Released: April 11, 1983
Peak: 4 US, 13 UK, 1 CN, 11 AU
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.3 UK, 11.0 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Songs written by David Bowie unless indicated otherwise.
Total Running Time: 36:46
3.648 out of 5.00 (average of 25 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
After releasing Scary Monsters in 1980, David Bowie cancelled a tour to promote the album after the murder of John Lennon. He retreated to Switzerland and became a recluse, but continued working. In 1981, he collaborated with Giorgio Moroder to write the title song for the movie Cat People. At the same session, he recorded “Under Pressure” with Queen.
In 1982, he recorded a soundtrack EP for Baal, a BBC adaptation of Bertrolt Brecht’s play. He also filmed appearances for The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. He departed from RCA Records and signed with EMI Records and tapped bassist Nile Rodgers, best known from the band Chic, to co-produce his next record and create “a stylish, synthesized post-disco dance music that was equally informed by classic soul and the emerging new romantic subgenre of new wave, which was ironically heavily inspired by Bowie himself.” AMG
The sessions featured new personnel. Bowie hadn’t altered his lineup that completely since Space Oddity in 1969. The new players included guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan before he became famous and other Chic members Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson. For the first time, Bowie focused exclusively on vocals and didn’t perform any instruments. As he said, “I don’t play a damned thing. This was a singer’s album.” WK
The resulting Let’s Dance album was the best-seller of Bowie’s career. However, it also signalled a period of low creativity on his part as he felt he was pandering to acquire a mainstream audience through the rest of the 1980s. He derogatorily referred to the era as his “Phil Collins years.” WK The music from Let’s Dance has been characterized as “post-disco, dance-rock, new wave, and dance-pop.” WK
“Let's Dance comes tearing out of the date, propulsed by the skittering Modern Love.” AMG It “is an uptempo pop song that features a call-and-response structure inspired by Little Richard.” WK All Music Guide’s Dave Thompson said it “epitomizes all that was good about Bowie’s 1983 reinvention as a willing superstar.” WK
Next up was “the seductively menacing China Girl,” AMG which Bowie originally wrote and recorded with Iggy Pop on his album The Idiot in 1977. BBC Online reviewer David Quantick said “nobody but [Nile] Rodgers could have taken a song…with its paranoid references to ‘visions of swastikas,’ and turned it into a sweet, romantic hit single.” WK
Biographer Nicholas Pegg called the title cut one of the “all-time great pop songs.” WK It was the lead single from the album and hit #1 in the U.S. and UK. A video for the song was shot by David Mallet, who also directed “Ashes to Ashes” for Bowie in 1980.
“China Girl” and “Modern Love” were released as follow-up singles, hitting the top 10 and top 20 in the U.S. respectively. Both reached #2 in the UK. They were hits “for good reason — they're catchy, accessible pop songs that have just enough of an alien edge to make them distinctive.” AMG
“However, that careful balance is quickly thrown off by a succession of pleasant but unremarkable plastic soul workouts.” AMG The re-recorded version of Cat People which Bowie originally recorded in 1981 and a cover of Metro’s 1977 song Criminal World “are relatively strong songs, but the remainder of the album indicates that Bowie was entering a songwriting slump.” AMG The latter was originally banned by the BBC for bisexual overtones. Biographer Chris O’Leary said it was Bowie’s way to “sneak a transgressive song onto a platinum record.” WK
The BBC’s David Quantick said Let’s Dance was “often a mundane album, as songs like Ricochet and Shake It mark time.” WK The former “is the only track on the album that is reminiscent of the experimental nature of Bowie’s late-70s recordings.” WK Writer Nicholas Pegg called “Shake It” “a likable enough piece of fluff.” WK
All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine said of the album: “The three hits were enough to make the album a massive hit, and their power hasn’t diminished over the years, even if the rest of the record sounds like an artifact.” AMG Time’s Jay Cocks called it “unabashedly commercial” WK and Rolling Stone’s Ken Tucker said the album had a “surface beauty.” WK Commonweal said it was “some of the most exciting R&B-based dance music in years.” WK Rolling Stone’s Jeremy Allen said the album was “the conclusion of arguably the greatest 14-year run in rock history.” WK
Notes: ”Under Pressure,” Bowie’s 1981 duet with Queen, was added to the Virgin Records CD reissue.
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First posted 2/20/2008; last updated 8/3/2021.
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