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Low is a 1977 album by British musician David Bowie. Widely regarded as one of his most influential releases, Low was the first of the "Berlin Trilogy", a series of collaborations with Brian Eno (though the album was actually recorded mainly in Francemarker and only mixed in West Berlin). The experimental, avant-garde style would be further explored on "Heroes" and Lodger. The album's working title was New Music Night and Day.

Background

The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie's previous album Station to Station, and music he intended 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". 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, juxtaposed with the album's title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase "low profile".

Style and themes

Following the release of Station to Station, Bowie began to rekindle his interest in art. As a recovering cocaine addict, his songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues; many of the songs concern lethargy, depression, estrangement, or self-destructive behaviour. Producer Tony Visconti contended that the title was partly a reference to Bowie's "low" moods during the album's writing and recording.

The format of the album was unusual for its time: side one contained short, direct song-fragments; 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 synthesizer (Bowie was later given this particular synthesizer as a birthday present after a friend obtained it in an auction). Often incorrectly given credit as Low's producer, Eno was responsible for a good deal of the direction and composition of the second side of the album and actually 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. On Bowie's return Eno played him the work which impressed Bowie who then quickly composed the vaguely Eastern European-sounding lyrics.

Although the music was influenced by German bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!, 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. 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.

Release and aftermath

Low earned mixed reviews on its initial release. It was a commercial success, peaking at #2 on the UKmarker charts and #11 in the United Statesmarker. "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" were released as singles; the former reached #3 in the UK.

Low has risen to the top of many critics' "best album" lists. It was rated the #1 album of the 1970s by Pitchfork Media. In 2000 Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Nick Lowe "retaliated" against the album by naming his 1977 EP "Bowi"

Philip Glass based his 1992 classical album Low Symphony on Low, with Bowie and Eno both assisting in its creation.

In 2002, Bowie himself highlighted the Low album when he played 10 of its 11 songs in sequence (though not in album order) at five concerts of the Heathen Tour.

Track listing

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted.

LP: RCA / PL 12030 (UK)

Side one

  1. "Speed of Life" – 2:46
  2. "Breaking Glass" (Bowie, Dennis Davis, George Murray) – 1:52
  3. "What in the World" – 2:23
  4. "Sound and Vision" – 3:05
  5. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" – 3:33
  6. "Be My Wife" – 2:58
  7. "A New Career in a New Town" – 2:53

Side two

  1. "Warszawa" (Bowie, Brian Eno) – 6:23
  2. "Art Decade" – 3:46
  3. "Weeping Wall" – 3:28
  4. "Subterraneans" – 5:39


Reissues

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 Kingdommarker 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.

CD: Rykodisc / RCD 10142 (US)

  1. "Some Are" (previously unreleased) – 3:24
  2. "All Saints" (previously unreleased) – 3:25
  3. "Sound and Vision" (1991 remix by David Richards) – 4:43
  • also released by EMI in the UK (CDP 79 7719 2)


Personnel



Additional personnel

  • Peter Himmelman – piano, ARP synthesizer




Charts

Album
Year Chart Position
1977 UK Albums Chart 2
1977 US Billboard 200 11
1977 Norway 10
Single
Year Single Chart Position
1977 "Sound and Vision" UK Singles Chart 3
1977 "Sound and Vision" Billboard Pop Singles 69


Notes

  1. Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.87-90
  2. Hugo Wilcken (2005). Low: pp.16-22
  3. David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.299-315
  4. BowieGoldenYears. Retrieved 12 June 2007.
  5. Hugo Wilcken (2005). Op cit: pp.59-69
  6. Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.302-306
  7. Hugo Wilcken (2005). Op cit: pp.113-118
  8. Hugo Wilcken (2005). Op cit: pp.69-73



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