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Let's Dance (David Bowie album)

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Let's Dance
David-bowie-lets-dance.jpg
Studio album by
Released14 April 1983 (1983-04-14)
RecordedDecember 1982
StudioPower Station (New York City)
Genre
Length39:41
LabelEMI America
Producer
David Bowie chronology
Rare
(1982)
Let's Dance
(1983)
Golden Years
(1983)
Singles from Let's Dance
  1. "Let's Dance" / "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
    Released: 14 March 1983
  2. "China Girl" / "Shake It"
    Released: 31 May 1983
  3. "Modern Love" / "Modern Love (Live)"
    Released: 12 September 1983
  4. "Without You" / "Criminal World"
    Released: November 1983

Let's Dance is the 15th studio album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released on 14 April 1983 by EMI America Records. After the release of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980), Bowie began a period of numerous musical collaborations and film appearances. During this time, he also left RCA Records due to dissatisfaction. After signing with EMI America in late 1982, Bowie decided he wanted a fresh start, and chose Nile Rodgers of the rock/disco band Chic to co-produce his next record.

The album was recorded in December 1982 at the Power Station in New York City. The sessions featured entirely new personnel, including then-unknown Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar. For the first time ever, Bowie played no instruments, solely contributing vocals. Musically, Let's Dance has been described as a post-disco record, with elements of dance-rock, dance-pop and new wave. It contains three cover songs: Iggy Pop's "China Girl", which Bowie and Pop recorded together for Pop's The Idiot (1977); Metro's "Criminal World"; and a reworking of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", originally recorded by Bowie and Giorgio Moroder in 1982 for the film of the same name.

Let's Dance was released to massive commercial success, reaching number one in numerous countries, and turned Bowie into a major superstar; it remains Bowie's best-selling album. The record's four singles, including the title track, were all commercially successful as well. However, the album received mixed reviews from music critics whose opinions on the artistic content varied. The title track and "China Girl" were supported by music videos that received heavy airplay on MTV. It was supported by the Serious Moonlight Tour, which featured the return of guitarists Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick.

Despite the massive success of the album, Let's Dance began a period of low creativity for Bowie. He felt that he had to pander his music to his new acquired audience, which led to his follow-up albums, Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987), being critically dismissed. He would later reflect poorly on the period that began with Let's Dance, referring to it as his "Phil Collins years". Bowie's biographers have also given mixed assessments on the record. The album was remastered in 2018 and included in the box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988).

Background[edit]

In 1980, David Bowie released his 14th studio album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). With the record, Bowie achieved what biographer David Buckley calls "the perfect balance" of creativity and mainstream success.[1] Following the sessions for Scary Monsters, Bowie portrayed the lead role of Joseph "John" Merrick in the Broadway play The Elephant Man between late July 1980 and early January 1981.[2][3] During this time, he also filmed an appearance in the Uli Edel film Christiane F. (1981).[4]

The murder of John Lennon in December 1980 affected Bowie deeply;[a] he cancelled an upcoming tour to promote Scary Monsters and withdrew to his home in Switzerland where he became a recluse and continued working.[2][6] In July 1981, he collaborated with Giorgio Moroder for "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", the title song of the Paul Schrader film Cat People (1982), and in the same session, recorded "Under Pressure" with the rock band Queen.[7][8] After the session, he began rehearsals to perform the title role in a BBC adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play Baal, directed by Alan Clarke. The play was recorded in August 1981 and transmitted in March 1982. Bowie also recorded a soundtrack EP for the play, which was released by RCA in February 1982 to coincide with the transmission.[9] During 1982, Bowie also filmed appearances in The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, both released in 1983.[10][11] During filming for the latter, Bowie grew fond of artists from the 1950s and 1960s, including James Brown, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Albert King. The musical ideals from these artists would greatly influence the new album.[12]

Scary Monsters was Bowie's final studio album for RCA Records, who had been Bowie's label since Hunky Dory (1971).[13] Bowie had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the label, who he felt was "milking" his back catalogue, according to biographer Nicholas Pegg.[14] Bowie was also eager for the expiration of his 1975 severance settlement with his old manager Tony Defries, which was due to expire in September 1982.[15] Although RCA was willing to re-sign, alongside Columbia and Geffen Records, Bowie signed a new contract with EMI America Records for an estimated $17 million.[16]

Development[edit]

Nile Rodgers performing in 2018
Wanting a commercial hit, Bowie hired Nile Rodgers (pictured in 2018) to co-produce the album.

