In the studio

David Bowie recorded Station To Station from September to December 1975 at Cherokee Studios on North Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood, Los Angeles.

‘Golden Years’ was the first of the album’s songs to be completed, and was for a time intended as its title track.

So after selecting Cherokee, we planned some instrumental rehearsal time, and David and I ran through the tracks just to get the basics down, just getting the feels together. Most of the lyrics hadn’t been written yet. Some of the music hadn’t been written yet either. It was kind of expected that David would come through by the time we got in the recording studio. Which he did. He was famous for going into the corner or going into the men’s room and writing some lyrics, which is what he did on ‘Golden Years’. He literally went to the bathroom and came back with the lyric, went to the mike, and did the song in one take. I was blown away. He told me that he didn’t consider himself to be a vocalist, but I told him that that was one of the most amazing performances I had ever seen.
Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

David Bowie's handwritten lyrics to Golden Years

According to Maslin, the song was “cut and finished very fast. WE knew it was absolutely right within ten days. But the rest of the album took forever.”

The best thing about working with David for me, apart from all the negative stuff with the cocaine, was that David was a true artist. He would be willing to try anything. Many artists you have to convince to try a particular part, a part on the piano, a string part, a vocal part, whatever. David would try anything without question. He would not necessarily approve of everything or like everything but he would give it a go. In fact at the beginning of ‘Golden Years’ there’s this harmonium thing that starts off with just three notes. And he played it and played it out of time. And he said, ‘Oh, should I do that again?’ And I said no. It’s perfectly out of time. I told him to trust me on this one. And we left it like it is and to this day it’s one of my favourite things.
Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Performing backing vocals alongside Bowie was his former schoolfriend and touring partner Geoff MacCormack. Indeed, MacCormack stepped in to sing many of the ‘Golden Years’ vocals when Bowie was ill.

He wanted it quite loose, casual. I loved what he’d already done in terms of its flavour, especially the ‘Cum b-b-b-baby’ bit. I extended the idea by dropping the ‘golden years’ phrase the second time around and replacing it with a long, up-and-down, swooping ‘gold’ phrase and adding ‘wah, wah, wah’ on the end. David loved it and let me fiddle around with the ‘run for the shadows’ section as well. When we came to record the backing vocals for the song David lost his voice halfway through, leaving me to finish the job. That meant I had to sing the series of impossibly high notes before the chorus, which were difficult enough for David but were absolute murder for me.
Geoff MacCormack
From Station to Station: Travels with Bowie 1973-1976