Sunday, 6 April 2014

Whatever happened to the music that changed your life?

Following the sad death of my childhood hero I’m reflecting on the picture in front of me. It's 12 inches square, bright orange background that looks like clouds on fire. Mapped against it is a head and shoulders. A sharp nosed redheaded figure facing the right edge. Nattily dressed in graphite grey hooded coat. It’s a stunning image and it’s on the cover of a seminal album for me, Low by David Bowie.

"Low profile" that was the pun intended by Bowie on the cover. For me a teenager at the time, the screenshot taken from the epic ‘Man who fell to Earth” (Link) was too striking to avoid. 

Not that I wanted to avoid it. I had avidly collected all the other Bowie LPs and their stunning iconic images adorn my walls to this day. 

Low was somehow different and it resonated with me in so many ways. Partially recorded in Berlin, according to legend the first of Bowie’s 'Berlin Trilogy', it caught the Cold War mood and emotion perfectly. Don’t forget in the West the USSR and the fear of nuclear attack terrified us. The electronic hard edge of Bowie’s music somehow reflected that fear. 

As a teenager I obsessed about nuclear attack and the space race between, in my opinion, the dominant USA and the belligerent USSR (2 years after Low they invaded Afghanistan). Like many others I rushed to collect and find likeminded authors and musicians that reinforced my world view.

 Space and mutually assured destruction filled my daydreams, along with the other more pressing needs that fill the minds of teenagers. Bowie’s lyrical excellence punctuated by the superb musicianship of Ricky Gardiner and others was awesome. Many myths arose around this album especially around the drum sound, which we now know was aided by an Eventide Harmoniser. Not to mention The electronic genius of Brian Eno, sporting an AKS synth that back in 1977 we’d have killed to get our hands on. Low inspired me too. It led me to rush out and form an electronica band, The Bermuda Triangle. Aptly we disappeared almost as quickly as things that enter that zone and for many so did Low.

In 77 Low was not at all popular, but retrospectively my awe at this album and it’s unique production has evolved to be a popular view. The lack of critical acclaim was surprising and did nothing to hold back the Bowie legend. Competing at the time with Roxy Music and influencing many many others such as Talking Heads, he continued apace. In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In my opinion completely justified. Let me know what you think, perhaps you have a seminal album you want to share with me?
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