By 1976, David Bowie had already enjoyed a glittering career. His majestic 1969 hit ‘Space Oddity’ established his career (after a false start with the 1967 novelty ‘The Laughing Gnome’). As an album artist, Bowie’s first major success was 1971’s Hunky Dory, while 1972’s glam rock The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars transformed him into a mega-star.
As glam rock petered out, Bowie moved to L.A., and his life descended to chaos. In 1974 he released David Live, which he later referred to as “David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory” – his appearance was thin and pasty as a result of a cocaine addiction. He barely slept and lived on milk and peppers. He descended into paranoia, concerned about having his semen stolen by witches. He also flirted with fascism – in 1976 he was quoted as saying that “Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader” and was photographed giving a Nazi salute.
Bowie could remember little of recording Station to Station – he later said that “I know it was in LA because I’ve read it was”. Yet he was able to focus on his work, despite his addictions and neuroses.
Station to Station features the core band that would stay with Bowie through until 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray, and drummer Dennis Davis were known as The D.A.M. Trio. The trio would record the basic tracks, before Bowie and other musicians would overdub their parts. Other featured musicians on Station to Station include Springsteen pianist Roy Bittan, keyboard player Harry Maslin, and guitarist Earl Slick.
Station to Station is a transitional album – it touches the soul and funk of his previous record, Young Americans, while also looking forward to the Germanic austerity of his late 1970s work.
Over its six tracks, Station to Station covers a variety of moods – the ten minute title is a window into Bowie’s troubled state of mind, while ‘Golden Years’ is brash and funky. The lesser known tracks are excellent – ‘Stay’ chops along on a funky groove, while the gospel of ‘Word on a Wing’ was later described by Bowie as “unwittingly … a signal of distress; I’m sure that it was a call for help.”
After Station to Station, Bowie moved to Switzerland and then to Berlin – away from L.A. he was able to shake off his drug addiction and embark on a fascinating new era of his career – the “Berlin trilogy” of Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger was highly acclaimed, but much of the groundwork had already been laid with Station to Station.
Station to Station
The ten minute title track ‘Station to Station’ opens the album. It’s the longest studio song that Bowie ever released, although the opening title track to 2016’s Blackstar also pushes the ten minute mark. The austere beats of the first half of the song recall the German incluences that Bowie would explore further on his upcoming records..
Lyrically, ‘Station to Station’ is fascinating – the title is a reference to the Christian ritual of the Stations of the Cross, but the lyrics also refer to other spiritual practices like Kabbalah and Aleister Crowley. Bowie himself said “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 Kabbalah. 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. ” (David Bowie, interview with David Cavanagh, “ChangesFiftyBowie”, 1997)
In the lyrics, Bowie also refers to his alter-ego, the “Thin White Duke”, an unpleasant character who throws darts into lovers eyes. The character was an extension of Bowie’s film role in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Released as the advance single from Station to Station, ‘Golden Years’ wasn’t indicative of the album as a whole. It’s similar in style to the funk and soul that Bowie explored on 1975’s Young Americans, featuring Bowie’s falsetto along with the scratching guitars of Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar.
‘TVC 15’ was inspired by an episode when a drug-fuelled Iggy Pop hallucinated that Bowie’s television was eating him. It was released as the album’s second single, but it’s a strange piece, combining English music hall with futuristic Krautrock textures.
Other Recommended Bowie Albums
Station to Station is my favourite David Bowie album, but his catalogue places him among the elite artists in rock music, particularly in the 1970s. Alongside Station to Station, the following records are generally reckoned to be among his best:
1971’s Hunky Dory was Bowie’s fourth album. More personal than his later work, it features classics like career manifesto ‘Changes’ and the soaring ‘Life On Mars’.
1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars presented Bowie as an androgynous glam-rock star. It’s full of great songs like ‘Starman’ and ‘Suffragette City’.
By the time of 1977’s Low, Bowie had relocated to Berlin. He recorded Low with Brian Eno, and its electronic sheen kept Bowie ahead of the curve. While most established rockers were despised as old-hat by the punks of 1977, Bowie was revered as a restless innovator.
Bowie has a bunch of other excellent records – 1973’s Aladdin Sane, 1977’s “Heroes”, 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and 2016’s finale Blackstar are all highly recommended.
Do The Experts Agree?
In a contemporary review, Rolling Stone’s appraisal was non-committal, stating “the obsessively passionate conviction of his earlier works is missing. It remains 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.”
Brian Eno named Station to Station as “one of the great records of all time”. David Buckley described Station to Station as a “masterpiece of invention” that “some critics would argue, perhaps unfashionably, is his finest record”.
On the website Rate Your Music, Station to Station is ranked as the third best of David Bowie’s records. It’s very highly regarded – it’s ranked as the best album of 1976 and the 77th best album of all time.
On the website Acclaimed Music, Station to Station is ranked as Bowie’s sixth best, and the #304 album of all time. It’s ranked behind Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Low, 2016’s Blackstar, and “Heroes”.
Station to Station is one of seven Bowie albums included in the original edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.