As the World Falls Down

As the World Falls Down (film).
As the World Falls Down (soundtrack).
As the World Falls Down (single edit, video).

Labyrinth is a schizophrenic film, split between its rite-of-passage metaphor for teenage girls and its garish outer packaging, with puppet dances, Monty Python-style absurdity and post-modernism (the world of Labyrinth is a compost of children’s literature, from Maurice Sendak—thanked by name in the credits—to the Oz books). Jim Henson tried to hook both five-year-old boys and their adolescent sisters, and eventually the tonal shifts proved too much; the film doesn’t feel whole, or quite coherent, and it ends in an odd compromise. It didn’t help that the eternal boy George Lucas rewrote some of the script.

That said, the most striking scene to survive from Henson’s adolescent metaphor is when Jennifer Connelly’s character, having been given a drugged peach, falls into a dream. Possibly hallucinating or spiritually abducted, she winds up at a masked ball where she dances with Bowie’s Goblin King: the two stare at each other with fairly unbridled lust (again, Connelly is 14 in this movie). While Connelly’s come to this world as a champion of childhood, looking to win back her infant brother, here the adult world, with all its temptations, is laid out before her, embodied by Bowie at his most Byronic (or Dashiell Hammett’s first description of Sam Spade: “he looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”) The set and costumes, which seem inspired by the video for Adam Ant’s “Prince Charming,” are a sudden burst of New Romanticism, and the scene’s set to Bowie’s lush “As the World Falls Down.”

In line with the film’s tonal shifts, there’s a change from Bowie’s loud singalong puppet songs of the early part of the film (“Chilly Down,” “Magic Dance’) to the somber, quiet pieces of the last reels, which Bowie’s Jareth sings alone. “As the World Falls Down,” as some commenters have noted, is essentially Bowie channeling Bryan Ferry, who in his contemporary solo album, Boys and Girls, continued to play off the existential Continental romantic mood of Roxy Music’s Avalon (see “Windswept” or the title track). When Bowie sings ev’ry thrill has gone, wasn’t too much fun at all, it’s pure jaded Ferry.

Though encased in dated High Eighties production by Arif Mardin, “World Falls Down” has one of Bowie’s loveliest melodies of the era. The verse’s opening slight upward pushes on “sad love” or “pale jewel” build to longer, again-rising phrases (“within your EYES”) but there’s a tumbling downward in the closing phrase. The chorus has some lovely extended phrasing, culminating in a ruse—the last line of the chorus (the title line) seems as though it’s another declining phrase until Bowie suddenly, lightly soars up a fifth to hold on the dominant note, “DOWN.”

The track’s main musical hook is a five-note, eleventh-spanning bassline by Will Lee, while on the extended soundtrack version of “World Falls Down,” a guitar solo (either Jeff Mironov or Nicky Moroch) briefly pulls the song out of its A major fastness—it’s a mildly chaotic performance, with two quick shifts into 3/4 time. Much of Bowie’s lyric, with its valentines and goopy sentiments like “I’ll place the moon within your heart,” is greeting-card stuff, sure, but it’s deliberate. Someone who’s never been in love before, like Connelly’s character, has to start somewhere, with place-filler phrases to stand for incomprehensible emotions. If it begins in adolescent tumult, the song ends with long stretches of adult melancholy, Bowie murmuring “falling in love” to himself until the fade.

Recorded ca. July-September 1985, London. First issued on the Labyrinth OST, June 1986. While it was slated for a single release at Christmas 1986 to coincide with Labyrinth‘s UK premiere, complete with a video shot by Steve Barron (it’s an odd promo featuring the puppet Hoggle, a very Dorian Gray-looking Bowie and a fax machine as a lead actor), the single was scrapped at the eleventh hour for unknown reasons. Pegg speculates, and I agree, that it was likely Bowie clearing the stage for the harder “protest” material that he would offer on his next record in April ’87. “World Falls Down” very well may have been a hit, Bowie’s own “Lady in Red” or “Careless Whisper”; whether the world needed that, however, is debatable.

Inspired cover: Girl in a Coma, 2010.

Top: Andrzej Jerzy Lech, “Sopot, Polska 1985.”

