In the studio

The backing tracks for the first half of Low were recorded in less than a week, in early September 1976.

Guitarist Carlos Alomar described ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ as the most problematic of the songs.

We didn’t understand what David wanted, and that was definitely the hardest one to get right. It had this kind of gloomy thing to it, so we kind of understood that. But it also had this chordal thing I was trying to get… the chorus is a bit different to the verse, and I felt it was a little disjointed.
Carlos Alomar
Mojo

Afterwards various effects and overdubs were added to the backing tracks by Bowie, producer Tony Visconti, and Brian Eno.

After we were finished with the drums, bass and piano, we retained Carlos and Ricky to overdub more guitars. This was fun because they all had their own lush guitar pedals and great ideas. We didn’t hold them back. The concept of Low was cemented by the end of week one, the instrumental part at least. True to form David had not written one word of lyrics yet. All the tracks had working titles, no vocal melodies.

Week two started with just David, Brian and myself adding a few overdubs to side one. Brian created musical noises to tracks like ‘Sound And Vision’ and ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, but all the songs got the special Eno EMS Synthi briefcase fizzles, wobbles, shhzzzs. The Synthi doesn’t have a proper keyboard; Brian made these sounds with live manipulation of knobs and two joysticks!

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

On a FAQ on his website, Tony Visconti claimed that Bowie had sung part of ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ in the style of Bob Dylan.

Rick Gardiner, one of the guitarists on Low, is an unsung hero. His guitar work and Brian’s synth sounds contribute greatly towards making the song ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’ very dramatic. David spent quite a while writing the melody and lyrics and even recorded a verse in a quasi Dylan voice. But it was too spooky (not funny, as intended) so he asked me to erase it and we started again (in those days tracks were limited, since computers and time sync codes, to latch two machines together, were not in use yet).

Q: Who is playing the lead guitar lines in “Always Crashing?”

A: That was my friend Ricky Gardiner. He had a promising career as a rock guitarist but opted out to be a farmer in Wales. Ricky had an arsenal of his own effects, but I probably added some more on the mix. Lead guitar rarely goes down on tape live with the rest of the band. It is almost always an overdub situation, just like a vocal, and needs as much attention.

Tony Visconti
tonyvisconti.com

Bowie put forward some ideas for the guitar solo, but the end result was a moment of inspiration for Ricky Gardiner.

I was surprised when I got the call to play guitar on Low. I wasn’t as familiar with David’s work as I might have been. My impression of David was of a man who took life seriously and who understood the need to keep working, irrespective of what else may have been going on in his life. That is worthy of respect. He also kept working when not necessarily feeling in top form. David, Iggy Pop and I are near contemporaries – there is something like 18 months between us. Brian [Eno] is not far away in age either. What makes this generation of musicians tick is creative expression. It is pleasure and release. It is identity and purpose. It’s love at a deep level, together with the challenge that brings.

I wasn’t instructed in any way at all regarding modes of approach or specific techniques. When it came to overdubbing the solo in ‘Always Crashing…’, David hummed the first few notes he wanted and I took it from there. These things don’t evolve as such. They happen spontaneously and the engineer has to catch them. I believe it was generally well received at the time. People do ask me about that solo so it must mean something out there!

Ricky Gardiner
Uncut, March 2008

Live performances

David Bowie first performed ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ on 8 January 1997, his 50th birthday, during a show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. He also sang it with an acoustic arrangement that year during a number of US radio sessions.

Bowie’s story of the Berlin incident was told during the recording of VH1 Storytellers on 23 August 1999. Although left out of the original broadcast, it was included on the 2009 release.

Other versions from the Hours Tour were released on the live albums Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) and At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99).

Bowie’s final performance of ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ was on 8 May 2004 at the Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia.

Previous song: ‘Sound And Vision’
Next song: ‘Be My Wife’