Saturday, January 23, 2016

David Bowie - Station To Station

A little less than two weeks ago (January 10th, 2016) all of us fans of music were saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary David Bowie. My Twitter feed was full of tributes to the 69 year old artist who had succumbed to cancer and moved on to the afterlife plane. Then again, he was always on another level entirely with his ever-changing, always-inspiring artistic talent. He will be greatly missed.

Today (January 23rd) marks the fortieth anniversary of Station To Station, his tenth studio album. This 1976 release spent thirty-two weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, with a two-week peak stay at number 3. It also rose to number 11 in Sweden, number 9 in New Zealand, number 8 in Australia and Norway, number 5 in the UK, and number 3 in the Netherlands.

It was with this album that Bowie donned the persona of the Thin White Duke. This look included a very stylish cabaret wardrobe with a white dress shirt and black trousers with a waistcoat. Bowie remarked in interviews that the Duke was "a nasty character indeed" and "an ogre for me", as this was also a period where the singer consumed massive amounts of cocaine.

Side one starts with the over ten minute long title track. "Station to Station", a promotional single around the time of the album release, has a religious element as it parallels the stations of the cross (the Christian series of prayers which follow the events of Jesus' crucifixion). The first minute is just the sounds of a train travelling across the countryside before Roy Bittan comes in on the piano. The next few minutes are an extended, hypnotic instrumental jam session by the band. At the halfway point, the rhythm becomes jarringly up-tempo.

"Golden Years" was the album's lead single, hitting airwaves in November of 1975. It peaked a number 34 in Australia, number 18 in the UK, number 10 in Sweden and on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 9 in Ireland, and number 6 in the Netherlands. I have always enjoyed the infectious funky guitar riff of this one, delivered by bassist George Murray. It really was one of those songs that when it came on the radio I felt compelled to turn the volume up. That still happens with me to this day.

The B-side to the fourth single was "Word on a Wing", a song Bowie has said came out of a cocaine-induced period of despair he experienced while filming The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1975. The song has a subtle yet strong gospel vibe to hit. I really like his decision to keep the music on this one uncluttered and straight-forward.

Side two opens with the bouncy mid-tempo "TVC 15". As the third single, it reached number 64 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 33 in the UK, and number 18 in Sweden. The lyrics were inspired by an episode where friend Iggy Pop was hallucinating on drugs and believed the television had swallowed his girlfriend. The piano melody gives it a jazz-blues sound.

A shortened version of "Stay" was released as the fourth single; the album cut is over six minutes long. This one opens with an extended R&B groove that was a foundation of the 70's soul sound from folks like Isaac Hayes on "Shaft", for example.

"Wild Is the Wind", which closes the original vinyl album, is a cover of a 1957 song recorded by Johnny Mathis for the film of the same name (Mathis was nominated for an Academy Award). Bowie's smoldering and haunting version is more reminiscent of R&B/jazz/gospel singer Nina Simone's rendition from the 1960's.

Later CD releases included live versions of "Word on a Wing" and "Stay".

I was only ten years old when this one came out. As such, this was my first time completely listening to Station To Station and I really enjoyed it a lot. I like the way Bowie played with a variety of genres on just a half dozen tracks. I do not have a lot of Bowie in my collection, but this is one I definitely should look into adding.

For more from David Bowie, click here.

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