D.he recording of “China Girl”, which appeared on David Bowie’s hit album “Let’s Dance”, you don’t hear that it was made during Bowie’s legendary “Berlin phase”. In the late 1970s, the artist, who was born in London as David Robert Jones, lived and worked in the Walled City. The song “Where Are We Now?” From Bowie’s penultimate album “The Next Day”, released in 2013, is a late reminiscence of those years. Even the cover of the record refers to this time, as it uses the photo of the Berlin LP “Heroes”.
Three albums – “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” – were the result of that era. They are considered milestones in the turbulent career of the “Thin White Duke”, as he called himself shortly before moving to Germany. In Berlin he discovered Can and Kraftwerk, worked with the keyboard genius Brian Eno, who was then switching from Roxy Music and glam rock to the avant-garde, or with Robert Fripp from the progressive rock formation King Crimson.
Drugs played a big role at the time. When Bowie stranded in Berlin, emaciated from many tours, album productions and chemical substances, he was, according to Iggy Pop in February 2016 in the “Tagesspiegel”, at the end. While Bowie was reinventing himself and flourishing again, his friend Iggy Pop fell into disrepair at the same time and in the same place: “I came to Berlin very healthy and left as a wreck,” said Pop, the forefather of punk and founder of the iconic band The Stooges in that same place Items. You could also see it artistically: While Bowie was getting closer to the avant-garde, James Newell Osterberg, as pop’s real name is called, tried to conquer the pop world.
The belated hit
It is very possible that party and drugs influenced Iggy Pop’s Berlin albums “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life”, as Julia Maehner suspected in the magazine “Rolling Stone” in 2008. What is certain, however, is that the time was not yet ripe for the new pop, combined with industrial sound, by an artist who was either valued for other sounds or not noticed at all. Radical image changes could only be afforded by Bowie, who perfected his existence as an artistic, artificial chameleon. Anyone who listens to the nine LPs that were released from 1971 to 1977 in chronological order, from “Hunky Dory” to “Heroes”, recognizes the constant style changes that Bowie practiced in a short time.
The fact that Pop’s Berlin records fit in well with Bowie’s works realized at the same time is perhaps better recognizable today than in the 1970s. Compare, for example, the black and white cover artwork of “The Idiot” and “Heroes” – both were inspired by the 1917 woodcut “Roquairol” by the German expressionist Erich Heckel (1883 to 1870). But while Bowie’s albums from that creative phase are particularly valued and revered, the reaction to Iggy Pop’s works is rather mixed. Some of his songs, such as “The Passenger”, are now classics because they influenced bands like Ministry or Sisters Of Mercy. “Nightclubbing”, “Lust For Life” or “Tonight”, which Bowie recorded as a duet with Tina Turner, were created in a joint creative process. This also applies to “China Girl”, which was released in May 1977 as the second single from “The Idiot” – and flopped.