With a new label and an idea for a commercial sound, Bowie wanted to begin fresh with a new producer. He chose Nile Rodgers of the rock band Chic, one of the most commercially successful bands of the late 1970s, with hits such as "Le Freak" (1978) and "Good Times" (1979).[17] According to Pegg, contemporary listeners considered Rodgers' writing and production work, including Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (1979) and Diana Ross's "Upside Down",[18] to be "dance classics".[19] Bowie and Rodgers met each other at the Continental in New York City in autumn 1982, where they found they had similar influences in old blues and R&B music.[17][19] Speaking to Musician in 1983, Rodgers said: "David could have had any producer – white or black – he wanted. He could have gone with Quincy Jones and a more sure-fire chance at a hit. But he called me up, and for that I feel honoured."[19]

Tony Visconti, the producer of Bowie's last four studio albums, was originally scheduled to produce the new album. However, he chose Rodgers for the project and neglected to inform Visconti, a move that came as a surprise to Visconti, who had set time aside to work on the new record.[17] Visconti was deeply hurt by the matter, later stating "I was hurt because I was booked to do Let's Dance and he blew me out two weeks before ... for three months he kept saying, 'Keep December free, we're going to go in and record then.'" Closer to December, Visconti called Bowie's personal assistant Coco, who said: "Well, you might as well know – he's been in the studio for the past two weeks with someone else. It's working out well and we won't be needing you. He's very sorry."[17][19] The move damaged the two men's relationship and Visconti did not work with Bowie again for nearly 20 years (until 2002's Heathen).[20]

Bowie and Rodgers regrouped in Montreux, Switzerland, to begin demo work.[21] Bowie told Rodgers, "I just want to make a good groove record", a move that surprised Rodgers. "I was expecting Scary Monsters 2", he later said.[22] Rodgers elaborated in the 1990s Radio 2 documentary Golden Years: "When I got to Switzerland, he told me that he wanted me to do what I did best – 'Nile, I really want you to make hits.' And I was sort of taken aback, because I'd always assumed that David Bowie did art first, and then if it happened to become a hit, so be it!"[19] While he was initially disappointed that he wouldn't be able to use the record as a way to earn respect from white audiences, he realised that he had to do what he did best in order to guarantee a hit. In Montreux, Bowie played his new songs on a twelve-string acoustic guitar.[23] The first track he played for Rodgers was "Let's Dance", in a soft vocal arrangement. Rodgers knew initially that it was not a dance song. The two then used old '50s and '60s records to arrange the track into the finished product.[24] Over three days, the two demoed the new tracks, with assistance from the Turkish multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay, who would later become a frequent collaborator of Bowie's.[19]

Recording[edit]

"This is the fastest I've ever worked in my life. Bowie said he likes to work [fast] and I plan to do the same for the rest of my career. It's just the most energetic way to make records. The musicians were really pumped up because of the fast pace, and as a result we got some great performances."[25]

