1975, two months before the album. Bowie allegedly got drunk to perform it on TV for the American show Soul Train, resulting in the film clip seen on music video programmes. It reached number eight in the UK and number ten in the US (where it charted for sixteen weeks) but, like "Rebel Rebel"'s relationship to Diamond Dogs (1974), was a somewhat unrepresentative teaser for the album to come.
The title track was released as a promo 7-inch single in January 1976. The single was exclusively released in France and featured a shortened version of the track, lasting just over three-and-a-half minutes, on the a-side as well as the album version of "TVC 15" on the b-side. The single did not chart in any countries.
"TVC 15" was released in edited form as the second single in May 1976, reaching number 33 in the UK and number 64 stateside. "Stay", also shortened and appearing the same month, was issued as a companion 45 to RCA's Changesonebowie greatest hits collection, though it did not appear on the compilation (Changesonebowie was itself packaged as a uniform edition to Station to Station, featuring a black-and-white cover and similar lettering). In November 1981, as Bowie's relationship with RCA was winding down, "Wild Is the Wind" was issued as a single to push the Changestwobowie compilation. Released in the UK with a catalogue number BOW10, the UK single was backed by the full-length version of "Golden Years". Other versions were backed with "Word on a Wing" and accompanied by a video shot especially for the release, it made number 24 in the UK and charted for ten weeks.
Another song purportedly recorded during the album sessions at Cherokee Studios, a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City", went unreleased at the time but was issued in 1989 on the Sound+Vision box set. Harry Maslin and Carlos Alomar have claimed that they never recorded the song during the Cherokee sessions, while Tony Visconti believes that the song most likely consisted of overdubs to a track originally cut at Olympic and Island Studios during the Diamond Dogs sessions, with Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Herbie Flowers on bass and Mike Garson on keyboards. The song would later be rereleased on The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979.
Release and reception
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Station to Station was released on 23 January 1976 and reached number three on Billboard's Top LPs & Tape, remaining on the chart for 32 weeks. It became Bowie's highest-charting album in the US until The Next Day, which reached number two in 2013. Station to Station was certified gold by the RIAA on 26 February 1976. In the UK, it charted for seventeen weeks, peaking at number five, serving as the last time one of Bowie's studio albums charted lower in his home country than in America.
In a contemporary review, Billboard considered that Bowie had "found his musical niche" following songs like "Fame" and "Golden Years" but that "the 10-minute title cut drags", while NME called it "one of the most significant albums released in the last five years", later naming it the second greatest album of the year. Both magazines found the meaning of the lyrics difficult to fathom. Rolling Stone writer Teri Moris applauded the album's 'rockier' moments but discerned a move away from the genre, finding it "the thoughtfully professional effort of a style-conscious artist whose ability to write and perform demanding rock & roll exists comfortably alongside his fascination for diverse forms ... while there's little doubt about his skill, one wonders how long he'll continue wrestling with rock at all". Circus, noting that Bowie was "never one to maintain continuity in his work or in his life", declared that Station to Station "offers cryptic, expressionistic glimpses that let us feel the contours and palpitations of the masquer's soul but never fully reveal his face." The review also found allusions to earlier Bowie efforts, such as the "density" of The Man Who Sold the World, the "pop feel" of Hunky Dory, the "dissonance and angst" of Aladdin Sane, the "compelling percussion" of Young Americans, and the "youthful mysticism" of "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud", concluding that "it shows Bowie pulling out on the most challenging leg of his winding journey".
Station to Station was voted the 13th best album of 1976 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice. Reviewing the record for the newspaper, Christgau expressed some reservations about the length of the songs and the detached quality of Bowie's vocals, but deemed "TVC 15" his "favorite piece of rock and roll in a very long time" and wrote, "spaceyness has always been his shtick, and anybody who can merge Lou Reed, disco, and Dr. John ... deserves to keep doing it for five minutes and 29 seconds." He ranked it as the year's fourth best in his ballot for the poll.
With the Station to Station sessions completed in December 1975, Bowie started work on a soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth with Paul Buckmaster as his collaborator. Bowie expected to be wholly responsible for the film's music but found that "when I'd finished five or six pieces, I was then told that if I would care to submit my music along with some other people's ... and I just said "Shit, you're not getting any of it". I was so furious, I'd put so much work into it." Notwithstanding, Harry Maslin argued that Bowie was "burned out" and could not complete the work in any case. The singer eventually collapsed, admitting later, "There were pieces of me laying all over the floor". In the event, only one instrumental composed for the soundtrack saw the light of day, evolving into "Subterraneans" on his next studio album, Low.
After abandoning the soundtrack album, Bowie went on tour in support of Station to Station, commencing 2 February 1976 and completing on 18 May 1976. Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" was employed as an overture to the shows, accompanying footage from Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dalí's surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. The staging featured Bowie, dressed in the Duke's habitual black waistcoat and trousers, a pack of Gitanes placed ostentatiously in his pocket, moving stiffly among "curtains of white light", an effect that spawned the nickname 'the White Light Tour'. In 1989 Bowie reflected, "I wanted to go back to a kind of Expressionist German-film look ... and the lighting of, say, Fritz Lang or Pabst. A black-and-white movies look, but with an intensity that was sort of aggressive. I think for me, personally, theatrically, that was the most successful tour I've ever done." The Isolar Tour was the source of one of the artist's best-known bootlegs, culled from an FM radio broadcast of his 23 March 1976 concert at Nassau Coliseum. A live album was officially released years later.
