May 09

DAVID BOWIE – “Let’s Dance”

FT + Popular144 comments • 8,342 views

#519, 9th April 1983

One of the odd things about Bowie is how panicky he seems to get when he’s in fashion. The image of him as a “pop chameleon” is surely at least partly cover for a flight-reflex that kicks in when one of his stylistic changes really takes off. In the mid 70s, tasting superstardom on the back of his deviant glam image, he sidestepped into black US pop, making Young Americans and baffling his fans with “plastic soul”. Close to a decade on, and again the fountainhead of art-pop influence, he made exactly the same move, borrowing sounds and musicians from black pop to make a record that’s an exercise in knowing glossiness.

But something unexpected happened. Let’s Dance was massive: its smooth post-disco gestures fitting a current mood in pop, a retreat from frippery towards self-conscious sophistication, from pose to poise. It was to be the last time he matched pop’s moment so completely.

For all that “Let’s Dance” is an odd record. For a song about dancefloor erotics it’s harsh and heavy and everything about it seems half-petrified, the music a succession of freeze-frames. Bowie’s voice has an ancient, lizardly glide: there’s something as much vampiric as romantic about his invitations to dance and sway. I’ve often reached on Popular for the (rather hackneyed) idea that a record is easy to admire but difficult to love. “Let’s Dance” seems to be trying for this effect quite intentionally: it’s an impressively cold-blooded piece of work.



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  1. 91
    rosie on 31 May 2009 #

    Many congratulations, too, from me.

    Drake as a forename: I can only think of two literary examples: Drake Carne in Winston Graham’s Poldark saga and Drake Ko, high-profile Chinese defector in John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy.

  2. 92
    intothefireuk on 31 May 2009 #

    Congratulations Tom – any Prisoner connections there ?

  3. 93
    peter goodlaws on 31 May 2009 #

    Er..Danger Man, I think, Firey!

  4. 94

    dr drake ramoray, forgotten so soon?

  5. 95
    Snif on 1 Jun 2009 #

    No turning off the nursery light with “I’ll see you in the morning, Drake” – it could be misinterpreted.

  6. 96
    rosie on 1 Jun 2009 #

    Mark @ 94: I am the only person in tnhe known universe never to have seen an episode of Friends, so nothing to forget!

    It occurred to me that Drake Ko was the brother already a top Hong Kong fixer, it was Nelson Ko who defected (or maybe was abducted).

  7. 97
    wichitalineman on 1 Jun 2009 #

    Nope, there’s two of us Rosie.

    There’s Drake & Josh on Nickelodeon too, but it’s not quite Danger Man. If he’s named after the ITC crime fighting hero this would put Drake Ewing in the same small Venn diagram segment as Steed Malbranque!

    As for Let’s Dance, a great discussion but it’s always seemed an icily calculated record to me (especially after the odd post-Scary Monsters side projects like Baal and Cat People).

    Tom’s use of the word ‘vampiric’ to describe the vocal grants it a new lease of life for me, though, as a companion piece to The Monster Mash. “Trem-bel like a flowah, my sweet. Myeh-heh-heh”

  8. 98
    Erithian on 2 Jun 2009 #

    I thought this discussion on the name “Drake” rang a bell – we have sort of been here before: on the thread for Donny Osmond’s “Young Love”, for some reason we fell to speculating on whether Nick Drake could have replaced his namesake Charlie in “The Worker”. That was back in September 2007 – you don’t think the idea was sown in Tom’s mind then, do you?

    Anyway Tom, congrats and best wishes to all concerned.

  9. 99
    peter goodlaws on 2 Jun 2009 #

    Mark # 94 – Make that three in the “Friends”-free zone. Is that the show with the curly haired bird who looks like a fucking scarecrow or is that “Sex in the City”, which I have also never seen?

  10. 100

    Friends is the one in which Joey plays Dr Drake Ramoray.

  11. 101
    wildheartedoutsider on 2 Jun 2009 #

    I’d have thought it was a risky business having a radio playing in an operating theatre while someone is giving birth – on the grounds that there are a lot of songs which could be rather inappropriate to hear under those circumstances…

    Voodoo Child, Born Under A Bad Sign, ‘The Omen’ theme… as it is, having a song playing which contains the lyrics “the child is not my son” sounds more like a scene from ‘Eastenders’ to me!

    Congratulations, by the way!

