The Next Day singleWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 2 May 2011
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Engineers: Mario McNulty, Tony Visconti

Released: 8 March 2013

Available on:
The Next Day

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Gerry Leonard: guitar
David Torn: guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar
Zachary Alford: drums
Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi, Anja Wood: strings

‘The Next Day’ is the title track and opening song from David Bowie’s 24th and penultimate studio album.

He’s writing in the third person. Some of them belong to his life, but some of them are things like social commentary. He was reading a lot of medieval English history books, and he came up with one medieval English history song. That’s the title track, ‘The Next Day’. It’s about somebody who was a tyrant, very insignificant; I didn’t even know who he was talking about. But if you read the lyrics, it’s quite a horrific story.
Tony Visconti
Rolling Stone, 15 January 2013

The song depicts a condemned prisoner on death row, a subject Bowie had previously touched upon in songs including ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ and ‘I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’.

‘The Next Day’ takes aim at the Catholic church, the hypocrisy of men who “work with satan while they dress like the saints”, who condemn sex workers while demanding services. The protagonist is whipped and chased through streets, with crowds “chant[ing] for his death”, like Christ on the Via Dolorosa on the way to his crucifixion:

They whip him through the streets and alleys there
The gormless and the baying crowd right there
They can’t get enough of that doomsday song
They can’t get enough of it all
‘The Next Day’

Bowie granted no interviews to promote The Next Day, but he did answer a request from novelist Rick Moody for a list of words to explain the album’s themes. For ‘The Next Day’ the three words were: Effigies; Indulgences; Anarchist.

In the studio

The backing track for ‘The Next Day’ was recorded on 2 May 2011, the first day of studio sessions for the album, at the Magic Shop on Crosby Street in Manhattan’s SoHo district.

It was a real Bowie rock song, so it was nice to jump in there and play more traditional guitar for me. I don’t get to play that that often, but I learned a lot from those guys, playing music with David. It’s always fun to play behind a singer like that, it’s satisfying.
Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie’s lead vocals were added more than a year later, on 16 March 2012, at Morgan Visconti’s Human Worldwide studio in New York.

The video

The target of Bowie’s ire was in no doubt following the release of the video for ‘The Next Day’ on 8 May 2013. It was directed by Floria Sigismondi at the American Legion in New York, and featured Gary Oldman as a priest and Marion Cotillard as a Mary Magdelene figure. It cast of characters also included the martyrs Joan of Arc and St Lucy of Syracuse, a flagellant, a nun, and Bowie as a performer who breaks character at the end to address the cast: “Thank you Gary. Thank you Marion. Thank you everybody.”

He said that it was about ‘the whorehouse at the Vatican’. We didn’t have big, grand discussions about things. With David, he’d say something and you’d go, ‘Uh-huh, I get it.’
Zachary Alford
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The video was removed from YouTube within two hours of being uploaded, after being seen to have “violated the site’s Terms of Service,” but was swiftly reinstated. A company spokesperson said: “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.”

Objections from the church came from various quarters. A former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “I doubt that Bowie would have the courage to use Islamic imagery – I very much doubt it. Frankly, I don’t get offended by such juvenilia – Christians should have the courage to rise above offensive language, although I hope Bowie will recognise that he may be upsetting some people.”

I don’t think he was that worried about [being blasphemous]… He wasn’t afraid of the controversy compared to what goes on these days.
Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

In America, Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, wrote: “In short, the video reflects the artist – it is a mess… Not sure what he believes in today (anyone who is “not quite an atheist” is not an atheist), but it’s a sure bet he can’t stop thinking about the Cadillac of all religions, namely Roman Catholicism. There is hope for him yet.”

The release

‘The Next Day’ was issued as a limited edition single on 17 Jun 2013, three months after the album of the same name.

It was released on square, white 7″ vinyl, with the same song on both sides.

The video for ‘The Next Day’ was included on the DVD that came with The Next Day Extra in November 2013, along with those for ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, and ‘Valentine’s Day’.

Previous album: Reality
Next song: ‘Dirty Boys’