If this album would have been recorded by anybody else but David Bowie, we would all be in awe. “Let’s Dance” is one of the best albums of the 80s decade, one of the best pop albums of all times. But, it’s from David Bowie. An art rock god. Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke. A creator who shocked the world on many occasions. How on Earth could he have turned his ship around and make pure pop songs like the ones we find on this 1982 record? To cash in? To prove he could do it? To become an even bigger star?

You know what? I don’t care. “Let’s Dance” is a fabulous album, nearly flawless. It’s basically a blueprint for the perfect pop album. Thirty years after its release, it has aged incredibly well, which is not something that happened that often for pop albums of the 80s. Bowie’s singing – as usual – is strong and beautiful. It’s also powerful and more charismatic than ever. On China Girl, he climbs into a crescendo, then goes back to a spleen ballad tone, in the lower keys. Perfect song that brings mystery, spleen, catchy melody and still very upbeat for that type of sad song to have.

The title track, Let’s Dance, could be used in any songwriting and pop arrangements master class. Horns and keyboards support this great downbeat, while a funky bass keep this thing grooving for over 7 and a half minutes! Let’s not forget that this album was produced by Nile Rodgers, yes, the same guy who made Chic hits so funky, then worked with great success with Duran Duran, Madonna, INXS, Diana Ross in the 80s.

 

It’s also incredible to hear the legendary guitar playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan on most tracks. The young Texan maestro hadn’t released his first album at that point and was spotted by Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Fest where the superstar was blown away by this young unknown virtuoso. SRV brings perfect licks (on the great opener, Modern Love) and epic solos (on the title track), just at the right places. He brings in a lot of soul to this pop album, without ever stealing the spotlight.

 

Modern Love is almost a classic 50s rock’n’roll song, with great doo-wop inspired background vocals and catchy beat and melody. It’s perfect from the first to the last moment. Carmine Rojas’ work on the bass is perfect all-though the album. The American session man nails it with funky moods and great melodies on every occasion. He also played on the hit single Blue Jean, that would come out a year later.

On lesser-known tracks, we can appreciate Bowie’s beautiful voice. Without You isn’t the best melody but the blonde boxer (isn’t this one of the worst record sleeves ever??) shows his incredible vocal abilities in the high range. Ricochet is a stranger song, that could have been released on his previous albums, either 1980’s “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” or even “Lodger”, from 1979. It’s not that far from songs like African Night Flight, with a happier horns-friendly ending.

 

Criminal World started as a weaker song, up to the ultra-catchy refrain; when it switches, the melodies starts and it brings the whole song a few notches higher, just like pure magic. Irresistible. Shake It is a pretty cool funky song that sounds pretty much built on the same beat as Let’s Dance. Drumming duties were split between Omar Hakim and Tony Thompson, the latter being a Chic member, who would shine on The Power Station’s unique album, in 1985, with Robert Palmer and Duran Duran rockers Andy and John Taylor, while in hiatus of the Fab Five.

Note that China Girl is a re-worked version of a track that Bowie had penned down with Iggy Pop for his 1977 album “The Idiot”. The version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) is also a rework of a single that had came out a year earlier, on the “Cat People” 1982 movie soundtrack. If you have never seen this very sensual movie featuring Nastassja Kinski in her best years, it’s a must. Cat People’s music was created by disco guru Giorgio Moroder.

 

Although Bowie later regretted doing “Let’s Dance”, his highest selling album ever (over 7 million copies world-wide) and said he was “surprised” by the album’s success, he did choose to work with Nile Rodgers as a producer “to make hits” over his longtime friend and collaborator Tony Visconti, who was initially contacted to work on the follow-up album of Major Tom’s adventures.

Bowie’s regular guitarist, Carlos Alomar didn’t play on the album at all. Story goes that the Thin White Duke proposed him an embarrassing fee and very short notice to come in the sessions, which the guitarist declined, busy on other projects. Alomar would jump in the world tour, though, after Stevie Ray Vaughan left the rehearsals to pursue his own blues rock path, with his band Double Trouble.

 

The other problem with “Let’s Dance” and its success is that it led David Bowie into pop stardom wannabe. The two next albums – “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down” were weaker pop opus, and side projects soundtracks “Absolute Beginners” and “Labyrinth” in which he also plays key roles brought him even further to any artistically credible work. Duets with Mick Jagger (Dancing in the Streets) and Queen (Under Pressure) brought him other major hits in 1982 and ’85, still in a very pop mindset. A complete turnaround from his 70s albums that were always a few steps ahead of any upcoming music trend.

Bowie had to form grungy rock Thin Machine (1988-1992), with guitar master and The Cure collaborator Reeves Gabriels, refusing to play any of his earlier material for many years, before coming back to more artistic projects like the industrial “Outside” (1995), the hard electro “Earthling” (1997) and more mature albums afterwards.

DAVID BOWIE
Let’s Dance
(EMI, 1983)

-Genre : pop
-In the same style as Chic, Duran Duran, Iggy Pop, a-ha

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier
Fondateur et rédacteur en chef
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Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 4 500 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Nicolas a publié "Les perles rares et les grands crus de la musique" en janvier 2013, un ouvrage de 1250 pages en deux tomes.