Released: 14 January 1977 (album), 11 February 1977 (single)
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France in September 1976
Production: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Musicians: David Bowie (Vocals, Saxophone, Chamberlin), Ricky Gardiner (Lead Guitar), Carlos Alomar (Rhythm Guitar), George Murray (Bass), Dennis Davis (Drums), Brian Eno (Synthesizers, Backing Vocals), Mary Visconti nee. Hopkin (Backing Vocals), Roy Young (Piano)
The story behind ‘Sound and Vision’
With Bowie’s Low album receiving a less than favourable reception from his record company RCA, they were placated by the success of ‘Sound and Vision’, its first single. It reached number 3 in the United Kingdom to become Bowie’s biggest hit, reissues excepted, since ‘Sorrow’ in 1973.
Bowie and co-producer Tony Visconti originally recorded the track as an instrumental, bar the backing vocal performed by Visconti’s wife, Mary (formerly Mary Hopkin of ‘Those Were The Days’ renown). In common with the rest of Low, Bowie then recorded his vocal after the rest of the band had left the studio, before trimming verses off the lyric, and leaving a relatively lengthy instrumental intro on the finished song.
Mary Visconti was visiting the Château d’Hérouville with the couple’s young children, Delaney and Jessica, when she was asked to make her contribution to the song. “Iggy Pop was also visiting at the time, so it was a lovely, congenial atmosphere,” Mary recalled in 2011. “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.”
In 2003 Bowie described ‘Sound And Vision’ as “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.”
Released in February 1977, the lengthy intro of ‘Sound And Vision’ was used by BBC television to back its programme trailers. This exposure that helped boost sales of the single, which Bowie himself did nothing to promote. Despite no video, Top Of The Pops appearance or even so much as an interview, ‘Sound And Vision’ became a huge hit – at least in the UK. It proved too much for the American singles market, only managing number 69 and signalling the end of Bowie’s short commercial honeymoon in the US until ‘Let’s Dance‘ in 1983.
Bowie’s original was among the tracks heard in the 1993 BBC serial The Buddha Of Suburbia, and on BBC Radio 4 in May 2015, cyclist Bradley Wiggins chose ‘Sound And Vision’ as one of his Desert Island Discs.
In an unusual experiment, a 12” promo issued in America in 1977 featured a seven-minute remix consisting of ‘Sound And Vision’ segueing into Iggy Pop’s ‘Sister Midnight’. The 1991 reissue of the album Low came with a bonus remix by David Richards which allowed an unpleasant honking saxophone to disrupt the original’s textured atmospherics. In the same year this version and two further remixes appeared on an American single by 808 State; credited to “David Bowie vs 808 State”, these were released on a download EP in 2010. October 2013 brought another download, this time of a stripped-back remix created by Sonjay Prabhakar for a Sony smartphone commercial. ‘Sound And Vision 2013’, as it was called, was otherwise available only on a CD-R promo.
Despite being the biggest commercial hit of any of the singles released from the Berlin trilogy albums, ‘Sound And Vision’ received only one performance on the Stage tour, at Earls Court on 1 July 1978; this one-off rendition later appeared on RarestOneBowie. The song was later revived for the Sound + Vision, Heathen and A Reality tours, while an excerpt of the original studio recording was featured in the stage show Lazarus.
Among the artists who have covered ‘Sound And Vision’ are Franz Ferdinand, The Sea And Cake, Anna Calvi and Beck.
Live on the Sound+Vision Tour. Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile, 27 September 1990:
Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival on 18 July 2002:
Live in Tokyo on the Sound+Vision tour, 15 May 1990:
Live on A&E Live By Request, from Sony Music Studios, New York, 15 June 2002:
The playlist below pulls together many of the different versions of ‘Sound and Vision’…
‘Sound and Vision’ Lyrics
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision
Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
I will sit right down,
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude,
over my head
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision
‘Sound and Vision’ Artwork
The cover artwork of the ‘Sound and Vision’ single features a photo taken by Steve Schapiro on the set of the film The Man Who Fell To Earth.