Everyone Says ‘Hi’


Everyone Says ‘Hi.’
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Metro Mix).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (live, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Top of the Pops, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Die Harald Schmidt Show, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi.’ (Jonathan Ross, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Parkinson, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Last Call With Carson Daly, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Hypershow, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Quelli Che…Il Calcio, 2002.)
Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Live with Regis and Kelly, 2002).
Everyone Says ‘Hi.’ (Claudia Brücken, 2012).

We all feel very alone, don’t we: often. Too often: that’s why we make such a thing about being with people [and] become social animals. It’s very scary to know that in those last moments we’ll be absolutely alone.

Bowie, TV interview, 2002.

We thought we lost you: it will all come back

New Pornographers, “Adventures In Solitude.”

Slotted early on as a single, “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” was partially outsourced to the London-based production team of Brian Rawling and Gary Miller (the architects of Cher’s “Believe“). At Looking Glass Studios in New York, Bowie and Tony Visconti recorded vocals, and Carlos Alomar marked his return to the fold with some guitar dubs, but much of the track was the work of London pros: bassist John Read, percussionist Sola Akingbola (Jamiroquai), cellist Philip Sheppard (who worked with Jeff Buckley, Scott Walker and Jarvis Cocker) and keyboardist Dave Clayton (ABC, Simply Red). (Miller also played some guitar; he and Rawling added synthesizer overdubs).

The result was a glittering bauble of a track, its main hook Sheppard’s electric cello line, its undercarriage a chugging acoustic guitar (and some unmistakable Alomar rhythm fills) and its mix garnished with whooshing loops, Akingbola’s chimes and rattles, synthesizers playing games of charades (now an accordion, now a whistle, now a bassoon) and some doo-wop backing vocals by Bowie and Visconti in the bridge. An apparent influence was Jeff Lynne, from the ELO-style dramatically-bowed celli to the lead guitar in the bridge, which has the feel of Lynne’s work “recreating” the Beatles in the mid-Nineties (esp. “Real Love“).

Sometimes when Bowie sang “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” live in 2002, he performed with a big cheery smile on his face, urging the crowd to raise their hands and become “swaybots,” to use a term coined by my dear friend Mike Slezak to describe the coached, arrhythmic American Idol audience. (Other times he was more somber.)

“Everyone Says ‘Hi'” fared poorly, barely cracking the Top 20 in the UK (the only country where it charted). To some, it was the work of an aging rocker losing the plot. Compared to the grand ferocity of “Slow Burn” (a single which, in some markets, “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” replaced), “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” felt a bit sappy, sentimental, indulgent. Some reviewers assumed it was just an old dad’s song, intended for Duncan Jones.

Yet it was as much a rumination on death, loss and lack of belief as the grand “Last Songs” of Heathen, and one far more human-scaled. We tend to face tragedy with platitudes, busy-work, weak jokes and “making do.” If “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” is a shallow-seeming response to death, it’s one more emotionally resonant, at least for me, than the epic register of “Sunday.” Take the broken way that Bowie sings Didn’t know the right thing…to say. It sounds hollow as he sings it—he knows it—he sings it anyway.


Rosy won’t you please come home?
Your room’s clean and no one’s in it.

The Kinks, “Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home.”

In an interview at the time, Bowie said the song’s impetus came from his memory of his father’s death in 1969: how his mind couldn’t accept that his father was dead. “I kind of thought that he’d just put his raincoat and his cap on and that he’d be back in a few weeks or something. And I felt like that for years.”

News of death comes, as it often does, in pieces and rumors, with the mind trying, and often unwilling, to accept it. The singer puts blame on others: he’s still holding out hope. “They said you moved away/Happened oh so quietly/…they say.” (Bowie had the departed “you” leave by ship rather than fly away: taking a ship seemed sadder, more of a one-way voyage). He’s left in regret, gets tongue-tied, makes a lame, dark joke (“hope it’s not too hot” where you are now).