—Nile Rodgers on the album's fast recording, 1983

Let's Dance was recorded at the Power Station in New York City—where Bowie recorded Scary Monsters[19]—during the first three weeks of December 1982,[b][27] and was completed in 17 days.[28][29] The engineer for the sessions was Bob Clearmountain.[30] Rodgers felt that the record's sound was aided by the ambience of the studio, stating: "The Power Station is famous for its great drum sound. And we had great players too."[31] Along with a new producer, an entirely new personnel section was hired for the record, with Bowie stating: "I wanted to have a little relief from the guys that I usually work with. I wanted to try people that I'd never worked with before, so that I couldn't predict how they were going to play." Pegg notes that it was the first time since Space Oddity (1969) that Bowie had not kept at least one musician from the previous album.[19] Long-time collaborator Carlos Alomar, who had worked with Bowie since the mid-1970s and would continue to work with Bowie into the mid-1990s, was looking forward to working with Rodgers. However, he claimed that he was offered an "embarrassing" fee to play on the album and declined.[32][33] He also said when working on Bowie's follow-up album Tonight, that he did not play on Let's Dance because Bowie only gave him two weeks' notice and he was already booked with other work.[34]

With Alomar gone, Rodgers took his place on rhythm guitar. He also recruited most of the new personnel, which included his regular Chic collaborators—keyboardist Robert Sabino, percussionist Sammy Figueroa, and backing vocalists Frank and George Simms. The remaining musicians included drummer Omar Hakim (whom Bowie called "a fascinating drummer with impeccable timing"); bassist Carmine Rojas; trumpeter Mac Gollehon; and saxophonists Stan Harrison, Robert Aaron, and Steve Elson.[35] Near the end of the sessions, Rodgers hired Chic drummer Tony Thompson and bassist Bernard Edwards for additional work; he was reluctant to hire them earlier due to their past drug use. Due to their arrival time, Thompson and Edwards' contributions were limiting, appearing on only three tracks and one track, respectively. Edwards recorded his part for "Without You" in 13 minutes, with Rodgers later writing in his memoir, "I was never more proud of him in my life and it happened on the last day of basic recording."[25] For the first time ever, Bowie himself played no instruments on the album. "I don't play a damned thing. This was a singer's album," he said.[29] Bowie recorded all of his vocals for the album in two days.[25]

Stevie Ray Vaughan performing in 1983
Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan (pictured in 1983) plays lead guitar on the record.

At the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Bowie saw Stevie Ray Vaughan play guitar. At the time, Vaughan was an unknown 28-year-old blues guitarist from Texas; his debut album with his band Double Trouble was still unreleased.[19][36] After Vaughan's performance, Bowie was so impressed with the guitarist that he tracked him down months later to get him to play lead guitar on the album.[29] Rodgers was initially unimpressed with Bowie's choice of Vaughan, believing he sounded like American blues guitarist Albert King. Bowie however felt Vaughan was different, telling him, "he's got a whole other thing going on."[28] Vaughan recorded his guitar overdubs towards the end of the sessions.[25] According to biographer Paul Trynka, Vaughan used an old Fender Stratocaster plugged into an old Fender amplifier, "all the tone coming from the player".[28] In a contemporary interview, Vaughan described the recording sessions for the album: "Bowie is real easy to work with. He knows what he's doing in the studio and he doesn't mess around ... He'd give his opinion on the stuff he liked and the stuff that needed work. Almost everything was cut in one or two takes. I think there was only one thing that needed three takes."[37] According to Vaughan's biographers Joe Patoski and Bill Crawford, Vaughan played on six of the album's eight songs.[38] In the biography Strange Fascination, Buckley found Vaughan to be a "bizarre" choice for lead guitarist, as at the time, he was "about as far away from Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew as you could get".[36] Bowie and Rodgers praised Vaughan's work on the album, with Rodgers becoming one of Vaughan's closest friends after the sessions.[25][36]

After the sessions were finished, Bowie went on holiday in Mexico, where he filmed a cameo appearance for the 1983 Mel Damski film Yellowbeard.[39] Afterwards, Bowie returned to New York to finish post-production work and closed his deal with EMI America at the end of January 1983. Upon closure, Bowie delivered Let's Dance to the label and departed for Australia to film music videos for the first two singles.[25]

Songs[edit]

Commentators characterise the songs on Let's Dance as post-disco,[40] dance-rock,[41] new wave,[42] and dance-pop.[43] Consequence of Sound calls the record "the sound in favour of pure disco, dance, and funk with Bowie coming down to earth" and that Bowie built upon the post-punk and new wave sound of its predecessor.[44][45] In an interview with Details magazine in 1991, Bowie described the album as "a rediscovery of white-English-ex-art-school-student-meets-black-American-funk, a refocusing of Young Americans (1975)".[46]

