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Music / Let's Dance

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"Sway through the crowd to an empty space."

Let's Dance is the fifteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1983.

Having finally broken ties with RCA Records after worsening Creative Differences throughout the late 70's, and having spent over a decade of putting up with an unsatisfactory contract that provided him with just a sliver of the money he earned, Bowie was determined to have a big, moneymaking hit with his first release for EMI America Records. With this in mind, he enlisted Nile Rodgers as producer and came up with his most mainstream album to date, a collection of radio-friendly pop-rock tunes (though not without Bowie's traditionally dark lyrical undercurrents).

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.


This success was a double-edged sword for Bowie though. While critical assessment remains positive today (Rolling Stone for one dubbed it "the conclusion of arguably the greatest 14-year run in rock history"), it was initially met with a more mixed response from the press, and in subsequent years the album has come to be seen as triggering a Dork Age for Bowie, as his next two albums (1984's Tonight and 1987's Never Let Me Down) would try to duplicate its success to diminishing returns from both his established fan-base and the newbies to the fold. As a result, the stock comment for Bowie's post-Dork Age output was that new Bowie albums were "his best since Scary Monsters", his 1980 Post-Punk/New Wave effort that immediately preceded it. Still, the album was never hated by any means, and its reception would eventually grow more positive with time, galvanizing with Bowie's death in 2016; in 2012, it would be listed at No. 296 on NME's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and as of 2020 it stands at No. 1076 on Acclaimed Music's dynamic list of the 3000 most critically lauded albums.


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" note 

Men wait for tropes, while thousands are still asleep:

  • 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. The scene is also available on the video's official YouTube upload.
  • 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 this clip.
  • 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 from a distance.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Performance Video: The video for "Modern Love".
  • 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. Bowie initially intended to use the '82 version on the record, but MCA (who owned the film soundtrack) denied permission.
  • Record Producer: Nile Rodgers of Chic.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: Bowie himself considered this album one to Young Americans, as both are uncharacteristically mainstream-accessible albums consisting of eight songs that combine black music (soul and funk for Young Americans, post-disco for Let's Dance) with Bowie's trademark dark & artsy musical and lyrical undercurrents.
  • Take That!: Frank Zappa (who had a long-standing animus against Bowie, partly stemming from Bowie's poaching of his sidemen Aynsley Dunbar and Adrian Belew in 1978) would mock the music video for "Let's Dance" in his anti-MTV song "Be In My Video" (1984) from Them or Us:
    We will dance the blues (oh yes)
    Let's dance the blues (we will dance them very much)
    Let's dance the blues (sure we will) under the megawatt moonlight!
  • Title Track:
    Let's Dance!


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