Song of the Day: David Bowie “Let’s Dance (Demo)”
David Bowie would have turned 71 yesterday, January 8th. To commemorate the occasion, a demo of “Let’s Dance” surfaced for the very first time.
In 1982, Bowie stepped away from working with his usual producer Tony Visconti, choosing to collaborate with dance producer/guitarist/Chic founder Nile Rodgers (“Nile, I really want you to make hits”) on what would become the Let’s Dance album. Initially inspired by 50s and 60s blues and R&B, Bowie played an early, folkish version of the title track for Rodgers. Rodgers balked at the title, asserting “You can’t call that thing you just played ‘Let’s Dance.'” Rodgers then rearranged the song’s chord structure and added some modern studio touches, resulting in the kind of high-gloss funk that was his stock-in-trade. The rest of the album was recorded at the Power Station studios in New York in just a little over two weeks.
David Bowie had previously explored his fascination with American R&B and soul music on his 1975 album Young Americans. Let’s Dance is another overt homage, a post-disco dance-pop record that melded classic soul and the danceable new romanticism of [Bowie-inspired] contemporaries like Duran Duran, Ultravox, and ABC. And like those image-savvy acts, Bowie took full advantage of the then-new video medium with stylish productions for album singles “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl,” alongside “Modern Love” (comprised of live footage from the Serious Moonlight tour). Those clips asserted Bowie as a master of the form, putting him in heavy rotation on MTV and turning Let’s Dance into his first platinum-selling album in the U.S.
The newly-released demo has none of the studio gloss and obvious dance inclinations that made “Let’s Dance” a hit. Instead, this version features a classic quartet arrangement and performance, revealing the nuance in the Bowie/Rodgers songwriting collaboration and the skill in Bowie’s soaring vocal performance. Gone for nearly two years now, David Bowie continues to surprise us with his musical gifts.
The Let’s Dance album take:
The recently unearthed demo: