Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Zoo Station

I recently picked up the expanded version of David Bowie's 1976 album Station to Station, which came out last year, and as good as the album is, it's no match for the liner notes. There's an essay by Cameron Crowe, who is as good as always, but the real keeper is the sort of diary of Bowie's activities, from the inception of the sessions in May 1975 through the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth over the course of that summer, and continuing through Bowie's Isolar Tour, which ended in May 1976.

This was a totally nutty period for Bowie, during which he hoovered up half the GDP of Bolivia, made his frightening appearance on Soul Train and his much-beloved appearance alongside Henry Winkler on Dinah!, and stayed awake for days on end, greatly irritating his collaborators. (Please note that I had earlier described that appearance on Dinah! as being from 1975, but according to these liner notes, it was actually January 3, 1976. My apologies, and happy new year.)

Among the other facts I learned:

* Bowie's pianist on Station to Station was a young man named Roy Bittan, who had just joined an East Coast group called the E Street Band. Bittan's first album with Bruce Springsteen was Born to Run, which was released on August 25, 1975. Less than a month later, he was in the studio with Bowie, who must have moved quickly after hearing Bittan's work on that much-hyped record.

* On September 8, 1975, Bowie attended Peter Sellers' 50th birthday party in Los Angeles. An impromptu band, made up of Keith Moon, Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman, Bobby Keys and Bowie, bashed away for a while. "Neither David nor any of the other musicians seemed to be playing the same songs," noted Bowie collaborator Geoff MacCormack, a/k/a Warren Peace.

* Also appearing on that Dinah! show was a karate instructor, who showed a few moves to Dinah and David on camera. Impressed by this, Bowie then hired a karate instructor to help keep him in shape on the upcoming tour.

* This has nothing to do with the liner notes, but it boggles my mind that there are only six tracks on Station to Station. You couldn't get away with something like that today, but you couldn't really get away with it in 1976 either, could you? The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle has seven songs on it, but I can't think of another major rock album with only six.

* Just before he started work on the album, Bowie did an interview with Tina Brown (!) wherein he declared: "Me and rock-and-roll have parted company.... I think I've made enough rumpus for someone who's not even convinced he's a good musician."


  1. Pet Shop Boys' Introspective has six songs on it.

    Pink Floyd's Wish You Were has five.

  2. U.S. Number One albums of the Seventies featuring six songs or fewer:

    * "Thick as a Brick," Jethro Tull -- two songs
    * "A Passion Play," ibid. -- two songs
    * "The World Is A Ghetto," War -- six songs
    * "The Heat Is On," Isley Brothers -- six songs
    * "Wish You Were Here," Pink Floyd -- five songs

  3. Also Blind Faith, with six tracks.