It's a Concept Album built around a character named The Thin White Duke, a character Bowie thought up while writing a story called "The Return of the Thin White Duke" during the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth. This eventually resulted in this music album, influenced by Krautrock music, which would be explored much closer in the Berlin albums that followed. The best known song from the album is "Golden Years".
It was recorded in Los Angeles while Bowie was suffering a full-blown cocaine-induced psychotic breakdown and had just finished appearing in the Cult Classic The Man Who Fell to Earth. He claimed in interviews he remembers nothing about the recording other than describing the guitar sound he wanted on the title track to the session musician, but there are many stories about his behaviour at the time.
The album, its accompanying tour, and a handful of interviews Bowie gave around the time of its release were the subject of controversy, as Bowie, apparently Lost in Character as the Duke,note made statements supporting Fascism and made a gesture at a Victoria Station concert that was interpreted as a Nazi salute (however, Bowie claimed he was photographed in the middle of a wave to the audience, and people who were in the audience at the time, including Gary Numan, have supported this explanation). It is unlikely that Bowie ever sincerely believed in Fascism: he was working with a racially integrated band at this time, and he chose to cover "Wild Is the Wind" on this album due to his admiration of Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist who had also covered the song. Later, in 1983, he criticised both racism against Aboriginal people in Australia and MTV's unwillingness to play videos by Black artists at the time, which is credited with helping enable the subsequent mega-stardom of artists such as Prince and Michael Jackson. The controversy over Bowie's behaviour during the Thin White Duke era ultimately died down to a large extent as evidence mounted that Bowie himself was neither a racist nor a Fascist.
Despite the controversy, Station to Station was commercially and critically successful upon release, and its stature has only increased since then; it is now often cited as one of Bowie's best albums. It was listed at nr. #324 in Rolling Stone's Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
- "Station to Station" (10:14)
- "Golden Years" (4:00)
- "Word on a Wing" (6:03)
- "TVC 15" (5:33)
- "Stay" (6:15)
- "Wild Is the Wind" (6:02)
Bonus Tracks (1991 Reissue):
- "Word on a Wing (live)"
- "Stay (live)"
The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing tropes in lovers' eyes...:
- Alliterative Title: "Station to Station."
- Aristocrats Are Evil: The Thin White Duke, a cold-hearted cocaine addict with a taste for fascism, spending time "throwing darts in lovers' eyes".
- Big Bad: The Thin White Duke, who is a heartless Fascist.
- Cover Version: "Wild Is the Wind", the title song from a 1957 film. It was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, though Bowie seems to have based his version on Nina Simone's, as discussed below under Lost in Character.
- Darker and Edgier: The Thin White Duke was a much, much more unpleasant figure than any of Bowie's other personae. Getting Lost in Character and saying things he would later end up regretting was one of the reasons Bowie stopped creating such characters.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The original LP cover, pictured above, features a cropped black and white photograph taken on-set during the production of The Man Who Fell to Earth, featuring Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton entering his ship. While the cropping appears to be a stylistic choice, the decision to make it black and white came from Bowie seeing a full-color version of the original image and finding the skyline behind the ship's door artificial-looking. While the 1984 RCA CD does retain the original cover art (albeit with the addition of their standard "RCA CD" logo in the corner), all CD reissues from the 1991 Rykodisc release to the 1999 EMI/Virgin one (the latter of which remained continuously in print for almost 20 years) replace it with the uncropped, full-color version◊ of the image. It wouldn't be until 2007 that a CD reissue of the album would revert back to the original cover art, via a Japan-only "mini LP" reissue; the later 2010 EMI reissue and the 2016 & 2017 Parlophone reissues would all make use of the 1976 cover as well.
- Doo-wop: "Golden Years" is sung in this genre.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: "TVC 15", inspired by a drug hallucination from Iggy Pop in which he imagined the TV set was swallowing his girlfriend.
- Epic Rocking: The title track in particular, at 10 minutes 14 seconds, is the longest studio track he ever released (although the title track of Blackstar was originally intended to be longer, but thanks to iTunes' single length limitations, it was trimmed for release, as Bowie did not want to confuse listeners by having the single and album versions of the song be different). "Word on a Wing" (6:03), "Stay" (6:15), and "Wild Is the Wind" (6:02) also qualify.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: One of the running themes behind the album is the Duke, who has no capacity for love or for any real emotion, struggling to grasp and convey romantic sentiment; there's a certain hollowness behind the surface emotions of these songs which exposes the Duke as The Sociopath. Bowie himself says that "Word on a Wing" is the only track not meant to sound coldly calculated and insincere.
