Sound and Vision

"Sound and Vision" is a song by English singer-songwriter David Bowie which appeared on his 1977 album Low. The song is notable for juxtaposing an uplifting guitar and synthesizer-led instrumental track with Bowie’s withdrawn lyrics. In keeping with the minimalist approach of Low, Bowie and co-producer Tony Visconti originally recorded the track as an instrumental, bar the backing vocal (performed by Visconti’s wife, Mary Hopkin). Bowie then recorded his vocal after the rest of the band had left the studio, before trimming verses off the lyrics and leaving a relatively lengthy instrumental intro on the finished song.

"Sound and Vision"
Sound and Vision by David Bowie UK vinyl single.png
Single by David Bowie
from the album Low
B-side"A New Career in a New Town"
Released11 February 1977 (1977-02-11)
RecordedSeptember–November 1976
StudioChâteau d'Hérouville (Hérouville, France); Hansa (West Berlin)
GenreArt rock
Length3:00
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)
David Bowie singles chronology
"Suffragette City"
(1976)
"Sound and Vision"
(1977)
"Be My Wife"
(1977)
Alternative cover
UK single picture sleeve
UK single picture sleeve

The first live performance of the song was at Earl's Court during the Isolar II Tour on 1 July 1978. In 1990, it was a regular number for Bowie's greatest hits Sound+Vision Tour. The name was also used for a Rykodisc boxed set anthology in 1989.

RecordingEdit

Like its parent album, "Sound and Vision" was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, with contributions from Brian Eno.[1] The backing tracks were recorded at the Château d'Hérouville in Hérouville, France in September 1976, while Bowie's vocals and other overdubs were recorded at Hansa Studios in West Berlin from October to November.[2] The recording process for the song, and the rest of its parent album, was different than Bowie's previous albums. The backing tracks were recorded first, followed by overdubs, with lyrics and vocals written and recorded last. Used when recording Iggy Pop's The Idiot earlier that year,[3] Bowie heavily favoured this "three-phase" process, which he would use for the rest of his career.[4]

According to biographer Chris O'Leary, the song began as a simple descending-by-fifths G major progression, which Bowie gave to the band, further suggesting melodies, a baseline and drum ideas. Drummer Dennis Davis thought it sounded "like a Crusaders tune", while bassist George Murray felt it was reminiscent of Bo Diddley. As with most of the tracks of the album, the band went with the basic idea and finished the backing track in a few takes.[5] Like the rest of its parent album, the drums on "Sound and Vision" were treated through the use of Visconti's Eventide H910 Harmonizer.[6] When asked by Bowie about what it did, Visconti replied, "it fucks with the fabric of time."[7] Throughout the album, the sound is particularly evident on "Speed of Life", "Breaking Glass" and "Sound and Vision", and was described by biographer David Buckley as "revolutionary" and "stunning".[6] The song was mostly completed without Eno, who arrived late in the sessions, after all of the backing tracks for side one were "essentially" finished.[8]

 
"Sound and Vision" contains backing vocals from Visconti's then-wife Mary Hopkin (pictured in 1970).

The song contains backing vocals from singer Mary Hopkin, Visconti's then-wife; she was credited as Mary Visconti.[9] Hopkin was visiting the Château with her children when she was asked to contribute. She recorded her vocals before any lyric or melody were written. She recalled in 2011:[10]

"One evening, Brian called me into the studio to sing a quick backing vocal with him on 'Sound And Vision'. We sang his cute little 'doo doo' riff in unison. It was meant to be a distant echo but, when David heard it, he pushed up the fader until it became a prominent vocal – much to my embarrassment, as I thought it very twee. I love the song and I'm a great admirer of David's work."

CompositionEdit

["Sound and Vision" is] a very sad song for me...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."[10]

– David Bowie, 2003

Like the majority of the tracks on Low's first side,[11] "Sound and Vision" is classified by AllMusic's Dave Thompson as a "song fragment".[12] Structurally, it starts as an instrumental, running for 46 seconds before backings vocals croon a two-note descent. At 1:14, Eno and Hopkin sing their vocal line, which echoes the main guitar line, followed by a darker saxophone part played by Bowie.[13][14] Bowie's vocals take a full one minute and 45 seconds to appear,[15] which was done at Eno's insistence to "confound listener expectations".[5] O'Leary finds that throughout its runtime, the song assembles itself: "rhythm section, then "strings" (ARP Solina), then backing vocals, then brass, until its composer appears, as if called to the stage to take a bow."[5]

