March 4, 2017
David Bowie – Let’s Dance
When David Bowie left us in 2016 I think it touched the lives of any music lover and not necessarily those who knew his records. Such was the respect and recognition of the quality and breadth of his work. He was a recluse for so many years that his music wasn’t in circulation. However such was his stature that when he did briefly reappear latterly with two albums they scooped awards as if they were going out of fashion. I’m sceptical that these records deserved the accolades but not the man.
When I saw him twice in a week, in Doncaster and then Leeds, in 1973. He had ‘just arrived’ after years of hard work that seems to be a vital ingredient for longevity that is overlooked nowadays. It was Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane that I was playing at home at 33rpm and volume eleven. I continued to be happy with him, over the next decade, as he eventually ditched the rock persona and moved into soul, electronica and then sophisticated 1980’s dance. It was in this phase that he conjured up Let’s Dance, his 1983 masterpiece that went on to ship nearly 11 million copies. The music is exceptional but his imagination to approach the musicians, he did, still amazes me. These were unusual picks given his recent output. In very different genres he selected literal icons to help him.
Let’s start with white Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan. He died in 1990 but is revered as a blues legend with a fluid guitar style and empathy for authentic blues as well being an accomplished technician. He’s not just amongst the many blues icons: he is seen as the one who got away with a criminally short time in the spotlight. Bowie saw this little known guitar player at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival and pursued him. Had Bowie ever used such a blues guitarist with a licence to roam before on his recordings? All the glorious electric lead guitar flourishes on the album are Stevie’s and not least the incendiary solos on “Let’s Dance” and “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”.
Next? Iggy Pop had been part of the Berlin set when Bowie was located there making Low and Heroes. In fact Bowie helped write and produce his two biggest albums – Lust For Life and The Idiot. It comes as a surprise to see that Bowie shares songwriting credits on “China Girl” with one James Osterberg Jnr – Iggy to you and me. (In what was an age of MTV then this was my favourite video form the album).
For production duties Bowie selected Nile Rodgers. Here was and is a soul legend – who boasts a string of hit records with everyone from Chic to Sister Sledge to Diana Ross to Duran Duran. A talented guitarist in his own right but an originator of a commercial funk driven sound – what was Bowie think of by letting him steer the ship? Creating magic of course.
Is this my favourite Bowie album? Probably not, but better than most records by anyone else.