|Never Let Me Down|
|Studio album by|
|Released||20 April 1987|
|Recorded||Mid 1986 to early 1987|
|David Bowie chronology|
|David Bowie studio albums chronology|
|Singles from Never Let Me Down|
Never Let Me Down is the 17th studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 20 April 1987 on the label EMI America. Bowie conceived the album as the foundation for a theatrical world tour, writing and recording most of the songs in Switzerland. He considered the record a return to rock and roll music. Three singles were released from the album, "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl" and "Never Let Me Down", which all reached the UK Top 40.
One of Bowie's better-selling albums, Never Let Me Down was certified Gold by the RIAA in early July 1987, less than three months after its release date, and charted in the top 10 in several European countries, although it only reached No. 34 on the US charts. Despite its commercial success, this album was poorly received by fans and critics, many of whom regard the mid-to-late 1980s as a low point of creativity and musical integrity for Bowie. Bowie later distanced himself from the arrangement and production of the finished album but also admitted a fondness for many of the songs, eventually remixing the track "Time Will Crawl" (one of his favourites) for inclusion on his career retrospective release, iSelect (2008).
In support of this album, Bowie embarked on the Glass Spider Tour, a world tour that was at that point the biggest, most theatrical and most elaborate tour he had undertaken in his career. The tour, like the album it supported, was commercially successful but critically panned. The critical failure of the album and tour were factors that led Bowie to look for a new way to motivate himself creatively, leading him to create the band Tin Machine in 1989 and to retire his back catalogue from live performances following his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour. Bowie did not release another solo album until Black Tie White Noise in 1993.
Following the rise in fame and success from his 1983 album Let's Dance and its subsequent Serious Moonlight Tour, Bowie felt disconnected from his new found large fan base, and after the poor reception of Tonight (1984), he was looking to make the next album differently. As a result, Bowie said he wanted to return to recording with a small rock group like he had early in his career, and that he made the album as a "move back to rock 'n' roll music. Very directly." Bowie felt that the sound and style of his new album was reminiscent of his album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980) and was less like its immediate predecessors.
Bowie spent the middle of 1986 in his home in Switzerland writing the songs with his friend Iggy Pop. Bowie wrote Never Let Me Down with the intention of performing the songs in a theatrical show. He then recorded a few demos with Erdal Kızılçay before working on the album with the full band. For the first time since his Scary Monsters album, Bowie played instruments on the record in addition to singing. For some tracks on the album, Bowie played keyboards, synthesizer, rhythm guitar and on two of the album's tracks ("New York's in Love" and "'87 and Cry"), he played lead guitar.
The album took three months to write and record. It was recorded at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, and Power Station Studios in Manhattan, New York. According to album musician Erdal Kizilcay, they "used to start at about 10 in the morning an finish in the evening about 8 o'clock" while recording the album, adding that Bowie "was very disciplined" while recording the album and "was always trying something new." Bowie acknowledged that the songs on the album lacked a cohesive musical style, which he said reflected his eclectic musical tastes at the time, and stated that the album was "a reflection of all the styles of writing I've used over the last few years."
Bowie wrote the album's lead track "Day-In Day-Out" because of his concern about the treatment of the homeless in the US, and he wanted to make a statement about it. Some networks banned the song's video, which Bowie found ludicrous. This track was also the lead single for the album. A version of the song sung in Spanish was recorded to promote Bowie's first-ever concerts in Spain during his Glass Spider Tour was released for the first time in 2007 when the "Day-In Day-Out" EP was released digitally.
"Time Will Crawl", which Bowie named as his favourite track from the album, was inspired by events from the Chernobyl disaster and the idea that someone from one's own neighborhood could be responsible for the end of the world. During the production of the album, the track was titled "How We War", but was changed before the album was released. Bowie said his vocals on this song "owed a lot to Neil Young", and noted that the variety of voices he used on the album were a nod to the musicians who had influenced him in the past. Bowie pre-recorded a performance of the song for the BBC show Top of the Pops, although it was not aired at the time, as the single subsequently fell down the charts. This track was the second single released from the album.
