David Bowie, one could argue, is the most influential artist ever. I may get some shit for that comment, but he had done more to marry music, art, fashion, and theater into one arena than anyone before or since. His tendrils reach far into the fine arts world and everything he touched was way before its time. Even his last record Blackstar was cemented as an artistic statement, and this from a 69 year old, cancer-ridden, terminally ill, music veteran who could have recorded a sneeze and gone gold.
All that said, it could also be argued that the "Berlin Trilogy" of records with collaborator Brian Eno was one of his highest peaks as an artist. Low, Heroes, and Lodger offered a blend of pop sass, and avant garde reckoning. The newest boxed set that was just released in October, A New Career in a New Town (and very highly rated by us at SPB), showcases this time period. Along with the equally terrific Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) the set provides a glimpse into Bowie hanging in Germany with his friends, making weird music.
Because we here at Scene Point Blank believe that these records are an important part of the canon of David Bowie—and music as a whole—we humbly selected 10 of the best songs from “A New Career in a New Town” below, along with their videos on YouTube.
This ditty from the uber-experimental Low was the second single off the album and showcases a more rock n roll sound with heavy piano and Bowie’s sharp baritone flying overhead. The song, produced with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, showcases co-producer Brian Eno on synth. The irreverent lyrics make “Be My Wife” one of the more interesting songs on the record. Watch the accompanying video and you will see why they called Bowie “The Thin White Duke.”
“V-2 Schneider” showcases Bowie’s influences at the time as the title of the song is a play on Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider. As the B-side to the now classic single “Heroes” it received much acclaim while showcasing Bowie’s instrumental collaborations with Brian Eno. The song was not played live until 20 years later on the 1997 Earthling tour with Bowie showing his saxophone chops throughout.
On side 2 of the original “Heroes” album were three instrumentals that almost bled right into one another. “Moss Garden” was smack dab in the middle. The breathy, airy, new agey charm of the song has Bowie simply plucking a traditional Japanese stringed koto over earthy synths. It’s tranquility, peaceful, and almost lethargic nature fits nicely on the record, but also provides a sharp contrast and palate cleanser compared to the overall record.
“Heroes” has been cited as one of Bowie’s greatest musical offerings with some ranking the song as his best ever. While there is a good argument that can be made there, “Heroes” has stood the test of time and has been showcased by Bowie himself at 1985’s “Live Aid”, “The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert” in 1992, and “The Concert for New York” in 2001. The little known German “Helden”, and French “Heros” versions are both on the newest boxed set with this version sung first in English, followed by the same in German.
“Look Back in Anger” is the unsung hero from the Bowie/Eno record Lodger. The lead single from the record “Boys Keep Swinging” was considered to risque for American audiences so this song was released in it’s place. I would actually argue that this song better. A funky, upbeat, brass-driven tune finds Bowie wailing the chorus to noone. See the campy video featuring Bowie doing his best impression of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Meant to provoke an image of the desolation Bowie witnessed first hand in the city of Warsaw, Poland, the song lulls the listener into a subtle calm while keeping the suspense at the precipice. Bowie used this hammock-like suspense in Warszawa as the opening number of the Heathens and Isolar II tours. The artful way that Bowie and Eno would record the song is the cornerstone of his Berlin Trilogy.
The first instrumental on the Low record, “Speed of Life” was meant to have lyrics, but they were quickly abandoned following several attempts failed attempts at writing them. The upbeat rhythm and use of warm synths gives the song a surf-style sun on the beach feel rather than a cold day in West Germany vibe.
My favorite Bowie song also haunted my childhood dreams. A funky, yet strange, beat about the character of Major Tom from the “Space Oddity” song, the 1980 hit was an epitaph for Bowie’s efforts from the 1970s. The video was an avant garde mind-fuck showcasing Bowie dressed as a mime with a posse of what look like nuns walking in front of a bulldozer on a salmon colored planet. I love it…
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) was mostly written solely by Bowie after the avant-garde creative peaks of his collaboration with Eno. Tony Visconti was still on board, however, and a more commercially viable sound was the focus of the record. “Teenage Wildlife” is a deep cut that I believe to be the 2nd best song on this record behind “Ashes to Ashes”. And… King Crimson’s lead guitarist, Robert Fripp, plays on the song which is an entire different conversation in of itself. The sing along chorus and uplifting beat was a good indication of what was to come with Bowie’s more pop-leaning records of the 80s.
Bertolt Brecht was a German composer that wrote “Alabama Song” in 1925 taken from a poem that he had written. The song was then made famous by The Doors in 1966 on their self-titled debut. Bowie, being a huge Brecht fan, recorded the song in 1980 and released it as a single with the B-side a stripped down acoustic version of “Space Oddity.” Bowie’s version stays true Brecht’s vision with its unconventional key changes and original melody.