Side one[edit]

The opening track, "Modern Love", is an uptempo pop song that features a call-and-response structure[47] inspired by Little Richard.[48] AllMusic's Dave Thompson calls it "[a] high-energy, effervescent rocker" that "epitomises all that was good about Bowie's 1983 reinvention as a willing superstar".[49] While Pegg praises the music, he calls the lyrics "superficial" compared to Bowie's previous work.[50] O'Leary compares the lyrics to a flowchart, moving from "modern love" to "church on time" to "God and man".[48]

"China Girl" was written by Bowie and Iggy Pop in 1976, first appearing on Pop's 1977 debut solo album The Idiot, which Bowie himself produced.[51] Buckley calls Bowie's version an "ultra-cool reading" of Pop's original.[47] For his version, Bowie added backing vocals while Rodgers composed the guitar riff.[51] O'Leary writes that Bowie's vocal is more "playful" than Pop's, with the music itself exhibiting "Asian" qualities.[52] BBC Online reviewer David Quantick acknowledged the effect of Rodgers production on the song, arguing that "nobody but Rodgers could have taken a song like 'China Girl', with its paranoid references to 'visions of swastikas', and turned it into a sweet, romantic hit single".[53] Pegg calls Bowie's rendition "a tremendously effective slice of hardcore pop", commenting that the lyrics reflect the album's overarching themes of "cultural identity" and "desperate love".[51]

Pegg considers the title track to be one of Bowie's finest 1980s recordings and one of the "all-time great pop songs."[54] It was described by Ed Power in the Irish Examiner as "a decent chunk of funk-rock".[55] It opens with a group of singers getting louder and louder before it explodes into a massive climax. O'Leary and Pegg compare the intro to the Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout".[56][57] The seven-minute album version features different instrumental solos than the shorter single version.[57] Vaughan's guitar solo has a blues-inflicted edge to it. The lyrics instruct the listener to "put on your red shoes" and dance under the "serious moonlight".[56] "Without You" is described by Pegg as "a throwaway love song" and the album's low point, disregarding both the music and lyrics.[58] O'Leary similarly criticises Bowie's vocal performance, done in a "fragile falsetto".[59] On the other hand, Ken Tucker of Rolling Stone wrote that "Without You" featured some of the most daring songwriting of Bowie's career, and complimented Bowie's vocal performance.[60]

Side two[edit]

Biographers have commented that "Ricochet" is the only track on the album that is reminiscent of the experimental nature of Bowie's late-70s recordings.[47][61][62] Pegg writes that it has an R&B and swing-style repetitive backing vocal.[61] Describing the track in 1987, Bowie stated: "I thought it was a great song, and the beat wasn't quite right. It didn't roll the way it should have, the syncopation was wrong. It had an ungainly gait; it should have flowed. ... Nile did his own thing to it, but it wasn't quite what I'd had in mind when I wrote the thing."[63] "Criminal World" was originally written and recorded by Metro in 1977, but their version was banned by the BBC for its bisexual undertones.[64] O'Leary states that Bowie included it on Let's Dance as a way to "sneak a transgressive song onto a platinum record".[65] Pegg writes that Bowie updated its sound to match Let's Dance, featuring a pop reggae groove,[66] and calls Vaughan's guitar solo his finest on the record.[64] Both Buckley and O'Leary praise Bowie's rendition as a strong cover.[47][65]

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" was recorded in 1981 by Bowie and Giorgio Moroder as the theme song for the 1982 film Cat People.[15][66][67] Bowie was unhappy with the original version and asked Rodgers to remake it for Let's Dance. O'Leary describes the remake as "more aggressive". He praises Vaughan's guitar solo as superior to the original, but criticises Bowie's vocals as inferior.[68] Pegg also considers the Let's Dance version to be inferior and laments that the remake became the better known version.[67] The album ends with "Shake It", which Pegg calls "a likable enough piece of fluff".[69] O'Leary describes the track as a summary of Bowie's "bad habits" of the 1980s: "an indifference to quality".[70] Biographer Marc Spitz writes that its sound is a precursor to U2's 1993 song "Lemon".[66]