30 Responses to As the World Falls Down

  1. Frankie says:

    Thanks for the great description of the music. I haven’t listened to it for years, and didn’t remember a thing. Your writing captures the Man and his Intentions eerily well. I have often wondered to myself what Bowie’s thing about Ferry was all about, (and why he went for Lou Reed instead of John Cale for that matter). I’ll never know for sure. He just can’t help himself. He seemed obsessed with emulating Ferry, a competitive compulsion perhaps. I know why he wanted to work with Brian Eno, and we see the results, but I don’t see why he never touched Phil Manzanera, in the process of pillaging the band. To paraphrase a wise saying, “When on a spree, go the whole hog, including the postage.” That could have been quite interesting, (Check Diamond Head and 801: Listen Now!) as his musicianship was crucial to Ferry’s/Roxy’s sound.

    • Maj says:

      Isn’t it interesting that he only started to sound like Ferry on his better mid-80’s songs though?
      I know there was this whole case of releasing albums of covers at the same time in the 70’s and maybe Bowie’s Young Americans thing could be interpreted as his attempt at suave crooning but I don’t know…I always thought he worked with Eno because he found Eno and his methods interesting not neccessarily because he wanted to emulate Ferry. In that, Ferry’s unique style of being a frontman but most importantly being a writer of distorted pop songs were some sort of a catalyst or a tool. But I don’t know, maybe you’re closer to the truth.

      I find it quite funny….Ferry said once that his lifelong goal was to write a perfect pop song, or something to that effect. For Bowie it seems so easy to write a great hook, a wonderful melody but he pretty much spent most of his career trying to “muddle” that into art and intellectulise everything.
      Maybe both of them wanted, on a subconscious level, what the other one was born with.
      But that’s human nature, isn’t it.

      • Frankie says:

        I should say that I rather like Bryan Ferry and his angelic voice and I could see perfectly why any guy would want to emulate him, never mind a true-to-life aging rock star. And if we can’t admit to that, then we must be joking.

  2. Maj says:

    I love this song…one of Bowie’s 80’s best. I suppose, had it become a hit and it became as ubiquitous as those two songs you mention at the end, I’d probably would never think about it twice or hate it with passion. 🙂
    I’m not a fan of Bowie’s vocal on this song. It does totally fit the character and the scene but man, does he sound sleazy!
    Bryan Ferry singing this one would IMO been an improvement…why have a pale imitation when you can have the master of suave/sleazy himself. 🙂
    I wish they completely cut the guitar solo which comes in around 3:15, it makes it sound even more dated than the synths.
    But still, even though Ferry does not sing it and even though it has a dated production and an incredibly uninspired guitar, As The World Falls Down still is a frecking good pop ballad.

  3. giospurs says:

    I saw Labyrinth when I was very young so I don’t remember it, and the last few posts haven’t made me want to revisit it, but I quite enjoyed watching this scene. And the Girl in a Coma cover was really good too. The original is a perfect candidate for a cover version because it has a lot of promise but you really have to block out almost everything apart from Bowie’s voice to enjoy it. The Girl in a Coma version is much more tasteful (or maybe just more contemporary), although it’s a shame it seems to finish just as it started to really get going.

    • col1234 says:

      yes—the GIAC cover stops just when it starts to cook, but it’s pretty good stuff. also, here’s them covering Joy Division:

      • scarymonster says:

        I confess to having spun the soundtrack half-a-dozen times when it was released and had no desire to ever hear it again. But, much like The Last Town Chorus’ majestic resurrection of Modern Love, GIAC discover hidden charm in what I’d always assumed to be a turd sprinkled with Arif Mardin’s diamond dust.

        Thanks for the revelation, Col.

      • giospurs says:

        They have a good few good interpretations on youtube. Although, unlike As the World Falls Down, it’s pretty hard to improve on As My Guitar Gently Weeps or Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I recommend you click here…

      …for the complete, unedited version of Girl In A Coma’s cover of the song. Personally, I think their version is an improvement over the rather glossy original. 😉

