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Music / Never Let Me Down

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"You've arrived in the land of a thousand different names."
Click to see the cover for Never Let Me Down 2018 

"'Provocative lyric.' 'Powerful sound.' 'Precisely Bowie.'"
Tagline for the leadoff single, "Day-In Day-Out".

Never Let Me Down is the 17th studio album by David Bowie, released in 1987 through EMI America Records.

Bowie, having grown disconnected from his Let's Dance/Tonight fans, wanted to return to making a more rock-and-roll based album, marking the first time since Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) that he played instruments in addition to singing. He collaborated with Iggy Pop, multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay, and co-producer David Richards (all of whom previously worked with Bowie on Pop's solo album Blah-Blah-Blah the previous year) with the view of putting the songs into a theatrical tour.

The album was commercially successful, selling more copies than Tonight, and spawned three UK Top 40 singles in the title track, "Day-In Day-Out" and "Time Will Crawl". The album additionally peaked at No. 6 on the UK Albums chart and at No. 34 on the Billboard 200, going on to be certified platinum in Canada and gold in the UK, the US, and France. The tour the album spawned, the Glass Spider Tour, ended up being the longest and most expensive tour Bowie had embarked upon at the time, with its elaborate set being called "the largest touring set ever." Despite its unprecedented expense, it too was a huge commercial success, making $86 million USD at the box office across its three legs and 86 shows.

In 2018, two years after his death, a George Lucas Altered Version of the album using the original vocals and a new backing track was released through Parlophone Records, EMI's former sublabel and ultimate successor label. Titled Never Let Me Down 2018, the album was released exclusively as part of the Boxed Set Loving the Alien (1983-1988). The re-do was a project Bowie had been trying to get off the ground as early as late 1987, first being talked out of it by Reeves Gabrels due to its close proximity to the original version's release before later revisiting the idea in 1996 just prior to starting work on Earthling. However, in both cases the idea never went far enough for anything to actually be recorded. The closest Bowie got to redoing Never Let Me Down in his lifetime was in 2008, when he appointed Mario J. McNulty to produce a new backing track for "Time Will Crawl" for the compilation album iSelect. Bowie did, however, manage to have some degree of influence on the final 2018 product, having hand-picked at least some of the musicians included on the remix.

The original version of Never Let Me Down was supported by three singles: "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl", and the Title Track. The 2018 version, meanwhile, was supported with just one single: "Zeroes" (with "Beat of Your Drum" included as a B-Side).

1987 Tracklist:

  1. "Day-In Day-Out" (5:35)note 
  2. "Time Will Crawl" (4:18)
  3. "Beat of Your Drum" (5:03)note 
  4. "Never Let Me Down" (4:03)
  5. "Zeroes" (5:46)
  6. "Glass Spider" (5:30)note 
  7. "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (5:04)note 
  8. "New York's in Love" (4:32)note 
  9. "'87 and Cry" (4:18)note 
  10. "Too Dizzy" (3:58)note 
  11. "Bang Bang" (4:30)note 

2018 Tracklist:

LP One

Side One
  1. "Day-In Day-Out" (5:26)
  2. "Time Will Crawl" (4:26)note 
  3. "Beat of Your Drum" (5:27)

Side Two

  1. "Never Let Me Down" (4:26)
  2. "Zeroes" (5:06)
  3. "Glass Spider" (6:53)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (5:32)
  2. "New York's in Love" (4:33)
  3. "'87 and Cry" (4:25)
  4. "Bang Bang" (4:42)

Note: CD releases of the 2018 version are on a single disc; on LP copies, side four contains an etching of the "David Bowie" logo featured on the front cover.