The title track, "Never Let Me Down", is about Bowie's long-time personal assistant, Coco Schwab. Bowie wrote the song as a direct reference to his relationship with Coco as a counterpoint to the rest of the songs on the album, which he felt were mostly allegorical. The song, whose name was originally "Isolation", was the last one written for the album, written and recorded in one day during the last week of mixing the album at New York's Power Station studios. Bowie attributed his vocal performance on this track to John Lennon. Bowie's performance of this song for Top of the Pops was shown on the first airing of the US version of the show. This track was re-recorded and released as the third single from the album. One reviewer later called it one of Bowie's "most underrated songs."
Bowie called the song "Beat of Your Drum" a Lolita song, a "reflection on young girls... 'Christ, she’s only 14 years old, but jail’s worth it!'" Bowie biographer Nicholas Pegg, who called the song one of the better tracks on the album, noted that "Beat of Your Drum" could be called a "direct ancestor", both lyrically and musically, to Tin Machine's 1991 song, "You Belong in Rock n' Roll".
The song "Zeroes", which Rolling Stone magazine called the most heartening and successful track on the album, is, according to Bowie, a nostalgia trip: "I wanted to put in every 60s cliche I could think of! 'Stopping and preaching and letting love in,' all those things. I hope there's a humorous undertone to it. But the subtext is definitely that the trappings of rock are not what they're made out to be."
The track "Glass Spider" is a kind of mythological story based on a documentary Bowie had seen about black widow spiders that said that the spiders lay the skeletons of their prey out on their webs. Bowie also thought that the Glass Spider's web would make a good enclosure for the tour, thus giving the supporting tour its name and stage dressing.
Actor Mickey Rourke asked Bowie to be involved in one of the songs, the two having met in London where Rourke was based while filming the movie A Prayer for the Dying. Bowie had him perform the mid-song rap to the song "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)." Bowie jokingly referred to Rourke's performance as "method rapping". Bowie described the song as one that "reflects back-to-street situations, and how people are trying to get together in the face of so many disasters and catastrophes, socially around them, never knowing if they're going to survive it themselves. The one thing they have got to cling on to is each other; although it might resolve into something terrible, it's the only thing that they've got. It’s just a little love song coming out of that environment." He rejected the notion that his "high, little" voice (which he attributed to Smokey Robinson) in the song was a new character (to follow behind Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke), instead saying it was just what the song needed, as he had tried the song in his regular voice and did not like the outcome: "That never bothered me, changing voices to suit a song. You can fool about with it." "Shining Star" was one of Bowie's early choices to be a single for the album, but EMI had the final say and did not release the song as a single. A 12" remix of the song was made available on iTunes when the "Never Let Me Down" EP was released digitally in 2007.
Bowie originally wrote the song "'87 & Cry" as a statement about Margaret Thatcher, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time. The song referred to the distinction between the authoritarian government and the citizens (the "dogs"), and Bowie admitted that the lyrics verged on the surreal, describing people "eating the energies of others to get to what they wanted." The track was released as the B-side to the album's third single, "Never Let Me Down".
"Too Dizzy" was the first song Bowie and new collaborator Kizilcay wrote together for the album, and was written in homage to the 50s. Bowie said "a real Fifties subject matter was either love or jealousy, so I thought I’d stick with jealousy because it’s a lot more interesting". Bowie at the time called the song a "throwaway" and seemed surprised that he included it on the album. The song has been deleted from subsequent reissues of Never Let Me Down. Despite Bowie's dislike for the song, EMI briefly considered it for release as a fourth single from the album, and in fact, it did appear as a promo release in the US.
When asked about his choice of including Iggy Pop's song "Bang Bang" on the album (instead of perhaps co-writing a new song), Bowie stated "Iggy's done so many good songs that people never get to hear ... I think it's one of his best songs, 'Bang Bang,' and it hasn't been heard, and now it might be." "Bang Bang" was released as a promotional CD single in 1987.
Overall, Bowie summed up the album after it was released in 1987 as an effort to "reestablish what I used to do, which was a guitar-oriented album. I think the next album will be even more so." His follow-up effort was to be the guitar-oriented rock-band album Tin Machine (1989).