  12. 102
    Erithian on 2 Jun 2009 #

    Last CD we got before our twins were born: Robbie Williams – “I’ve Been Expecting You”.

  13. 103
    peter goodlaws on 2 Jun 2009 #

    # 101 – An amusing point but Pedantic Peter must point out that it’s Voodoo CHILE and not Child.

  14. 104
    wichitalineman on 2 Jun 2009 #

    Radio could’ve been playing Baby Jump… nah! It doesn’t exist!

  15. 105

    i was a sea goblin!!

  16. 106
    ace inhibitor on 2 Jun 2009 #

    congratulations tom! No radio in delivery room for my daughter, and my everso-carefully-compiled mixtape got lost in the confusion. We did, however, have peter hook’s partner having her baby in the next room. (We know this because the nurses & midwives were stage-whispering ‘Its Hooky!!’ up and down the corridor. this was in his Mrs Merton house-band days.) I’m saving this essential claim to vicarious fame for when the girl’s properly able to appreciate it.

  17. 107
    ace inhibitor on 2 Jun 2009 #

    probably in his slightly-post-mrs-merton-house-band days, in fact, seeing as his partner wasn’t caroline aherne

  18. 108
    Matthew H on 3 Jun 2009 #

    Congratulations! 30th May is the best day to have a birthday, but near enough.

    Famous Drakes? We’re forgetting:

    Drake Carrington
    Drake Seven


  19. 109

    we’re all geminis now

  20. 110
    Stevie T on 3 Jun 2009 #

    I look forward to Tom’s future children, Buckley, Hendrix and Joplin Ewing.

  21. 111

    Are those other surnames of actresses who were in Space 1999?

  22. 112
    Mark M on 3 Jun 2009 #

    Re 111: Uh, that would be UFO, Mark.

  23. 113

    next i will be confusing jon landau with martin landau

  24. 114
    Erithian on 3 Jun 2009 #

    We’ll obviously need to get used to longer gaps between Tom’s contributions for a little while, but this thread is showing signs of running out of inspiration. Why do we find it hard to write the next line?

  25. 115
    wichita lineman on 3 Jun 2009 #

    Ooh, cheeky.

    Can anyone (bar Tom) remember which entries have no comments at all? Do Wildheartedoutsider or Peter G fancy having a go at stretching an older, unappreciated thread?

  26. 116
    Conrad on 3 Jun 2009 #

    UFO’s Gabrielle Drake, her of the purple haired wig, and sister of Nick!

  27. 117
    admin on 3 Jun 2009 #

    number of popular posts with least comments
    20 x 0 comments
    31 x 1 comment
    21 x 2 comments
    23 x 3
    17 x 4
    15 x 5
    14 x 6
    18 x 7
    11 x 8
    12 x 9
    9 x 10
    7 x 11
    4 x 12
    6 x 13
    7 x 14
    2 x 15

    top 10 commented popular posts
    DONNA SUMMER – “I Feel Love” 121
    QUEEN – “Bohemian Rhapsody” 122
    OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN AND JOHN TRAVOLTA – “You’re The One That I Want” 124
    SHOWADDYWADDY – “Under The Moon Of Love” 125
    WINDSOR DAVIES AND DON ESTELLE – “Whispering Grass” 129
    THE SEX PISTOLS – “God Save The Queen” 148
    THE BOOMTOWN RATS – “Rat Trap” 191
    THE BEE GEES – “Night Fever” 204
    ABBA – “Dancing Queen” 218
    JJ BARRIE – “No Charge” 272

    a crowdsource power law sort of thing

  28. 118
    Mark M on 3 Jun 2009 #

    Re: 117 remembering that there were many early comments that got lost along the way…

  29. 119
    admin on 3 Jun 2009 #

    GPWM of course.

    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/popular/2006/07/engelbert-humperdinck-the-last-waltz/ #237 (with 7 comments now) was the first popular post after moving to wordpress (coming up to 3 years ago now). Tom pasted some of the HaloScan comments in for posterity, but that system only kept the most recent few dozen comments.

  30. 120
    wichita lineman on 4 Jun 2009 #

    Thanks admin.

    Do you fancy listing the ones with no comments?

    Also, if yr interested, I’ve got a large number of the early entries on vinyl, fair number of pic covers, if yr ever bored on a bank holiday and want to put them up…

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