Release[edit]

After delivering the album to the label, Bowie travelled to Australia in February 1983 to film the music videos for the first two singles, "Let's Dance" and "China Girl". He directed the video for "Let's Dance" with David Mallet,[56] the director of Bowie's Lodger and "Ashes to Ashes" videos.[71] The video has nothing to do with the song itself, except for a brief glimpse of red shoes. It follows a young Aborigine couple doing various activities that seduce them to the commercialism of white urban Australia. Bowie appears and sings the lyrics into the camera. The video is an allegory meant to represent the treatment of Aborigine people by white Australian capitalists.[72][73] The video for "China Girl", again directed by Mallet, is similar in its theme of clashing perspectives, juxtaposing Sydney executives against the city's Chinese population. It features New Zealand actress Geeling Ng who[74] recreates the famous beach scene from From Here to Eternity (1953) with Bowie.[75][76] Buckley writes that the provocative allegories and scenes of the videos guaranteed heavy rotation on MTV.[77]

"Let's Dance" was released by EMI America in edited form as the lead single on 14 March 1983, with the catalogue number EA 152 and the remake of "Cat People" as the B-side.[78] Three days later, Bowie held a press conference in London where he announced the new album, titled Let's Dance, the new label, and the upcoming Serious Moonlight Tour. He donned a new look, featuring bleached blonde hair and a white suit. A few days later, the "Let's Dance" video premiered on the UK rock show The Tube, along with interviews by Jools Holland.[79] By the following week, "Let's Dance" entered the UK Singles Chart at number five, before peaking at number one for three weeks (demoting Duran Duran's "Is There Something I Should Know?"), and remaining on the chart for 14 weeks. It further peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in April, becoming Bowie's biggest charting single to date.[80] According to Buckley, the single was played "endlessly" on UK radio stations.[81]

Let's Dance was released by EMI America on 14 April 1983,[82] with the catalogue number AML 3029.[12] Its cover artwork, depicting Bowie shadow-boxing against a city skyline, was taken by photographer Greg Gorman.[12][81] "China Girl" was released, again in edited form, as the album's second single in May 1983,[83] with the catalogue number EA 157 and "Shake It" as the B-side.[84] Although it failed to replicate the success of the title track, it still peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart in June, being held off the top spot by the Police's "Every Breath You Take". In the US, it peaked at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100.[83]

"Modern Love" was released, again in edited form, as the album's third single in September 1983, with the catalogue number EA 158.[84] The B-side was a live version, recorded in Montreal on 13 July 1983. Like "China Girl", "Modern Love" peaked at number two in the UK, held off the top spot by Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon". In the US, it peaked at number 14. It was supported by a music video, directed by Jim Yukich, featuring a performance of the song in Philadelphia on 20 July 1983.[50] "Without You" was released as the album's fourth and final single in November 1983, with the catalogue number B8190 and "Criminal World" as the B-side. It was released only in Holland, Japan, Spain, and the US, where it peaked at number 73.[58][84]

Tour[edit]

David Bowie on stage during the 1983 tour
Bowie on the Serious Moonlight Tour.