It’s a song for anyone who’s drifted away; it’s an open letter to a depressed friend or lover (“you can always come home,” Bowie sings, calling back to Ray Davies’ sad “Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home”*). Its last refrain could be the voice of our collected dead, calling back from the other side: your old dogs are there, your mother and father, even “the guy upstairs” whom you may get to meet one day. And when Claudia Brücken covered “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” in 2012, complete with Major Tom video, it was a song for the then-vanished David Bowie, a performer who’d gone away quietly, with no one noticing; it was a note that the world missed him, wished he’d send a letter to let us know how he was doing.

There’s a pippy energy to “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”: it’s not going to be a downer. Bowie does a few tricks (“a BIG trip” is a jolt up a seventh, then down a third) and jostles the song’s A minor key in the bridge, with its E-flat (“if the money”) and G# (…home”) chords. The coda alternates two major chords (F/G “girl next door”) with two minor ones (Dm/Em “guy upstairs”). The key line is “buy a little frame: something cheap.” It’s a joke, a bluff: the singer’s trying to play off how much the loss has hit him. It’s also a clue to the song itself: the sweet melody, the bright, fizzy mix, is the cheap frame.

“Everyone Says ‘Hi'” is modest and tinny, sweet and amenable—it sounds as if it’s meant to be piped over a shopping mall PA or played on a Virgin Airlines in-flight promo video—and heartbroken. We will do anything but accept the knowledge that everyone we love will go away and that we may never see them again, that everything ends (even The Uncle Floyd Show). By fate or coincidence, the single was released in Britain on the same day, 25 years earlier, that Marc Bolan died.


Recorded: (vocal, guitar tracks) October-November 2001, Looking Glass Studios, NYC; (overdubs, mixing) ca. December 2001-January 2002, Sub Urban Studios, London. Released 10 June 2002 on Heathen and as a single (Columbia/ISO 673134 3, UK #20) that September (see the upcoming “Slow Burn” entry for more on the jumbled single releases for this album). The “METRO” remix was issued as a US 12″ promo in January 2003.

* Written about Ray Davies’ sister, who’d moved to Australia, there’s a troubling undercurrent to the song—Rosy could be dead or disappeared, the singer keeping her room empty and clean to avoid reality. Davies later wrote “Come Dancing” about his sister Rene, who had died of a heart attack one night after dancing—the song’s mix of cheeriness, anger and melancholy has a bit in common, tonally, with “Everyone Says ‘Hi’.”

Top: Sarah Glidden, “Beijing Airport,” 2001; Robin Williams, 2002.

47 Responses to Everyone Says ‘Hi’

  1. Ramzi says:

    I’ve always thought of this as being too saccharine for such a heavy album but your analysis has completely turned that on its head.

    • Ramzi says:

      on reflection the picture in the above picture could probably do with being deleted

      also: i wonder how much of this can be seen as being a personal song for his son, who was apparently unhappy during university, a lot of Moon being based on this (Duncan talks about it in this interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g46AOqHNqeU at around 11 minutes)

  2. StevenE says:

    I’ve always loved the song Real Love – the weird way the vocal sounds degraded and propped up and only half there. Gloriously appropriate and sad and strange.

  3. crayontocrayon says:

    As a standalone song I really like Everyone says hi. The lyrics are over the top sugary but somehow they still hit with a bit of emotional punch. Much of this is down to the performance which is cheery and sincere.

    Within Heathen it does rankle slightly. In theme with the cover art the songs of Heathen are like oil paintings, albeit torn and defaced in places. This is more like a blocky acrylic piece. (A better future also to a degree – I can see why they were sequenced next to each other).

  4. I’m a sucker for this kind of song. A cheery little thing hiding an underlying message of denial and loss. A four minute, radio friendly trojan horse.

    Of course it seems that it went over a lot of peoples’ heads (dad song??)

  5. roobin101 says:

    This is one I remember from backwhen. I must have been watching Top of the Pops at the time. It sounds just as it did in 2002 – like a man smiling through sadness.

    • roobin101 says:

      It is a shame abut the bells and whistles added to the song though. It’s like someone said “you know what this song needs, more crap in the background.”