Life is like a broken arrow; memory a swinging trope:

  • Big Applesauce: "New York's In Love" is an upbeat portrait of life in the titular city, depicting it as the center of life in America.
  • Bowdlerize: The music video for "Day-In Day-Out" features the protagonist's baby arranging letter blocks to spell "MOM," "FOOD," and "FUCK," representing the cycle of dependency. TV airings edited it to say "MOM," "LOOK," and "LUCK" instead. Bowie reacted to the edit with disdain, calling it "ludicrous" and claiming that the censors made a knee-jerk reaction to the "FUCK" blocks instead of trying to grasp their meaning. The TV edit also removes a scene at the end of a man peeing on Ronald Reagan's Walk of Fame star.
  • Cover Song: "Bang Bang", Bowie's final Iggy Pop cover. The Pop version was a flop when it released, motivating Bowie to record it for this album, as he felt it had potential to be a hit. Ironically, the song was never released as a single (barring a promo release of a live recording from the Glass Spider Tour).
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: The spoken-word intro to "Glass Spider" mentions how the title creature "had blue eyes, almost like a human's," juxtaposed with the unsettling description of her other traits to provide an eerie effect.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • The 2018 remix of "Glass Spider", which transforms a fast-paced, Synth-Pop song into a slow, moody industrial rock track that sounds like it jumped right out of 1. Outside.
    • The album itself, in both its 1987 and 2018 iterations, is this compared to Let's Dance and Tonight, at least in regards to its lyrics. Songs on this album aren't afraid to more explicitly discuss dark subject matter, featuring topics such as homelessness, drug addiction, and nuclear holocaust.
  • Doorstop Baby: "Day-In Day-Out" mentions how the song's protagonist was "born in a handbag, love left on a doorstep."
  • "Double, Double" Title: "Bang Bang".
  • Ephebophile: According to Bowie, "Beat of Your Drum" is meant to be narrated by one, with Bowie dubbing it "a Lolita number" as a result.
  • Epic Rocking: The 2018 version of "Glass Spider" clocks in at just short of 7 minutes long thanks to the new ambient-industrial angle it takes.
  • Face on the Cover: Bowie, in both versions. In the 1987 version, he's shown leaping towards the camera among a small room cluttered with circus knickknacks themed after the album's songs. In the 2018 version, he's shown standing triumphantly behind the ring of fire in the same room, peering into the distance and making a monocle gesture with his hand.
  • Genre Roulette: The 2018 version shifts between pop rock, art rock, straight pop, straight rock, Alternative Rock, and even industrial rock from song to song.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 2018 remix, a substantially different take on the album that replaces almost all the synthesizer parts with strings, guitars, and horns and alters the mix to fit Bowie's more typical style of art rock. The only remaining synths were the ones that Bowie played himself.
  • In the Style of:
    • Bowie's vocals on the Title Track are deliberately intended to evoke the singing style of John Lennon, with whom Bowie had collaborated in January 1975 during production of Young Americans.
    • Mario J. McNulty described the 2018 version of "Glass Spider" as being based on the works of Brian Eno, Scott Walker, and Nine Inch Nails; Eno's style is most prominently displayed during the song's spoken-work introduction, Walker's during the second third of the song, and NIИ's during the last third.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The 2018 version of "Zeroes", which cuts out the concert-style intro and jumps straight into Bowie's "yeah, yeah!" just before the acoustic guitar comes in.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Day-In Day-Out" is an upbeat, horn-heavy track that brings up subjects such as child abandonment, misguided patriotism, crushing poverty, and (implied) police brutality.
    • "Beat of Your Drum" is an anthemic love song that just so happens to be narrated by an ephebophile.
  • New Sound Album: Compared to the post-disco of Let's Dance and the standard pop rock of Tonight, Never Let Me Down is far heavier on synth effects, rooted in the pop zeitgeist of the late '80s. Bowie retrospectively attributed this to him taking a backseat on the album's production, though other circumstantial evidencenote  points to it being intentional on his part.
  • One-Word Title: "Zeroes".
  • Parental Abandonment: The lyrics to "Glass Spider" are narrated by the title creature's offspring, which cry out for her out of loneliness.
  • Performance Video: The music video for "Time Will Crawl" features Bowie and a troupe of dancers performing the song on a rehearsal stage, acting as a teaser for the Glass Spider Tour.
