In 1976, David Bowie decamped to Berlin, kicked his drug habit, and created some of the most revolutionary music of his life. The productive period — which revolved around Bowie’s creative partnerships with vocalist Iggy Pop, producer Brian Eno, and guitarists Robert Fripp and Carlos Alomar — found him spurning his early ’70s brand of glam-rock for a forward-thinking synthesis of kraut-rock, electronica, and ambient music. Below, highlights from A New Career in a New Town: 1977-1982, a just-released collection of music and archival materials celebrating the era’s masterful output.
Unearthed materials cast his legacy in a new light
Today, we celebrate Bowie for his creative shape-shifting. Yet a book of photos and documents included with this set shows just how confusing Bowie’s pivot from his Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke personas to a more conservative look was to some at the time. A puzzled review from the era notes, “As his appearance gets straighter, the music gets weirder.” Even his label resisted categorizing Bowie: “There’s old wave. There’s new wave. And there’s David Bowie,” reads an RCA ad for “Heroes.”
He sings “Heroes” in German and French!
The best song of Bowie’s Berlin era has a certain universality to it, emphasized here with the reissue of an EP containing German-and French-language versions of the track. Even if you don’t understand the words, they still pulse with the bracing emotion of the original — and will make listening for the hundredth time feel like the first. Und wir sind dann helden!
An epic live album is expanded (again!)
Though Bowie live albums now abound, Stage, which captured his 1978 tour, was only the second such LP he’d released (after 1974’s woefully received David Live). In 2005, the album was rereleased with numerous tracks added; here, it’s been extended yet again, with fiery versions of “The Jean Genie” and “Suffragette City.”
An underrated LP gets a revelatory update
Lodger, the third volume in the Berlin trilogy, never achieved the vaunted status of “Heroes” and Low. Thanks to a new mix from longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, however, it deserves a critical reevaluation. “David and I weren’t too pleased with the mixing,” Visconti writes in the liner notes for his revision of the album, citing time constraints and studio complications. “Here is Lodger as we intended it to be heard.”
A holiday hit finally finds a proper home
Recorded in 1977 but not released until 1982, Bowie and Bing Crosby’s famed duet, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” is a Christmas classic. In recent years, however, the full recording hasn’t been widely available: Digital platforms like Spotify have only a truncated version from a Now Christmas compilation. Just in time for the holiday season, it’s presented in its entirety — including Bowie and Crosby’s quaint dialogue — on Re:Call 3, the set’s collection of rarities.
A fan favorite grows by the minute
Bowie’s 1977 masterpiece Low is practically flawless, but the second track, “Breaking Glass,” clocks in at just under two minutes. Re:Call 3 exhumes the Australian-single version of the tune, which thankfully extends the lurching groove for a full minute.