  4. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Absolutely agree with you about Labyrinth – the film is a failed compromise.
    On the surface it’s a great idea – in a film about growing up, Sarah is split between the childish, puppet scenes, and the darker Jareth scenes. But there’s so much MORE of the puppet shenanigans – and they aren’t even very good shenanigans, certainly not up to par with the Muppets.
    It doesn’t help that, from a visual standpoint, the Jareth scenes are beautiful – I agree with you completely that “As the World Falls Down” is the stand out sequence from the film, along with the final showdown between Sarah and Jareth. Both scenes are moody and surreal – and the puppet scenes are static and less interesting. Some of them have aged very poorly, too, a problem other Henson projects have had less trouble with.
    And in my opinion the central problem is that in a film about growing up, the film itself doesn’t want to. Every time Labyrinth begins to ascend to something higher, it retreats back into its comfort zone. Henson was obviously reaching for a wider audience after the failure of the more adolescent Dark Crystal, and the result is a movie that contradicts itself.
    The defining moment is at the end when Sarah is contemplating saying goodbye to her puppet friends in the mirror and suddenly they are all around her, saying they’ll be there whenever she needs them. It’s an abrupt cut and off message – just after Sarah asserts her womanhood and independence to Jareth, she withdraws into the comfort of her stuffed animal friends.
    That said, even though they are far outnumbered Labyrinth’s best scenes overpower its worst ones, at least in the minds of the people who watch it. The central theme – the transition from girlhood into womanhood, including sexual maturity and all the terror that comes with it – may be obscured, but it shines through in scenes such as this.

  5. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Also want to say this and much of the Labyrinth OST marks the return of great basslines to Bowie songs – as a bass player myself I’m biased here, but Bowie (especially in the 70s) has done a great job of including good bass work in his songs, which is something a lot of pop/rock stars neglect. Bolder and Murray and Herbie Flowers (who Bowie used on Diamond Dogs and Lou Reed’s Transformer) all provided him with excellent bass work on his 70’s records. They didn’t stand out like Ronson or Alomar, but they did great work. Next time you’re listening to one of his Glam or Berlin records, pay attention to the bassline – there’s a LOT more going on there than in your typical rock song.

    • Jeff Yih says:

      You are right, I’m currently the bass player in the local Bowie tribute band and it’s joy working out the different bits, Murray is the man. And always wondered who did the (was it a fretless) part to this song and now Will Lee can join that pantheon (along with Gail Ann Dorsey,Carmine Rojas who were pretty awesome in the 80’s and 90’s).

      • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

        Don’t forget Bolder! Deserves more respect, in my opinion. Alas, it is the fate of any bass player in a band with Mick Ronson to be overlooked. :V

        also that is super cool that you are playing bass for a Bowie tribute band! Sooooo jealous! (and yes, Gail is the boss).

      • Remco says:

        I too plonk around on the bass but to my ears Bowie has never really been bass music. I tend to go for music where the bass is a bit more prominent (Costello with the Attractions, Pixies, Talking Heads) but Bowie doesn’t really put his bass players in the foreground much(unless he’s singing with them).
        That’s not to say these bass players are bad or anything it’s just that I find very little memorable bass lines in his work, and often they’re buried in the mix. Still it must be a joy to unearth all these bass lines, almost makes me want to start a cover band myself.

  6. Sigmata Martyr says:

    Diane Middlebrook had written a very interesting book about Ted Hughes tension of being the widower and literary executor of Sylvia Path simultaneously.One of the things she mentioned was the idea that as after they seperated Plath’s writings,that later became Ariel, were often a form of conversation or answers back to some of Ted’s poems or true life situations they had shared. Middlebrook said it was like they were playing tag with each other’s images.
    ATWFD could have been plunked onto Girls and Boys with no problem. It is Bowie in Ferry’s mode because i can’t imagine the reverse- I can’t imagine Bowie singing “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” and that song was Ferry’s contribution to,wait for it, a coming of age, talking puppet fantasy movie- Legend.
    It seems like they were having a game of tag but perhaps it was because they were facing a similar challenge – trying to translate the English glam triumphs of youth into a grown up, international career in a decade where “gay cancer” had become established as AIDS and the musicians of the 60s and 70s were starting to have to get to grips with drug and alcohol problems as they aged out of being cool and the charts moved on. In America glam didn’t have the cultural importance it seemed to have in England and got glommed into general disco-ness if it rated at all. Bowie got more out of America than Ferry could by changing things up all the time and being “allowed” into classic rock inner circle- at least in his Ziggy period, Ferry seemed to retain cult hero status by doggedly being his crooner self even to this day and remains firmly in CMJ/ alternative circles,not mainsteam ones. Did Ferry want a Let’s Dance? Did Bowie have buyers remorse and want to return to cult stature? Did they feel they could live happily ever after as kings in Adult Contemporaryland, holding court in a VH1 kingdom of Basia and Iggy Pop singing Risky with Ryuichi Sakamoto? Or perhaps they were both flying blind at a time when even the success of their younger imitators was losing ground in the US charts. Perhaps it wasn’t tag, maybe they were running a race to a finish they couldn’t see but each infered that the other was on the right track…

  7. col1234 says:

    some really strong comments on this one. thanks, all.

