Released: 14 January 1977
David Bowie: vocals, synthetic strings, saxophone
Carlos Alomar, Ricky Gardiner: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Roy Young: piano
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Brian Eno, Mary Hopkin: vocals
The lead single from David Bowie’s 1977 album Low, ‘Sound And Vision’ was a top ten hit in the UK, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
A very sad song for me is ‘Sound And Vision’. I was trying very hard to drag myself out of an awful period of my life. I was locked in a room in Berlin telling myself I was going to straighten up and not do drugs anymore. I was never going to drink again. Only some of it proved to be the case. It was the first time I knew I was killing myself and time to do something about my physical condition. I had a few scares and thought, ‘Well, I got through that by the skin of my teeth.’ Serious haemorrhaging from the nose, passing out… awful stuff.
Q magazine, October 2003
The song is notable for its lengthy introduction, which lasts for over one minute. Aside from a two-note “Ah-ah” at the 47-second mark, no voices are heard until Mary Hopkin’s “do-do-do-do” line just ahead of Bowie’s entrance.
The long instrumental passage is kick-started by Dennis Davis’s drums, filtered through producer Tony Visconti’s Eventide H910 Harmonizer – his cymbal hit on the third beat of each bar was similarly manipulated, becoming one of the song’s key features. Other elements in the intro were the synth strings, played by Bowie, and Carlos Alomar’s sprightly guitar line.
That was an ultimate retreat song; actually, the first thing that I wrote with Brian in mind when we were working at the Château. It was just the idea of getting out of America, that depressing era I was going through. I was going through dreadful times. It was wanting to be put in a little cold room with omnipotent blue on the walls and blinds on the windows.
Melody Maker, 18 February 1978
The upbeat music is in contrast to Bowie’s low-key vocals, and lyrics which dwell on isolation and the absence of inspiration – a continuation of the fears he had voiced on Hunky Dory‘s ‘Quicksand’. ‘Sound And Vision’ was written at a time when Bowie was attempting to kick his cocaine addiction, and was in a period of turmoil following his parting from wife Angela and manager Michael Lippman.
I was a very different guy by then. I mean, I’d gone through my major drug period and Berlin was my way of escaping from that and trying to work out how you live without drugs. It’s very hard. You’re up and down all the time, vacillating constantly. It’s a very tough period to get through. So my concern with Low was not about the music. The music was literally expressing my physical and emotional state… and that was my worry. So the music was almost therapeutic. It was like, “Oh yeah, we’ve made an album and it sounds like this.” But it was a by-product of my life. It just sort of came out. I never spoke to the record company about it. I never talked to anybody about it. I just made this album… in a rehab state. A dreadful state really.
Q magazine, June 1989