Let’s Dance is a call to action many of us won’t forget. It’s not cheesy, with an exclamation mark on the end, but a unifying request from David Bowie to “Let’s dance put on your red shoes and dance the blues”. The title tune, from the 1983 album by David, was a sultry yet innocent, downcast yet defiant masterpiece. The world was stunned by his death (January 2016), but by listening to his albums (13 of them in the charts at time of writing, and millions of streaming plays) we will always be reminded and never allowed to forget the mark he made on the world.
The 80’s was a decade that eventually left an indelible mark on global culture, politics and history, and Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a seminal album at the time for him, and for the pop landscape thereafter. Sandwiched between Scary Monsters and Tonight, Let’s Dance arguably found him at the peak of his creative output. But, as is the case a lot of the time when listening to his music, it shines to the fore at just how well he orchestrates others and pulls them into his orbit. It’s never just about Bowie.
LD is co-produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, and his inimitable production is stamped all over it. If you listen to it now, you can hear licks and refrains similar to those supplied to other artists he produced in that decade (Duran Duran, INXS, Thompson Twins), but that just makes it even more of a sheer joy.
It’s not an unknown fact by any stretch, but the album contains a few covers. Lazy? No. More homages and respectful interpretations than an X-Factor jamboree. China Girl was originally written with/for Iggy Pop in 1977. Cat People was from a frankly, weird film (no surprise) that Giorgio Moroder scored, called Cat People. David had recorded a different, previous version a year before. (Niles and Girogio later worked with Daft Punk. Did David get the call?). Criminal World was by a band called Metro (yep, us neither). As well as David and Niles laying it down in 17 days (all funded by David, probably because of his freshly minted 17.5-million-dollar deal with EMI), the album featured a young Stevie Ray Vaughan, and an unmistakable Bernard Edwards (Chic) on bass for Without You.
Being a thoroughly well-rounded renaissance man, he broke ground with his videos. Let’s Dance spoke very clearly about Australia’s racist past and attitude to its indigenous people (the white folks in the bar are mimicking the aboriginals for fun, not realising that the crew would keep it in). The reference to Red Shoes is to the film about a ballet (inspired by Hans Christian Andersen), which Kate Bush also wrote a song about. China Girl featured New Zealand model Geeling Ng, and casually showed us inter-racial love. Her appearance was said to have changed her life.
Let’s Dance is a modest eight tracks of brilliance. Modern Love starts off sounding like Prince playing the Footloose theme, but typical to Bowie, the track changes from plaintive piano to boogie-woogie. The horn section is on fire, the harmonies tight and the sax solo is cheese-free.
China Girl is pure pop. Romantic, but with a subtle groove. He croons like a veteran. The intro sounds a lot like Television’s Marquee Moon, but we won’t quibble over influences. David has extolled the virtues of his, and who his heroes were, many times. Let’s Dance is still pure pop, shivers down the spine. Stevie’s solos are magnificent. It straddles dance, blues, pop and rock with ease, and gives off a glow like David’s slightly orange, sweaty skin.
It was his biggest album (which is why he picked, Niles, for hits) and won a Grammy. It had three hit singles. Put on the title track and you’ll slay any dance floor. It’s safe to say it’s a bona-fide classic, but it was, and will, always means so much more than just the music.
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Most streamed on Monday 11 January (streams increased 3314% on this date following the news of his death)
Most popular in US, UK and SE respectively
40% female, 60% male listeners
Most popular with 28-34 year olds