Described by Bowie as his "ultimate retreat song",[5] the lyrics for "Sound and Vision" reflect his mental state following his long period of drug addiction.[13] They offer introspection: Bowie draws the blinds, has the world shut away, and is sitting in an empty room, "waiting for the gift of sound and vision."[16][17] Biographer Nicholas Pegg and author Peter Doggett make comparisons to Bowie's 1971 song "Quicksand", with the latter writing: "Like "Quicksand", "Sound and Vision" was Bowie's admission that his creative inspiration had disappeared: cunningly, he used a confession of artistic bankruptcy to spark his muse back to life."[13] According to Visconti, there were originally more verses, but they were removed during the mixing stage.[18]

The lyrics provide a stark contrast to the music itself, which is more joyous and upbeat.[5] Author Thomas Jerome Seabrook writes that Bowie's vocal continues the themes of "Breaking Glass" and "What in the World", in that its "low, reflective tone at odds with the upbeat, almost parodic sensibilities of the music that surrounds it."[14] Almost every instrument playing on the song sounds processed. The drums are described by O'Leary as "sounding like a radiator coming to life",[5] and by Seabrook as "whip-like".[14] The bass is "heavily compressed", the piano is given a "phasing" effect, the "strings" are flooded in "delay and sustain", while Seabrook further believes the saxophone sounds as if it was treated by Visconti's Harmonizer.[14] Throughout the song, a sizzle cymbal appears on the third beat of almost every bar and two guitars are panned to different channels, with the main guitar line appearing in the left, and a "mock-reggae rhythm" appearing in the right.[5][13]

Buckley and Seabrook write that out of every song on the album, it is the closest to a conventional pop song.[15][14] Michael Gallucci of Ultimate Classic Rock finds that there's a sense of "pop minimalism" on "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" that showed Bowie entering a new phase of his career.[19] In ZigZag magazine, Kris Needs described the song's beat as "bouncy, futuristic disco".[20] Doggett similarly calls it a "consummate pop record, as tightly produced as any disco classic of the era."[13]

ReleaseEdit

When Bowie presented Low to RCA Records, the label were shocked at what they were presented.[21] Originally slated for release in November 1976, the label delayed the album's release until January 1977, fearing poor commercial performance.[22][23] Despite having no promotion from Bowie nor RCA, Low was a commercial success, peaking at number 2 on the UK Albums Chart and number 11 on the US Billboard 200 chart.[24]

At the time of release, one reviewer felt that none of the tracks were "single material",[25] while another felt "Sound and Vision" was the "obvious" choice.[26] Nevertheless, RCA selected "Sound and Vision" as the first single from the album, releasing it on 11 February 1977, with the catalogue number PB 0905 and the instrumental "A New Career in a New Town" as the B-side.[27] The single was used by the BBC for television trailers at the time. Because Bowie chose not to promote the single, this provided considerable exposure, and helped the song to number 3,[28] his highest charting new single in the UK since "Sorrow" in 1973.[24][16] The song was also a top ten hit in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. However, it stalled at number 87 in Canada[29] and only managed to peak at number 69 in the United States, where it signaled Bowie's commercial downturn until "Let's Dance" in 1983.[30] The single's success in the confused RCA executives. The label were intimidated by Bowie, who persuaded the label to release Iggy Pop's The Idiot, which saw release in March 1977.[31]

A 12" promotional single was also released in the US in 1977. It featured a seven-minute remix of "Sound and Vision" segueing into Iggy Pop's "Sister Midnight".[30]

ReceptionEdit

In a review for Low on release, Tim Lott of Sounds magazine described "Sound and Vision" as the "pinnacle" of the album. Calling it "metallic beauty", he praises Bowie's vocal performance, stating: "His singing, as always, is more mechanical than melodic, but in context, the perfect foil for the harsh guitar and sliding synthesiser."[25] Doggett calls "Sound and Vision" "arguably one of the most important songs [Bowie] had ever written," because the song allowed Bowie to reconnect with himself after a long period of drug addiction.[13] Pegg similarly calls it "one of his most distinctive and brilliant recordings."[16]

