3 Key Songs from David Bowie and Brian Eno’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’ Collaborations

In 1976, David Bowie was supporting his 10th album, Station to Station, on his Isolar Tour and met former Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno backstage after a London show. Connected over their mutual admiration for one another’s work, and an obsession with the German experimental, electronic krautrock scene at the time, à la Kraftwerk and Neu!, they were intent on remaining in touch.

Soon after, Bowie relocated himself to Berlin, along with his friend Iggy Pop, whose post-Stooges debut, The Idiot, and follow-up, Lust For Life, were also produced or co-produced, and co-written by Bowie during this time. There, Bowie began work on what would become his Berlin Trilogy of albums with producer Tony Visconti and Eno.

Within a three-year period between 1976 and 1978, Eno collaborated on three consecutive albums, beginning with a sole Eno-saturated half-instrumental on Low, several co-written tracks on Heroes, and their final, musical consummation, Lodger, released in 1979.

Here’s a look at their work on all three albums and a song from each album from the Trilogy, co-written by Bowie and Eno.

1. “Warszawa” (1977)
Written by David Bowie and Brian Eno

Delving more into Eno’s ambient box of sound, the mostly instrumental “Warszawa” on Low was inspired by the desolation, Bowie witnessed while crossing through Warsaw, Poland, on more than one occasion. The song was initiated by Visconti’s son, who was repeatedly playing the A, B and C notes on the piano, and was finished by Bowie and Eno.

The lyrics, set in the middle of the nearly six-and-a-half-minute song, were inspired by the song “Helokanie” by the Polish folk choir Ślask.

Sula vie dilejo
Sula vie milejo

Cheli venco deho
Cheli venco deho

“Warszawa” also inspired the name of post-punk pioneers Joy Division, who first called themselves Warsaw after the song.

2. “Heroes” (1977)
Written by David Bowie and Brian Eno

Looking out the window of Hansa Studio in Berlin, Bowie would often see producer Visconti sneaking a kiss with backup singer Antonia Maass near the Berlin Wall. The scene inspired Bowie to write “Heroes,” the title track of his next installment, co-written with Eno.

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time just for one day
We can be heroes for ever and ever

The narrative of “Heroes” opened up to the story of a German couple who would meet under a gun turret on the Berlin Wall every day, but the song was always about Visconti’s affair.

Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever

“I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea,” revealed Bowie to Performing Songwriter in 2003. “Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time, and I could never say who it was, but I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin.”

Bowie added, “I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.”

3. “Boys Keep Swinging,” Lodger (1979)
Written by David Bowie and Brian Eno

By the time the third piece of the Berlin Trilogy, Lodger, was coming together Bowie had kicked off his Isolar Tour II in 1978. Recording shifted from Hansa to Montreux, Switzerland and the Record Plant in New York City. Perhaps the most experimental of his musical triptych, Lodger was elevated by more art rock and new wave sounds.

Eno co-wrote a majority of the tracks on Lodger with Bowie, including the androgynously glam rocked “Boys Keep Swinging,” which peaked at No. 7 on the UK chart.

On Lodger, Eno and Bowie also co-wrote the tracks “Fantastic Voyage,” “African Night Flight,” “Red Sails,” “D.J.” and “Look Back in Anger.”

Boys keep swinging
Boys always work it out
Uncage the colors
Unfurl the flag
Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy
They’ll never clone ya
You’re always first on the line
When you’re a boy

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