  • Police Brutality: Implied in "Day-In Day-Out": the bridge ends with a mention of a "police shakedown," and the last verse mentions the protagonist being gunned down by ironically-described "angels everywhere;" the music video juxtaposes these lyrics with scenes of battering ram tanks ramming into her house.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • The album, in spite of its seemingly cheery melodies, focuses a great deal on themes of loss and abandonment in its lyrics, likely influenced by the lingering grief from the suicide of Bowie's half-brother Terry two years prior.
    • "Glass Spider" was born out of a documentary Bowie watched describing how black widow spiders decorate their webs with the corpses of their prey.
  • Record Producer: David Bowie and David Richards, with the addition of Mario J. McNulty on the 2018 version; Richards previously collaborated with Bowie on the theme song to When the Wind Blows and on Iggy Pop's solo album Blah-Blah-Blah, and he would continue working with Bowie until Outside in 1995. Based on Bowie's comments about the making of the 1987 version of this album, he himself seemed to be an example of the invisible variety, retrospectively describing himself in an interview as having been "indifferent" towards the album's production when it was first recorded.
  • Re-Cut:
    • Most songs on the original LP release of the album were cut down to allow everything to fit on one disc without compressing any of the grooves; these edits were also present on the cassette release. The full songs, however, would be included on all CD releases, and would eventually come to vinyl with the Loving the Alien [1983-1988] Boxed Set and the standalone 2019 reissue of Never Let Me Down in its original form (with the LP edits being relegated to the set's Re:Call 4 compilation).
    • Reissues of the album drop "Too Dizzy" at Bowie's request. This even extends to the 2018 Remix Album, with producer Mario J. McNulty stating that he never intends to touch it.
  • Revisiting the Roots: The 2018 mix attempts to bring the album closer to Bowie's earlier art rock style, tying in with his original intentions for the project.
  • Remix Album: The 2018 version remixes the original songs to fix the problems Bowie had with the 1987 release.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Time Will Crawl" was born out of Bowie's learning of the Chernobyl disaster during a stay in Switzerland.
  • Special Guest:
    • Peter Frampton plays lead guitar on the album and sitar parts on both the 1987 and 2018 versions of "Zeroes".
    • Lenny Pickett and Earl Gardner of the Saturday Night Live in-house band respectively provide tenor sax and fluglehorn parts.
    • CBS Orchestra player Sid McGinnis provides lead guitar on "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl" and "Bang Bang".
    • Chic backing vocalist Diva Gray provides backing vocals throughout the album.
    • Contemporary classical musician Nico Muhly provides string arrangements for the 2018 versions of "Beat of Your Drum", "Never Let Me Down" and "Bang Bang".
    • "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" features a verse rapped by actor Mickey Rourke on the 1987 version and spoken by Laurie Anderson on the 2018 version.
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • "Glass Spider" opens with an extended introduction featuring Bowie reading off an expository passage about the titular creature.
    • The 2018 version of "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" features Laurie Anderson reciting the rap verse in this manner.
  • Take That!:
    • "Day-In Day-Out" is an extended critique of life under the Ronald Reagan administration, highlighting the dissonance between the PR and the policies. The uncensored music video cements this by ending on a shot of a man peeing on Reagan's Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
    • "'87 and Cry" is one to the Margaret Thatcher administration, featuring Bowie sarcastically prattling off a number of shallow, feel-good slogans characteristic of the Thatcher era.
  • Time Title: "Day-In Day-Out", the opener, uses its title to invoke feelings of ennui and ironically juxtapose them against a portrait of a woman living in poverty. The track right after it is "Time Will Crawl", whose title refers to the approaching death of humanity after a nuclear disaster (having been inspired by Chernobyl).
  • Title by Year: "'87 And Cry", named after the year the song was released as a means of tying into its riffs on the Margaret Thatcher administration.
  • Title Track: "Never Let Me Down".
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Actor Mickey Rourke performs a rap verse on the 1987 version of "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)". The 2018 version replaces Rourke with Laurie Anderson, who instead performs his part as soft-voiced spoken-word.
  • The X of Y: "Beat of Your Drum".