Cover artwork

The cover of Never Let Me Down was designed by Mick Haggerty, who had previously worked on Let’s Dance and Tonight.

Haggarty was responsible both for the sleeve design and the elaborate set. The photography was by Greg Gorman.

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
Music & Sound Output, June 1987

The elaborate carnivalesque concept featured a variety of visual elements, including a skyscraper, drum, a flag draped over a cannon, a ring of fire, a suitcase, a ladder leading out of shot, and a painting of the sea. This was Bowie’s most elaborate album cover to date, seemingly reaching for Sgt Pepper-style intrigue though falling short on all counts.

The release

Never Let Me Down was released on 20 April 1987.

The album received mostly poor critical reviews, and its sales were similarly weak. It failed to top the chart in any major country, although it went top ten in the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. In the UK it peaked at number six, Bowie’s lowest chart position for a new album in 25 years, and in the US it stalled at number 34.

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…

EMI may well have felt unsteady as a company long before it released this album. So it has not been entirely the best year on that side. 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 Me Down has been a pretty big seller for me. So I’m quite happy… We’re all expecting to see greater momentum on the charts with the tour to support the album.

David Bowie
Words and Music, January 1988

Never Let Me Down was the first Bowie album to have songs edited for different lengths for the vinyl edition, with longer versions on the cassette and compact disc editions. The vinyl version lasted 48:06, while the other formats lasted for 53:07.

On the original vinyl edition, seven songs were edited for length. ‘Day-In Day-Out’ was reduced from 5:35 to 4:38; ‘Beat Of Your Drum’ from 5:03 to 4:32; ‘Glass Spider’ from 5:30 to 4:56; ‘Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)’ from 5:04 to 4:05; ‘New York’s In Love’ from 4:32 to 3:55; ‘’87 And Cry’ from 4:18 to 3:53; and ‘Bang Bang’ from 4:28 to 4:02.

In Japan, original pressings had a re-recording of the album outtake ‘Girls’ sung in Japanese. It was included at the end of side one, after ‘Zeroes’. The Japanese translation was by Hiro Hozumi, and Bowie was coached for the recording by Kiri Teshigahara.

My own success as a songwriter and performer, I think, really flies or not on whether I’m doing it with a personal integrity. All my biggest mistakes are when I try to second guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it and just do what I want to do. Even if they’re dismissed, and perhaps rightly, there were a couple of albums in the ’80s that did exceptionally well for me – and I’m not a huge selling artist – but they’re not albums I’m proud of. I’d much prefer to say that I did Buddha Of Suburbia. I feel much more comfortable about that than about say Never Let Me Down even though it was a really big seller.
David Bowie
The Word, October 2003