Two years and two days ago, we received word that the great David Bowie had lost his battle with cancer and the world was entering a phase during which we would no longer be treated to new music created by the man. Unwittingly, the man played an important role in the life of my small family. When I discovered that my wife was pregnant with Son #1, I would “sing” David Bowie’s hit song from the time “Blue Jean” to her tummy in an attempt to help him develop good tastes in music. And, I did the same with Son #2, only singing Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to him. Today, my boys and their significant others are Bowie fans, so much so that one of the couples has a cat name “Bowie”. And, I am sure that my boys will carry on the Bowie tradition with their children, in some unique manner.
Over the past two years, I have been taking an on-again, off-again ride through David Bowie’s rich catalogue of music he left behind. All of his great ones have found a place on my turntable or in my CD player. And, each album I own holds a special place in my heart. No matter how many times I have listened to his Berlin trilogy (you know, “Heroes”, Low and Lodger), I am blown away. And, I just love his mid-Seventies albums that influenced the whole New Romantic scene in early-Eighties London (Young Americans and Station to Station). Also, I still love those glam rock standards of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Additionally, I will go to the grave saying that Scary Monsters is my favorite Bowie album of all time. Still, one of his albums remains one of my favorites, even though critics have taken on a lukewarm attitude toward this album. When it was released, I remember that the critical response was pretty much positive about this album. Yet, over the past 35 years, this album has taken something of a hit in its long term standing within the vast and rich David Bowie catalog. Yet, I will maintain that 1983’s Let’s Dance was the perfect exclamation mark place at the end of one of rock’s greatest runs of great albums as had ever happened. The run that began with the 1969 release of his David Bowie (or Space Oddity) album and ended with Let’s Dance may well have been rock’s greatest run ever by an artist.
Yet, I have read that Bowie himself had written off the work he did between 1983 and 1987, during which he actually tried to appease the public by giving them what he though they wanted. Even at the time, the other two albums that he released after Let’s Dance were flat and lackluster. And, boy, did David ever try to repeat the zeitgeist he found on Let’s Dance. So, I can understand that while the Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) albums were clunkers, he should have realized that Let’s Dance was truly magical.
What makes Let’s Dance resonate to this day is that Nile Rodgers produced the album and put together an All-Star band to back up Bowie. Read this line-up of musicians: long-time Bowie sideman bassist Carmine Rojas, Eighties jazz/rock session drummer Omar Hasim, former Chic and Power Station drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardist Rob Sabino, guitarist Nile Rodgers himself (of course!) and a 29-year-old blues guitar hotshot by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan. That’s right. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s big break came as a sideman for David Bowie, who had the reputation of finding new talent for nearly every album. So, when you re-evaluate Let’s Dance, you are hearing the guitar interplay between two of the greatest guitarists to have ever walked the earth and they are trading licks on this album.
Since Let’s Dance remains Bowie’s biggest-selling album, most rock fans are familiar with the fact that the album had three Top 10 hit songs. First, there was the epic rock/dance title song, a number one hit in the Spring of 1983. “Let’s Dance” was followed up by two state-of-the-art rock/dance hits: the Iggy Pop penned “China Girl” and the exciting “Modern Love”. Those three songs remain the backbone of the album. Yet, there are other gems on this album, which really became the template for the whole rock/dance sound that was so prominent throughout the Eighties. You can hear Duran Duran getting an idea here and INXS finding inspiration there. Hell, the whole second half of the Eighties sounded as if everyone was trying to catch up with the ideas and sounds that David Bowie got on Let’s Dance.
This album remains fresh to this day, something that I cannot say for the next two album Bowie will release, which were both dead on arrival. Yes, Let’s Dance does have some Eighties pastel flourishes that giveaway its age, but overall it is not the clunker that Bowie himself thought it to be. Let’s Dance is the sound of one of rock true pioneers putting all he had learned over a decade’s worth of work and enjoying the fact that he was creating the sound of a new decade. It wasn’t Bowie’s fault that many second-rate artists made crappy music while using his template. Not everyone has the genius gene.
I miss David Bowie.