Released: 20 April 1987
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Carlos Alomar, Peter Frampton, Sid McGinnis: guitar
Erdal Kızılçay: keyboards, bass guitar, drum programming
Philippe Saisse: keyboards
Stan Harrison: alto saxophone
Steve Elson: baritone saxophone
Lenny Pickett: tenor saxophone
Errol ‘Crusher’ Bennett: percussion
Robin Clark, Loni Groves, Diva Gray, Gordon Grodie: backing vocals
David Bowie: vocals
Sterling Campbell: drums
Krista Bennion Feeney, Robert Chausow: violin
Martha Mooke: viola
Matthew Goeke: cello
‘Time Will Crawl’ is the second song on David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down album. It was released as a single in June 1987.
Science and humanity, basically, the idea of the bright kid who turns into a demonic scientist and creates this catastrophe.
Music & Sound Output, June 1987
The song was recorded with the working title ‘How We War’, before Bowie had written the final lyrics.
‘Time Will Crawl’ was influenced by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Bowie was living and working in Switzerland when news of the incident was emerging from the USSR, and his impressions made their way into the song.
One Saturday afternoon in April 1986, along with some other musicians I was taking a break from recording at Montreux studios in Switzerland. It was a beautiful day and we were outside on a small piece of lawn facing the Alps and the lake.
Our engineer, who had been listening to the radio, shot out of the studio and shouted: ‘There’s a whole lot of shit going on in Russia.’
The Swiss news had picked up a Norwegian radio station that was screaming – to anyone who would listen – that huge billowing clouds were moving over from the Motherland and they weren’t rain clouds. This was the first news in Europe of the satanic Chernobyl.
I phoned a writer friend in London, but he hadn’t heard anything about it. It wasn’t for many more hours that the story started trickling out as major news.
For those first few moments it felt sort of claustrophobic to know you were one of only a few witnesses to something of this magnitude.
Over the next couple of months a complicated crucible of impressions collected in my head prompted by this insanity, any one of which could have become a song. I stuck them all in Time Will Crawl. That last sentence rhymes.
On 15 June 1987 it was issued as the album’s second single. The UK 7″ single had the 4:03 Single Version of ‘Time Will Crawl’, with the non-album track ‘Girls’ on the b-side.
‘Girls’, was co-written by Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay. It was originally released as a single by Tina Turner in 1986, with a live version on her 1988 album Tina Live In Europe.
‘Time Will Crawl’ owes a lot to Neil Young. Everything owes a lot to everybody. There’s a whole lot of recognition of people that have influenced me. I’m terribly eclectic that way.
Musician, August 1987
There were two UK 12″ singles of ‘Time Will Crawl’. One had a 6:11 extended dance mix of the song, the LP version, and an extended 5:35 edit of ‘Girls’.
The other 12″ contained ‘Time Will Crawl’ (Dance Crew Mix) and ‘Time Will Crawl’ (Dub), plus a Japanese version of ‘Girls’.
The 2008 remix of ‘Time Will Crawl’ was the only Never Let Me Down song to be included on Bowie’s career-spanning 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed.
The Dance Crew Mix was also released on Dance, a compilation of remixes included in the 2018 box set Loving The Alien (1983–1988). The box set also included Re:Call 4, which contained the Single Version edit.
David Bowie performed ‘Time Will Crawl’ on every date of his Glass Spider Tour in 1987.
The performance from 30 August 1987 is available on the live album Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87).