Let's Dance (David Bowie album)

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Let's Dance
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 14 April 1983
Recorded December 1982
Studio Power Station
(New York, New York)[1]
Length 39:41
Label EMI
David Bowie chronology
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Let's Dance
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Singles from Let's Dance
  1. "Let's Dance" b/w "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
    Released: 17 March 1983
  2. "China Girl" b/w "Shake It"
    Released: May 1983
  3. "Modern Love" b/w "Modern Love (Live)"
    Released: September 1983
  4. "Without You" b/w "Criminal World"
    Released: November 1983

Let's Dance is a 1983 album by David Bowie. Co-produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers, the album contained three of his most successful singles; the title track, "Let's Dance", reached No. 1 in the UK, US and various other countries, "Modern Love" and "China Girl" both reached No. 2 in the UK. "China Girl" was a new version of a song which Bowie had co-written with Iggy Pop for the latter's 1977 album The Idiot. The album also contains a rerecorded version of the song "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" which had been a minor hit for Bowie a year earlier. Let's Dance was a stepping stone for the career of the Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played on it.[1] The album was released as a limited edition picture disc in 1983. Let's Dance has sold 10.7 million copies worldwide, making it Bowie's best-selling album.[5] Let's Dance is Bowie's 18th official album release since his debut in 1967, including two live albums, one covers album (Pin Ups, 1973), and a collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1977).[6]

The success of the album surprised Bowie, who felt he had to continue to pander to the new pop audience he acquired with the album. This led to Bowie releasing two further solo albums in 1984 and 1987 that, despite their relative commercial success, did not sell as well as Let's Dance, were poorly received by critics at the time and subsequently dismissed by Bowie himself as his "Phil Collins years".[7] Bowie would form the hard rock and grunge-predecessor band Tin Machine in 1989 in an effort to rejuvenate himself artistically.

Songs and album development[edit]

David Bowie had planned to use producer Tony Visconti on the album, as the two had worked together on Bowie's previous four studio albums. However, he chose Nile Rodgers for the project, a move that came as a surprise to Visconti, who had set time aside to work on Let's Dance. Visconti called [Bowie's personal assistant] Coco and she 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." The move damaged the two men's relationship and Visconti did not work with Bowie again for nearly 20 years (until 2002's Heathen).[8] Rodgers later recalled that Bowie approached him to produce his album so that Bowie could have hit singles.[9] Rodgers reported that Bowie came into his apartment one day and showed him a photograph of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a bright red Cadillac, saying "Nile, darling, that’s what I want my album to sound like."[10]

Bowie, having just signed with EMI Records for a reported $17.5 million, worked with Rodgers to release a "commercially buoyant" album that was described as "original party-funk cum big bass drum sound greater than the sum of its influences." The album's influences were described as Louis Jordan, the Asbury Jukes horn section, Bill Doggett, Earl Bostic and James Brown.[1] Bowie spent three days making demos for the album in New York before cutting the album, a rarity for Bowie who, for the previous few albums, usually showed up with little more than "a few ideas."[11] Despite this, the album "was recorded, start to finish, including mixing, in 17 days," according to Rodgers.[12]

Stevie Ray Vaughan met Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. After Vaughan's performance, Bowie was so impressed with the guitarist he later said "[he] completely floored me. I probably hadn't been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck with his band the Tridents." Of Bowie, Vaughan said, "to tell you the truth, I was not very familiar with David's music when he asked me to play on the sessions. ... David and I talked for hours and hours about our music, about funky Texas blues and its roots – I was amazed at how interested he was. At Montreux, he said something about being in touch and then tracked me down in California, months and months later."[1] In a contemporary interview, Vaughan described the recording sessions for the album:

David Bowie is real easy to work with. He knows what he's doing in the studio and he doesn't mess around. He comes right in and goes to work. Most of the time, David did the vocals and then I played my parts. A lot of the time, he just wanted me to cut loose. 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.[13]

Unusually, Bowie played no instruments on the album. "I don't play a damned thing. This was a singer's album."[1]

A few years later, Bowie discussed his feelings on the track "Ricochet" (which Musician magazine called an "incendiary ballroom raveup")[1] from this album:

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 [Rodgers] did his own thing to it, but it wasn't quite what I'd had in mind when I wrote the thing.[14]

Bowie later described the title track the same way: the original demo was "totally different" from the way that Nile arranged it.[15] Bowie played an early demo of the song for Nile Rodgers on a 12-string guitar with only 6 strings strung, and said to Nile, "Nile darling, I think I have a song which feels like it's a hit."[9] Nile then took the chords (which he said "felt folksy") and helped craft them into the version used in the final production of the song.[9]

Long-time collaborator Carlos Alomar, who had worked with Bowie since the mid-1970s and would continue to work with Bowie into the mid-'90s, has claimed was offered an "embarrassing" fee to play on the album and refused to do so.[16] He also said (when working on Bowie's follow-up album, Tonight) that he didn't play on Let's Dance because Bowie only gave him two weeks' notice and he was already booked with other work;[11] however, Alomar did play on the accompanying tour.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3/5 stars[2]
Blender 4/5 stars[17]
MusicHound 2/5[18]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3.5/5 stars[19]
Smash Hits 6.5/10 stars[20]

The album was seen as commercial and professional by critics, though opinions varied on the artistic content; while one reviewer called it "Bowie at his best",[11] another felt it "perfunctory" and "pointless".[21][17][22] In a piece on Bowie for Time Magazine in July 1983, Jay Cocks described the album as "unabashedly commercial, melodically alliterative and lyrically smart at the same time".[23] Robert Christgau felt that it had a "perfunctory professional surface", and that other than "Modern Love", which was "interesting", the album was "pleasantly pointless".[21]

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".[22]

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".[2]


The success of the album surprised Bowie. In 1997, he 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."[24] 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."[25]

Bowie would later state that the success of the album caused him to hit a creative low point in his career which lasted the next few years.[24][26][27] "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."[24] Nonetheless, in 2013, NME ranked Let's Dance at number 296 in its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[28]

After his follow-up albums Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) were critically dismissed,[29] Bowie formed the grunge-precursor band Tin Machine in an effort to regain his artistic vision.[30]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Modern Love"     4:46
2. "China Girl" (originally by Iggy Pop from The Idiot, 1977) Bowie, Pop 5:32
3. "Let's Dance"     7:37
4. "Without You"     3:08
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. "Ricochet"     5:14
6. "Criminal World"   Peter Godwin, Duncan Browne, Sean Lyons 4:25
7. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"   Bowie, Giorgio Moroder (lyrics and music, respectively) 5:09
8. "Shake It"     3:49


In 1995 Virgin Records re-released the album on CD with "Under Pressure" as a bonus track. EMI did the second re-release in 1999 (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

In 1998 there was a reissue in the UK which was similar to the 1995 re-release but did not include the bonus track.

The Canadian version of the 1999 EMI release includes a data track, so that when the CD is loaded on a Windows PC, the user is presented with a promotion of internet access services and other premium content from the davidbowie.com website. This marks one of the earliest attempts by a mainstream artist to combine internet and normal promotion and distribution methods.

There was a further reissue in 2003 when EMI released the album as a hybrid stereo SACD/PCM CD.




Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[54] 5× Platinum 500,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[55] Gold 45,201[55]
France (SNEP)[56] Platinum 847,700[57]
Japan (Oricon Charts) 302,500[37]
Netherlands (NVPI)[58] Platinum 100,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[59] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Platinum 360,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[61]
1999 release
United States (RIAA)[62] Platinum 1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


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