Pre-production

David Bowie raised the prospect of Nile Rodgers producing him on an album. Rodgers gladly seized the opportunity, keen to capitalise on the artistic freedom the label-free Bowie was enjoying.

Preproduction began a few days later at Rodgers’ apartment at the Lincoln Plaza Towers on 44 West 62nd Street, where Tony Visconti coincidentally had the apartment next door.

His office/apartment was in my building, which had thirty-plus floors and at last five units per floor. But his was directly next door! What are the odds of that in a city of more than eight million people?
Nile Rodgers
Le Freak

Bowie and Rodgers had a number of meetings at Lincoln Plaza Towers. Rodgers played Bowie a test pressing of his forthcoming solo record, Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove. Bowie expressed a liking for it, telling Rodgers: “Nile, if you make a record for me half as good as that I’ll be the happiest man in the world.”

The pair also visited a number of museums and libraries in New York, as well as friends with extensive record collections, and listened to old jazz music. The pair had bonded over a shared love of jazz, and were looking for inspiration and feeling their way towards their new sound.

We had been going out to museums and listening to records and looking at photographs and we amassed an amount of rock & roll imagery way before we did one note of music. So I had a visual picture of what the record should sound like.

When David finally realized what the record should sound like, he came to my apartment one day and he had a picture of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac. And he said to me, “Nile, darling, the record should sound like this!” And he showed me the picture. And I knew exactly – think of how crazy this was – I knew exactly what he meant. He didn’t mean he wanted his record to sound like a Little Richard record. He said, “This visual thing is what we want to achieve aurally in every sense of the word.” Even though the picture was obviously from the Fifties or the early Sixties, it looked modern. The Cadillac looked like a spaceship, and Little Richard was in this monochromatic outfit which then later on became David Bowie in the yellow monochromatic outfit with the yellow hair.

We would basically wake up each morning and … I would say bin-dive, but we weren’t really bin-diving. We had some concept of what we were looking at and what we were going after and it was all jazz. We never listened to pop music. We never listened to another heavy rock band or another heavy R&B band or anything like that. It was all jazz and all photographs of iconography. So he knew it was rock & roll but he didn’t quite know what until he found this picture.

When he showed me that picture, I knew that he wanted the record to sound modern and timeless and be rock & roll-based. And what he called rock & roll was the original definition of rock & roll, was race music, was black music; it was that music that was taboo. It was music that the people liked, but the critics would say, “Eh. What is this colored music?” I got all of that in that one photograph.

It took all that time for us to settle on that photograph. That was it. After that, I don’t think we talked about anything. Because we had looked at the Henry Mancinis, and the Quincy Jones, and the Oliver Nelsons, all of these great jazz arrangers and composers and so-and-so, and then finally it all came down to this Little Richard photo in the red suit.

Nile Rodgers
Rolling Stone, 12 January 2016

Bowie invited Rodgers to Switzerland for further pre-production, including demo recordings for the new album. The singer picked up Rodgers at Geneva airport, and the pair drove in Bowie’s Volvo car to his Lausanne home.

There, the Bowie told Rodgers that he wanted the producer to play to his strengths and make hit records. This temporarily wrong-footed Rodgers, who had hoped to continue in the art-rock vein of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

We had just visited all of these museums together and spent time listening to people’s different great record collections, so I was thinking something along the lines of avant garde jazz. Then he says, ‘I want you to make a hit.’ I was like, ‘A hit? you just did Scary Monsters bro.’ That was one of the coolest records ever, but it was not really a hit. I told him the hitmaker Nile was a disco producer and begged him to just let me make a ‘cool’ David Bowie record. But he wanted a hit.
Nile Rodgers, June 2017
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book