Nadir Let Me Down: 30 Years Ago David Bowie released a new album and the world groaned

Monday April 20, 1987: I bought my first compact disc the very day it was released, from the Virgin store in Central Milton Keynes, about nine miles from where I’m writing this anniversary piece.

My fervent desire to buy the brand new albums of my favourite artists on the day they were issued was hardly unique. However, this purchase was a little out of the ordinary: Never Let Me Down was, in fact, the first David Bowie album I bought on the day of release.

Secondly, I opted for the CD, and yet I wasn’t able to play the bloody thing for three months as I didn’t save up enough filthy lucre to buy a CD player until July of that year, having just had some much-needed birthday contributions to the cash fund a fortnight before. Would someone please explain the reason for this strange behaviour? Because I’m not sure there was a great deal of method to my madness.

My very first CD purchase. Oh, the irony

In retrospect, I like to think that subliminally I somehow knew the album was going to be the worst of Bowie’s career. Lead single Day-In Day-Out felt a little flat, sounding like a limply tossed off rewrite of Underground and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, both from 1986.

There was also a telling sign when Simon Bates made a big deal of his Radio 1 mid-morning show having the world premiere of the album track, Beat Of Your Drum, But after the song finished my sister looked like she’d chewed a wasp, walked out and said firmly, “Well, it’s not very good, is it?”

So when we both saw our first Bowie gig, on a lukewarm summer’s evening at London’s Wembley Stadium on June 20 – the week before I turned 18 – the Dame dared to play eight – EIGHT! – of the ropey old new album’s songs in the show, the Pepsi and Tina Turner tied-in Glass Spider spectacle. What a pre-birthday ‘treat’!

What an introduction to Bowie live!

I’m not going to review the album here, but as tomorrow is also the anniversary of the death of Prince – another musical legend with a revolutionary zeal cruelly claimed by 2016 – I will briefly touch on the starry Sitar-ry Zeroes though, the closest Bowie came to an out-and-out Beatles parody. The Thin White Dame references Little Red Corvette in the lyric, and it’s in the context of the purple one as a fellow Sixties pastichist (Bowie wrote the track while Prince was at the peak of this, with the Sgt. Pepper psychedelia of Around the World in a Day).

When quizzed by Rolling Stone in the run-up to the album’s release, DB conceded that there was an element of asking the baton going on: “Prince, yeah, sure. I mean, he’s probably the most, eclectic artist I’ve seen since me [laughs]. I think he’s a great stealer.”

Prince couldn’t be reached for comment, though he was reported by the tabloids to have ventured to a Minneapolis record store in search of Never Let Me Down (presumably to buy rather than pinch) only to be told they’d sold out.

I penned a mini review as part of an assessment of Bowie’s back catalogue for Record Collector magazine in 1999. Repeated below, this slightly ‘controversial’ article (it says here) resulted in the dear old Dame not speaking to me any more. If only he’d lost his voice in ’87 instead…

Nadir Let Me Down

NEVER LET ME DOWN (1987)

Released to coincide with the frankly laughable Glass Spider Tour. ‘Nuff said.

Musical highlights: there aren’t any.

Packaging lowlights: Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin. Actually I’ll just stick to the new artwork, which leaves off several credits, including the backing vocalists on Zeroes, and someone called Malcom Pollack who, the original LP told us, made “additional recordings”. 

The original album also included a track called Too Dizzy, which was removed from previous reissues due to Bowie’s profound dislike of the song. Needless to say, it remains unavailable. If only that could be said of the rest of the album. 

Steve Pafford