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||C+|
Initial sales of the album were strong but dropped off disappointingly as contemporary reviews of the album were mixed. Critic Ira Robbins wrote "although this casual loud-rock outing... seems on first blush to be slapdash and slight, the first side is actually quite good, offering provocative pop-culture lyrics delivered with first-take enthusiasm and carefree backing." In 1987, Spin magazine called the album "an inspired and brilliantly crafted work. It's charged with a positive spirit that makes art soul food; imbued with the contagious energy that gives ideas a leg to dance on", but in 1989 a different reviewer for the magazine called the album "disappointing". Rolling Stone magazine called the work an "odd, freewheeling pastiche of elements from all the previous Bowies," "unfocused," and possibly "the noisiest, sloppiest Bowie album ever. ... Being noisy and sloppy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sad to say, Never Let Me Down is also something of a mess." Another critic held a general optimism for the potential of the songs on the album, complaining only that the "oppressive production" ruined the songs. Billboard magazine's 1987 retrospective issue called Never Let Me Down "arguably the year's most underrated release" and considered the album a "Critic's Choice" for the year.
Bowie was not concerned with the album's relative poor performance in the charts, saying "I've made about 20 albums during my career, and so far this is my third biggest seller. So I can't be that disappointed, yet, it is a letdown that it hasn't been as buoyant as it should be. ... But I don’t really feel that negative about it. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the better albums I've made. As I've said. Never Let Down has been a pretty big seller for me. So I'm quite happy." Despite growing criticism in the press, Bowie said that Never Let Me Down was one of the most enjoyable and energetic albums he had made in a long time.
Bowie, having just turned 40 the year the album was released, was a common sight on magazine covers during the year. He appeared alongside Tina Turner on the cover of In Fashion magazine (to the tagline 'Forever cool'), Musician magazine and on the cover of Rolling Stone's US 20th Anniversary "Style" issue, part of a series of contemporary photographs of Bowie taken by photographer Herb Ritts. Articles about Bowie's album and tour appeared inside such teen-oriented publications such as Mademoiselle and Teen magazines, the former calling Bowie "a leading candidate for the coolest character in rock." Bowie was chosen as one of the top male pop stars of the year (1987) in Billboard's end-of-year retrospective issue.
Bowie knew he'd be taking this album on tour, and in early interviews said "I'm going to do a stage thing this year, which I'm incredibly excited about, 'cause I'm gonna take a chance again", but when pressed for details, he refused to give up any, saying "I'll just be doing what I always did, which is keeping things interesting."
Bowie performed several of the album's songs during a press tour that preceded his highly theatrical Glass Spider Tour, which played to a combined audience of as many as six million fans. Bowie wanted to produce a live show that picked up where his aborted 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour left off. Although considered financially successful and well attended, the tour itself was critically dismissed. Bowie designed his next few tours specifically to avoid the problems that the Glass Spider Tour was criticized for by avoiding overly theatrical stage presentations and focusing on his music. Despite the criticism, Bowie maintained that performing on this tour was the most fun he had had on tour up to that point in his career.
Initially after the album's release, Bowie was excited to return to the studio to record more material, having written more songs than were recorded for the album. He said he wanted to record more "experimental" music, referring to his work in the 1970s with Brian Eno. He discussed re-recording some of Never Let Me Down's tracks on his next album with future collaborator Reeves Gabrels, but Gabrels talked him out of it. Ultimately, due to the poor critical reception of the album and subsequent tour, Bowie put those plans on hold and instead formed his rock band Tin Machine, which he used to rejuvenate himself creatively and artistically. Bowie also effectively cut ties with his rhythm guitarist and band leader Carlos Alomar, whom he had worked with since the mid-1970s (starting with the album Young Americans (1975)), although Alomar would play on Bowie's 1995 Outside Tour and on a few tracks for later Bowie albums such as Outside (1995), Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003).
His view on the album soured as the years passed. In 1990, during interviews for his Sound+Vision Tour, Bowie commented that he felt like he was in a "mire" while making this album, and expressed disappointment at having lost good songs by allowing the album's production to give the songs too much of a session man feel.
A year later, while working with Tin Machine on their second album, he mused on his previous few albums: "You can tell I was terribly unhappy in the late '80s. ... I was in that netherworld of commercial acceptance. It was an awful trip. 1983, '84, '85, '86, '87 – those five years were simply dreadful. ... Never Let Me Down had good songs that I mistreated. I didn't really apply myself. I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing. I wish there had been someone around who could have told me."
