The lyrics

All three of the songs on the first half of Station To Station touch upon belief. ‘Golden Years’, the album’s lead single, was addressed to an earthly angel, and had Bowie singing “I believe, oh Lord, I believe all the way”.

Whereas the song ‘Station To Station’ invoked the Kaballah’s Tree of Life, the Christian church’s Stations of the Cross, and elements of occultism and black magic, ‘Word On A Wing’ was its counterpoint: an open prayer for help, with no cynicism or darkness.

It was a nightmare time because cocaine is a very spiteful bedfellow. And it really takes it out of you. If you really want to lose all your friends and all of the relationships that you ever held dear, that’s the drug to do it with. Cocaine severs any link you have with another human being. And that’s the one thing that really came home to me in the mid-Seventies – what I was doing to all my relationships. I didn’t have anyone left who could get anywhere near me…

But it wasn’t only the drugs. It was also because of my spiritual state of mind. I had never been so near an abyss of total abandonment. When they say that one felt like a shell, an empty shell, I can really understand that. I felt that any of life’s intrusions would crush that shell very easily. I felt totally, absolutely alone. And I probably was alone because I pretty much had abandoned God.

David Bowie
Arena, May/June 1993

David Bowie’s handwritten lyrics for ‘Word On A Wing’ contain a number of lines which were unused in the final recording:

In this our age of grand delusion
Astonishingly simple, amusing to the learned
You walk into my life, out of my dreams
And force a way to fit into my scheme of things
Tho’ a destiny was calling, you would glide beside opinion
An avalanche of freedom spoiled what could have been achieved
In this age of grand delusion
You walk into my my life out of my dreams

Another set of handwritten lyrics, this time close to the final iteration, was headed “For Neil”. This was music historian Neil Slaven, who was present at an overdub session at Cherokee Studios when Bowie recorded his vocals. The sheet of paper was sold in London at Christie’s auction house in May 2005 for £1,680.

‘Word On A Wing’ I wrote when I felt very much at peace with the world. I had established my own environment with my own people for the first time. I wrote the whole thing as a hymn. What better way can a man give thanks for achieving something that he had dreamed of achieving, than doing it with a hymn?
David Bowie
Melody Maker, 28 February 1976

An edit of ‘Word On A Wing’ lasting 3:14 was released on the b-side of the ‘Stay’ single, released in the summer of 1976 in the USA, Canada, Portugal, and Japan.

It was also included on 2010’s Deluxe Edition of Station To Station, and on Re:Call 2 in the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976).

Two versions of ‘Word On A Wing’ were released on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream. The first was little more than the piano intro, while the second was a remix containing just vocals, piano, and keyboards.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Word On A Wing’ throughout much of the Isolar Tour in 1976. A recording from 23 March 1976 was a bonus track on the 1991 Rykodisc/EMI reissue of Station To Station, and later issued on Live Nassau Coliseum ’76.

The song was resurrected in 1999 for the Hours Tour. The first new performance was from 23 August 1999 on VH1 Storytellers. Another version, from 14 October 1999, can be heard on Something In The Air (Live Paris 99).

1975 and 1976, and a bit of 1974, and the first few weeks of 1977, were singularly the darkest days of my life. And I think it was so steeped in awfulness that recall is nigh-on impossible. Certainly painful.

I was concerned with questions like: ‘Do the dead interest themselves in the affairs of the living?’ ‘Can I change the channel on my TV without using the clicker?’

Unwittingly, this next song was therefore a signal of distress. I’m sure that it was a call for help. It’s called ‘Word On A Wing’, and it’s from Station To Station.

David Bowie
VH1 Storytellers

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Next song: ‘TVC 15’
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