Zeroes (2018) singleWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: September-December 1986
Producers: David Bowie, David Richards

Released: 20 April 1987

Available on:
Never Let Me Down


David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Peter Frampton: guitar, electric sitar
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Philippe Saisse: piano
Erdal Kızılçay: keyboards, synthesizer, bass guitar, drums
Errol ‘Crusher’ Bennett: percussion
Earl Gardner: trumpet
Stan Harrison: alto saxophone
Steve Elson: baritone saxophone
Lenny Pickett: tenor saxophone
Robin Clark, Loni Groves, Diva Gray, Gordon Grodie, Coco Schwab, Sandro Sursock, Charuvan Suchi, Joe (Duncan Jones), Clement, John, Aglae: backing vocals

David Bowie: vocals
Reeves Gabrels: lead guitar, acoustic guitar
Tim Lefebvre: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums
Mario J McNulty: percussion

‘Zeroes’ closed the opening half of Never Let Me Down, David Bowie’s 17th studio album.

‘Zeroes’ is stripping away all the meanness of rock and coming back to the spirit with which one entered the thing. It’s the ultimate happy-go-lucky rock tune, based in the nonsensical period of psychedelia. So it’s a naivete song about rock, using a lot of cliches.
David Bowie
Music & Sound Output, June 1987

The vibe of ‘Zeroes’ harked back to the 1960s. Although a decade in which Bowie struggled to find success, it was nonetheless a crucial time in his development as a songwriter and performer.

Peter Frampton’s electric sitar, massed harmony vocals (including Bowie’s son Duncan and assistant Coco Schwab), and chord changes inspired by the Beatles’ ‘Eight Days A Week’ add to the sense of nostalgia that runs throughout.

Yet the 1980s production sheen gives it an ersatz effect, a feeling of inauthenticity, as though Bowie was merely trying on yet another costume. The reference to a “little red corvette” suggests that Bowie might have been influenced by Prince, whose 1985 album Around the World in a Day was another exercise in neo-psychedelia.

The album was reflective in a way, because it covers every style that I’ve ever written in, I think. And also all the influences I’ve had in rock. On one song, ‘Zeroes’, I wanted to put in every cliché that was around in the Sixties – ‘letting the love in,’ those kinds of lines. But it was done with affection – it’s not supposed to be a snipe. I just wanted the feeling of that particular period, the very late Sixties.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 23 April 1987

2018 version

The Loving The Alien (1983–1988) box set contained Never Let Me Down (2018), for which Bowie’s 1987 vocals were retained and a new backing track added.

Aside from ‘Time Will Crawl’, which dated from 2008, the re-recordings were done after Bowie’s death. Never Let Me Down (2018) was produced by Mario J McNulty.

It was an emotional process. One theme that I kept to every day, but also stated this to the band, was ‘I want to think of David being in the room at all times.’ This mindset made it possible to take on this new version. Back in 2008, I didn’t think a re-produced album would come to fruition. Now it’s complete, and it feels like a new David Bowie album – and a part of the Bowie lexicon.
Mario J McNulty, May 2018
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book

One of the first songs to be tackled for Never Let Me Down (2018) was ‘Zeroes’.

Mario played it to me with bass, drums and just David’s acoustic guitar and vocals on the first day at Electric Lady. I was like, ‘Wow! There’s a song here!’ It was obvious that a second acoustic guitar would beef it up a little. One of the things David and I often used to do, from Tin Machine through to Hours, is play double acoustic guitar together. Sometimes he’d play 12-string and I’d play six-string, and vice versa. We’d sit facing each other with our guitars in front of the mics. So I started playing ‘Zeroes’ on acoustic guitar, with my eyes closed while we were recording. In my mind’s eye I saw David sitting across from me. I could see the way he would move his shoulder and even the way he’d cross his legs and bounce the crossed leg while he was playing. He’d look at you, but at the same time get this faraway look in his eye. When I got to the end of the track, I opened my eyes and of course he wasn’t there. I knew at some point during the session that I was going to feel like I was about to cry. I was just glad I was sitting alone in the studio when it happened.
Reeves Gabrels
Uncut, November 2018

The digital single ‘Zeroes’ (2018) (Radio Edit) was released on 19 July 2018, ahead of the box set. It was followed on 7 September by a double a-side 7″ picture disc single, containing ‘Zeroes’ (2018) and a 4:26 radio edit of ‘Beat Of Your Drum’ (2018).

It was a labour of love and we were following David’s wishes and, to some degree, instructions. At one point I thought to myself, ‘He’s just doing this to fuck with us.’ [David] Torn and I cut some of the guitar overdubs spontaneously. We were really having fun, and in a way you’re thinking, ‘Wait ’til David hears this tomorrow.’

It was like Mario had cast a great movie. We all looked at each other at one point and went, ‘Fuck, we should take this band out on the road if only the singer was still alive.’ There were a number of things that were said where I could imagine David laughing at them. He was the one who once told me, ‘Death will never hurt an artist’s career.’

Reeves Gabrels
Uncut, November 2018