Earthling album coverWritten by: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati
Recorded: November 1996
Producers: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati

Released: 3 February 1997

Available on:
Earthling

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, synthesizer
Reeves Gabrels: guitars, keyboards, programming, samples
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Mark Plati: guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, programming, samples
Zachary Alford: drums

‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ was a late addition to David Bowie’s Earthling album.

All my grand advice! Actually, I started with that line, then had to support it with verses. I think it’s a cautionary tale – ‘What have you been doing to yourself?’ is the opening line. ‘It’s the last thing you should do.’ It gives you quite a lot of room for speculation: it could be about drugs, promiscuity, any number of the modern ‘don’ts’, but it’s not particularised.
David Bowie
Mojo, March 1997

The album was originally to have contained re-recordings of the Tin Machine songs ‘I Can’t Read’ and ‘Baby Universal’. The new version of ‘I Can’t Read’ was later included on the soundtrack for the 1997 film The Ice Storm.

This was meant to be a B-Side. After mastering the album it was decided we’d need some additional material for B-Sides. Reeves and I did the entire track in a day – drums, guitars, bass, programming, etc. David heard it, added a synth part in the middle (the descending piano part in the break) then did a lyric and vocal in something like 20 minutes. We did a quick mix right then and there, and figured, voila, our first B-Side, and a great one at that. The next day the plan changed – this would be on the album, replacing a remake of ‘Baby Universal’ and a beautiful acoustic version of ‘I Can’t Read’ (which eventually wound up on the BBC Radio acoustic special, The Birthday Show, and on the soundtrack to The Ice Storm). I had to admit I missed ‘I Can’t Read’ being on the record – I disagreed strongly with David at the time – but his argument was that ‘Last Thing’ fit in better conceptually. I think time has shown him to be correct.
Mark Plati
Interview for Strange Fascination, David Buckley

‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ was recorded at Looking Glass Studios in New York in November 1996, towards the end of the Earthling sessions. It was one of four songs on the album in the drum and bass style, the others being ‘Little Wonder’, ‘Battle Of Britain (The Letter)’, and ‘Telling Lies’.

The synth line on ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ comes from ‘The Laughing Gnome’, via ‘Speed Of Life’ and ‘Beat Of Your Drum‘. Bowie appears to be in a state of on-going dialogue with his past. ‘Dead Man Walking’ was a good example of this, as well as the updated ‘Fame’, ‘V-2 Schneider’, and ‘Stay’ from the Earthling Tour. But, as far as ‘The Last Thing’, I’m unaware of any conscious borrowing in this track. It didn’t strike me that we were avoiding his catalogue, to be sure. I had expected that working with David would mean no revisiting the oldies, a cue I got from the Sound + Vision tour, which was supposed to be the last time a lot of old tunes would see the light of day. From my perspective he seems rather comfortable with his past.
Mark Plati
Interview for Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Reeves Gabrels pressed for the inclusion of ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ on Earthling. ‘I Can’t Read ’97’ and ‘Baby Universal ’97’ were eventually released on the 2020 EP Is It Any Wonder?.

While the song’s second incarnation, ‘I CAN’T READ ’97’, was David’s preferred solo version (the version available today), it was ultimately cut from Earthling and replaced at the last minute with ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’.
Is It Any Wonder? press release

Live performances

David Bowie first performed ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’ with The Cure’s Robert Smith, at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 9 January 1997.

It was subsequently performed on around half of the Earthling Tour dates.