Tony Visconti began his collaboration with David Bowie back in 1968 working on the production and arrangement of Bowie’s single ‘In the Heat of the Morning’ / ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ during the shakey start of the singer’s career with Deram records. It was a musical partnership and lifelong friendship that ultimately culminated on Bowie’s final album Blackstar, the record that earned Visconti a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
Over the course of the iconic duo’s career, they would work together on fourteen records, twelve in the studio and two live albums. This all places Visconti at a unique vantage point from which to survey the work of the Starman. From Young Americans to The Next Day Visconti resided over many of Bowie’s very best, which makes the fact he was able to wriggle free from insular ties to the records and champion a favourite all the more noteworthy.
Speaking to Hollywood record store, Amoeba Music, Visconti declared, “[Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)] is my favourite Bowie album, Heroes would be my second favourite.” And frankly who can blame him, the record is an absolute triumph that features some of Bowie’s biggest ever hits in ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Fashion’, as well as a soaring sleeper (and a personal favourite) ‘Teenage Wildlife’. From top to bottom, the record captures what Bowie was all about; a menagerie of weird and wonderful influences coming together to produce a blistering cacophony of unrivalled creative sound.
The science behind the choice – which obviously the music monomaniac, Visconti, dives into – is a lot more specific than just personal preference. The producer regales that before every record they made together they would pronounce, “Let’s make this our Sgt. Pepper’s! We’re gonna take nine months and we’re gonna do everything we want to do.” But for one reason or another the pair never quite found the time, as Visconti adds that Heroes was recorded in “just four weeks.”
With Scary Monster (And Super Creeps), however, they managed to catch a break in the calendar and, thanks to the success Bowie enjoyed in the ’70s, the resources were there to finally make their own painstaking epic, “this was our Sgt. Pepper’s,” Visconti proudly proclaims.
The album was recorded at ‘Power Station at BerkleeNYC’, in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of Manhattan and it was this chapel of music history that inadvertently had a huge bearing on the LPs sound and production.
As intended, Bowie and Visconti took their time over the tracks, taking six weeks to record them, but as Visconti explains, the nature of the studio also had an impact. He describes how, at the time, the separate studios within The Power Station had one big communal lounge area. In this space, Bowie and his backing band would merge and convene with Jimmy Destri. The Blondie man features on the record as well as Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band who plays the iconic ‘ding-dang-dong’ keyboard on ‘Ashes to Ashes’.
The songs recorded during this period were then whisked away by Bowie and Visconti to squirrel away working on melodic structure and lyrics, “we didn’t even know whether sections were verses or choruses, that was for us to find out.”
The record is a masterpiece, pure and simple. Aside from the musical wet-dream milieu behind its sound, or the time that went into making it, when the man who made many of Bowie’s best declares it as his favourite, you stand up and take notice.