Jimmy and Davey go to Berlin
The year of our lord 1976 found our heroes David Bowie and Iggy Pop in rough shape. Iggy Pop (aka James Newell Osterburg Jr.) who, only a few short years before, was the toast of the New York underground along with his fellow stooges; was now left friendless in the pissy gutters of New York City. That is, except for one friend. That friend was David Bowie (aka David Robert Jones). Bowie himself had recently hit a bottom of his own, barely remembering the tracking of last year’s “Station to Station” due to an astronomical cocaine habit. He was also cited as making remarks while stoned, in favor of the other “f” word, fascism. In light of all this tragedy, David Bowie grabbed his friend Iggy Pop out of the gutter, and took him to Berlin.
The intensely creative period that followed (‘77-’79) would be referred to by many as “the Berlin Trilogy”, even though it was actually 5 albums that were ultimately produced (including Iggy’s first two solo records). The first of these albums was 1977’s “Low” lp. This album, along with the other 2 bowie releases in the trilogy, were produced in collaboration with Roxy Music’s Brian Eno and relied heavily, therefore, on the use of synthesizers. “Low” is a sprawling and challenging collection of music, with vocals only being recorded on roughly half of the songs. Lyrically, this was the first Bowie release to find him shifting away from a narrative-style lyric, toward a more dreamlike or stream of consciousness type of lyricism. The crown jewel of the instrumentals is, without question, “Warszawa”. This stark, cyclical synth track borrowed heavily from German electronic artists Kraftwerk and Neu!, no doubt a positive side effect of relocation to Berlin. That being said, there was still a hit single by way of “Sound and Vision”, the second song on the album. This track mixes the danceability of the “Thin White Duke” era of years previous, with the electronic experimentation of newfound German influences.
The recording of the “Low” album was concurrent with the recording of Iggy Pop’s first solo record “The Idiot”. Even though Bowie had left the cocaine capital of the world at that time (Los Angeles), unbeknownst to him he had landed in the then heroin capital of the world (Berlin). A fact that could’ve spelled disaster for Iggy, whose problems with said drug have been more than well documented, but Iggy managed to clean up his act and create some incredible music with Bowie during this period. The album opens with “Sister Midnight” which Bowie would later use the instrumental track from, for “Red Money” on the “Lodger” album. This track is followed by “Nightclubbing” which was later featured, along with many other Iggy Pop tracks, on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack. Rumor also has it that Nine Inch Nails lifted the beat from this song for their 1994 single “Closer”. This entire album is amazing, and sound-wise it’s almost like James Brown meets Kraftwerk, Not a bad combo!
1977 was a VERY busy year for these guys, as they each put out another album (making a grand total of 4 albums released in one year!) which is impressive enough, but the fact that all 4 releases are of such great quality tells you they were REALLY in the zone, so to speak. David Bowie’s second album of the Berlin trilogy was “Heroes”, a recording that was apparently “effortless” with Bowie and Eno really finding their groove collaboratively. The title track of this album is probably my favorite David Bowie song of all time. If you ever wanna hear it in German, just search “David Bowie Helden” in YouTube and have a little laugh. Robert Fripp of prog-rockers “King Crimson” was recruited for guitar duties on the album, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
As for Iggy’s second release of ‘77, we get a gift from the gods in the form of the “Lust for Life” lp. Everybody knows (or should know) the title track on this one. It’s been in car commercials galore (ugh) and it was basically used as the theme song for Danny Boyle’s 1996 film “Trainspotting”. Guitar duties on this lp were provided by longtime and future Bowie collaborator Carlos Alomar (check out his catalogue, seriously). This release also gives us great tracks such as “The Passenger”, “Some Weird Sin”, and “Sixteen”. The latter of which could almost be a song by Iggy’s former band, The Stooges.
The last lp released of the “Berlin Trilogy” was “Lodger”, a solid album no doubt, but to me is a tad anemic when compared with the previous two Bowie releases. Apparently, the creativity that had so easily flowed in the two years prior had started to dry up. As I had mentioned previously, the song “Red Money” found Bowie recycling the instrumental from Iggy’s “Sister Midnight”, and apparently the trio of Bowie/Eno/Pop had started to get on one another’s nerves a bit. That being said, these guys put out more great and truly inspired music in three years’ time, than most musicians do in their whole career. I, for one, am grateful.