The Song Bono Lost to Bowie

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2016-02-18)

Did you know Bono once asked to sing on a track, only to be told no, it had been offered to Bowie instead?

One of the AIDS related projects throughout the 90s was the Red, Hot series of albums. U2 participated on the first, Red, Hot + Blue a tribute to the songs of Cole Porter. For that album, U2 recorded a version of “Night and Day” that would hint at what was to come from their next album.

In 1998, the Red, Hot series added Red, Hot + Rhapsody which was a tribute to the songs of George Gershwin. It was the 12th release in the Red, Hot series of albums. As a twist, each song was re-imagined not by one act but by two. The album was released in October 1998 to mark Gershwin’s birthday.

Composer Angelo Badalamenti was chosen to participate on the album. Badalamenti is well known for his work scoring many films and television series, often in conjunction with director David Lynch. Have you heard the theme to Twin Peaks? That is Badalamenti’s work. Badalamenti tells the story of getting involved in the project, “This year’s concept they said ‘would be George Gershwin songs but it has to be a collaboration between two people. We would love for you to be one of those people and then have a singer come in.’ And I said, ‘Ok – but I’d like to pick my own Gershwin song.’ So I picked “A Foggy Day In London Town” because I knew I could take that song with its verse and darken it up make it very slow, and make it really Angelo Badalamenti.”

Badalamenti originally cut the track using his own vocals, but the record label wanted to continue with the concept of collaborations for the album. The record company told Badalamenti they would take his recording, and reach out to several vocal artists to see who would be interested. Later that same night as Badalamenti worked in the studio, his Engineer took a call and it was David Bowie. Bowie asked, “Please, please let me be the singer on it.” And Badalamenti agreed, and told David Bowie it was his.

Just a few hours later, at 7am the next morning, Badalamenti had another phone call. This time it was Bono.

The next day at seven o’clock in the morning I’m home and the phone rings. I hear this static. “Angelo, Angelo!” “Yes, who is this?” “This is Bono. I’m in a car, I’m in Ireland. I heard this track. I am so busy. I’m on tour. I’m working on an album with my band, and I’ve got ten thousand things to do. The last thing I wanted to hear is a track like this. But would you let me be the singer on this track?”

I said, “Bono, man, it would be great, but last night I committed with Bowie.”

And Bono said: “Well – he sings good too.”

So had Bono been only a little faster on the draw it might have been him singing on the track from 1998’s Red, Hot + Rhapsody, but instead here is is with Bowie on vocals.

Badliamenti originally told the story to East Village Radio in March 2014, and the quotes are taken from that interview. He has also recently shared the story on BBC Radio.

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