Never Let Me Down album coverRecorded: 1986-1987
Producers: David Bowie, David Richards

Released: 20 April 1987

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer, harmonica, tambourine
Carlos Alomar: guitar, guitar synthesizer, tambourine, backing vocals
Erdal Kızılçay: keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, drums, trumpet, violin, backing vocals
Peter Frampton, Sid McGinnis: guitar
Carmine Rojas: bass guitar
Philippe Saisse: piano, keyboards
Crusher Bennett: percussion
Laurie Frink: trumpet
Earl Gardner: trumpet, flugelhorn
Stan Harrison, Steve Elson, Lenny Pickett: saxophone
Robin Clark, Loni Groves, Diva Gray, Gordon Grodie, Coco, Sandro Sursock, Charuvan Suchi, Joe, Clement, John, Aglae: backing vocals
Mickey Rourke: rap

Tracklisting:

  • ‘Day-In Day-Out’
  • ‘Time Will Crawl’
  • ‘Beat Of Your Drum’
  • ‘Never Let Me Down’
  • ‘Zeroes’
  • ‘Glass Spider’
  • ‘Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)’
  • ‘New York’s In Love’
  • ‘’87 And Cry’
  • ‘Too Dizzy’
  • ‘Bang Bang’

Never Let Me Down was David Bowie’s 17th studio album, and the last before the formation of Tin Machine. Later mostly disowned by its creator, the album yielded the singles ‘Day-In Day-Out’, ‘Time Will Crawl’, and ‘Never Let Me Down’.

I thought it was great material that got simmered down to product level. I really should have not done it quite so studio-ly. I think some of it was a waste of really good songs. You should hear the demos from those albums. It’s night and day by comparison with the finished tracks. There’s stuff on the two albums since Let’s Dance that I could really kick myself about. When I listen to those demos it’s, How did it turn out like that?
David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989

It was the final part in a trilogy of pop albums, which began in 1983 with Let’s Dance and continued with the following year’s Tonight. Never Let Me Down was mostly written and recorded in Switzerland, and the songs and concept formed the basis of the subsequent Glass Spider world tour.

I always look back on those two albums after Let’s Dance as being indifferent; I purposely didn’t get very involved with them. Now I listen to Never Let Me Down and I wish I had, 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
NME, 27 March 1993

The album also contained more new songs than the previous two albums combined. Let’s Dance had five original Bowie songs, one cover version (‘Criminal World’), and renditions of two older songs (‘China Girl’ and ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’). Tonight, meanwhile, had contained just four new songs, two of them co-written with Iggy Pop.

In contrast, Never Let Me Down had eight new Bowie compositions, plus two – ‘Never Let Me Down’ and ‘Too Dizzy’ – co-written with Carlos Alomar and Erdal Kızılçay respectively. The only cover version was of the 1981 Iggy Pop song ‘Bang Bang’.

Although Never Let Me Down is often considered Bowie’s artistic nadir, made at a time when he was disengaged with the creative process and happy to let others steer his professional output, at the time of its release he saw it as a return to his rock roots.

The Serious Moonlight period – that Let’s Dance album – was, uh, Nile [Rodgers] did wonderful things for me on that album, he created an extraordinary sound. But with the inclusion of the horns and the, and the… smoothness of the whole deal, I started to become uncomfortable in carrying on with that direction, because I felt a little lost in that, and it was approaching an area that I didn’t really feel I belonged in. And so coming to this album, I approached it from where – how I used to feel about bands when I started. I always go back – when you get lost you go back to point one. And so I approached the whole deal from what used to excite me about being in a band, and it just goes back to the guitar again. And so it became a guitar-oriented album. And as I was writing and feeling out the material I realized it was just a tremendous album to be touring, and so the whole thing meshed together, and I put the amount of energy that I needed into a rock album, to really make it happen on stage.
David Bowie
Vox Pop, 18 March 1987

In an interview with Kurt Loder for Rolling Stone, Bowie even suggested that Never Let Me Down was an extension of his art-rock work on Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

I had a few problems with [the music business] a couple of years ago, at the time of Let’s Dance and just after. I suddenly had this huge audience that I’d never had before. I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do. So I just cut out last year – stayed in Europe, up in the mountains most of the time, writing and working, just doing the things that I really like. And that put me back on course. That’s why I guess this new album sounds so much more… as though the continuity hasn’t been broken from Scary Monsters. It’s almost as though Let’s Dance and Tonight were in the way there. And I’m going to do a stage thing this year, which I’m incredibly excited about, ’cause I’m gonna take a chance again.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 12 April 1987