Bowie drew criticism during the tour for his alleged pro-fascist views. In a 1974 interview he had declared, "Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars ... quite as good as Jagger ... He staged a country", but managed to avoid condemnation. On the Isolar Tour, however, a series of incidents attracted publicity, starting in April 1976 with his detention by customs in Eastern Europe for possession of Nazi memorabilia. The same month he was quoted in Stockholm as saying that "Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader". Bowie would blame his addictions and the persona of the Thin White Duke for his lapses in judgment. The controversy culminated on 2 May 1976, shortly before the tour completed, in the so-called 'Victoria Station incident' in London, when Bowie arrived in an open-top Mercedes convertible and apparently gave a Nazi salute to the crowd that was captured on film and published in NME. Bowie claimed that the photographer simply caught him in mid-wave, a contention backed by a young Gary Numan who was among the crowd that day: "Think about it. If a photographer takes a whole motor-driven film of someone doing a wave, you will get a Nazi salute at the end of each arm-sweep. All you need is some dickhead at a music paper or whatever to make an issue out it ..." The stigma remained, to the extent that the lines "To be insulted by these fascists/It's so degrading" from Scary Monsters' opening track "It's No Game", four years later, were interpreted as an attempt to bury the incident once and for all.
Station to Station was a milestone in Bowie's transition to his late 1970s 'Berlin Trilogy'. Bowie said of the album, "As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were a direct follow-on from the title track", and Brian Eno felt that Low was "very much a continuation from Station to Station". It has also been described as "enormously influential on post-punk". Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray wrote in 1981, "If Low was Gary Numan's Bowie album, then Station to Station was Magazine's." Stylus opined in 2004 that "just as few had anticipated Bowie's approach, few copied it ... for the most part this is an orphaned, abandoned style". Rob Sheffield deemed it a "space rock masterpiece" in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), writing that Bowie had recorded "the most intense music of his life". Jem Aswad of NPR described the album as "pioneering ice-funk" that "paved the way not only for thousands of artists who were influenced by it, but also for the brilliant wave of experimentation that followed over the next five years: Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters."
More than twenty years after its release, Bowie considered both Station to Station and Low "great, damn good" albums, but due to his disconnected state during its recording, listened to Station to Station "as a piece of work by an entirely different person". He elaborated:
First, there's the content, which nobody's actually been terribly clear about. The "Station to Station" track itself is very much concerned with the Stations of the Cross. All the references within the piece are to do with the Kabbalah. It's the nearest album to a magick treatise that I've written. I've never read a review that really sussed it. It's an extremely dark album. Miserable time to live through, I must say.
In 1999, Buckley described Station to Station as a "masterpiece of invention" that "some critics would argue, perhaps unfashionably, is his finest record". The same year, Eno called it "one of the great records of all time". The album was ranked number 323 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, 324 on the 2012 revised list, and 52 on the 2020 revised list. In 2004, The Observer ranked the album number 80 on its list of the 100 greatest British albums. Vibe magazine placed the album in its list of 100 Essential Albums of the 20th century.
The album has been released several times on CD, the first being in 1984 by RCA, with the original black-and-white cover art. The album was released again in 1991 by Rykodisc, with two bonus tracks: live versions of "Word on a Wing" and "Stay"; a 1999 rerelease by EMI featured 24-bit digitally remastered sound, but lacks bonus tracks. Both rereleases used a colour version of the cover art, wherein the photograph occupies the entirety of the front cover apart from the red "STATIONTOSTATIONDAVIDBOWIE" text on the top. This modified artwork would be standard for CD issues of the album until 2007, when EMI Japan reused the original black-and-white artwork on a mini-LP release.
Station to Station was reissued in 2010 and released in different special and deluxe editions. The special edition included an "original analogue master" of the album (a newly prepared digital master sourced from the original tapes) and the complete 1976 Nassau Coliseum concert on two CDs. The deluxe edition included the special edition's contents, alongside all five tracks' single edits and three different mixes of the album: the 1985 RCA CD master, a Dolby 5.1 surround sound mix and a DVD containing a new stereo mix, both created by co-producer Harry Maslin. Bowie's official website announced the contents of the reissues on 1 July 2010, which were then released on 20 September.
In 2016, the album was remastered for the Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976) box set, with an individual CD release made available the following year. The box set includes both the original 1976 mix and the 2010 stereo remix of Station to Station, individually packaged in mini-LP sleeves. The 1976 mix uses the original cover art, while the 2010 mix uses a color-corrected version of the 1991 front cover art; the back cover of the 2010 mix's sleeve is a variant of the 1976 back cover, with burgundy text in place of bright red. The original cover art is also used for the 2017 standalone CD release of the album, which only includes the 1976 mix.
|1.||"Station to Station"||10:15|
|3.||"Word on a Wing"||6:04|
|3.||"Wild Is the Wind"||6:06|
- David Bowie – vocals, guitar, tenor and alto saxophone, Minimoog, Mellotron
- Carlos Alomar – guitar
- Roy Bittan – piano, organ
- Dennis Davis – drums
- George Murray – bass guitar
- Warren Peace – backing vocals
- Earl Slick – guitar
- Harry Maslin – melodica, synthesiser, vibraphone
- David Bowie – producer
- Harry Maslin – producer
- Steve Shapiro – photography
Certifications and sales
|Canada (Music Canada)||Gold||50,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
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