The Story of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues!!

Greetings!

I’ve been meaning to dedicate a post to David Bowie for quite some time so I decided to begin with one of his best-selling and most loved and appreciated tracks of all time – “Let’s Dance”. Before telling the story of this fantastic song which generations have danced to, I would like to say a few words about David. He meant a lot to everyone – he influenced and altered the lives of so many people around the world…He helped us walk through the turbulent path of life with his innovative and original music and his beautiful and fascinating personality. He is not just a rockstar – an image and a product developed in time and dictated by musical trends and expectations. He was an icon and a symbol – he stood for all that was real and genuine in this world. From his brilliant music, to his passionate dance moves…from his fierce fashion, to his androgynous and controversial lifestyle – he was a true music God who was anything but reluctant to follow any rules or bound himself in any traditions or practices. His attitude and life philosophy led to the establishment of one of the biggest cults in popular culture. People simply adored him and everything he stood for…Not to mention that his music was anything BUT boring. He laid the grounds of progressive rock and challenged everyone’s perceptions and ideas of rock music. Since the early 1970s he has done nothing else but to amaze and blow us away with his first-class music and charming persona… I truly miss him – the world became a much duller place, the moment he died…

In memory and deep appreciation of David’s long, prolific and extremely influential career, I am going to honor his awesome song – “Let’s Dance”, which happens to be one of my favorite rock songs of all time. I am sure that there’s probably not even a single person who hasn’t heard of this song – mainly, because it’s a dance song that is absolutely essential for any kind of celebration or party…or when you simply want to lift your spirit up! It’s a song, filled up with so much energy that you just want to immediately get off your bed and start dancing in the middle of the room. The beat, the guitar and his breath-taking vocal delivery make things even better…It’s indeed one of the great classics of the 80s which just as him – will never die.

A little background information about the song itself – “Let’s Dance” is the title song of his 1983’s album of the same name. It’s one of David’s best-selling and best-received tracks of all time. The single topped the UK charts for five consecutive weeks. Not long afterwards it invaded the USA, topping Billboard Hot 100. In addition to those two countries, the single also resided on the number one spot in Norwegian, Canadian, Swedish, Dutch and Belgian charts. It was Bowie’s only transatlantic #1. Basically, the song hit the world like a sudden enormous explosion, leaving everyone out of breath and eager to dance…

“Let’s Dance” was written by David and produced by Nile Rodgers – the founder of the disco band Chic and (in my opinion) one of the greatest producers of all time. (Nile Rodgers has worked with Diana Ross, Daft Punk, Madonna and numerous other artists. He is one of the biggest names in the industry and has an endless catalog of albums and singles he produced.) In addition, the infamous guitar solo at the end of David’s song is played by Stevie Ray Vaughan – another big name. (Stevie is one of the most influential and important electric guitarists who also happens to be responsible for the revival of blues in the 80s and early 90s.) The invitation to play the guitar in Bowie’s song, came after David saw him play at the Montreaux Jazz festival a year earlier. Needless to say, he was beyond impressed with Stevie’s outstanding skills.

“Let’s Dance” is a very upbeat, emotional and positive song, possessing a special mass appeal that reached and connected with millions of people all over the world. In addition to the great music-craftsmanship, unforgettable intro and groovy lyrics, the song has a very special aura that captivates and energizes every person who hears it…

Let’s Dance is not what I’d call a traditional dance record, but it’s certainly a record that does make you want to dance. I thought to myself, ‘Man, if I don’t make a record that makes people want to dance, and we call the song Let’s Dance, I’m going to have to trade in my black union card,” said Nile Rodgers in the film Davie Bowie: 5 Years in the Making of an Icon.

When Bowie and I got together to do Let’s Dance, we spent two weeks researching music and styles and Bowie suddenly said: ‘I got it!’ He held up a Little Richard album cover where he’s wearing a red suit, getting into a red Cadillac, with a pompadour haircut, and said: ‘That’s rock’n’roll.’ After doing all that research with him, I got it too. I knew instantly what he wanted. We switched the suit for a yellow one when we released our record,” said Nile Rodgers to The Guardian.