Following Bowie's death in 2016, "Sound and Vision" has been ranked one of Bowie's best songs by numerous publications. Rolling Stone writers later ranked "Sound and Vision" as one of Bowie's 30 essential songs, writing that although Low garnered mixed reception on release, releasing "Sound and Vision" as the lead single was "genius" due to the song's "clever bait-and-switch".[32] In 2018, readers of NME voted "Sound and Vision" Bowie's 19th best song,[33] while staff-writer Emily Barker voted it Bowie's second best song, behind "'Heroes'".[34] In 2020, Tom Eames of Smooth Radio ranked it Bowie's tenth best song,[35] while Alexis Petridis of The Guardian considered "Sound and Vision" to be Bowie's greatest song, calling it "both a fantastic pop song and an act of artistic daring." Petridis states that with the contrasting quality of the music and lyrics, Bowie created a song that "transcends time". He concludes his review writing: "Completely original, nothing about its sound tethers it to the mid-70s. Its magic seems to sum Bowie up."[36] In 2021, writers of The Telegraph voted "Sound and Vision" as Bowie's 12th greatest song, writing: "A punch of a song at the start of Low, it showed Bowie entering a new, dispassionate style which would divide his listeners but, with its liberal use of synthesisers, also cement his status as a trailblazer of the electronica."[37]

Live versions and subsequent releasesEdit

"Sound and Vision" was only performed once during the 1978 Isolar II Tour, at Earl's Court in London, on 1 July 1978.[30] According to Seabrook, this was because Bowie struggled to sing it, similar to "Golden Years".[38] This performance was included on Rarestonebowie (1995)[30] and was given its first authorised release on Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78) (2018).[39] Bowie also performed the song during the Sound+Vision (1990), Heathen (2002), and A Reality (2003) tours.[30] It was performed on A&E's Live by Request on 15 June 2002.[2]

The song has since appeared on numerous compilations, including The Best of Bowie (1980), Changestwobowie (1981),[40] Sound + Vision box set (1989), Changesbowie (EMI LP and cassette versions) (1990), The Singles Collection (1993), Bowie: The Singles 1969-1993 (1993), The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979 (1998),[41] Best of Bowie (2002),[42] The Platinum Collection (2006),[43] Nothing Has Changed (2014),[44] and Bowie Legacy (2016).[45] The 1991 reissue of Low featured a new remix of "Sound and Vision" by producer David Richards. Pegg writes that it contains an "unpleasant honking saxophone" that he feels "disrupts the original's textured atmospherics."[30] This remix and two additional remixes were released as a single in the US by 808 State; it was credited to "David Bowie vs 808 State" and were subsequently released as an EP download in 2010.[30] Another stripped-down remix was created by Sonjay Prabhakar in 2013 for a Sony commercial. Titled "Sound and Vision 2013", it was solely included on a CD-R promo.[30]

Track listingEdit

All tracks written by David Bowie.

Original 7" single[46]
  1. "Sound and Vision" – 3:00
  2. "A New Career in a New Town" – 2:50
David Bowie vs 808 State (1991)[47]
  1. "Sound + Vision (808 Gift mix)" – 3:58
  2. "Sound + Vision (808 'lectric Blue remix instrumental)" – 4:08
  3. "Sound + Vision (David Richards remix 1991)" – 4:40
  4. "Sound + Vision (Original version)" – 3:03
David Bowie vs 808 State – Sound And Vision Remix EP (2010)[48]
  1. "Sound + Vision (808 Gift mix)" – 3:58
  2. "Sound + Vision (808 'lectric Blue remix instrumental)" – 4:08
  3. "Sound + Vision (David Richards remix 1991)" – 4:40
  4. "Sound + Vision (Original version)" – 3:03
  • This 2010 release is a digital download only
David Bowie – Sound And Vision (2013)[49]
  1. "Sound and Vision 2013" – 1:50
  2. "Sound and Vision (Remastered)" – 3:04
  • Digital download and in 2017 available as a vinyl single

PersonnelEdit

According to biographer Chris O'Leary:[2]

Production

ChartsEdit

1977 weekly chart performance
Chart (1977) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[50] 15
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[51] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[52] 11
Canadian Singles (RPM)[29] 87
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[53] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[54] 7
UK Singles (OCC)[28] 3
US Billboard Hot 100[55] 69
West Germany (Official German Charts)[56] 6

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Perone 2007, p. 60.
  2. ^ a b c O'Leary 2019, p. 43.
  3. ^ Seabrook 2008, p. 102.
  4. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 386–387.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g O'Leary 2019, pp. 43–44.
  6. ^ a b Buckley 2005, pp. 264–265.
  7. ^ Doggett 2012, p. 307.
  8. ^ Trynka 2011, p. 316.
  9. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 384.
  10. ^ a b Pegg 2016, pp. 253–254.
  11. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Low – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 29 August 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  12. ^ Thompson, Dave. ""Sound and Vision" – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Doggett 2012, pp. 310–311.
  14. ^ a b c d e Seabrook 2008, pp. 122–124.
  15. ^ a b Buckley 2005, pp. 265–266.
  16. ^ a b c Pegg 2016, p. 253.
  17. ^ Seabrook 2008, p. 113.
  18. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 266.
  19. ^ Gallucci, Michael (14 January 2017). "40 Years Ago: David Bowie Cleans Up and Branches Out on 'Low'". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on 29 June 2019. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  20. ^ Needs, Kris (February 1977). "David Bowie: Low". ZigZag. Retrieved 18 March 2021 – via Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  21. ^ Spitz 2009, p. 282.
  22. ^ Seabrook 2008, p. 116.
  23. ^ Ives, Brian (20 February 2017). "David Bowie: A Look Back at His '90s Era – When He Got Weird Again". Radio.com. Archived from the original on 28 March 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  24. ^ a b Buckley 2005, p. 272.
  25. ^ a b Lott, Tim (15 January 1977). "Innovation to Innovation — David Bowie: Low (RCA Records RS 1108) *****". Sounds. Retrieved 2 March 2021 – via Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  26. ^ Scoppa, Bud (February 1977). "David Bowie: Low". Phonograph Record. Retrieved 19 March 2021 – via Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  27. ^ O'Leary 2019, p. 651.
  28. ^ a b "David Bowie: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  29. ^ a b "Image : RPM Weekly – Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h Pegg 2016, p. 254.
  31. ^ Trynka 2011, p. 324.
  32. ^ "David Bowie: 30 Essential Songs: "Sound and Vision"". Rolling Stone. 8 January 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  33. ^ Anderson, Sarah (8 January 2018). "20 best David Bowie tracks – as voted by you". NME. Archived from the original on 30 October 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  34. ^ Barker, Emily (8 January 2018). "David Bowie's 40 greatest songs – as decided by NME and friends". NME. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  35. ^ Eames, Tom (26 June 2020). "David Bowie's 20 greatest ever songs, ranked". London: Smooth Radio. Archived from the original on 22 January 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  36. ^ Petridis, Alexis (19 March 2020). "David Bowie's 50 greatest songs – ranked!". The Guardian. UK. Archived from the original on 16 March 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  37. ^ Staff (10 January 2021). "David Bowie's 20 greatest songs". The Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 3 February 2021. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  38. ^ Seabrook 2008, p. 124.
  39. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78) – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  40. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Changestwobowie – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  41. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 8 May 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  42. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Best of Bowie – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  43. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "The Platinum Collection – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 8 May 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  44. ^ Sawdey, Evan (10 November 2017). "David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 14 July 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  45. ^ Monroe, Jazz (28 September 2016). "David Bowie Singles Collection Bowie Legacy Announced | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 26 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  46. ^ "Sound and Vision" (Single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: RCA Records. 1977. PB 0905.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  47. ^ "Sound + Vision (Remix)" (CD liner notes). David Bowie vs 808 State. US: Tommy Boy Records. 1991. TBCD 510.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  48. ^ "Sound + Vision Remix EP" (Digital media notes). David Bowie vs 808 State. UK: Parlophone. 2010. none.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  49. ^ "Sound and Vision 2013" (Digital media notes). David Bowie. Parlophone. 2013. none.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  50. ^ "Austriancharts.at – David Bowie – Sound and Vision" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  51. ^ "Ultratop.be – David Bowie – Sound and Vision" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  52. ^ "Ultratop.be – David Bowie – Sound and Vision" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  53. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – David Bowie – Sound and Vision" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  54. ^ "Charts.nz – David Bowie – Sound and Vision". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  55. ^ "David Bowie Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  56. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – David Bowie – Sound and Vision". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 12 September 2020.

BibliographyEdit

External linksEdit