In April 1983 David Bowie released his 15th studio album “Let’s Dance”. This album would introduce him to a new wave of fans as many of the singles taken from this project would become massive pop hits and sit comfortably in many a 80’s compilations.
The album was produced by Nile Rogers of funk bank ‘Chic’ fame. The style of music on the album was a departure from Bowie’s usual sound and was more radio friendly with elements of rock, funk and pop prevlent throughout.
I enjoy this album because it is simply so easy to listen to. Yes there may be some watered down soul type moments on the set but it speaks to me musically a lot more than some of Bowie’s other work.
The first track “Modern Love” is as radio friendly a Bowie track as you will ever here. It’s upbeat, funky and just a damn good pop song. With the album being called “Let’s Dance” this is a wonderful track to do just that. I love this song and it automatically makes me feel good.
“China Girl” was written by Bowie & Iggy Pop and appeared on Pop’s album ‘The Idiot’ in 1977. This is a complete reworking of the track and the baseline is brought to the forefront along with a Oriental sound mimicking on the keyboard.
The guitar on this track and in fact all the songs on the album is by Stevie Ray Vaughn with his playing being one of the many highlight of the project.
It’s essentially a love song but themes of infatuation and obsession can be noticed throughout. You could argue that the production belies the actual content of the lyrics as the song is turned into a sweet love tale when the lyrics are making references to swastikas.
The title track “Let’s Dance” is next. This song is Nile Rogers all over and is extremely funky. It’s such a change in tact for Bowie who seems to be reaching for the heights of pop stardom with a song such as this.
“Let’s Dance” is just a brilliant tune. If a song can feel big then this track feels gargantuan. Vocally Bowie is impressive with the production making his voice sound echoy and almost sermon like.
The track hits every melodic point that Pop music can sometimes be so good at doing and it’s no surprise that even today in 2016 you’ll hear this song on the radio regularly.
If the moonlight is another way to say funky then this is some serious moonlight.
At this point you could turn off the album satisfied with what you have heard already. The opening three tracks are just big songs that feel so deliberate in their crafting. There was no accident or good fortune. Bowie wanted hits and he made them.
“Without You” is a slight come down from the bar that had been set. The guitar playing from Ray Vaughn is still present but not as prominent. The baseline keeps the funky element to proceedings. It’s the shortest track on the album and lyrically isn’t particularly engaging as it’s just about the contemplation of being without someone.
The fifth track “Ricochet” is a delight. This song is the hidden gem on ‘Let’s Dance’. It’s a bit of relentless track. I personally love the production even though it is known that Bowie himself in retrospect wasn’t too happy with the final cut. I love the beat, I love the use of the horns and whilst this track often gets panned I am a big fan.
“Criminal World” is a cover of the 1977 song by English rock back Metro. Again the blues guitar playing from Ray Vaughn and Nile Rogers polish base driven production match together well. The song sounds of a time and is fresh and contemporary for the moment that it was released in. Again it’s highly enjoyable.
“Cat People (Putting out fire)” had been released a year before for the soundtrack to the movie “Cat People”. The song was written and produced by Giorgo Moroder.
This track is the most rock orientated song on the album. It fits because of the guitar playing and base that marry together to create probably the darkest song on the set.
“Shake It” is a fun track but lacks substance. It’s like an offspring of the song “Let’s Dance” which has just morphed into this track. Lyrically it lacks depth and I can only imagine Bowie purists tearing their hair out of a song such as this which is leaning so towards the Pop music listener the fact that Bowie is the vocalist is immaterial.
The big David Bowie Fans are going to look at this album with disdain because it showed that Bowie could also be swallowed up into the 1980’s culture of fame and success. But I firmly believe that he did this with absolute deliberation.
This album wasn’t made to alienate his fans it was made as a project to show further diversity in the music of one of the most diverse artists of all time. You can’t listen to this album and think it sounds like anything else Bowie has done because it is a standalone moment where he showed the world that he could do radio friendly music not as well – but better.
“Let’s Dance” is a feel good album with lots of hits. And it is exactly how it was meant to be.