  8. AC3 says:

    I love this song, easily the highlight of the OST. I got the sheet music a few Christmases ago and have had great fun learning to play this on the piano.

  9. Diamond Duke says:

    This is yet another one of my favorite David Bowie songs from his much-maligned ’80s mainstream period. Yeah, the lyrics do have a kind of greeting-card sappiness to them, and I personally think the production and arrangement have too much of a period gloss. But the melody is simply to die for, it’s just exquisite. Beyond a shadow of a doubt my favorite track from the Labyrinth O.S.T. (Although frankly, I think Girl In A Coma’s cover version – the full-length version I posted in a reply to giospurs above – is just that much superior to the Bowie original. Good job, ladies! 🙂

    • Quiet Wyatt says:

      I’m with you: this is my favorite Labyrinth song. My favorite at the time (’86) was “Within You” but the instrumental bombast has dated badly, even though I still like its lyrics. “As the World Falls Down,” on the other hand, has not dated badly (to my ears at least) and its stellar melody endures.

      Very interesting to think that this could have been a smash hit, had the single not been pulled at the last minute. If it had appeared in a teen rom-com, it could have been what Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” was to Say Anything.

      My only complaint with the song is not that Bowie’s aping Ferry, but that the singing is generally mush-mouthed. I’ve never been able to decipher all the lyrics without the help of other fans. But again, the melody is so gorgeous throughout that he could just as well be singing in a private fake language like on “Subterraneans” — in fact, for those who find the lyrics Hallmark-card sappy, that might improve the song!

  10. diamond dog says:

    I’m afraid it does nothing for me this one , its dated and very much of its time and feels very much like it was written entirely for the movie and has no life outside the soundtrack. I think Ferry had a much better 80,s , boys and girls is an excellent piece of work and still sounds good. Unlike much of our man Bowie’s output which was quite popular with the general public but unlike Ferry retained a dinity and artistic integrity. Boys and girls was his first solo work not based on cover versions I think and was a major success. I’m not sure I agree Bowie even comes close to the quality of Ferry’s output at this time.

  11. Diamond Duke says:

    Oh, I forget to mention something! In 2001, Iman published her autobiography, I Am Iman (with a foreward penned by David), and apparently there was a limited edition which included a CD containing five songs that were apparently very special to both David and Iman:

    1. The Wedding (instrumental) (1993)
    2. Wild Is The Wind (1976)
    3. Loving The Alien (1984)
    4. As The World Falls Down (1986)
    5. Abdulmajid (instrumental) (1977/1991)

    So apparently, the song still holds a special place for David himself…

  12. Pierre says:

    It’s a better a choice for a single and better song than Never Let me Down (which goes nowhere). One of those singles that could have been.

  13. Actually, when I hear this I don’t hear Ferry- I hear Chris DeBurgh. Pretty though the song is, it’s a bit overproduced to my taste, which makes it a bit soporific out of context.

    • KenHR says:

      That DX7 electric piano patch can be hard to ignore…to me, and far moreso than the Power Station gated snare sound, it dates songs the way I suspect autotune will date pop songs from this decade in years to come.

      I’ve never seen Labyrinth (though I have friends who tell me I’d love it; the Dark Crystal is still one of my favorite movies) or heard these songs before. Great stuff! I wish I had something more substantive to add…

  14. prankster36 says:

    When I was a kid, this scene seemed just as pointless and tacked-on as the Chilly Down sequence, except actively boring. Well, what can I say, I was 9, I was missing that it was the thematic centerpiece of the film. And speaking of being 9, hopefully that makes it not-creepy that young J. Connelly kick-started my adolescence the way The Pants apparently did a lot of women…though this movie may be blending together with The Rocketeer in that regard.

  15. It should be noted that this is one of Bowie’s most known songs in Brazil, where it still receives radioplay very often on a 80’s/90’s radio station. Also, according to a lyrics website from the country ( ), this song ranks among Bowie’s top 10 more viewed.

  16. […] off the only credible one, better than on the more revered “Loving the Alien.” As usual Chris O’Leary does the business in his […]

  17. jason_x says:

    It’s very Lynchian. I’d love to hear Julee Cruise cover this.

    Melodically, it always reminded me of John Lennon’s “Starting Over” in parts.

    Definitely the best song on the Labyrinth soundtrack, and one of his best 80s songs.

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