In the studio

David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels wrote and recorded demos for the Omikron: The Nomad Soul game in London and Paris, and in the spring of 1999 began recording at Seaview Studios in Bermuda. Their demo of ‘Seven’ from this period was released on the single in July 2000.

This has been a very exciting recording period. Reeves and I started writing way early last year and unbelievably have produced well over three or four songs. Actually over 100 songs.

We’re recording most of the stuff ourselves and Reeves and I are playing most of the instruments and programming drums, etc. But I think you’ll be surprised at the actual intimacy of it all. I certainly was especially when it started taking my jacket off. By the time it got to my shirt, I had to give it a damn good slapping. Into it is not the word.

David Bowie
BowieNet live chat, 27 April 1999

The final recording features two 6-string acoustic guitar parts played by Gabrels, and Bowie on 12-string guitar.

Gabrels also performed the string parts on a guitar synthesizer.

‘Seven’ is a very guitarist kind of line, but I used a guitar synth to make it sound like saxes and David put a sax on it so it became a horn section, which really lifted the song. I thought of it in a Neil Young vein – it’s part of the adventure. You get the ball rolling and before long you don’t even know what sport you’re playing. It’s more rooted in the Kinks for me, but when we used to argue about who was better, Oasis or Blur, there wasn’t much argument; David and I both came up on the Blur side. I liked the Kinks aspect of Blur. I have a high, weedy voice and am good for high harmony. David used to say, ‘You do the Dave part, I’ll be Ray…’ That was a spot we were allowed to steal from.
Reeves Gabrels
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

‘Seven’ originally featured a drum part which was removed during the mixing stage.

‘Seven’ had an interesting little evolution. At one point there were big drums on it, and I made a note that it sounds like the Who. Then David got fed up and he’s like, ‘Just chuck the drums – without the drums what happens?’ It showed itself at that point. That was more of going through different permutations with that one.
Mark Plati
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The release

‘Seven’ was the fifth song on David Bowie’s ‘hours…’ album, released on 4 October 1999.

The third single from ‘hours…’ was ‘Survive’. Released on 24 January 2000, the single’s formats included a live versions of ‘Seven’ recorded in Paris on 13 October 1999, and the video in QuickTime.

‘Seven’ was released as a single in its own right on 17 July 2000, the fourth such release from the album.

The single came in a range of formats. The UK had three versions; the first contained mixes by Marius De Vries and Beck, and the original demo. The second contained the album version, and ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ (Nine Inch Nails version), and the video for ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’. The third UK version contained live versions of ‘Seven’, ‘Something In The Air’, and ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’, recorded at the Kit Kat Klub in New York City on 19 November 1999.

There were also two international editions of the single. The first contained five versions of ‘Seven’ – Marius De Vries mix, Beck mix, live, original demo, and album version – and the video for ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’. The second international version contained just the De Vries and Beck mixes.

Marius De Vries’ mix of ‘Seven’ was also included on the 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Seven’ during the majority of his live dates in 1999 and 2000. The first was on 23 August 1999 at the Manhattan Center in New York, for an edition of VH1 Storytellers which was later released as an album.

Memory, some say, is fate’s shorthand, so it seems. And it seems to me that I do recall at some time in the Seventies, the revolutionary yippie Abbie Hoffman saying to me over a drink: ‘Tomorrow isn’t promised,’ reminding me that if we move one grain of sand, the earth is no longer exactly the same. ‘No one going on a business trip would be missed if they never arrived.’ David Mamet said that. Which brings us to this song of nowness, a new song from the new album. This one’s called ‘Seven’.
David Bowie
VH1 Storytellers, 23 August 1999

Recordings from 14 October and 19 November 1999 were released on the respective live albums Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) and At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99).

Bowie’s final public performance of ‘Seven’ was on 27 June 2000 at the BBC Radio Theatre in London. The concert was included as a bonus CD with initial copies of Bowie At The Beeb, and in 2021 as part of the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001).

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Next song: ‘What’s Really Happening?’
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