Heathen album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: August 2001 – January 2002
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: June 2002

Available on:
Heathen
A Reality Tour

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, saxophone
David Torn: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, vocals
Matt Chamberlain: drums

‘Sunday’ is the opening song on David Bowie’s Heathen album.

Strangely enough, you don’t always write what you want to write. ‘Sunday’ and ‘Heathen’ were two pieces I didn’t want to write, but this place was just dragging the lyrics out of me. I would get up very early in the morning, about six, and work in the studio before anybody else got there, assembling what I wanted to do as that day’s work. And often the lyrics would come as I was sort of putting the music together. It was absolutely terrific. And the words to ‘Sunday’ were tumbling out, the song came out almost written as I was playing it through, and there were two deer grazing down in the grounds below and there was a car passing very slowly on the other side of the reservoir. This was very early in the morning, and there was something so still and primal about what I was looking at outside that there were tears just running down my face as I was writing this thing. It was just extraordinary.
David Bowie
Interview, June 2002

The atmospheric ‘Sunday’ was built up from layers of sound in the studio by Bowie, producer Tony Visconti and the other musicians.

‘Sunday’ is absolutely stunning. It took a long time to make and every time we added a layer of sound from either us or a visiting musician, the song grew to be more and more of an emotional experience. I think Heathen was a very spiritual album. David wrote some great lyrics, wore his heart on his sleeve for that album. This is all my assumption. He rarely “explains” his lyrics to me. But I have to make something of them so I can help to create his musical settings. Sometimes he would specifically tell me his meaning, to keep the recording focussed.
Tony Visconti
Uncut, March 2008

Visconti joined Bowie for recording the vocals. On tracks such as ‘Sunday’ and ‘I Would Be Your Slave’, the producer revived the microphone technique he had deployed on “Heroes” in Berlin in 1977.

Recording his vocals was a joy. I set up the “Heroes” mic technique, capturing David’s vocals from three microphones that only switch on when he sings loud enough. As Allaire has a very big room, the reverberation was wonderful! Soon after a lead vocal was completed (usually just two takes) David would often want to sing his back ups with me immediately afterwards. One of my passions is singing in a counter-tenor voice, or falsetto. My name, when I sing falsetto, is Shirley, because I copied the voice of Shirley in Shirley and Lee (‘Let The Good Times Roll’). On ‘Sunday’ I got to sing in my newly acquired throat singing technique. That buzzy synth sound in the instrumental passage is actually me singing overtones.
Tony Visconti
tonyvisconti.com

The producer also praised David Torn’s glitchy guitar work on the song.

Torn is one of the most versatile guitarists I’ve ever worked with. His rig is scary; he’s got gadgets plugged into gadgets plugged into more gadgets! His guitars are all hot rods! He has recorded entire film scores with his guitar work. We recorded more than enough of his playing and then spent many days and nights editing the best bits. Torn took some of his recorded files home and did more magic to his loop stuff with his computer rig, the guitar sounds on ‘Sunday’ in particular.
Tony Visconti
tonyvisconti.com

The apocalyptic lyrics, which mention fear, fire, rising up through clouds, and the repeated refrain “everything has changed”, led some to speculate that the song was inspired by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Not so, according to Visconti, who said “only a few lines [on Heathen] were amended after September 11.”

The release

In addition to the standard 12-song album, Heathen was initially also released as a two-CD digipak set, with a bonus disc containing four tracks: remixes of ‘Sunday’ and ‘A Better Future’ by Moby and Air respectively; the Toy version of the 1969 song ‘Conversation Piece’; and a 1979 studio re-recording of ‘Panic In Detroit’.

‘Sunday’ (Tony Visconti Mix) was also included on one of the European CD singles of ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi’’, as well as the Canadian ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ single.

The real heavy hitters on that album, like ‘Sunday’ and the track ‘Heathen’, marked a new departure in his writing. It was super-deep, very complex, very lyrical, almost like prose or something. It was very evocative. I thought it was really powerful. I loved that side of David. I love the hit songs, but I love it when he gets super deep and takes us on more of a journey.

I love the record. I thought it was very moody and somewhat introspective but thoughtful. ‘Heathen’ and ‘Sunday’ were real operatic kind of works. It was very strong.

Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Sunday’ throughout the Heathen Tour in 2002. Its first outing was on the tour’s opening night, at New York’s Roseland Ballroom on 11 June.

On 18 September 2002 Bowie performed a set at London’s Maida Vale Studios for BBC radio. ‘Sunday’ was the opening song in the set, which was first broadcast on 5 October.

The song was also frequently performed during A Reality Tour in 2003-4. A live recording from Dublin can be heard on A Reality Tour and seen on the DVD of the same name.

Bowie’s final performance of ‘Sunday’ took place on 30 May 2004 at the Borgata Events Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.