The Berlin Trilogy consists of three albums: Low, Heroes, and Lodger. These albums were inspired by Bowie’s time in Berlin, a city that played a significant role in his life and career.
Bowie moved to Berlin with his friend and fellow musician Iggy Pop in the late 1970s to escape a lifestyle that had become self-destructive and toxic.
It was during this time that he started collaborating with artist Brian Eno. What followed was beautiful.
The Origins of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy
Moving to Berlin
The Berlin Trilogy marked a significant turning point in David Bowie’s career. Comprising three studio albums – Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger – the trilogy began after Bowie decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Berlin.
It’s said that the main reason for this move was to escape his worsening drug addiction and to leave behind his infamous alter ego, the Thin White Duke, which had taken a toll on him during his time working on Station to Station.
During his time in Berlin, Bowie fully embraced the local culture, exploring the city’s vibrant music and art scene.
Despite being a high-profile celebrity, he managed to maintain an incognito presence around the city. This allowed him to focus on his art and recover from the darkness he had experienced in Los Angeles.
Collaboration with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti
While in Berlin, Bowie collaborated with English musician Brian Eno and American producer Tony Visconti.
With their help, Bowie was able to experiment with new styles and sounds, producing albums that were truly unique and groundbreaking.
The influence of the German krautrock scene and Eno’s recent work in ambient music can be clearly heard throughout the Berlin Trilogy.
Low, the first album in the trilogy released in 1977, showcased a more electronic and experimental side of Bowie, with many tracks featuring instrumental and ambient passages.
This style was also present in the second album, “Heroes”, released later that year. This album is perhaps best known for its title track, inspired by the story of Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti and co-vocalist Antonia Maass embracing near the Berlin Wall.
Their intimate moment was captured in the beautiful, soaring anthem celebrating love, resilience, and heroism.
Finally, Lodger, released in 1979, rounded off the trilogy. This album introduced more experimental elements, blending various styles and incorporating world music influences.
Lodger may not have been as commercially successful as the previous two albums, but it still showcased Bowie’s creative genius and commitment to pushing the boundaries of music.
So there you have it, that’s a summary of how the remarkable Berlin Trilogy of David Bowie came to be. It’s fascinating how his personal struggles and moving to another city played a crucial role in creating some of his career’s most iconic and influential music.
The Albums and Their Music
When I first listened to the “Low” album in Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, I immediately grasped how experimental and revolutionary it was.
It was released in 1977 and significantly departed from his previous glam rock sound. This album was influenced by electronic music and German Krautrock, and Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno, an English musician, and American producer Tony Visconti.
The album features instrumentals and vocals split across two distinct sides, contrasting experimental sounds with pop song structures.
The track “Warszawa” is a prime example of their ambient music experimentation, while “Sound and Vision” showcases a catchy, guitar-driven pop sound.
The result is a blend of rock, electronic, and world music that laid the groundwork for the post-punk movement.
In the same year, Bowie released the second album in the trilogy, “‘Heroes'”, also recorded with Eno and Visconti.
As with “Low”, the album is divided into two halves, one comprising rock and pop songs and the other featuring more experimental instrumental pieces.
The title track “[‘Heroes’]” stands out not only for its driving guitar and anthemic vocals but also for the powerful message of love and unity in the face of adversity.
I also found some songs to be influenced by the works of Philip Glass and Gary Numan, such as “V-2 Schneider” and “Sense of Doubt.”
Overall, the album balances art rock and experimental rock elements, forging new musical frontiers and leaving a lasting impact on musicians across genres.
The final part of the Berlin Trilogy, “Lodger,” was released in 1979 and continued Bowie’s collaboration with Eno and Visconti.
It differed from its predecessors by incorporating more world music influences and a broader range of styles. “Move On” has a catchy, upbeat melody, while tracks like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” infuse the album with unique, global sounds.
“Lodger” was well received, charting on the UK Albums Chart, and it represents the ongoing evolution of Bowie’s sound. It marks the end of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, a series of albums that reshaped the landscape of rock and popular music.
The Berlin Trilogy showcased Bowie’s versatility as a musician, moving from his glam rock roots in albums like “Space Oddity” and “Ziggy Stardust” to art rock and experimental rock.
The trilogy pays homage to labels like RCA Records, who trusted artists to explore new territories in music. It continues to inspire musicians and fans alike to this day.
Influences and Impact
Iggy Pop and German Krautrock
When I first delved into the world of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, it piqued my curiosity that his collaboration with American singer Iggy Pop was a crucial influence.
They both moved from Los Angeles to Europe to escape the toxic grip of drug addiction and embrace a new, more experimental sound. The albums that resulted from this partnership, The Idiot and Lust for Life, marked a turning point in both their careers.
German Krautrock, specifically bands like Kraftwerk, were essential in shaping the trilogy’s sound.
