Album release: Low

The first part of David Bowie’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, Low was released on 14 January 1977.

The album was recorded mostly in France in 1976, and contained a number of experimental, impressionist and instrumental pieces, as well as the hit singles ‘Sound And Vision’ and ‘Be My Wife’.

Low was produced by Tony Visconti, and was Bowie’s first of several collaborations with ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.

Low album cover

In addition to keeping a low profile in Berlin, Bowie did very little public promotion for the album. This was partly in response to RCA’s horrified reaction to the recordings. Having expected a continuation of the smooth funk and soul of Young Americans and Station To Station, the record label executives were aghast to find no obvious hit singles.

So shocked and appalled was one executive at RCA, he was heard to say, ‘I’m gonna buy Bowie a house in Philly and make him write Young Americans II.’ But he really didn’t know David Bowie, did he?
Tony Visconti, May 2015
Who Can I Be Now? book

RCA initially refused to release Low, telling Bowie that he could keep the masters as the label had no use for them. Bowie, whose belief in the album was unwavering, refused to make changes, and took legal advice. He was informed that, under the terms of his contract, RCA were obliged to release the album.

The label refused to schedule Low in the run-up to Christmas 1976, choosing instead to issue it with little fanfare in January – traditionally a quiet time for new music.

It was received with caution when it came out. I didn’t expect otherwise. I certainly didn’t expect people to embrace it with open arms as the long lost ‘new language of music’. And I realise I might be alienating a lot of people that had maybe only recently got into the idea that I change from record to record. I’d gathered a whole lot of new people listening to me at the Young Americans stage which I was worried about because I hoped that they didn’t expect that, that was it – that I was going to continue from there and that’s what I was, so I knew I’d lose a few of them on the way.
David Bowie, December 1977
An Evening With David Bowie, RCA promotional album

Although it had its supporters, Low received mostly negative reviews upon its release, with many critics seemingly baffled by the unconventional sounds and Bowie’s decision to issue an album split between mostly-conventional pop-rock and predominantly instrumental and experimental recordings.

Despite the mixed reception, and Bowie’s near-refusal to promote it, Low peaked at number two in the UK albums chart, and number six on the Dutch Mega Albums chart. It reached number 10 in Australia and Norway, although it was lodged just outside the top ten in the USA, New Zealand and Sweden.

Last updated: 29 November 2018
Live: Pavilion de Paris, Paris
Single release: Sound And Vision
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