Written by: David Bowie, Brian Eno, Carlos Alomar
Recorded: July-August 1977
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 14 October 1977
Brian Eno: synthesizers, guitar treatments
Carlos Alomar: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Antonia Maass: vocals
‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ was the closing song on David Bowie’s 12th studio album “Heroes”.
In 1977 Bowie confronted his fear of flying, and he travelled to England, the USA, Canada, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Japan. This itinerant lifestyle and exposure to different cultures, in conjunction with Berlin’s cosmopolitan nature, made “Heroes” a more outwardly-looking album than its predecessor Low.
Based in Berlin during the recording, Bowie was inspired by Germany (“Heroes”, ‘V-2 Schneider’, ‘Neuköln’), America (‘Joe The Lion’, ‘Blackout’), and Japan (‘Moss Garden’, ‘Blackout’). On the final song he set his sights on the middle east, a foreshadowing of the increased internationalism of his next album Lodger.
‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ was one of four tracks on “Heroes” to be co-written. “Heroes”, ‘Moss Garden’, and ‘Neuköln’ were all credited to Bowie and Brian Eno. The music of ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’, meanwhile, was credited to Bowie, Eno, and guitarist Carlos Alomar.
With the exception of ‘Sons Of The Silent Age’, the band performances on “Heroes” were written in the studio with scant idea of the lyrics or melody that Bowie might later add.
True to form, we all congregated in Berlin with nothing more than chord changes and rhythm ideas, not yet songs. Carlos, George and Dennis instinctively knew what to do from the start but played harder than the previous album. Low was like learning a new alphabet. “Heroes” was the subsequent pulp fiction novel! Like Low, it didn’t take very long to record the seven band tracks. They took less than a week. Carlos stayed behind to add more guitar but the parts were more supportive than fiery. We were expecting Robert Fripp to start the fire…
It’s hard to believe that ‘Beauty And The Beast’ to ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ were just backing tracks arranged on the spot with no knowledge of titles, vocal melodies or lyrics. Once a riff was established, as in ‘Beauty And The Beast’, a lick, an interjection, a countermelody, a quirky drum fill all fell into place naturally. Somehow it was mutually sensed where singing would and wouldn’t be. Emotional music textures, not songs, were being recorded.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ is a funk-like performance, with Alomar, bassist George Murray, and drummer Dennis Davis all playing tightly, economically, and effectively. The song also features Antonia Maass on backing vocals – she bookended the album, having also appeared on ‘Beauty And The Beast’.