I tried to produce something that was warmer and more humanistic than anything I’ve done for a long time. Less emphasis on the nihilistic kind of statement,” said Bowie. (Extract taken from www.songfacts.com)

The music video is also very peculiar and extremely symbolic. It was made by David Mallet (a very famous British director, who also worked with Queen, Pink Floyd and Rush) and shot in a few locations around Australia, including a bar and a national park. In the music video, David is playing in a bar with his band, while watching an aboriginal family’s struggles against Western cultural imperialism. Bowie described the video as a “very simple, very direct” statement against racism and oppression. David’s crew, as well as the aborigines were actually not appreciated by the locals and the patrons. Mallet shot how the “white” people were mocking the aborigines’ dance movies and eventually edited it into the video.

“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” – the first and probably most famous line of the song is a reference to a 1948 movie called The Red Shoes. The movie is about a ballet dancer who performs in a studio with the same name. Basically, the idea is that red shoes make you dance – it is all based on a Hans Christian Andersen story of the same title. In the music video, the female aborigine wears red shoes and starts dancing in the same bar, where Bowie plays with his band.

“Let’s Dance” marked the beginning of a new phase in David Bowie’s career. The 70s were long gone and it was time for him to dive into new waters and reach new audiences. This album and this song in particular introduced him to a much younger and active public. This album, along with the following two ones, are David’s least favourite creative outcomes of his musical endeavors. Nevertheless, I think he spawned outstanding hits in the first half of the 80s and personally, I think this was his most prosperous and notable time of his career.

Lyrics:

“Let’s Dance”

Let’s dance put on your red shoes and dance the blues

Let’s dance to the song
they’re playin’ on the radio

Let’s sway
while color lights up your face
Let’s sway
sway through the crowd to an empty space

If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower

Let’s dance for fear
your grace should fall
Let’s dance for fear tonight is all

Let’s sway you could look into my eyes
Let’s sway under the moonlight,
this serious moonlight

If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower

Let’s dance put on your red shoes
and dance the blues

Let’s dance to the song
they’re playin’ on the radio

Let’s sway you could look into my eyes
Let’s sway under the moonlight,
this serious moonlight

Hope you guys appreciate and enjoy the song as much as I do.
Finally, I wanted to show you what happens when you decide to cover a classic song by none other than David Bowie. The results are …well, you be the judge of that.

Credits:
“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, retrieved from http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5732
“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, retrieved from http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858496301/
P.S. I don’t own any audio or visual material used in this publication. All the rights and credits go to the owners and/publishers.

The publication expresses my personal opinion and in no way is trying to make a generalized statement. Please be kind and considerate when you read and/or comment.
Cheers~

4 thoughts on “The Story of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”

  1. Hey,

    Very detailed there, and a couple of points to think about (for me). The locals where it was filmed are in the ‘outback’ in the state of New South Wales. For obvious reasons been listening to and watching a lot of Bowie lately. Watched the clip again today, I thought the old guy in the clip was dancing like an idiot in the bar because he had too much beer in the hot sun. Unfortunately I was wrong. That was 33 years ago I suppose. I knew the ‘locals’ were annoyed by a guy like Bowie taking over the bar. I like Bowie’s directness on what the video was making a statement about. Of course he still loved Australia enough to buy an apartment in Sydney that year.
    Anyway a simple statement back on the music and clip.  Not big on SRVs catalogue but I didn’t know he played the end guitar piece. It’s good. I really like this song and video. One of his best.
    If you wanted an opinion, the cover/sampling by Craig David is abysmal. If I never see or hear it again I won’t complain.
    Cheers!!

    Like

    1. Ian, hello!
      Thank you once again for the lengthy comment! I thought it was high time I wrote something about David – actually I wanted to make a very very long report on why was he so important to us and the music industry…however the semester is here and I don’t know whether I’m gonna have time….I love Bowie – especially his 80s music…
      Thank you once again and have a lovely day!
      Cheers

      Like

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