Released: 27 January 1997
David Bowie: vocals, samples
Reeves Gabrels: guitars, Roland VG-8, programming, samples
Mike Garson: harpsichord pad
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Mark Plati: keyboards, programming, samples
Zachary Alford, GC Coleman: drums
The opening song and second single from David Bowie’s Earthling album, ‘Little Wonder’ was a sample-heavy drum and bass track which namechecked each of Disney’s seven dwarfs.
With ‘Little Wonder’, I thought I’d reactivate ‘The Laughing Gnome’ and the Seven Dwarfs of Snow White. I wrote elements of it as fast as possible: I ran out of dwarfs so I made a few up and tried to draw them all together with a fake narrative. There are a number of jokey self-references thrown in for good measure: ‘sit on my karma, dame meditation.’
Earthling press release
‘Little Wonder’ was written and produced by Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, and Mark Plati, who assembled the track from a range of samples, studio offcuts and new performances.
On the second Tin Machine tour I was listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails, and I used to play that all the time. I played it at the back of the tour bus and everybody would go to the front. So as I was listening to industrial music, David was listening to drum ’n’ bass. We used to argue a lot, as I used to like Underworld and he used to like Prodigy. Beatles and Stones, Oasis and Blur. By the time we started Earthling we had Pro Tools, so it became much easier to cut and paste and experiment. We were meant to be taking a break, but then David wanted to go back into the studio to work on material for Earthling, as musically there was so much going on. It only took two weeks to really put it together. We wanted to have the power of a rock band but introduce elements of drum ’n’ bass and elements of what became electronica. I went to raves, took ecstasy, and the scales fell from my eyes and I saw what worked. We even played ‘Little Wonder’ at his fiftieth birthday show. It wasn’t really a drum ’n’ bass record but that’s what the press called it.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
The music owes a clear debt to the Prodigy, notably their March 1996 UK number one ‘Firestarter’. The two acts toured together in the summer of 1996, and the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett reportedly turned down requests from Bowie and Madonna for him to produce their music.
If it was Chuck D asking I would have done it, but they didn’t mean anything to me. I remember Bowie coming into the dressing room when we did gigs together in Germany, we had some great chats about drugs and stuff. He was someone I gained a lot of respect for very quickly.
Mojo, June 2015
Lyrically, ‘Little Wonder’ caught Bowie in an evidently playful mood: the ‘little wonders’ were the dwarfs from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In addition to the seven from the film – in order of appearance in the song, Dopey, Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Happy – Bowie also created new characters of his own: Stinky, Shaky, and Dame Meditation.
I took the names of the seven dwarfs, and the key was to write one line about each dwarf, or using each dwarf’s name, but I ran out of dwarfs. I had Potty, Scummy, all sorts of alternative names. Something I noticed way, way back – of which the best example if probably ‘Warszawa’ off the Low album – is that so much of what musical information is, is just the sound of the words, the phonetics, against the musical context, it can give you quite strong, emotive feelings without having to have rational sense.