By 1983 David Bowie was a well accomplished musician, to say the least. Since his self titled debut in 1967, he has been consistently releasing albums throughout the seventies and into the eighties receiving success in his native Britain as well as globally. He has collaborated with various other established artists in the business such as John Lennon, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno, produced albums, released concept albums, and dabbed in various types of music ranging from pop, rock or ‘glam rock’, psychedelic, folk, and soul among other styles as well. During the seventies, such classics as concept albums Ziggy Stardust
and Diamond Dogs
were released as well as other noteables like Hunky Dory
, Aladdin Sane
and Young Americans
When the 1980’s rolled around, Bowie addapted to the new decade releasing the 1980 album Scary Monsters
, with signs of New Wave present with synths, spawning hits such as Ashes to Ashes, (with the influential video to go along with it). Even though the album was only a moderate success commercially. It was also the first release after his trio of albums so-called the ‘Berlin Triliogy’ in which Bowie spent time in Germany where he released the three albums Low
, all releaased between 1977 to 1979 where he collaborated with Brian Eno. In this time period Bowie also helped friend Iggy Pop with his first two solo albums, both released in ’77. But fast forward to 1983, after three years from a previous full length album, David Bowie would release the album Let’s Dance
, which was unlike his albums before in a number of ways.
First off, it was his first album not to be released on RCA Records discarding his first few albums, a label Bowie had been with since 1971, and his first to be released on EMI. It also marked another first with that being a new producer along with Bowie himself. While the past four albums, and some before that had been produced by Tony Visconti, Let’s Dance
did not but instead had Nile Rodgers, best known for his work with the R&B group CHIC. Let’s Dance is very much a dance album (as the title obviously implies), a genre that was growing in popularity in music at the time, but still overtones of rock are evident. Other genres the album has been given are post-disco and pop, which is essentially true. The album shot Bowie to an even higher level of mainstream super stardom with hit singles such as Modern Love
, China Girl
and especially the title track receiving heavy air play and flow on MTV. Another important note about the album, and an explanation on why the guitar here is so great is that it was played by guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, before he was very well known. The album was used as sort of a stepping stone for his career, which gained him more popularity afterwards, and his first album was released just months after Let’s Dance
. Producer Nile Rodgers played guitar on the record as well.
starts out very strong with Modern Love
, the third single released, and easily a contender for best on the album. With an opening sketchy guitar riff and a light drum beat until the classic uptempo dance/pop beat enters which dominates the song throughout. Bowie’s vocals are at his best here and the backing vocals in the verses compliment as well. The saxaphone makes a delightful enterence as the song begins to fade out ending one of the best and most upbeat songs on the album. China Girl
was a song originally written by Bowie with Iggy Pop in 1977 and first appeared on Iggy’s album The Idiot that year. Bowie re-recorded the song for this album and would gain much more recognition than the original. The song attracted some contraversey due to the video at the time and the songs lyrics are debatable too, while it is believed by some to be about heroin, others interperate it differently. China Girl is a less energetic song than its predecessor, with an almost monotone beat throughout the first half with Bowie’s calm but intriguing vocals. The song does gain momentem has the song progresses however. Overall a decent song but sandwhiched between two of the best on the album, it seems to pale in comparison, however not a weaker one of the album. But what helps the track is the first presence of Vaughan’s guitar. The album’s title track is remains one of the more notable tracks in the Bowie catalogue and gives the best overall representation of the album. Thoroghly emphasizing the dance style and synthesizer effects with chanting backing vocals make a signature song for the album. The simplicity here is used to its potential, and although it is one of the better tracks here, it may seem to drag at over seven minutes. The album seems to take a dip on quality for the next few tracks, although the greatness of the first three can’t be denied.
is one of the less-celebrated songs here, mostly because it really doesn’t stand out above the rest and also flies by fast at just over three minutes making it the shortest here. Bowie delivers a uniquie vocal outing, sounding noticeably different from the first three, hitting higher notes and in a softer tone. Without You doesn’t really hurt the album, but does’t really make it stronger and appears to be just ‘there’. Ricochet sees Bowie return to the harder vocals absent from the last track and has a more dominating presence here. Spoken word passages are inserted in and out, and again the synths are very present here. Criminal World
is a song first written by the band Metro in 1977, then covered by Bowie here. A much more laid back song than most here, the bass is more in place here, and Stevie’’s sleek, bluesy guitar is never a let down, who gives one of his best performances on the tune. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
is one of more rocking songs here and certainly a highlight after the past few songs which were somewhat mediocore. The song was originally recorded in 1982 for remake of the movie Cat People
. The song is, in ways, remenicent of some post-punk or ‘goth rock’. The tone is very atmospheric, and no doubt featured the best showcase of guitar on the entire album making for pleasnt highlight after some mediocrity. Shake It
closes the album not far off the way the album started. A solid pop song with effective female backing vocals with Bowie’s funky vocals. The song itself is funky, catchy, poppy, danceable yet somewhat laidback ending the album on a suitable note.
was a new direction for Bowie and the album, although not his best, is hard to ignore in the man’s long discography and should be owned by any fan of him. If you are fairly new to him, I would start with earlier albums then work your way up. The three singles here (the first three tracks) are alone enough to make the album worth getting. But as a con, makes the album feel very lopsided. The presence of Vaughan is also a major plus for the record. As a summary, Let’s Dance
is a fun dance pop album with soul, funk, rock and some solid song writing from Bowie. It is not as complex as earlier albums, and not as intersting lyrically as his concept albums, but a fun and entertaining listen from time to time and remains one of his most memorable reocordings of the 80’s.