Let's Dance (David Bowie song)

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"Let's Dance"
Single by David Bowie
from the album Let's Dance
B-side"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
Released14 March 1983 (1983-03-14)[1]
RecordedPower Station, Manhattan, New York City, December 1982
Length4:08 (Single Edit)
7:37 (Album Version)
Songwriter(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)Nile Rodgers
David Bowie singles chronology
"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"
"Let's Dance"
"China Girl"
Music video
"Let's Dance" on YouTube

"Let's Dance" is a song recorded by English singer David Bowie from his album of the same name, Let's Dance (1983). The song was written by Bowie and produced by Nile Rodgers. It was released as the album's first single in 1983 and went on to become one of his biggest-selling tracks. Stevie Ray Vaughan played the guitar solo at the end of the song.

The single was one of Bowie's fastest selling, entering the UK Singles Chart at No. 5 on its first week of release, staying at the top of the charts for three weeks.[6] Soon afterwards, the single topped the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Bowie's first (and only) single to top the charts in both the U.S. and the UK. It was also his second and last single to reach #1 in the U.S. In Oceania, it narrowly missed topping the Australian charts, peaking at No. 2 for three weeks[7] but it topped the chart for 4 consecutive weeks in New Zealand. The single became one of the best selling of the year across North America, Central Europe and Oceania. It is one of the 300 best-selling UK singles of all time.[8]


In late 1982, Nile Rodgers met David Bowie in the New York after hours club Continental, where the two developed a rapport over industry acquaintances and shared musical interests.[9] Bowie subsequently invited Rodgers to his house in Switzerland, which Rodgers understood to be an audition.[10]

Bowie, using a 12-string acoustic guitar that had only six strings, played Rodgers a 2-chord pattern, which the latter would later describe as "dark sounding" and a "folk song"; Bowie wanted to call it "Let's Dance" and believed it to be a hit.[10] Rodgers asked if he could arrange the music, moving it higher in the scale, switching the key up to B♭, inverted the chords and added upstrokes.[10] The two of them went on to record a demo on 19 and 20 December 1982 at Mountain Studios with a group of musicians, among them Erdal Kızılçay on bass. Kızılçay's work at first followed the stylings of Jaco Pastorius, but he and Rodgers ultimately worked out a simpler bassline for the song.

In 2018, Rodgers recalled "This [demo] recording was the first indication of what we could do together as I took his 'folk song' and arranged it into something that the entire world would soon be dancing to and seemingly has not stopped dancing to for the last 35 years! It became the blueprint not only for 'Let’s Dance' the song but for the entire album as well."[11] An edited version of the demo recording, mixed by Rodgers, was released digitally on 8 January 2018, and the full-length (7:34) demo was released as a 12" vinyl single on 21 April.[12] Rodgers' guitar work features a distinct funk influence, but he was afraid that the "disco sucks" movement could hamper the song's success; the version of "Let's Dance" that made it into the album had the guitar parts treated with delays by engineer Bob Clearmountain and separated into groups of notes, punctuated by the bassline.[10]

Music video[edit]

The music video (which uses the shorter single version) was made in March 1983 by David Mallet on location in Australia including a bar in Carinda in New South Wales and the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran. In the beginning it featured Bowie with a double bass player inside the one-room pub at the Carinda Hotel and an Aboriginal couple 'naturally' dancing "to the song they're playin' on the radio". The couple in this scene and in the whole video is played by Terry Roberts and Joelene King, two students from Sydney's Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre. As Bowie opted for real people, some residents of the 194-souls village of Carinda are in the pub too, watching and mocking the couple. They do not understand who David is nor what the take is all about, hence their behaviour towards the couple as seen in the video is real.[13][14][15]

The red shoes mentioned in the song's lyrics appear in several contexts. The couple wanders solemnly through the outback with some other Aborigines, when the young woman finds a pair of mystical red pumps on a desert mountain and instantly learns to dance. Bowie's calling 'put on your red shoes' recalls Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Red Shoes", in which the little girl was vainly tempted to wear the shoes only to find they could not be removed, separating her from God's grace - "let's dance for fear your grace should fall" [16] "The red shoes are a found symbol. They are the simplicity of the capitalist society and sort of striving for success - black music is all about 'Put on your red shoes'", as Bowie confirmed.[17]

Soon, the couple is visiting museums, enjoying candlelit dinners and casually dropping credit cards, drunk on modernity and consumerism. During a stroll through an arcade of shops, the couple spots the same pair of red pumps for sale in a window display, their personal key to joy and freedom. They toss away the magic kicks in revulsion, stomping them into the dust and return to the mountains, taking one final look at the city they’ve left behind.

