In the studio

‘V-2 Schneider’ is mostly instrumental, aside from the words of the title. The vocals were recorded using vowel sounds from a synthesizer, over which Bowie sang consonants.

David and I, being fairly impatient, couldn’t wait to track down a vocoder for the chorus of ‘V2-Schneider’ (from the album “Heroes”). We had a cheap little synthesizer in the studio and found sounds that had a vowel shape that resembled: Vee-Too-Schnei-Der. The idea was to use those four separate patches for each note and David would supply just the consonants with his voice filtered electronically (all the ‘body’ taken out), i.e.: V-T-Sch_D… and it kind of worked although one reviewer at the time sussed that this was the way we really did it and he was right!
Tony Visconti
tonyvisconti.com

Dennis Davis played an approximation of the Krautrock motorik beat, as heard in the music of Kraftwerk, Neu!, and others, and altered his snare drum to make it sound less conventional.

Every musician felt a special thing for each track. With Dennis Davis, you just cut him loose. Before recording ‘V-2 Schneider’ we played a few Kraftwerk tracks for Dennis, who had never heard of them. He was fascinated with the tight electronic snare drum they used. He said he could do that, just give him a few minutes. He turned his snare drum upside down, tightened the bottom skin (now on the top) more than usual and played his version of a Kraftwerk beat.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Bowie, meanwhile, initially played the saxophone part off-beat, but switched to the originally-intended pattern in the song’s second half. The mistake was retained, in an Eno-inspired spirit of willingness to embrace mistakes.

That was more of an idea of a sequence. Except we turned the riff around in the beginning, purely by accident. I started playing the sax riff on the offbeat instead of the onbeat. Halfway through I thought, ‘Oh, I’m the wrong way round,’ but we continued through.

So now you get this extraordinary intro where it’s all the wrong way round – beautiful! Impossible to write that – so I stayed with that and built it up from that wrong way round.

But I must say, that is why I’m so held to these albums: that each track is a whole different system of methods. It keeps me interested. It’s incredible! And I’m still learning, every album I go in with Brian.

Now I’ve learned some of his methods quite thoroughly, and I’m fairly competent with them so I can utilise them on my own, but I’m still learning more from him.

David Bowie
Melody Maker, 18 February 1978

The release

‘V-2 Schneider’ was the sixth track on David Bowie’s “Heroes”, which was released on 14 October 1977.

The song “Heroes” was issued as a single on 23 September 1977, ahead of the album’s 14 October release. The b-side was ‘V-2 Schneider’.

The German and French versions of “Heroes” were released in their respective countries as “Helden” and “Héros”. These, plus the English version and ‘V-2 Schneider’, were compiled for a four-song 7″ single in Australia.

‘V-2 Schneider’ was the opening song on the soundtrack of Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the 1981 film which featured a number of Bowie songs.

It was also included on the instrumental Bowie album All Saints, in both its original privately-pressed 1993 version and the 2001 wider commercial release.

Live performances

‘V-2 Schneider’ received its live debut on 17 May 1997 during the Earthling Tour, at a concert in Dublin.

During the tour, Bowie and his band performed several ‘secret’ shows under the name Tao Jones Index. A 12″ single was released under the name, containing versions of ‘Pallas Athena’ and ‘V-2 Schneider’ recorded at the Amsterdam Paradiso on 10 June 1997.

The recordings were also included on a two-CD version of Earthling released in 2004, and on the 2020 reissue of liveandwell.com (initially on streaming services, and on CD and vinyl in 2021).

Bowie’s final performance of ‘V-2 Schneider’ was on 7 December 1997 at Kezar Pavilion, San Francisco, where it opened the second encore of the night.

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