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?
Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976) 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. Its release date was 14 January 1977.
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.
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.
‘Sound And Vision’/‘A New Career In A New Town’, the first single released from Low, was released on 11 February 1977, and peaked at number three in the UK. It was followed by ‘Be My Wife’/‘Speed of Life’. A third single, ‘Breaking Glass’/‘Art Decade’ was issued in November 1978 in Australia.
Sales aside, Low became a hugely influential album, establishing Bowie as firmly outside the headwinds of punk, and establishing a new musical language for its creators.
Low was released with both the disapproval of David’s label and the enthusiastic approval of most of his fans (but some felt like RCA, they wanted ‘more Bowie’). It startled and impressed! My phone was ringing with fellow producers on the other end asking many questions but the big one was ‘How did you get that drum sound?’ and I’d respond with, ‘How do you think I did it?’ Some answers were amusing and insightful, but no one could bust the secret, the Harmonizer. I felt that the magic of this rebellious album would be reduced to a technical trick if I had explained.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
Reissues, remixes, remasters
Low was first released on compact disc in 1984. It was remastered and released on CD, vinyl and cassette by Rykodisc/EMI in 1991, with three bonus tracks: ‘Some Are’, ‘All Saints’, and a remix of ‘Sound And Vision’.
The album was remastered and reissued again in 1999, this time without bonus tracks. Another remastered version was included in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982), and as a standalone release the following year, on CD, vinyl and digital download.
It’s still a very organic, blues-driven sound. It’s swathed in extraordinary atmospheres, partially from Eno, a lot from Tony Visconti himself and my choice of playing rather dotty old synthesisers, quite Beatlesque in a way. But again the actual rhythm section is not a metronome, electronic sound like the Germans were doing: it was Dennis Davis and George Murray, Carlos Alomar; it was another hybridisation that I thought might be fabulous. If I took what I’d found in America, brought it back to Europe and combined it with what was happening in a sonic way in Germany, I’d just see what would happen.
Mojo magazine, July 2002