      • Anonymous says:

        Unfortunately that someone was probably Bowie.

      • KING GOD says:

        Following on from the quote at the beginning of the article, the bells and whistles express the way in which people in denial are terrified of being alone with their thoughts. People who drown themselves in nothings and whistle when they’re alone.

  6. Vinnie says:

    I like “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” as a song quite well – there’s nothing wrong or bad here. But it sounds so very different from the rest of Heathen. It doesn’t sound sonically similar and helps kill the “flow” of the “album.”

    (The “music album” as a grand artistic statement, etc)

    Arguably, my least favorite practice about modern recording involves unnecessary involvement from others (here, Brian Rawling and Gary Miller’s team). Or, the felt ‘need’ to ‘improve’ or glam up a recording to make it sound like a ‘hit.’ (Aside: I think the practice works slightly better in electronic music and hip hop – a lot of it is a jumbled mash of influences and styles as is. [See Beyonce’s latest, BEYONCE].)

    I feel that in rock and pop music, with live instruments – when productions are handled by others, far after the fact, it doesn’t sound ‘right’ because the tone of the record isn’t there. (That’s why Lodger kind of sounds odd too. Not in an such an annoying way, but in that you can tell Bowie recorded vocals much later).

    Later, individual songs can be on a similar level of greatness, I will always enjoy Bowie’s fastly made, more focused efforts. Station to Station, the ‘canon’ works of the 70s to Scary Monsters, and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust for Life as well, because they’re cohesive in sound. Songs may drift from style to instrumentation to tone, but they sound like an album, not a compilation. (Or, even Buddha of Suburbia, but we all agree to like that one as a whole, I suppose).

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I think part of that goes back to a previous discussion on this site about how much longer albums have become since the introduction of CDs. Certainly Bowie albums anyway. They’ve become too long to feel like single statements, and do indeed feel like compilations.

      Heathen is too long. The Next Day is too long. Outside is way too long.

      Even though the majority of the stuff on these is very good, they should have been shorter.

      I kind of like Everyone Says Hi. I do think it’s cleverer and deeper than initially meets the ear. However, it would have been better used as a b-side, I think.

      • Mike says:

        I agree. Imagine whittling down Heathen, Outside, The Next Day to the ten or so best tracks that his early albums were limited to. Many more people would regard them as the late career great works they are.

  7. s.t. says:

    This is easily my least favorite song on Heathen, and yet there’s something special here. Despite some valiant earlier efforts, this is the first Bowie single since “Never Let Me Down” that actually sounds like it belongs on the radio—like it wants to be in constant rotation.

    Musically, it’s like “Love You Till Thursday, Child.” It marries the tenderized vocals and elevator funk of Thursdays Child to the unabashedly silly novelty pop of Love You Till Tuesday. And TC itself descended from the syrupy sincere John/Julian impersonation (honey Lennon?) of Never Let Me Down. Its pedigree suggests that Bowie was again giving people what he thought they wanted—-usually not an indication of greatness—but was having some fun doing it.

    Its playmate at the time was David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do,” from his 2001 album Look Into the Eyeball. Another earworm with quirky lyrics masked by the bland lite funk backing. Like Everyone Says Hi, it was a single that introduced listeners to a much more interesting set of songs. Unlike Everyone Says Hi, Like Humans Do actually was everywhere: anyone with Windows XP has probably heard it as a track included with the media player.

    My ability to enjoy mindless pop depends greatly on the fun factor. This is why Love You Till Tuesday is for me a pop wonder. Bowie’s manic glee turns the saccharine mush into something kind of audacious. And fun. While it’s lighthearted, silly, and catchy, this song feels too stiff to really be fun. The structure and arrangement feels rote, like pop boilerplate (either Bowie hadn’t shaken off that Merritt-itis, or else this was Rawling and Miller’s input).

    I think he improved on the song with his recent Valentine’s Day. It’s not only more obvious in its dark theme, it’s more properly silly as well—upping the fun, audacity, and resonance factors all at once.

  8. Art says:

    The Claudia Brücken cover actually appears in the recent Anton Corbijn film “A Most Wanted Man,” which, sadly, features one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances.

  9. Maj says:

    Never thought I’d read about “swaybots” on this blog. 😀

    Thanks for this entry. For once I agree with everything you’ve written about this song here, Chris. 😉 However sentimental and sweet sounding, for me this is one of the saddest songs in Bowie’s discography. And a very beautiful one.

  10. humanizingthevacuum says:

    The consensus impresses me. I too think think it’s the weakest, most inapposite number, treacly almost.

    • col1234 says:

      you know, I greatly disliked this one back in ’02 and expected it’d be one I took a hammer to when its time came. but the last month or so, it really worked for me. maybe in 5 years, I’ll hate it again.

  11. SoooTrypticon says:

    Good choice for a write up. I’m split on this song. I love the lyrics and the performance, but the production has wind chimes! I hope if the 5.1 Heathen is ever re-released, or a reissue is… issued, that TV releases a more “Heathen” sounding mix of the song. Perhaps with the acoustic guitar more up front. Love that bridge and the “money is lousy” part. This song can be a rough ride emotionally.

  12. Momus says:

    1. I listened to this after Sleaford Mods’ Donkey, and compared to the Mods it sounds lightweight and mawkish, with far less striking sound and lyrics. But actually, I think Everyone Says Hi has hidden power. Because people die and we still talk to them. And because we talk about big things in small language.

    2. A British person born in the 1940s might live in New York, or Switzerland, but being British, and from that era, is a sort of life sentence. You have bad teeth, you drink a lot of tea, you only trust news when it’s on the BBC, you believe in fair play, and — famously — you suffer from a degree of emotional constipation.

    3. Paradox: to bottle things up is not to avoid or escape them. It’s to transform them over time, like a maturing wine or whisky. Why did Bowie write about his father’s death in 2002 rather than 1970? The bottled-up emotions had matured. The spirit was ready.

    4. It wasn’t just this topic that came up from the cellar. Following the Toy album, Bowie was revisiting his early songwriting, and the 1960s. Perhaps this was the reflection that comes with age: it was also in tune with the times — the rock press had by now switched into “legacy mode”, with titles like Q and Mojo mostly dwelling on the past, and on the irony that vitality was seen to reside in people either geriatric or dead.

    5. Haywood Stenton Jones, David Bowie’s father, died in 1969 at the age of 56. Bowie in 2002 was 55. He probably thought of his dad in 1969 as pretty old, and only realised when he started approaching 56 himself just how young that is.

    6. I like Everyone Says Hi. I remember Jonathan Ross lauding it at the time; his endorsement didn’t seem to push many units. I didn’t bother buying the album it came from. Bowie did the round of chat shows, wearing Gap-level leisure-wear and looking like a trim celeb on the circuit. His white teeth didn’t look “British”, but one knew his “real teeth” (wherever they were) did.

    7. I suppose “trim celeb in bloke mode” is the same sort of paradox as “bottles things up in order better to splurge later” or “makes cracks at the hospital to lighten the atmosphere”. These contrasts are effective, and not exclusively British. I’m about to write an essay about the painter Agnes Martin, a dry minimalist who considered herself an abstract expressionist. She saw florid emotion where others saw only graph paper.

    8. Emotions might grow stronger over time, but production dates horribly. I don’t care how “crack” these session musicians were, or how they saved Cher (and arguably ruined the world) by launching the autotune fad. Their music sounds horrible now, and the “anxious interval” between 2002’s idea of good production and mine in 2014 undoubtedly saps the song of some of its power.

    9. I often think of Angie Bowie saying “He won’t talk to you. He’ll talk in songs, and in interviews, but he won’t talk to you.” And of course she just meant “he won’t talk to me”. Because — precisely in songs and interviews — he was talking very deeply to the rest of us. But I wonder if Haywood Stenton “John” Jones would be with us or with Angie? “Does David talk to me? What’s he saying?”

    10. It’s very hard to talk to your family with art. Especially if they’re dead. But you can talk deeply to other people, who’ve also lost someone. In this sense, Everyone Says Hi is a sort of “playing to the gallery”. There’s not much “saying hi” going on in the song, but there is a lot of “everyone”. And that’s good, and just as strong as the Sleaford Mods, with their generalised sense of disgust and disdain.

    • col1234 says:

      Nick, there are days I feel I should turn the blog over to you.

      & the line about “if the food gets you leery” is very British, no? reminds me of Ringo Starr bringing cans of baked beans with him to Rishikesh in ’68

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      I’m sure you had something to say somewhere about his father’s holiday footwear and what that said about a certain part of being British that Bowie can never rid himself of; or did I imagine that? The man at the beach in suit, hat and sandals is still visible through all the leisure wear (though I think it’s more J.Crew than Gap) and blokiness.
      A wonderful song wasted. What a peculiar way to reunite with Carlos Alomar.

    • Mike F says:

      Yes, I made a similar observation about Bowie’s emotional constipation in the “Jump They Say” post:

      I’m amazed at Bowie’s emotional constipation. Eight years to process his brother’s death. Decades to get to grips with his dad’s death via “Everyone Says Hi.” What’s next? A single in 2039 called “I Miss You Rover” – an ode to his boyhood Golden Retriever?

  13. MC says:

    I was initially thrown by this track as well, as it differs so much from the rest of the album production-wise. However, it took only a few listens for me to come aboard. I absolutely love it, actually; for me it’s one of the most moving things DB’s ever done, and every inch a pop song.

    As far as the theme of loss, I recall the Q critic at the time naming Everyone Says `Hi’ a possible sequel to Kooks (as alluded to in the piece). I always thought it could be an answer song to Conversation Piece, a letter from home for the poor bastard with his essays scattered on the floor.

    This leads me to a thought I had about Heathen as a whole. With its diverse collection of songs, most of them ruminative and highly personal,and ranging across the spectrum of moods, from whimsical to carnal to anguished, it’s the 21st century successor to Hunky Dory.

  14. John says:

    When I heard Robin Williams died, my first thought was cynicism, that I’d have to put up with endless celebrity reminiscing, link bait, etc. But when I started reading this post earlier today, and learned that this song was really about death, and I saw his photo, it really hit a nerve, and I had to stop reading or else I’d start tearing up in line at a Starbucks.

    In any event, I was always a sucker for this song. This and I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spacecraft both seem like a good way to break up the deadly seriousness of the preceding songs and add some much needed levity, even when I thought this song was literally about someone leaving on a trip. It seemed to fit in perfectly, just as another side of a coin.

  15. Kento says:

    This might be the Bowie song I feel the most personal connection to. The reason this song is a song for those who have drifted away is not because it expresses a genuine affection, though such a thing might exist, but because those who have drifted away can recognize that the song reflects a resistance to this outreach. To be asked to come home can point out the gulf between the understanding of what this home, or any home, is. The narrator of “everyone” doesn’t know this gulf exists, but the song does.

  16. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I’m surprised that Jeff Lynne was an apparent influence on this song, as I remember reading w-a-a-y back in the day how spectacularly unimpressed Bowie was when little Zowie, Duncan, Joe (take your pick), still living under his roof at the time, was quite fond of filling the house with the sounds of ELO.
    Speaking of the small Z, I had always subscribed to the accepted notion that this song was a kind of updated Kooks; A letter to Duncan, all grown up now and off somewhere far away making his own way in the world. However, there was also a suggestion that there was a darker, more mysterious undertone to the song as well, which, typically Bowie, was a bit impenetrable in the surface of the lyric. Thanks for shedding some light on this.
    I always thought this was a lovely song, and it’s pretty disappointing to learn that it barely cracked the top 20 in the UK, and didn’t chart at all in the other major markets. I don’t mean to harp on this, but I always found it a far more enjoyable track than the bafflingly dull Slow Burn.
    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to David Bowie Is finally coming to Melbourne next year. Can’t wait…

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Sky-Possessing Spider – I don’t know if I’d call “Slow Burn” ‘bafflingly dull.” For my ears, nothing on “Heathen” merits that description, though the at-odds production on “Everyone Says Hi” does stick out like a sore thumb within the album context. For that reason, I tend to prefer the Brücken cover though truth-in-labeling laws compel me to admit that I collect this artist, who has never let me down yet. But even so, I agree, that the heaviness of “Heathen” needed a bit of lightening to add some necessary emotional chiaroscuro to the project.