- Face on the Cover: Bowie's face shown from a distance, in a still from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- God-Is-Love Songs: "Word on a Wing":"Lord, I kneel and offer you
My word on a wing
And I'm trying hard to fit
Among your scheme of things"
- Helium Speech: Some of the background singing during "Golden Years" is very high pitched.
- Incoming Ham: After the lengthy intro of "Station to Station", with bizarre sound effects mimicking a train with the Thin White Duke on board.The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers' eyes.
- Kabbalah: The Title Track includes the line: "Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth", which are the top and bottom branches of the Tree of Life — which Bowie is shown drawing on the back cover of the 1991 CD reissue.
- Lost in Character: Getting lost in character as the Duke, whom Bowie himself described as "a nasty character indeed", was ultimately the reason he stopped portraying characters in his music. The Duke was, amongst other things, a fascist; while Bowie generally kept his political views to himself, his actual beliefs seem to have been somewhere between libertarianism and socialism (in any case, nearly as far from fascism as possible). After Bowie got so lost in character that he actually began espousing fascism himself, he realised he'd gone down a very dark rabbit hole and decided to stop using his music to portray characters entirely. He also appears to have considered this a wake-up call regarding his drug use; he would detox from cocaine after the tour for this album. (It's probably also worth noting that his band at this point and for the rest of the '70s was racially integrated, including Puerto Rican rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar, African-American bassist George Murray, and African-American drummer Dennis Davis, which is a strong piece of evidence suggesting that the Duke did not reflect Bowie's actual beliefs. Additionally, Bowie was inspired to record "Wild Is the Wind" for this album largely because he was an admirer of Nina Simone, an African-American jazz singer known for her civil rights protest anthems who had previously recorded the song; he decided to record the song after meeting her in Los Angeles in 1975.)
- Mind Screw: Good luck figuring out what the title track is about.
- Nazi Nobleman: The Duke is essentially this trope, and in fact Bowie described him as an "emotionless Aryan superman".
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: It combines a number of genres that weren't commonly combined at the time, as seen under New Sound Album. Some of them still aren't; arguably, no other record sounds quite like this one.
- New Sound Album: The album was a transitional album for Bowie; while still including the R&B, soul, and funk influence that permeated Young Americans, Station to Station was a more experimental album, with longer songs and some influence from Krautrock bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk (particularly seen in the synthesizers and the motorik rhythms), which would be expanded further in the "Berlin trilogy" that followed. There is also some art rock, space rock, and Progressive Rock influence.
- Nostalgia Filter: "Golden Years":Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years
- One-Word Title: "Stay".
- Please Don't Leave Me: "Stay".Stay — that's what I meant to say or do something
But what I never say is
Stay this time
I really meant to so bad this time
'Cause you can never really tell
Wants something or wants to stay
- Secret Identity Identity: The threat of the heartless, Fascistic Duke, who was partly inspired and "aided" by Bowie's substance abuse problems, consuming him was the primary reason he stopped creating and assuming such stage personae.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: The album was recorded when Bowie was going through a severe cocaine addiction. Many of the metaphors and lyrical techniques in the Title Track also allude to the effects of acute and chronic cocaine use.
- The album cover is a still from The Man Who Fell to Earth from the scene where his character Thomas Jerome Newton steps into the space capsule that will return him to his home planet. The album cover of Bowie's next album Low would also be based on a still from that movie.
- The title track references Aleister Crowley's book "White Stains". The words "From Kether to Malkuth" refer to mystical locations in the Kabbalah.
- Sincerity Mode: Bowie later indicated that "Word on a Wing" was the only song whose lyrics he truly meant sincerely.
- Television Portal: "TVC15" has the protagonist's girlfriend crawl into a TV set and never come back: By the end of the song he's wondering whether to follow her or not. Yes, this is from his "cocaine madness" era, but in this case it was Iggy Pop's.
- Title Track: "Station to Station":Drive like a demon from station to station.
- Train Song: "Station to Station". It even starts with train sounds.You drive like a demon
From station to station
- Uncommon Time: The title track is almost entirely in 10/4 for its first half (though it could also be counted as five-measure patterns of 4/4). There are some more time signature changes before it settles on 4/4 for the ending. Despite its rhythmic complexity, its groove never lets up; if it doesn't at least get your head moving, you're either lying or simply don't have a sense of rhythm. Along similar lines, "Stay" cuts out a beat in the last measure of each verse, but this doesn't ruin the song's groove at all.
- Villainous Cheekbones: His angular cheeks served him well as The Thin White Duke (which came at a time when he was downright bony).
- Waistcoat of Style: The Thin White Duke's black one was vital to the character's look; as himself, Bowie would wear one for the Sound+Vision tour as well.