Never Let Me Down

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Never Let Me Down
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 27 April 1987[1]
Recorded

Mid 1986 to early 1987

Genre Rock, pop rock
Length 53:07 (CD)
48:06 (vinyl)
Label EMI America
Producer David Bowie, David Richards
David Bowie chronology
Labyrinth
(1986)
Never Let Me Down
(1987)
Black Tie White Noise
(1993)
-
Tin Machine
(1989)
Singles from Never Let Me Down
  1. "Day-In Day-Out" b/w "Julie"
    Released: March 1987
  2. "Time Will Crawl" b/w "Girls"
    Released: June 1987
  3. "Never Let Me Down" b/w "'87 and Cry"
    Released: August 1987

Never Let Me Down is the seventeenth studio album by David Bowie, released in April 1987 by 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 'n' roll music. Three singles were released from the album, "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl" and "Never Let Me Down", the first two of which were top 10 hits around the world.

One of Bowie's better-selling albums to date, 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 number 34 on the US charts. Despite its commercial success, this album was poorly received by fans and critics, who have regarded the mid- to late 1980s as a low point of creativity and musical integrity for Bowie. Bowie later distanced himself from the album, but admitted a fondness for many of the songs and eventually remixed the track "Time Will Crawl" (one of his all-time 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 during his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour. Bowie did not release another solo album until Black Tie White Noise in 1993.

Album development[edit]

Looking past a city towards a lake, with mountains behind
A view of Montreux, Switzerland, where Bowie recorded the album

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."[5] Bowie felt that the sound and style of his new album was reminiscent of his album Scary Monsters (1980) and was less like its immediate predecessors.[6]

Bowie spent the middle of 1986 in his home in Switzerland writing the songs with his friend Iggy Pop.[7] Bowie wrote Never Let Me Down with the intention of performing the songs in a theatrical show.[8] He then recorded a few demos with Erdal Kızılçay before working on the album with the full band.[9] For the first time since his Scary Monsters album, Bowie played instruments on the record in addition to singing.[10][11] 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.[7]

The album took three months to write and record.[9] Bowie acknowledged that the songs on the album lacked a cohesive musical style, which he claimed 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."[7]

Song development[edit]

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.[12] Some networks banned the song's video, which Bowie found ludicrous.[5] This track was also the lead single for the album. A version of the song sung in Spanish was released in 2007 when the "Day-In Day-Out" EP was released digitally.[13]

"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 ones' own neighborhood could be responsible for the end of the world.[14] 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.[7] Bowie performed the song for the BBC show Top of the Pops, although that performance has never been aired.[15] 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.[6] The song 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.[3][4] Bowie attributed his vocal performance on this track to John Lennon.[7] Bowie's performance of this song for the Top of the Pops was shown on the first airing of the US version of the show.[15] 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."[16]

"It’s a pompous little title, isn't it? Seen out of context it’s quite abrasive, but in the context of the song and songs on the album I think it’s rather tongue-in-cheek to use it as the title. Also there’s a vaudevillian thing about the cover. The two combined are kind of comical."

David Bowie, on the album's title and cover[3][4]

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!'"[3][4]

The song "Zeroes", which Rolling Stone magazine called the most heartening and successful track on the album,[17] 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."[7]

The track "Glass Spider" is a kind of mythological story based on a documentary Bowie had seen[7] 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.[18]

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".[5] 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."[3][4] 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."[7] "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.[19][20] A 12" remix of the song was made available on iTunes when the "Never Let Me Down" EP was released digitally for the first time in 2007.[21]

Bowie called "New York's in Love" a sarcastic song about the vanity of big cities.[3][4]

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"),[22] and Bowie admitted that the lyrics verged on the surreal, describing people "eating the energies of others to get to what they wanted."[3][4] 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 Erdal 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.[3][4] The song has been deleted from subsequent reissues of Never Let Me Down.[23]

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."[5]

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."[18] His follow-up effort was to be the guitar-oriented rock-band album Tin Machine (1989).