  17. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Oh, incidentally; your reference to Ray Davies, whose song “Rosy Wont You Please Come Home” was about his sister moving to Australia reminds me of a famous scene from Eric Idle’s Beatles spoof “The Rutles”.
    The band, having just returned from a table-tapping weekend in Bognor learn that their manager Leggy Mountbatten has tragically emigrated to Australia. An interviewer asks Ron Nasty if the Surrey mystic (Maharishi) had any words of advice for them on the shock news, to which Nasty replies; “he said we shouldn’t be filled with grief over thoughts of Australia”. Funny stuff.

  18. Roman says:

    When this was out as a single it garnered reasonable airplay here in Ireland and the video was often played. My girlfriend, at the time, briefly loved the song until she realised that she had misheard a word in the lyric. When I told her what the correct word was, her opinion of the song plummeted and what she had considered a subtle literary ode to family depression became, to her, just another smaltzy pop song.
    The line she’d misheard was “And your big fat dog” which she heard as “And your big black dog”. ‘Black dog’ being a well known literary metaphor for depression.

    • uskame says:

      On the record I also heard “fat dog”, but in some live performances he definitely says “black”—see “Hypershow, 2002” above.

  19. I agree with MC and Sky-Possessing Spider. I love this song, and see it as a kind of Hunky Dory outtake, almost – the idea of a Kooks update is lovely. And the sentiment is whimsy; imagine it, as the post suggests, as if sung from some limbo almost but not quite beyond the grave.

  20. Alex Reed says:

    Always loved this song. Not ashamed.

  21. Michael says:

    Really like this song too. It grabbed me from the melody’s ‘jolt up’ in the first line, although I agree that the production does it no favours. If it was toned down a little, it could be argued that the over-fussy production mirrors way the superficial-seeming words mask the deeper emotions lurking below. The live versions are better but a really stripped down version like the live Loving the Alien would be worth hearing. Don’t know about the ELO influence, but there’s something strange that happens when technically gifted guitar players get together and start to play over-treated guitars in harmony. Rarely a good idea.

  22. sinj says:

    He seems to just decide to rattle off a pop hit here and there out of context and so no one seems able to handle it. This falls under the same banner as Absolute Beginners. Incongruent but uplifting.

    • Peter Ramsey says:

      Yes. Just tosses off a minor gem every now and then, not intended to be any more than that — and yet, those are some of my favorite Bowie songs.

  23. sinj says:

    Although the bit about the dog is irritating.

  24. Christian says:

    Sarah Glidden (HK photo) is a cartoonist who did “How To Understand Israel In 30 Days Or Less”. Her travel comics are great: http://sarahglidden.com/

  25. Peter Ramsey says:

    I’ve always loved this song; a light touch masking an ocean of melancholy, delivered with a bit of a shrug; “yeah, that’s how it is, isn’t it?”


  26. JJ says:

    This song has one of my all time favourite lines: “And your big, fat dog!”

    Only Bowie could come up with that. Brilliant.

  27. Rosalyn says:

    I find myself listening to it a lot more these days.

  28. Mike Jackson says:

    Was listening to this tonight and assumed it was a version of Kooks written for his recently born daughter Alexandria

  29. Buzzcut9 says:

    I never really listened to this song until about a month ago and then; it “hit me”. My cousin’s son took his own life in August 2015. So when I put this album on for the first time in a long time. As the song progressed I just found myself thinking of him,( I didn’t know at the time that the song is about death, it just hit me that way). I was in tears by the end of it. Someday; I may play it for his Mom, a big Bowie fan. I don’t know if she could handle it right now. But; it has become one of my favorites

  30. Micah Rose says:

    I’ve always presumed it was about his brother Terry

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