To support Let's Dance, Bowie embarked on the Serious Moonlight Tour, which ran from 18 May to 8 December 1983.[85] Bowie had not embarked on a tour since the Isolar II world tour five years earlier. Pre-release interviews were promising an extravagant show.[86] Rehearsals for the tour began in the spring of 1983, with Alomar back as the bandleader.[87] The majority of the Let's Dance personnel returned for the tour, with the exception of Vaughan. While Vaughan was present for rehearsals, he was let go by Bowie just days before the European leg was scheduled to begin; his dismissal was attributed to his alcohol and drug use, his request that his band Double Trouble be the supporting act being denied by Bowie, and his alleged displeasure to Bowie miming his guitar solo in the "Let's Dance" music video. Vaughan was replaced by Earl Slick, who previously played on the Diamond Dogs Tour (1974) and Station to Station (1976).[88][89]

The tour's set pieces were created by the Diamond Dogs tour artist Mark Ravitz, who created Bowie's most elaborate stage set yet. It featured structures such as large columns, overhanging lintels, and a giant right hand pointed upwards. The main difference between the Serious Moonlight tour and Bowie's former tours was the emphasis on lights rather than props.[86] Alomar later told Buckley that the tour was his favourite Bowie tour, mainly because "it was the first tour where we did all the hits".[90] Pegg states that the setlist was "unashamedly a greatest hits package aimed at acquainting the new mass audience with Bowie's back catalogue."[91] Buckley describes the tour's setlist as "relatively mainstream pop-rock", with none of the "quirks" of the late '70s tours. Many of the arrangements were redone with horns to make every song sound fresh.[90]

The tour was a massive success: it became the biggest tour of 1983, appeased Bowie's newfound audience, and along with Let's Dance, turned Bowie into a massive superstar. The tour was mostly well-received, as British reviewers tended to be more aggressive than American ones.[92] The film Serious Moonlight was released in 1984, which documented two shows performed on 11 and 12 September 1983 in Vancouver.[93] Although the tour was immensely successful for Bowie, he would later reflect the tour as a mixed blessing. "I was something I never wanted to be," he later admitted. "I was a well-accepted artist. I had started appealing to people who bought Phil Collins albums. I like Phil Collins as a bloke, believe me, but he's not on my turntable twenty-four hours a day. I suddenly didn't know my audience and worse, I didn't care about them."[94] Following the tour's conclusion, Bowie found himself in a creative stalemate. Pressure from the label to release a follow-up led him into the studio in the spring of 1984 unprepared. The resulting album, Tonight, is considered one of his creative low-points.[95]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3/5 stars[40]
Blender4/5 stars[96]
Chicago Tribune3/4 stars[97]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[98]
Pitchfork8.4/10[99]
Q3/5 stars[100]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[60]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide3.5/5 stars[101]
Smash Hits6½/10[102]
Spin Alternative Record Guide6/10[103]
The Village VoiceB[104]

Despite the album's major commercial success, it received mixed reviews from music critics, with opinions varying on the artistic content. In Musician magazine, David Fricke called it "Bowie at his best".[34][96] In a piece on Bowie for Time in July 1983, Jay Cocks described the album as "unabashedly commercial, melodically alliterative and lyrically smart at the same time".[105] Robert Christgau felt that it had a "perfunctory professional surface", and that other than "Modern Love", which was "interesting", the album was "pleasantly pointless".[104] Ken Tucker, in a review for Rolling Stone, felt the album sounded great, with an intelligent simplicity and a "surface beauty", but that the album as a whole was "thin and niggling", other than "Modern Love," "Without You" and "Shake It", which offered "some of the most daring songwriting of Bowie's career".[60] Writing for Record magazine, Carol Cooper called the album "the Young Americans of the '80s" and commended Rodgers' involvement, writing that his presence allows Bowie to shine through. However, she felt all the tracks were "rather modest".[106] More positively, NME's Charles Shaar Murray gave unanimous praise to the album, calling it "some of the strongest, simplest and least complicated music that Bowie has ever made." Further describing it as "warm, strong, inspiring and useful," he complimented Vaughan's contributions, writing that he gives the songs a more "traditional" feel.[107] Billboard further praised the album, describing it as "Bowie's most accessible music in years", while Commonweal called it "some of the most exciting R&B-based dance music in years."[108]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine felt that the album's three hit singles were catchy yet distinctive pop songs, while the rest of the album was "unremarkable plastic soul" indicative of Bowie "entering a songwriting slump".[40] Ed Power of the Irish Examiner wrote that Bowie "pleaded shamelessly for the love of the mass market" with the album. He continued "... the title track was a decent chunk of funk-rock and Bowie did not embarrass himself on the single 'China Girl'. Otherwise, the record had a great deal in common with Wham! and Phil Collins."[109] The BBC's David Quantick praised the "perfect" combination of Bowie and Rodgers on the title track, the "sweet, romantic" rendition of "China Girl" and highlighted "Criminal World" as "one of the best songs". He stated "Let's Dance may have had a ground-breaking sound and a popularity that Bowie clearly ached for, but it's often a mundane album, as songs like 'Ricochet' and 'Shake It' mark time". He said the album was "literally the template for 80s Bowie – blonde, suited and smiling".[110] Writing in 1995 for the Spin Alternative Record Guide, Rob Sheffield sees the album as exemplifying the influence of the New Romantic movement on Bowie. While lauding "Modern Love", he describes the album's other songs as "dodgier" but "good fun".[111]