In 1993, while doing press tours for his album Black Tie White Noise, Bowie acknowledged that, while the album sold more than any of his previous albums (except Let's Dance), he felt that while making it he had almost lost his interest in making music altogether. He elaborated, "In the end I didn't lose the songs, but I lost the sound. ... I literally threw them away by giving them to very good people to arrange but not being involved myself, almost to the point of indifference."
In 1995, Bowie spoke more at length about how he felt his creativity and music had suffered after the success of Let's Dance:
[The great public esteem at that time] meant absolutely nothing to me. It didn't make me feel good. I felt dissatisfied with everything I was doing, and eventually it started showing in my work. Let's Dance was an excellent album in a certain genre, but the next two albums after that [Tonight and Never Let Me Down] showed that my lack of interest in my own work was really becoming transparent. My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I've gotten to a place now where I'm not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it's in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it's a failure artistically, it doesn't bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn't have even bothered going into the studio to record it. [laughs] In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes.
No song from this album was performed on any of Bowie's tours after 1987. Bowie considered the idea of re-recording tracks from the album in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, a project which came to fruition in 2018 with the release of Never Let Me Down 2018, two years after Bowie's death.
This was the first Bowie album to have different length songs on the vinyl release than on the cassette and CD, with almost all the songs appearing on the latter having a longer running time than on the former.
LP: EMI AMLS 3117 (UK)
All tracks are written by David Bowie except where noted.
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:18|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||4:32|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down" (David Bowie, Carlos Alomar)||4:03|
|2.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)"||4:05|
|3.||"New York's in Love"||3:55|
|4.||"'87 and Cry"||3:53|
|5.||"Too Dizzy" (David Bowie, Erdal Kızılçay)||3:58|
|6.||"Bang Bang" (Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral)||4:02|
The shortened LP version of the album was released digitally for the first time in 2007 on iTunes (minus "Too Dizzy").
CD: EMI CDP 7 46677 2 (UK)
All tracks are written by David Bowie except where noted.
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:18|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||5:03|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie and Carlos Alomar||4:03|
|7.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)"||5:04|
|8.||"New York's in Love"||4:32|
|9.||"'87 and Cry"||4:18|
|10.||"Too Dizzy"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay||3:58|
|11.||"Bang Bang"||Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral||4:28|
LP/CD: EMI EYS-91221/CP32-5398 (Japan)
The original Japanese release of the album included an exclusive re-recording of the song "Girls" sung in Japanese. On the LP the song was slotted at the end of side one.
|6.||"Girls"||Music & lyrics by Bowie and Kızılçay, Japanese translation by Hiro Hozumi, coaching by Kiri Teshigahara||4:00|
In December 1986, the album's proposed track order was different than what was released; it did not include the track "Never Let Me Down" (as it had not yet been recorded) and had eventual B-side "Girls" in its place.
All tracks are written by David Bowie except where noted.
|1.||"Beat of Your Drum"||4:33|
|3.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:18|
|4.||"New York's in Love"||3:57|
|5.||"Bang Bang"||Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral||4:27|
|6.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)"||5:06|
|8.||"Too Dizzy"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay||3:58|
|9.||"'87 and Cry"||4:20|
|10.||"Girls (Extended Edit)"||Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay||5:35|
Virgin Records (CDVUS 98) re-released the album in the UK on CD with three bonus tracks.
|11.||"Julie"||B-side to the single "Day-In Day-Out" (1987)||3:45|
|12.||"Girls" (Extended Edit)||Bowie, Kızılçay||B-side to the single "Time Will Crawl" (1987)||5:38|
|13.||"When the Wind Blows"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie & Kızılçay||From the When the Wind Blows soundtrack (1986)||3:36|
EMI released the second reissue in 1999 featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound but no bonus tracks, and also without "Too Dizzy".
A 2007 Japanese re-release of the album, based on the EMI 1999 re-issue, included "Too Dizzy" on the track listing although the song itself doesn't appear on the CD.
In 2018, the album was remastered by Parlophone and released on CD, LP, and digitally as part of the Loving the Alien (1983–1988) box set; a standalone release of the album on all three aforementioned formats was issued in February of the following year.
Adapted from the Never Let Me Down liner notes.
