Released: 6 October 1998
David Bowie: vocals
Angelo Badalamenti: keyboards
Todd Coolman: bass guitar
Grady Tate: drums
Al Regni: alto saxophone
Andre Badalamenti: clarinet, bass clarinet
Steve Badalamenti: trumpet
Sherry Sylar: oboe
John Camp: bassoon
David Bowie recorded a version of George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘A Foggy Day In London Town’ for the Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove album in 1998.
The album, produced by Paul Heck, was the 12th entry in the Red Hot Benefit series, which raised money for the Red Hot Organization’s Aids awareness campaigns. Other artists on the album included Bobby Womack, Sinéad O’Connor, Morcheeba, Natalie Merchant, and Baaba Maal.
The song was originally titled ‘A Foggy Day (In London Town)’, and first appeared in the 1937 film A Damsel In Distress, in which it was sung by Fred Astaire. Other performers of the song have included Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, and Willie Nelson.
Badalamenti recorded a demo version of the song, which was sent to a number of potential singers. Bowie was the first to respond, beating U2’s Bono to the task. Bowie’s performance was reportedly recorded in a single take.
I received a phone call from the record company that was doing these AIDS benefit albums called Red Hot + Rhapsody. This year’s concept, they said, would be George Gershwin songs but it has to be a collaboration between two people. ‘We would love for you to be one of those people and then have a singer come in.’ And I said, ‘OK, but I like to pick my own Gershwin song.’ So I picked ‘A Foggy Day In London Town’ because I knew I could take that song with its verse and darken it up, and make it very slow, and make it really Angelo Badalamenti.
I did a demo of the track and I did the vocal. Now here’s a funny thing. They said, ‘Wow, we love this track. Now imagine if we get a great singer!’ And I said, with a very straight face, ‘Well, I think I want to be the singer.’ And they said: ‘Oh, Angelo, you sound very nice… but we were thinking of, you know, an artist to collaborate with.’ I’m hysterical underneath but I said firmly, ‘Well, I did collaborate. I collaborated with Gershwin!’ I said it with a straight face, and they were stuttering and stammering while I left the office and left it at that.
[Later on] I’m in the Edison Recording Studio on 46th Street, where I was recording my album that I co-wrote with Tim Booth of the group James. And I’m recording the orchestra there with Tim and the phone rings. The engineer says, ‘Angelo, there’s a phone call for you.’
‘Who is it?’
‘It’s David Bowie.’
David said, ‘Angelo, I just heard this track. It is fantastic. This is for me. I gotta do this song. Please let me do the vocal on this song.’
I said, ‘Well, David, I know your style. I’ll tell you, you’re probably the only guy that makes sense. I can see you doing kind of a dark sound. You got it!’
The next day, 7 o’clock in the morning, I’m home and the phone rings. And I hear this static: ‘Angelo, Angelo!’
‘Yes, who is this?’
‘This is Bono. I’m in a car. I’m in Ireland. I heard this track. I am so busy, I’m on tour, I’m working on an album with my band, and I’ve got ten thousand things to do. The last thing I wanted to hear is a track like this. But would you let me be the singer on this track?’
I said, ‘Bono, man, it would be great… but last night I committed with Bowie.’
And Bono said: ‘Well, he sings good too…’
East Village Radio
The recording was arranged, orchestrated, and conducted by Badalamenti with the String Orchestra at Soho. It was recorded at National Edison and Excalibur Sound in New York.