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Music / Let's Dance

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Let's sway, while colour lights up your face
Let's sway; sway through the crowd to an empty space

"The Main Event: David Bowie."
Tagline from the album's advertising campaign.

Let's Dance is the fifteenth studio album by English rock musician David Bowie. It was released through EMI America Records on 14 April 1983.

Having finally broken ties with RCA Records after worsening Creative Differences throughout the late '70s, and having spent several years wrangling with a costly and lopsided severance agreement with his ex-manager, Bowie was determined to have a big, moneymaking hit with his first release for his new label, EMI America. With this in mind, he enlisted Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers as producer and came up with his most mainstream album to date, a collection of radio-friendly pop rock tunes rooted strongly in post-disco (though not without Bowie's traditionally dark lyrical undercurrents).

Released at a time when Black post-disco artists like Michael Jackson and Prince were breaking back through to white audiences in the US (after a lengthy shunning of Black music there in the wake of the 1979 Disco Sucks movement), the album was even more successful than he planned. "Modern Love" and the title track were international Top 5 hits (with the latter being his only single to top both the UK Singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100) and the follow-up Serious Moonlight Tour of '83 a sell-out worldwide. The album itself topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Japan, Norway, and Sweden, peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, and went on to become the second-best-selling album of 1983 in the UK and Canada. It was later certified quintuple-platinum in Canada, platinum in the UK, the US, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and gold in Finland and Spain.

This unprecedentedly high success caused a Newbie Boom, and to this day, Let's Dance remains Bowie's highest-selling album ever released, selling over 10.7 million copies around the world over the decades. As a testament to its commercial popularity, the 1999 remastered CD alone was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry. The album was later nominated for Album of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards, only to lose out to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Let's Dance was supported by four singles: the Title Track, Bowie's cover of the Iggy Pop song "China Girl", "Modern Love", and "Without You". Notably, the B-Side to "Modern Love", a live performance of the same track during Bowie's 1983 Serious Moonlight tour, was featured as the final track of the 2018 Live Album Serious Moonlight [Live '83].


Side One

  1. "Modern Love" (4:46)
  2. "China Girl"note  (5:32)
  3. "Let's Dance" (7:38)
  4. "Without You" (3:08)

Side Two

  1. "Ricochet" (5:14)
  2. "Criminal World"note  (4:25)
  3. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (5:09)
  4. "Shake It" (3:49)

Bonus Track (1995 Reissue):

  1. "Under Pressure" (4:05)note 

Men wait for tropes, while thousands are still asleep:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Invoked in Bowie's version of "China Girl". Producer Nile Rodgers interpreted the song as a metaphor for speedballing — "China Girl" being code for China White heroin and cocaine (referred to as "girls" among New York druggies, with heroin also being "boys"). Bowie wrote the song as a satire of the fetishization of Asian women, but liked Rodgers' interpretation and how it informed the more polished, pop-friendly arrangement of what was originally a rough proto-Post-Punk track, deciding to keep the Let's Dance version that way as a result.
  • Bowdlerize: The steamy Homage to From Here to Eternity at the end of the music video for "China Girl" was graphic enough that it had to be re-cut; the only home video release that includes the original version is the David Bowie — Video 45 VHS from 1983. Both the censored and uncensored versions are available on Bowie's YouTube channel.
  • Breather Episode: "Without You" and "Shake It", which are decidedly shorter and more upbeat than the other six songs on the album. Coincidentally (or not?), each song marks the end of its respective side on the original LP release.
  • Cover Version: "China Girl" is a cover of a song he co-wrote for Iggy Pop's album The Idiot in 1977 and "Criminal World" was from English glam rock band Metro's 1977 Self-Titled Album. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", meanwhile, is a rerecorded version of a song Bowie himself recorded with Giorgio Moroder a year earlier for the motion picture of the same name, but without Moroder's involvement.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: "Let's Dance".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The video for "China Girl". Bowie intended to present an anti-racist message through the video by making it as blatantly stereotypical as possible. Best exemplified by the shot of Bowie mocking the racist schoolyard game of pulling back the corners of the eyes and pretending to be Asian.
  • Den of Iniquity: "Criminal World" is set in one.
  • Epic Rocking: The 7 and a half minute Title Track.
  • Evil Colonialist: "China Girl" is narrated by one, who promises the title character that he'll "ruin everything you are" in exchange for television, "eyes of blue," and "men who want to rule the world." Bowie, who co-wrote the song with Iggy Pop, intended for the song to be a critique on western exoticization of east Asia, and thus invoked this trope to further the message.
  • Face on the Cover: Bowie's torso and face, shown in a fighting stance against a projection of a painting of a city skyline.
  • God: "Modern Love", according to Bowie, is about a struggle between God and man, fitting given Bowie's constantly inconsistent views on religion throughout his life.
  • Japanese Ranguage: In "China Girl", Bowie drops "roud as thunder" the first time it's said. Subsequent verses would use the correct "loud".
  • Let's Dance: The exact name of both the album and its title track, though in this case it seems to refer to literal dancing. An implied instance of this trope being played straight can be found on the cover art, which depicts Bowie as a leather-gloved boxer.
  • Lighter and Softer: Both musically and lyrically, not only in comparison to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), but also to most of Bowie's prior oeuvre. In particular, darker lyrical elements serve as undercurrents here rather than being front and center.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Iggy Pop's infatuation for an Asian woman was the inspiration for "China Girl", a song that appeared earlier on his solo debut The Idiot from 1977, which was also produced by Bowie. Even though she was actually Vietnamese.
  • New Sound Album: The third big 180, ditching the unique brand of rough, abstract art rock that Bowie had built up with Tony Visconti & Brian Eno in continental Europe in favor of mainstream pop rock & post-disco. The closest tie to Bowie's earlier work is the re-recorded version of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" included on this album, which still maintains a visible connection to the original 1982 version's Post-Punk direction.
  • One-Woman Song: "China Girl", based on Iggy Pop's brief infatuation for Kuelan Nguyen, who was French pop singer Jacques Higelin's partner at the time. Both Pop and Higelin were recording at the Château d'Hérouville in France when the song was written for The Idiot.
  • Performance Video: The video for "Modern Love", taken from the album's Serious Moonlight Tour.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" was originally written as the Title Track to the 1982 remake of Cat People before being re-recorded for this album, owed to Bowie's personal dissatisfaction with the original rendition.
  • Record Producer: Nile Rodgers of Chic, in his first major production role for another artist.
  • Regional Riff: "China Girl" prominently features a variation on the infamous Oriental riff in its guitar part, tying in with its criticism of how white society fetishizes Asian women.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: In "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", the singer's eyes start as green as he warns his inamorata of his dangerous need for her... in verse two, they turn red, and he mentions that "Those who feel me near/Pull the blinds and change their minds".
  • Shirtless Scene: The album artwork depicts a shirtless Bowie in a fighting stance.
  • Special Guest: Bowie met a young blues guitarist from Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and Bowie asked Vaughan to play on this album. It was Vaughan's first mainstream exposure and a stepping stone in his career.
  • Take That!: "China Girl" is an open jab at Asian fetishism; the music video makes this even more overt, intentionally playing up a number of Asian stereotypes to make people who earnestly believe in them look silly and cartoonish.
  • Title Track: "Let's Dance"