Released: 10 June 2002
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
David Torn/Gerry Leonard/Gary Miller/Mark Plati: guitar
Jordan Rudess: keyboards
Matt Chamberlain: drums, percussion
Kristeen Young: piano
One of the more reflective moments on the Heathen album, ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ was a moment of quiet pensiveness between the upbeat ‘I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship’ and ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi’’.
The title and lyrical theme suggest a link to The Who’s 1973 single ‘5.15’, which also appeared on the album Quadrophenia. Written by Pete Townshend, it depicts the protagonist, Jimmy Cooper, taking a train journey to the Sussex coast in which he ponders his past and disconnection.
His train journey down to Brighton, sandwiched between two city gents is notable for the rather absurd number of purple hearts he consumes in order to wile away the time. He goes through a not entirely pleasant series of ups and downs as he thinks about the gaudier side of life as a teenager that we see in newspapers like the News Of The World. 5.15 was written in Oxford Street and Carnaby Street while I was killing time between appointments. I must try it again sometime, it seems to work!
Bowie performed ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ live at the Meltdown Festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 29 June 2002. He dedicated the song to The Who’s bass guitarist John Entwistle, who had died two days before.
Pete and I had a lot of shared experiences. One was taking the milk train back home after a weekend in London, and there was only one train, it went at like 5.15 in the morning, and you had to wait hours on the platform after the clubs were finished. We both wrote a song called ‘5.15’, both very different, and I dedicate this one particularly to John Entwistle.
Meltdown Festival, June 2002
Bowie’s song shares The Who’s notions of rootlessness and isolation. ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ finds its narrator stranded in the rain, ticketless, faithless, on a cold station platform, changing towns to escape from a past life and a failed love affair.
The disconnectedness is reflected in the music too. The low-key verses featuring percussion, synth and a recurring guitar motif are suddenly displaced with an unexpected leap from the key of C to F# minor, a burst of distortion and Bowie’s anguished exclamation: ‘We never talk anymore/Forever I will adore only you.’
Speaking to Billboard ahead of Heathen’s release in 2002, Bowie explained how he and Tony Visconti wanted the each of the songs on the album to have “its own identity and character without getting lost in a hailstorm of musical ‘ideas.'”
A man who could once see his angels – hopes and aspirations, maybe? – can’t see them anymore, and he blames the crushing dumbness of life for it.
Billboard, 1 June 2002
Producer Tony Visconti singled out the work of keyboard player Jordan Rudess as a particular highlight.
Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater joined us [in the studio]. Ironically, despite the keyboard wizard he is, we used his talents mostly on acoustic piano and Hammond organ. David B. played a lot of keyboard work already on all the songs and Jordan’s additional synthesizer work was obscuring some of the simplicity of David’s parts. You can hear Jordan at his best on ‘Slip Away’ and ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’.
Shortly after the release of Heathen, Bowie singled out ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ as one of his favourites from the Heathen album.
I certainly like performing ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’. I think that’s a good song. I like doing ‘Heathen’. I’m having a lot of fun as a singer with all of them, actually. It’s a very good album to sing on stage. Yeah, no, it would be very hard for me to identify one. I guess ‘5:15’ is one of my favourites.
Swedish radio, 2002
Heathen was released on 10 June 2002 in Europe, and the following day in America. ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ was the ninth song on the album.
A SACD version of Heathen was also released in December 2002, containing stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album. The 5.1 version had slightly longer cuts of several songs, and the mix of ‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ outlasted the stereo version by 25 seconds.
Bowie performed the song during his tours for Heathen and Reality. One live version, from Dublin on 23 November 2003, was included as a bonus track on the digital download version of the 2010 album A Reality Tour, though it was left off the accompanying concert DVD.
‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ was one of ten tracks performed by Bowie during a BBC Radio 2 special on 18 September 2002, recorded at Maida Vale studios in London. He also filmed playing it two days later during an edition of the BBC television show Later… With Jools Holland.