Station to Station is the tenth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1976. Commonly regarded as one of his most significant works, Station to Station was the vehicle for his last great "character", the Thin White Duke. The album was recorded after he completed shooting Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the cover artwork featured a still from the movie. During the sessions Bowie was heavily dependent on drugs, especially cocaine, and recalls almost nothing of the production.
Musically, Station to Station was a transitional album for Bowie, developing the funkand soul music of his previous release, Young Americans, while presenting a newDIRECTION towards synthesisers and motorik rhythms that was influenced by German electronic bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk. This trend culminated in some of his most acclaimed work, the so-called 'Berlin Trilogy', recorded with Brian Eno in 1977–79. Bowie himself has said that Station to Station was "a plea to come back to Europe for me". The album’s lyrics reflected his preoccupations with Nietzsche,Aleister Crowley, mythology and religion.
Blending 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". Preceded by the single "Golden Years", it made the top five in both the UK and US charts. In 2003, the album was ranked No. 323 on Rolling Stonemagazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
According to biographer David Buckley, the Los Angeles-based David Bowie, fuelled by an "astronomic" cocaine habit and subsisting on aDIET of peppers and milk, spent much of 1975–76 "in a state ofPSYCHIC 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 hisWINDOW, 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 L.A., "The fucking place should beWIPED 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 theORIGINAL 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, as often as not 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 the autumn of 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.
At various times 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. However, 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 various 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". Harry Maslin added, "I loved those sessions because we were totally open and experimental in our approach".
Bowie himself remembers 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.
Station to Station is often cited as a transitional album in Bowie'sCAREER. 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'."
AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that, "at its heart, Station to Station is an avant-gardeart-rock album, most explicitly on "TVC 15" and the epic sprawl of the title track." 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 Station to Station tour. "Stay" was another riff-driven funk piece, "recorded very much in our cocaine frenzy", according to Alomar. Its lyrics have been variously 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'sCAREER. Bowie was inspired to record it after he met singer/pianist/songwriter Nina Simone (whoseVERSION is on the 1966 album she named after it).
The spectre of The Man Who Fell to Earth's Thomas Jerome Newton sprawled in front of dozens ofTELEVISION monitors is said to have partly inspired the album's most upbeat track, "TVC15". Supposedly also about Iggy Pop's girlfriend being eaten by aTV 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 piano-driven march, introduced by the sound of an approaching train juxtaposed with Earl Slick's agitated guitarfeedback, followed by an up-tempo rock/blues section. 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 claims 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'.
Speaking to Creem magazine in 1977, Bowie proclaimed that Station to Station was "devoid of spirit ... Even the love songs are detached, but I think it's fascinating."
Every song on Station to Station, with the exception of the title track, 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 No. 8 in the UK and No. 10 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.
"TVC15" was released in edited form as the second single in May 1976, reaching No. 33 in the UK and No. 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. Backed with "Word on a Wing" and accompanied by a video shot especially for the release, it made No. 24 in the UK and charted for ten weeks.
Station to Station was released in January 1976. Billboard considered that Bowie had "found his musical niche" following songs like "Fame" and "Golden Years" but that "the 10-minute title cut drags". NME called it "one of the most significant albums released in the last five years". Both found the meaning of the lyrics difficult to fathom. In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave the album an A rating, indicating "a great record both of whose sides offer enduring pleasure and surprise. You should own it". Christgau wrote that Bowie "can merge Lou Reed, disco, and Huey Smith" and found the album a progression from his previous albums, stating "Miraculously, Bowie's attraction to black music has matured; even more miraculously, the new relationship seems to have left his hard-and-heavy side untouched".
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 various 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 Bowie's highest-charting album in the US until 2013's The Next Day, reaching No. 3 and remaining for 32 weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA on 26 February 1976. In the UK, it charted for seventeen weeks, peaking at No. 5, the last time one of his studio albums placed lower in his home country than in America.
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 couldn't 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.
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 Station to Station 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 Mercedesconvertible 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 youngGary Numan who was among the throng 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, however, 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 himself has said of the album, "As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were aDIRECT follow-on from the title track", while Brian Eno opined 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."However, Stylus declared in 2004 that "just as few had anticipated Bowie’s approach, few copied it ... for the most part this is an orphaned, abandoned style".
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 Kabbala. 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, music biographer David 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". In 2003, the album was ranked No. 323 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. A year later, The Observerranked the album No. 80 on its list of the 100 greatest British albums.
The album has been re-released four times to date on CD, the first being in 1985 by RCA with theORIGINALblack-and-whitecover art, the second in 1991 by Rykodisc (containing twoBONUS tracks), the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and noBONUS tracks), and finally in 2007 by EMI Japan replicating the original vinyl artwork.
In 2009 it was announced that a deluxe edition would be released in 2010, including a Dolby 5.1 mix of the album and the entire 1976 Nassau Coliseum show on two CDs. On 1 July 2010, Bowie's official website announced the contents of the reissues, to be released on 20 September that year.
The deluxe edition features five CDs, one DVD and three 12" LPs in a sturdy box lined with studio-style acoustic foam reminiscent of the sleeve photo background. It also includes a 24-page booklet, a poster and two folders of replica collectible material.
CD 1: Station to Station 2010 transfer
CD 2: Station to Station 1985 CD master
CD 3: Station to Station single edits five track EP
"Word on a Wing" (First time on CD)
"Station to Station" (Previously unreleasedVERSION)
CD 4 & 5: Live Nassau Coliseum '76
Station to Station ORIGINAL analogue master, 96 kHz/24bit LPCM stereo)
Station to Station (New Harry Maslin 5.1 surround sound mix in DTS 96/24 and Dolby Digital)
Station to Station ORIGINAL analogue master, LPCM stereo)
Station to Station (New Harry Maslin stereo mix, 48 kHz/24bit LPCM stereo)
LP 1: Heavyweight 12" of Station to Station from theORIGINAL stereo analogue master in replica sleeve
LP 2 & 3: Heavyweight 12"s of Live Nassau Coliseum '76 in gatefold sleeve
24-page booklet including text and rare photographs
David Bowie on Stage 1976 relplica collectibles folder (for example, a backstage pass)
1976 Fan Club Folder replica collectibles folder (for example, two badges/pins)