In a recent article about Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), David Bowie’s 1980 album, I mentioned how this was the start of a really successful period for him. His next album was Let’s Dance, released in April 1983, and co-produced by NIles Rodgers of Chic. This was Bowie’s fifteenth album, in a career that started in 1967 with his eponymous album David Bowie. However, this album, which saw him combine post-disco, with dance and rock, would be a huge success, giving Bowie both a hugely successful album and several hit singles. When it was released, it reached number one in the UK album charts, number four in US and reached number one in various countries, including Australia and Norway. Four singles were released from the album, with the title track Let’s Dance, proving the most popular giving Bowie number one hits in both the UK and US. Various guest artists played on the album. This included co-producer Niles Rodgers and his bass player from Chic Bernard Edwards and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Together, they helped produce one of Bowie’s most successful commercially successful albums. Coming four years after the critically acclaimed Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), the question was, would this be as good an album?

Let’s Dance opens with Modern Love, one of the singles from the album, which reached number two in the UK singles charts. The track begins with Niles Rodgers crisp guitar playing before booming drums enter, and Bowie, in a faux cockney accent speaks, before the tempo quickens hugely. Immediately, the tempo is quick, with rhythm section, horns and piano accompanying Bowie, who is by now, really forcing the vocal, almost shouting. However, his vocal is full of passion, as the horns drench his vocal, while the piano is a constant throughout the track and the drums are loud at the front of the mix. Throughout the track the arrangement is full, the tempo quick and the addition of horns and piano really add to the arrangement, improving the track. It transforms the track adds a funky feel and sound to a track, that mixes rock and dance music really well. Together with Bowie’s passionate vocal, it’s the perfect track to open the album.

China Girl was another single taken from the album, and like Modern Love, reached number two in the UK singles charts. That’s where the similarities end, as this has a very different sound and style. It begins with a guitar chiming brightly, and backing vocalists gently singing before Bowie, accompanied by guitars and rhythm and section enter. Here, his vocal is much more restrained, his style much more thoughtful as the arrangement sits powerfully and dramatically behind him. The lyrics are about love and longing, and the problems of living with and without his “China Girl.” As Bowie gives a really thoughtful and emotional vocal, the arrangement has grown, with drums pounding, the beat regular and dramatic. They’re accompanied by a strong bass line and a fantastic guitar solo from Niles’ Rodgers later in the track. Like Modern Love, the track benefits from both a really good arrangement and vocal. While Bowies vocal is thoughtful and sometimes dramatic, the arrangement drives along dramatically and melodically, full of hooks and helping make this one of the album’s highlights.

Like the two previous tracks, Let’s Dance was released as a single, and was the most successful single taken from the album, reaching number one in the US and UK. When you hear the track, you realize just why. It has an atmospheric yet dramatic opening with backing vocalists soaring accompanied by the rhythm section and some ultra funky guitar playing from Niles. A horn howls, as if in pain, while Bowie sings the vocal, and by now the arrangement has built up to a hugely atmospheric and dramatic point. It seems impossible that the track can improve, but it does. Pounding drums, funk laden bass and guitar are accompanied by interjections from the horns. Bowie meanwhile, is giving a hugely soulful vocal on the album, fittingly, accompanied by the best arrangement on Let’s Dance. It’s a combination of funk, dance, jazz and rock that’s unfolding. Here, Niles’ plays a huge part, contributing some brilliant guitar playing and solos, arranging the horns and co-producing the track. For seven and half minutes, Bowie and his band produce the best track on the album. He allows his band to showcase their talents. Guitar, horns and bass all get their chance to shine, demonstrating their talents. Although Bowie is the star of the track, with another great vocal, the track wouldn’t have as good without such talented musicians. Together, they made this, one of Bowie’s biggest selling singles, and the album’s best track.

It was always going to be hard to find a track to follow three really good tracks, like Modern Love, China Girl and Let’s Dance. Without You was the track that closed side one of the original album, which I originally had on vinyl. The track begins with guitar and rhythm section combining, producing a track that has a bright sound. When Bowie sings, his vocal is high, atmospheric and dramatic, while an arrangement that chimes brightly behind him, in a lovely repetitive way, accompanies him. As he sings the lyrics, Bowie sounds defeated contemplating life on his own, without his partner. Here, the arrangement was much simpler, just guitars, rhythm section and later, a keyboard playing. However, this much simpler arrangement, suits Bowie’s vocal, with is much more subtle and thoughtful. It’s a good song, although very different to the three that preceded it.