The futuristic and mechanical beats I experienced while listening to the trilogy definitely made me consider their impact on Bowie and his work.
Moreover, Brian Eno, who was an important collaborator on the trilogy, further intensified this influence with his expertise in ambient music.
Other Artists Influenced by the Berlin Trilogy
As an ardent Bowie fan, it has been enthralling to trace his influence on other artists. The Berlin Trilogy, in particular, has impacted multiple musicians.
For example, Joy Division found the moody atmospherics of the Berlin Trilogy inspiring, as seen in their dark soundscapes.
Furthermore, guitarist Robert Fripp and Roxy Music’s Brian Eno played essential roles in the creation of the trilogy, which also had a lasting impact on their career trajectories.
Fripp went on to collaborate with Bowie on the albums Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and Blackstar. Adrian Belew, a key member of the glam rock band Roxy Music, also found his career taking a new direction, working with Bowie on the trilogy.
West Berlin’s art scene was another vital aspect that contributed to the trilogy’s impact and legacy. This thriving artistic environment added a fresh perspective to Bowie’s work and allowed him to push his creative boundaries in a city full of constant change.
The rich tapestry of influences and its notable impact on other artists showcase Bowie’s innovative spirit and lasting legacy.
Beyond the Berlin Trilogy
Transition to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
After the fascinating experience of working on the Berlin Trilogy, I couldn’t help but notice how Bowie continued to reinvent himself. His next album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), showcased a new evolution in his music.
Though Eno didn’t join him for this album, Bowie kept some of the experimental elements from their time together. I could hear how the album served as a departure from the Berlin records while still maintaining elements that made those records remarkable.
“Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” saw Bowie leaving behind the melancholic tones of his previous albums in favour of a more aggressive and confrontational sound.
The album featured several standout tracks like “Ashes to Ashes,” which revisited his character Major Tom and showcased a new wave influence that would dominate Bowie’s music throughout the 1980s.
I was amazed at how he managed to incorporate nostalgic elements with a fresh and modern sound.
Bowie’s Later Career
In the years following the Berlin Trilogy and as well as Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), Bowie continued to change and adapt his music.
He released a series of more commercially successful albums such as Let’s Dance, Tonight, and Never Let Me Down. Bowie’s fame soared with hits like “Fame,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Modern Love.”
Of course, there were experimental moments in his later career too. In the 1990s, Bowie experimented with electronica, drum, and bass, resulting in albums like Black Tie White Noise, Earthling, and Outside.
One fascinating piece of Bowie’s career is his connection with the Berlin Wall. The city played a crucial role in developing his sound, and he even performed the song “Heroes” next to the Wall during a concert in 1987, just a couple of years before it fell.
In the 2000s, Bowie released albums, including Heathen and Reality, which saw a return to his rock roots.
His final two albums, The Next Day and the critically acclaimed Blackstar, showcased his ability to create music that both reflected and transcended his past. Bowie’s final recordings were released on the EP “No Plan” shortly after his passing in 2016.
Looking back on Bowie’s incredible career, it’s clear to me that his Berlin Trilogy was a turning point, resulting in a daring and experimental body of work that continues to influence music today.
And as a fan, I can’t help but appreciate how Bowie managed to keep creating and evolving until the end.
Bowie’s Berlin Legacy
The Ties between Bowie and the City of Berlin
The partnership with Brian Eno proved essential in creating the Berlin Trilogy, as Eno brought an innovative approach to Bowie’s music with his ambient soundscapes and the use of the Eventide H910 Harmonizer.
In addition to Eno’s influence, Bowie’s experiences in Berlin significantly impacted the Trilogy.
The Berlin Wall divided the city, and this tension between East and West played a role in shaping his music.
Bowie was always seeking to challenge himself as an artist, and Berlin provided a new environment for him to explore and find inspiration.
While in Berlin, Bowie embraced the local culture, immersing himself in the city’s nightlife and artistic scenes. During this time, he also expanded his skills as an actor, which is evident in his performance in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth.
My favourite album from the Trilogy is Heroes, filled with deeply emotional songs inspired by Bowie’s experiences in the divided city. The title track, “Heroes”, was even recorded close to the Berlin Wall, adding more meaning and depth to this iconic song.
In the years following the release of the Trilogy, Bowie continued to be associated with Berlin, even performing at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1987.
Through his music, Bowie captured the spirit of the city, and even though he moved on to other projects in his career, the Berlin Trilogy remains an essential part of his legacy. Bowie himself, as well as his music, was impacted by Berlin’s creative scene, and in turn, the city was impacted by him and his music.
It’s fascinating to see how Bowie’s time in Berlin influenced his music and other aspects of his life. The Berlin Trilogy and the city itself will forever be linked to this extraordinary artist.