Kingdom Come single – David Bowie and Tom Verlaine, 2015Written by: Tom Verlaine
Recorded: February-April 1980
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 12 September 1980 (UK), 15 September 1980 (US)

Available on:
Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps


David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Tony Visconti, Lynn Maitland, Chris Porter: backing vocals

‘Kingdom Come’ was written by Television’s Tom Verlaine, and recorded by David Bowie for the Scary Monsters album. It was first cover version on a Bowie album since Station To Station’s ‘Wild Is The Wind’.

I think he’s one of the finest new writers in New York. He’s really terrific. I think he’s got a… I wish he had a much bigger audience. I feel sure he will have a much bigger audience shortly.

This was one of my favourite things that he put on the last album that he had out. And Carlos Alomar and myself decided it would be a great piece of music to do our own version of. So I did it as sort of a nod of the head to Ronnie Spector, really. Very slightly. Somebody else that I admire tremendously.

David Bowie, 1980
The David Bowie Interview promo album

The song was originally the third track on Verlaine’s eponymous debut album, released in 1979. Bowie saw Verlaine perform live several times from 1974 onwards, and guitarist Carlos Alomar suggested he record ‘Kingdom Come’ during the Scary Monsters sessions in early 1980.

That particular cut, it was simply one of the most appealing on his album. I’d always wanted to work with him in some way or another, but I hadn’t considered doing one of his songs. In fact Carlos Alomar, my guitarist, suggested that we do a cover version of it since it was such a lovely song.

It’s about the notion of grace. Did that influence you at all?

Yes and no. The song just happens to fit into the scattered scheme of things, that’s all.

David Bowie
NME, 13 September 1980

We used to tell Bowie to comb his hair down in little bangs, like Debbie [Harry], and this was at a time when his hair was swept back in that pompadour look. Then one night he came to the side of the stage waiting to go on, and his hair was in these little bangs. He said, ‘This is my Tom Verlaine look. How do you like it?’
Clem Burke, Blondie
Circus, 19 February 1980

In the studio

Verlaine was to have been one of the guest performers on Scary Monsters, although he spent an entire session testing different guitar amplifier settings, leaving little time for recording. His contribution went unused on the album.

Tom Verlaine, who came to the overdub sessions in New York, wrote it. We asked Verlaine if he would like to overdub some guitar and he agreed. He asked if it would be okay to rent some guitar amps. It looked as though Verlaine was a little down on his luck and lugubrious in those days—and maybe he didn’t own a guitar amp. The next day David and I were met with the sight of Tom Verlaine auditioning every guitar amp in New York City. No exaggeration—there were about 30 guitar amps in the studio. He would play the same phrase in one, unplug his guitar and move to the next amp. We talked to him about the part and he said he had some ideas, but he was searching for a good sound. Hours drifted, we had lunch, watched some afternoon television and left Verlaine still auditioning amps at 7 p.m. I don’t think we ever used a note of his playing, if we even recorded him. We never saw him after that day. Again the backing vocals pulled the track into some kind of psycho-Ronettes area.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

The backing vocals were by producer Tony Visconti, Chris Porter, his studio engineer at London’s Good Earth Studios, and a singer, Lynn Maitland, who happened to be present during the overdub sessions.

Chris Porter was my chief engineer at Good Earth and was a lead singer in a Portsmouth band before I met him. He also helped with the construction of Good Earth. Sometimes when David wanted backing vocals, he couldn’t wait to phone around to see who was available. He would ask random people in the studio, ‘Can you sing?’ In some other cases, ‘Can you play guitar?’ I had just met singer Lynn Maitland, a friend of a band I had produced earlier, and she was in the studio as a guest. Lynn and Chris were enlisted! I joined them to sing the choir parts for ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Because You’re Young’ and ‘Teenage Wildlife’.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The release

‘Kingdom Come’ was the eighth song on Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, which was released on 12 September 1980 in the UK, and three days later in the USA.

A limited edition 7″ single was released for Record Store Day on 18 April 2015. Limited to 15,000 copies, it had Tom Verlaine’s 1979 recording of ‘Kingdom Come’ on one side, and Bowie’s version on the other.

Previous song: ‘Scream Like A Baby’
Next song: ‘Because You’re Young’
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