In 2014, Andy Greene of Rolling Stone described Let's Dance as "the conclusion of arguably the greatest 14-year run in rock history".[112] Writing for The Guardian the same year, Jeremy Allen stated that the album had "spent time in the wilderness, rejected by many because of its 80s production values", but he added that "a reappraisal was all but inevitable and has coincided with a renaissance in Rodgers' career and an outpouring of love for the unprecedentedly successful producer/guitarist."[113] The chief rock and pop critic of The Guardian, Alexis Petridis, said in his retrospective review of Bowie's career in 2016 that Let's Dance "had its moments", unlike its successor, Tonight.[114]

Commercial performance[edit]

Upon release, Let's Dance entered the UK Albums Chart at number one and stayed there for three weeks.[115] Although Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups (both 1973) and Diamond Dogs (1974) were at the top position longer, Let's Dance remained on the chart for over a year.[116] The album peaked at number four on the US Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart on 24 June 1983, and remained on the chart for 69 weeks.[117] EMI declared Let's Dance to be their fastest-selling record since the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Bowie's old label RCA issued a collection of Bowie's back catalogue as a way to cash in on its success.[108] All of Bowie's albums he released between 1969 and 1974: Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups and Diamond Dogs, as well as Low and "Heroes" (both 1977), all began to chart again.[81] By July, Bowie had ten albums in the UK top 100. This feat made Bowie the artist with the second highest number of individual album-weeks of all time – with 198, behind the rock band Dire Straits, who achieved 217 individual album-weeks in 1986.[108]

Let's Dance has sold 10.7 million copies worldwide, making it Bowie's best-selling album.[118]

Legacy[edit]

Let's Dance was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards in 1984 but lost to Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982).[119] Although Bowie had charged Rodgers with making hits for him,[120] Bowie later said "at the time, Let's Dance was not mainstream. It was virtually a new kind of hybrid, using blues-rock guitar against a dance format. There wasn't anything else that really quite sounded like that at the time. So it only seems commercial in hindsight because it sold so many [copies]. It was great in its way, but it put me in a real corner in that it fucked with my integrity."[121] Bowie recalled, "[It] was a good record, but it was only meant as a one-off project. I had every intention of continuing to do some unusual material after that. But the success of that record really forced me, in a way, to continue the beast. It was my own doing, of course, but I felt, after a few years, that I had gotten stuck."[122] Visconti would state in 1985 that "it was an album he had to make".[108]

By 1987, Bowie had begun to distance himself from the record. He told one interviewer that it was "more Nile's album than mine", which Rodgers disagreed on when asked about in 1998.[108] Bowie later said that the success of the album caused him to hit a creative low point in his career which lasted the next few years.[46][121] "I remember looking out over these waves of people [who were coming to hear this record played live] and thinking, 'I wonder how many Velvet Underground albums these people have in their record collections?' I suddenly felt very apart from my audience. And it was depressing, because I didn't know what they wanted."[121] After his follow-up albums Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) were critically dismissed,[123]—Bowie would later dismiss this period as his "Phil Collins years"[124]—he formed the grunge-precursor band Tin Machine in an effort to regain his artistic vision.[125]