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
|Never Let Me Down 2018|
|Studio album by|
|Released||12 October 2018|
|Recorded||January – March 2018|
|Studio||Electric Lady (Manhattan, NY)|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Never Let Me Down 2018|
According to Reeves Gabrels, Bowie wanted to remake some of the songs almost immediately after the two met in late 1987, and considered putting some of them on his next album, but Gabrels talked him out of it, suggesting it was too soon to do so. Bowie discussed recording some of the tracks from Never Let Me Down with Gabrels again in 1996, prior to going into the studio to make his album Earthling (1997), but no tracks were recorded. Bowie had Mario J. McNulty remix the track "Time Will Crawl" in 2008 for his compilation of self-selected favourite songs, iSelect, and later included the same mix on his career-spanning 50th anniversary compilation, Nothing Has Changed. At the time Bowie had said, "Oh, to redo the rest of that album", and according to the Parlophone label in 2018, that was the beginning of the desire to "reimagine" the album. In early 2018, musicians including Reeves Gabrels, David Torn, Sterling Campbell, Tim Lefebvre, Nico Muhly and Laurie Anderson started recording in New York's Electric Lady Studios to help fulfill that wish. Of these musicians, Torn, Campbell, Lefebvre and Gabrels were all selected by Bowie before he died in 2016 to take a part in the project. In July 2018, it was announced that a new version of the album, titled Never Let Me Down 2018, would be released in October of that year. The album includes "newly 'remixed' artwork", unseen images from the original album's photo-shoot by photographer Greg Gorman, and was released as part of the 2018 box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988).
McNulty used the experience of making the MM Remix of "Time Will Crawl" with Bowie to influence his approach for producing this version of the album. He received the master tapes from the label and "kept all of Bowie's vocals", some of the original acoustic guitars, and "anything distinctive" about the song, such as Alomar's rhythm guitar on "Never Let Me Down" and Frampton's sitar on "Zeroes." He sent rough mixes, called "stems", to each musician as a baseline along with ideas of what they should record. Each musician recorded their parts separately, and were not typically in the studio together, although Torn and Gabrels did record together for one day at one point. For "Day-In Day-Out", McNulty discovered that Bowie had recorded the Borneo Horns (Stanley Harrison, Lenny Pickett, Steve Elson and Arif Mardin) playing live, but had at some point replaced them with synthesized horns. McNulty restored the live horns in the new version. The new version of the song has "one foot in the past and another in the present", saying "it was difficult. Most of the lyrics are quite dark, but everything else about it is almost uplifting. ... I just thought, 'It makes sense to do something bright.'" For "New York's in Love", Gabrels wanted the new recording to reflect the change in New York, saying "New York isn't really about the blues anymore. It's more multicultural. … I wanted to reflect that change with what I did [played]. … I told Mario, 'Put up that song and let me see what happens.' … I soloed through the whole song and tried different things, and I reacted to what was going on. When the song ended, Mario looked at me and said, 'Well, that one's done then.' [laughs]". McNulty replaced a lot of synthesizer parts throughout the album with strings, saying "There were a lot of random synthesizers from the Labyrinth department lurking in the background. I was pretty confident I could do a lot of that work with strings." "Shining Star" was particularly hard for McNulty: "The [original] programming is a mess and the rap comes out of nowhere. I was just trying to find the right elements to fit the song. Luckily I know David and Laurie Anderson were good friends and she said yes to this [recording new vocals for the song] and it was really great of her."
Original musicians Alomar and Kizilcay were not part of the reproduction. Alomar approved of the changes to the album, but Kizilcay was unhappy with the new arrangements, and threatened a lawsuit as a result.
After the album was released in 2018, McNulty suggested that he might try remixing some of the other songs from the era, including b-sides "Julie" and "Girls", but added, "'Too Dizzy,' that's not gonna happen."
The release of the box set was preceded by the digital release of the single "Zeroes (2018) (Radio Edit)" in July 2018, and a physical 7" single in September 2018, backed with a radio of the 2018 version of "Beat of Your Drum".
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:26|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||5:27|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down"||Bowie, Alomar||4:26|
|7.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (featuring Laurie Anderson)||5:32|
|8.||"New York's in Love"||4:33|
|9.||"'87 and Cry"||4:25|
|10.||"Bang Bang"||Pop, Kral||4:42|
|Total length:||19:12 (50:56)|