Bowie described this video (and the video for his subsequent single, "China Girl") as "very simple, very direct" statements against racism and oppression, but also a very direct statement about integration of one culture with another.[13][14]


"Let's Dance" was described by Ed Power in the Irish Examiner as "a decent chunk of funk-rock".[5] Writing for the BBC, David Quantick said "the combination of Bowie and Rodgers on the title track was perfect – Bowie's epic lyric about dancing under 'serious moonlight' and the brilliant filching of the crescendo 'ahh!'s from the Beatles' version of the Isley Brothers' 'Twist and Shout' were masterstrokes, each welded to a loud, stadium-ised drum and bass sound".[18]

The song introduced Bowie to a new, younger audience unaware of his 1970s work. Although the track was his most popular to date, its very success had the incongruous effect of distancing Bowie from his new fans, with Bowie saying he did not know who they were or what they wanted.[19] His next two albums, made as an attempt to cater to his new-found audience, suffered creatively as a result and Bowie cited them as the albums he was least satisfied with in his career.[20]

Frank Zappa's song "Be In My Video" from the 1984 album Them Or Us mocks music videos generally -- and the "Let's Dance" video in particular -- as pompous and riddled with cliches.[21]


In the 2001 movie Zoolander, the song plays as Bowie appears in the movie.

M. Ward covered the song on his 2003 album Transfiguration of Vincent.

In 2007, Bowie gave R&B singer Craig David permission to sample the song for his single "Hot Stuff (Let's Dance)".[22]

The song is available in the music video game Lego Rock Band and is used as a sample for the video game DJ Hero.

Let's Dance: Bowie Down Under, a short documentary by Rubika Shah and Ed Gibbs, explored the making of the music video in the Australian outback. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015.[23]

Jimmy Fallon covered the song as a tribute to Bowie on a 2017 episode of Saturday Night Live;[24] the episode was the first-ever to be broadcast live across the entire United States. Nile Rodgers also played the song on guitar as well.

The song was used in commercials to promote figure skating for the 2018 Winter Olympics on NBC.

Live performances[edit]

The track was a regular on the Serious Moonlight Tour (the name derived from a lyric in "Let's Dance"), and was released on the 1983 concert video Serious Moonlight. The song was also performed live on Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider Tour (and released on 1988's Glass Spider), and on his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour. It was played acoustically in 1996 and then reworked semi-acoustically for tours in 2000 and later. Bowie's 25 June 2000 performance of the song at the Glastonbury Festival was released in 2018 on Glastonbury 2000. A live recording from 27 June 2000 was released on BBC Radio Theatre, London, June 27, 2000, a bonus disc accompanying the first release of Bowie at the Beeb in 2000. Nile Rodgers also regularly plays the song, and it was part of his set during his 2017/18 world tour with Chic.

Track listing[edit]

7": EMI America / EA 152 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Let's Dance" (Single Version) (David Bowie) – 4:07
  2. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (Bowie, Giorgio Moroder) – 5:09

12": EMI America / 12EA 152 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Let's Dance" (Bowie) – 7:38
  2. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (Bowie, Moroder) – 5:09


  1. "Let's Dance" (Bowie) – 7:38
  2. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (Bowie, Moroder) – 5:09



Chart performance[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1983) Rank
Australia (Kent Music Report)[62] 24
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[63] 16
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[64] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[65] 3
France (IFOP)[66] 10
Germany (Official German Charts)[67] 19
Italy (FIMI)[68] 19
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[69] 10
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[70] 14
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[71] 2
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[72] 10
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[73] 4
US Billboard Hot 100[74] 18
US Cash Box[75] 4


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[76] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[78] Gold 873,000[77]
Italy (FIMI)[79] Gold 25,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[81] Gold 1,064,227[80]
United States (RIAA)[82] Gold 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Other releases[edit]

See also[edit]


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  • Buckley, David, Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story - Revised & Updated, Virgin Books, 2005, ISBN 978-0-7535-1002-5
  • Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5
  • Mojo Bowie, EMAP Performance Network Ltd, 2004

External links[edit]