I’m not sure that I’d have ever liked disco music. Hearing Donna Summer, The Bee Gees and Boney M was always a cue to go to the bar at the Tye Green Dinner Dance. Luckily, this terrific David Bowie album is neither a dance album nor a disco album: Wikipedia classifies it as “post-disco” or “dance-rock”. David Bowie classified it as “white-English-ex-art-school-student-meets-black-American-funk music”. That’s probably why I love it so much.
I used to dance but it wasn’t a particularly edifying sight. 7 pints of Guinness for 98p followed by the Stomp Disco every Friday night at Royal Holloway College was my chance to break dance but invariably my efforts would break down. I was never really fond of dance music – “19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones and “Why Did You Do It” by Stretch were the extremes of my appreciation of dance music. If only I’d been born 20 years later and lived in Manchester, I might have appreciated The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays.
I never particularly liked Chic but I have nothing but the greatest admiration for Nile Rodgers, who co-founded the New York disco, funk and R’n’B group and also produced “Let’s Dance”. Nile Rodgers’ mother was 13 when he was born. His father was rarely around and his mother became a heroin addict when she remarried. Despite this upbringing, he has forged out a hugely successful career and brought a great new sensibility to David Bowie’s music with this album.
Tony Visconti had been David Bowie’s producer up until this point and had been told to keep December 1982 free to work on a new album. Two weeks after David Bowie began recording with Nile Rodgers, Tony Visconti found out that he wasn’t needed which caused him not to speak to David Bowie for nearly 20 years.
None of the musicians from David Bowie’s previous album (“Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”) were used on the album. Carlos Alomar turned down the offer to record because he was insulted by the small fee he was offered. Stevie Ray Vaughan was recruited to play lead guitar instead, after David Bowie saw him play with his band, “Double Trouble” at The Montreux Jazz Festival.
Before recording started, David Bowie told Nile Rodgers that he wanted to make a very commercial record whereas the producer was expecting to make a modern avant- garde album.
The opening song in the album, “Modern Love”, has a significant piano part although it is not high in the mix. Little Richard was an early inspiration for David Bowie and Nile Rogers described the track as “an old barrelhouse rocker with a real pounding Little Richard-style piano.” To me, it’s immensely exciting with a propulsive beat and wild manic saxophone playing. What an incredible start to an album. It reached Number 2 in the U.K. Charts.
“China Girl” was co-written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who included his version on his 1977 album, “The Idiot”. The song was allegedly inspired by Iggy Pop’s infatuation with a Vietnamese woman called Kuelan Nguyen. On the other hand, Nile Rodgers, who is an expert on hard drugs, claimed that China refers to heroin and Girl refers to cocaine. The sensational electric guitar on this album was not played by Stevie Ray Vaughan but Phil Palmer, a session musician who has played with everybody, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Michael and Dire Straits. He is the nephew of Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks. The remarkable video caused a bit of a stir on release because of the nudity and love making scene. It’s another fantastic song which also reached Number 2 in the U.K. Charts. “ I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by Rod Stewart stopped it reaching Number One which is fair enough I guess. Maybe I should write about Crazy Horse’s first album at some stage which features Danny Whitten’s deeply emotional rendition of his own song.
The title song, “Let’s Dance”, was at Number One in the U.K. charts for three weeks in March and April 1983. It is in the top 300 highest selling singles of all time. The album version is over three minutes longer than the single version. After the release of the album, David Bowie embarked on a 96 date world tour over six months which he called the “Serious Moonlight” tour, named after a phrase in this song. 2.6 million tickets were sold for this tour.
“Without You”, “Ricochet”, “Criminal World” and “Shake It” are all excellent but my favourite song on the album is “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”. The song was issued as a single in 1982 to coincide with the release of the horror film, “Cat People” and it was produced by Georgio Moroder. David Bowie re-recorded it for “Let’s Dance”. The original version starts very slowly and as the tempo increases, David Bowie’s voice becomes more sinister. The album version is so exciting that playing the song at top volume whilst driving along some back roads on my journey to work in 1983, I nearly crashed because I was driving too fast. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s slashing guitar is about as good as it gets; David Bowie is pushing his voice to its limit; Tony Thompson (from Chic) and Omar Hakim (Miles Davis, Dire Straits etc) play remarkable drums and when the song ends after nearly 7 minutes, I invariably play it again. (By the way, it’s good to finally recognise the similarities between Miles Davis and Dire Straits.) The song only reached Number 22 in the U.K. charts.
I’m not really a big David Bowie fan. All I can say is – this is a fabulous album