Reflecting on Let's Dance, Pegg agrees with Bowie in that the record was the artist's "least challenging" album up to that point. He felt that unlike Bowie's Glass Spider Tour and Tin Machine periods, where Bowie was willing to take risks and face criticism head-on, Let's Dance plays it safe in every aspect, creating tunes that originally contained "rough edges" that were then "sanded down" and given a "high-gloss finish". Pegg also notes that the appearance of three covers on the record was evident to Bowie hitting a creative slump.[126] Spitz on the other hand, considers Let's Dance to be "as revolutionary" as Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, or Low. He further finds it unfair to consider it Bowie's "sellout record", calling it "every bit as high concept as his canonised seventies efforts".[127]

On the album's influence, Joe Lynch of Billboard argues that Let's Dance provided "the template" for alternative dance music "for the next 30 years".[128] In 1989, the album was ranked number 83 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Best Albums of the Eighties".[129] In 2013, NME ranked Let's Dance at number 296 in its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[130] In 2018, Pitchfork ranked the album at number 127 in their list of "The 200 Best Albums of the 1980s"; Jeremy D. Larson of the website wrote that Let's Dance "sounds anything but dated" and felt it "became a Trojan horse for the world to discover all the many Bowies hiding underneath the blond bouffant and designer suits."[131] The aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists Let's Dance as the 13th most acclaimed album of 1983, the 173rd most acclaimed album of the 1980s and the 1,076th most acclaimed album in history.[132]

Reissues[edit]

In 1995, Virgin Records rereleased the album on CD with "Under Pressure" as a bonus track.[12][133] EMI did the second rerelease in 1999 (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).[134] There was a further reissue in 2003 when EMI released the album as a hybrid stereo SACD/PCM CD.[135]

In 2018, the album was remastered for the Loving the Alien (1983–1988) box set released by Parlophone.[136] It was released in CD, vinyl, and digital formats, as part of this compilation and then separately the following year.[137]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Modern Love"  4:46
2."China Girl"Iggy PopBowie, Pop5:32
3."Let's Dance"  7:37
4."Without You"  3:08
Side two
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Ricochet"  5:14
2."Criminal World"Peter Godwin, Duncan Browne, Sean Lyons, adapt. BowieGodwin, Browne, Lyons4:25
3."Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" Giorgio Moroder5:09
4."Shake It"  3:49
Total length:39:41


Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[138]

Musicians

Production

Visuals

Charts[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Sales and certifications for Let's Dance
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Austria (IFPI Austria)[166] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[167] 5× Platinum 500,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[168] Gold 45,201[168]
France (SNEP)[170] Platinum 847,700[169]
Japan (Oricon Charts) 302,500[145]
Netherlands (NVPI)[171] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[172] Platinum 15,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[173] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[174] Platinum 300,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[175]
1999 release
Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[177] Platinum 2,000,000[176]
Yugoslavia 49,209[178]
Summaries
Worldwide 10,700,000[118]

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bowie and Lennon became friends in the mid-1970s and collaborated with each other for "Fame" and a cover of Lennon's Beatles song "Across the Universe", both released on Bowie's 1975 album Young Americans.[5]
  2. ^ In his book Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie 1976–2016, biographer Chris O'Leary writes that the title track's demo was recorded on 19 December 1982 and the album itself was recorded from 3–20 January 1983.[26]

References[edit]

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  4. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 665.
  5. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 376.
  6. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 325.
  7. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 57, 291–292.
  8. ^ Doggett 2012, pp. 389–390.
  9. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 665–667.
  10. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 667–670.
  11. ^ Doggett 2012, p. 390.
  12. ^ a b c d Pegg 2016, p. 400.
  13. ^ Sandford 1997, p. 81.
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  15. ^ a b Doggett 2012, p. 389.
  16. ^ Buckley 2005, pp. 334–335.
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Sources[edit]

External links[edit]