Ricochet was the first song on the second side of the album, and is one that sees Bowie comment on the troubled times facing the world in the lyrics. Poverty, conflict, heavy industry and crime are all mentioned in the lyrics. The track begins dramatically, with drums and keyboards playing, before Bowie accompanied by backing vocalists and horns enters. Behind him, someone speaks over a loudspeaker, adding to the drama of the track. Bowie’s voice is loud and clear, as if anger and frustration are just waiting to make their presence felt. Drums are used to add to the drama, while Bowie and his backing vocalists sing, the arrangement taking a theatrical turn. Horns interject, the latest in the long line of instruments adding drama to the track. However, even with all these additions, the track just doesn’t work. There’s an artificiality about the whole track, it seems too deliberate, as if he’s trying too hard. In the end, the track comes across as pompous, sounding like something you’d expect from a sixth form musical. This is easily the worst track on the album, and a huge letdown. 

After such a poor track, hopefully Criminal World will be an improvement. Niles Rodgers guitar and keyboards open the track, before the rhythm section enter and Bowie sings. His vocal is much gentler, softer, against a full sounding and loud arrangement. Here, the drums pound, while Niles’ guitar solo is outstanding, keyboards punctuate the track, while the bass is quick and funky. The arrangement seems to slightly overpower Bowie’s lovely gentle vocal. It’s an arrangement that’s laden with drama and tinged with funk, but overall, it’s rock music that’s the biggest influence here. Although the arrangement is good, it dwarfs Bowie’s vocal, which is gentle and thoughtful. It would’ve been a better track, if his vocal hadn’t been so overpowered by the arrangement.

When Cat People (Putting Out the Fire) opens, it’s guitars and keyboards which open the track, before the rhythm section enter with Bowie. Unlike the last track, his voice is much louder, and isn’t overpowered by a similarly full arrangement. The arrangement has a rocky feel and sound, with a slight funk influence making itself known via the bass  and guitars. Here the track is driven along by soaring and chiming guitars and the rhythm section. Bowie is accompanied by backing vocalists during the track, and here, his vocal is much better, loud and passionate, perfect for the arrangement that’s unfolding behind him. Giorgio Moroder wrote the music for this track, and with his help, the album is back on track after the two previous tracks. This is a vast improvement on them, with Bowie finding form again, with a loud and passionate vocal, and a great arrangement, that combines elements of rock and with a pinch of funk.

Let’s Dance closes with Shake It, which opens with synths and rhythm section, before backing vocalists unite to sing. When Bowie enters, the track is heading towards a funk workout, albeit one where synths are one of the main components. The funk influence is thanks to Niles on guitar and the rhythm section. Again, Bowie’s vocal is much better, it’s dramatic and charismatic, as he’s accompanied by the backing vocalists. His vocal sounds similar to the one on Let’s Dance. During the track, the tempo is quick, the sound funky, and a perfect track for the dance-floor. This is easily the best track of what was the second side of the original album. Both Bowie’s vocal and the arrangement are fantastic, and this funk laden track is melodic and hook laden, and a perfect way to end the album. 

Although Let’s Dance was a much bigger commercial success than his previous album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), I much prefer Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) to Let’s Dance. When the album was originally released, I always thought the first side of Let’s Dance was streets ahead of the second side. Side one had Modern Love, China Girl and Lets Dance on it, three outstanding tracks, whereas the best track on side two was Shake It. Of the three other tracks on side two, Ricochet was easily the worst track on the album, and on Criminal World, his vocal was dwarfed by the arrangement. In my opinion, of the eight songs on Let’s Dance, there are five good songs, two average ones and one dreadful song, Ricochet. When its was released, the album was a huge commercial success, spawning four hit singles, and reaching number one in both the UK and US, but I’ve always thought that Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), was a much better album. On that album, the songwriting was much better, with the album as a whole more melodic and featured songs like Fashion, Ashes To Ashes, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and When You’re Young. Tony Visconti who co-produced the album, seemed to bring out the best in Bowie, and helped him make this one of his best albums. Since its release, it’s the album other Bowie albums have been measured against. Let’s Dance however, is still a very good album, featuring some great songs, and is still an album I enjoy listening to. If you’ve never heard the album, it’s well worth buying and so is the album that preceded it Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).  Standout Tracks: Modern Love, China Girl, Let’s Dance and Shake It.


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