Bring Me The Disco King lyricsWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 1992; 1996; August-September 2001; 2003
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 15 September 2003

Available on:
Reality
A Reality Tour

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals
Mike Garson: piano
Matt Chamberlain: drums

‘Bring Me The Disco King’ is the closing song on Reality, David Bowie’s 23rd studio album.

We tend to really work in first-take situations. If something isn’t working… I kind of learned that from reading what Dylan said in some interview many years ago. He said that if it doesn’t work in the first take, he abandons the song. And, for me, I also tend to do that. I’m not good at working at something to make it feel right. There’s only one song on the album I’ve done that with. And that was this thing called ‘Bring Me The Disco King’.
David Bowie, August 2003
Steinway.com

Few Bowie songs had a longer gestation period. Although Bowie said he wrote the song in 1992, Bring Me The Disco King was described in a 1990 interview as a possible album title.

Once we’re back from South America later this year, we’re going to see what happens in the studio. One possible title is Bring Me the Disco King [laughs]. You can see the cover image, right? Henry V, ordering some flamboyant conquered foe to be brought to him in irons.
David Bowie
Musician And Performer, May 1990

The title was also used for one of Bowie’s paintings. The exhibition Expatriates In Berlin: Works, 1975-1995 at New York’s James Cohan Gallery contained a 6×12″ abstract painting by Bowie titled ‘(Bring Me) The Disco King and his Wives’.

‘Bring Me The Disco King’ was first recorded in 1992 during the Black Tie White Noise sessions at New York’s Hit Factory, with Nile Rodgers producing.

I think the song was written with a sense of irony. I have some fond memories of the ’70s, especially near the end when I was living in Berlin, but yes, the song was more about the negativity of the ’70s.

But I don’t believe in the sense of regret that some people have about the past. I think you can only look back on it and learn from it. I think it’s a pointless exercise in even considering that you would change things. It wouldn’t occur to me to do that. There was enough change as it was! It was all about change!

David Bowie
The Straits Times, 9 April 1993

A second version was recorded in 1996 at Looking Glass Studios in Manhattan, while Bowie was recording Earthling. It was a contender for the album until a fairly late stage, but was eventually dropped.

A third full-band attempt was laid down during the Reality sessions. It wasn’t until the song was pared back to just vocals, piano, and sampled drums that Bowie had an arrangement that he found satisfactory.

No song has undergone what this one has. I mean, I wrote it in ’92, around the time of my marriage. And it was kind of a… I guess it was a cynical bye-bye to the past kind
 of thing, and I had it as a real uptempo swipe at disco. I mean, it had audio mirror balls [laughs]. It really, really felt like a disco piece. I mean, it had synth drums on it, and it really was a belter. Although it’s kind of supposed to be kind of cheese, it really sounded cheese. So, I kind of just left it there. In the mid-nineties, I tried it again with [guitarist] Reeves Gabrels, and we tried a different kind of approach to it. But it was, again, fairly high energy. And that didn’t work either, so I just abandoned the thing. And then this time – one last time – I thought I’d have a crack at it. I thought, let’s start by stripping it right back to the essential song. And when we did that and slowed the tempo way down, I suddenly realized it needed nothing more. It didn’t need an arrangement. It just needed [pianist] Mike Garson’s interpretation against my vocal. And that was it. Then it really made sense, and didn’t sound like a cynical piece anymore. It felt like a fairly heartfelt piece.
David Bowie, August 2003
Steinway.com

Mike Garson and Bowie were the only people to play on all four versions of the song.

We did ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ [as a disco spoof] on Black Tie White Noise and we did it differently on Earthling. He had recorded it again [for Reality] with the band before I arrived and for the third time he still didn’t like it. So he finally said, ‘Let’s just do it you and me’ with a little drum loop he took off the Heathen album of Matt Chamberlain playing drums. He took this little two-bar phrase and looped it and I played against that and that became the definitive version.
Mike Garson
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Garson’s piano part was recorded on a Yamaha S90 synthesizer at Looking Glass. He then took the MIDI file to his home studio in Bell Canyon in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, and recorded the results when played back through his nine-foot Yamaha Disklavier piano. However, Bowie and producer Tony Visconti preferred the Looking Glass version, which was used on the album.

I recorded it with him on Black Tie White Noise as a disco tune. It was great, and I played a different kind of piano solo. I was with a whole band, and then, something that a lot of people don’t know, we recorded it again on Earthling – a whole new arrangement with a different band, and that was good too, but he didn’t use that either. Then, when he did Reality, he recorded it once or twice before I got to the studio with the guys, and it still didn’t do anything for him, so when I came into the studio to record my parts for ‘The Loneliest Guy’ he said, “Let’s strip ‘Disco King’ down to just a little drum loop and you and me,” and then I improvised that eight-minute thing, and then I had it printed out in Finale, and then I play it on stage with him when we do it. We don’t do it that much anymore, but we were doing it during the beginning part of the tour.

He knew it was a good song, but he just couldn’t get it, and then I hit this piano part, and it was little jazzy, believe it or not, which he doesn’t usually like from me. He likes when I play a little more abstract classical or abstract jazz. It had a feeling of Shearing or Brubeck or Bill Evans. It had that fifties sort of jazz vibe, but I kind of did it my own way because the time feel was not like a jazz feel. It was coming more from a sort of rock world. I played it a little bit different, but it has a little jazz feel. I played a chord solo rather than a single line solo that jazz pianists play at. I play a chordal solo at the end, which is the last two minutes. It’s kind of interesting, and it is notated.

Mike Garson, June 2004

On ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ we actually preferred the sampled Yamaha piano, whereas the ‘real’ piano won out on ‘The Loneliest Guy’. So, we had a mixture in terms of Mike’s piano contributions, while David took the lion’s share of all the synthesizer parts…

That’s the only track on the album where we utilise the drumming of Matt Chamberlain, even though he was playing to a completely different song. The way that he played was so seductive, so melodic and so beautiful, that we just recorded ‘Disco King’ over the loops that I’d made of his performance.

Tony Visconti
Sound On Sound, October 2003

Matt Chamberlain’s drums were sampled from ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’, a Heathen-era b-side.

Bowie’s lyrics on Heathen and Reality often focused on ageing and mortality. ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ is the perfect finale, a clear late-period highlight and one of his finest vocal performances.

The first released version of ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ was a remix on the soundtrack of the 2003 horror film Underworld, issued two weeks before Reality. Bowie sent Nine Inch Nails guitarist Danny Lohner his vocals for the song, around which a new backing was constructed. The Loner Mix features additional lead vocals by Maynard James Keenan, guitar by John Frusciante, piano and vocals by Lisa Germano, synths by Danny Lohner, and drums by Josh Freese.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ live on 27 occasions. During A Reality Tour it was the first encore performed during most of the early European dates.

The first was on 8 September 2003 at London’s Riverside Studios, a filmed performance in front of BowieNet members, which was broadcast around the world.

A version from Dublin’s Point Theatre in November 2003 was released on the album and DVD A Reality Tour.

A ‘Tour’ edition of Reality was issued to coincide with A Reality Tour’s visits to various countries. It contained a bonus cover version of ‘Waterloo Sunset’, as well as a DVD performance of the entire album from the Riverside Studios. In Canada the DVD was truncated to just five songs: ‘New Killer Star’, ‘Never Get Old’, ‘Days’, ‘Reality’, and ‘Bring Me The Disco King’.

Bowie’s final performance of the song was on 17 April 2004 at the Berkeley Community Theatre in Berkeley, California.

Previous song: ‘Reality’
Next album: The Next Day