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2/5 stars[16]
People Mixed[24]
Robert Christgau C+[25]
Rolling Stone Unfavorable[17]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) 1/5 stars[26]
Spin Favorable[27]

Initial sales of the album were strong[28] but dropped off disappointingly[29] 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."[30] 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",[27] but in 1989 a different reviewer for the magazine called the album "disappointing".[31] 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."[17] Another critic held a general optimism for the potential of the songs on the album, complaining only that the "oppressive production" ruined the songs.[32] 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.[33]

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."[19][20] 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.[12][34]

Public image[edit]

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'),[35] Musician magazine[7] and on the cover of Rolling Stone's US 20th Anniversary "Style" issue,[36] part of a series of contemporary photographs of Bowie taken by photographer Herb Ritts.[6] Articles about Bowie's album and tour appeared inside such teen-oriented publications such as Mademoiselle[37] and Teen[38] 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 Billboards end-of-year retrospective issue.[33]

Live performances[edit]

An image of a stage with a giant luminescent spider overhead, its body glowing green, its head glowing red and its legs glowing blue. Below the spider, tiny human forms can be see on stage
Bowie (bottom center) on stage in Berlin in support of Never Let Me Down
Main article: Glass Spider Tour

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."[6]

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.[39] Bowie wanted to produce a live show that picked up where his aborted 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour left off.[35] Although considered financially successful and well attended,[40] the tour itself was critically dismissed.[9] 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.[41][42][43] 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.[18]

Album legacy[edit]

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.[5] He said he wanted to record more "experimental" music, referring to his work in the 1970s with Brian Eno.[44] However, 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.[45][46]

"Now I listen to Never Let Me Down and I wish I had [been less indifferent to its production], because there were some good songs on it, but I let go and it became very soft musically; which wasn't the way I would have done it if I had been more involved."

David Bowie, 1993[47]

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.[48]

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."[49]

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.[50] 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."[46]

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.[51]

No song from this album has been performed on any of Bowie's tours after 1987. However, Bowie had Mario McNulty remix the track "Time Will Crawl"[52] in 2008 for his compilation of self-selected favourite songs, iSelect;[53] he would later use the mix for his career-spanning 50th anniversary compilation, Nothing Has Changed.[54]

Track listing[edit]

The album was one of the first to feature different length versions on vinyl 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)[edit]

All songs written and composed by David Bowie (except where noted). 

Side One
No. Title Length
1. "Day-In Day-Out"   4:38
2. "Time Will Crawl"   4:18
3. "Beat of Your Drum"   4:32
4. "Never Let Me Down" (Lyrics by Bowie, Music by Bowie and Carlos Alomar) 4:03
5. "Zeroes"   5:46
Side Two
No. Title Length
1. "Glass Spider"   4:56
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" (Lyrics by Bowie, Music by Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay) 3:58
6. "Bang Bang" (Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral) 4:02
Total length:
48:06

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)[edit]

All songs written and composed by David Bowie (except where noted). 

No. Title Length
1. "Day-In Day-Out"   5:35
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
5. "Zeroes"   5:46
6. "Glass Spider"   5:30
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
Total length:
53:07

Reissues[edit]

The track "Too Dizzy" has been deleted from subsequent reissues of the album, reportedly at Bowie's request because it is his least favourite track on the album.[23]

1995 Reissue [Virgin CDVUS 98 (UK)][edit]

Virgin Records rereleased the album on CD with three bonus tracks.

No. Title Notes Length
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

1999 Reissue (EMI)[edit]

EMI released the second reissue in 1999 featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound but no bonus tracks, and also without "Too Dizzy".

2007 Reissue[edit]

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.[55]

2009 Reissue[edit]

In 2009, the album was re-issued in SHM-CD format. The reissue had the same track listing as the 2007 reissue.[56]

Production credits[edit]

Singles[edit]

Charts[edit]

Notes[edit]

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  88. ^ "American album certifications – David Bowie – Never Let Me Down". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 25 May 2013.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH