The title track to Bowie's 15th album, "Let's Dance," was produced by Nile Rodgers, who was responsible for the album's funky sound. Rodgers founded the disco band, Chic, and produced hits for Diana Ross, including "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out." He also produced Madonna's 1985 album Like a Virgin.
On the surface, this song is about dancing with a lover, but according to Nile Rodgers, there's a deeper meaning. He told Mojo: "When David wrote those lyrics, he was talking about the dance that people do in life; the conceptual dance of not being honest. He sings, 'put on your red shoes and dance the blues.' Like you're pretending to be happy but you're sad."
Stevie Ray Vaughan played lead guitar on this song. Bowie was impressed when he saw Vaughan perform at the Montreaux Jazz festival a year earlier. When Vaughan received the call from Bowie to play on the record, he was (although not literally) in the middle of recording his own album, Texas Flood.
Suggestion credit: James - Tracy, CA
This was Bowie's only transatlantic #1, a very upbeat song with mass appeal. He described it as "positive, emotional and uplifting." Said Bowie: "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."
The official video was directed by David Mallet. It was filmed in Australia and features an Aboriginal couple who are struggling against Western cultural imperialism. The video was described by Bowie as a "very simple, very direct" statement against racism.
According to Mallet, they shot the bar scenes in the morning, which didn't go over well with the locals, who didn't appreciate Bowie and fashionable crew. Some of the patrons also resented the Aborigines who starred in the clip, and mocked them with their own dance moves. Mallet shot this on film and edited it into the video - the white people dancing in the bar were actually making fun of the couple.
Red Shoes are a theme in the video and appear in the lyrics, "Put on your red shoes and dance the blues." This is a reference to the 1948 movie The Red Shoes, where a dancer performs in a ballet of that name. The idea is that the red shoes make you dance - it's based on a Hans Christian Andersen story of the same title. Kate Bush recorded a song about the same subject.
The tour to support this album was called the "Serious Moonlight Tour," named after a line in this song: "Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight."
Originally slated just for Europe, the tour was so successful that it was expanded to North America, Asia and Australia, often in large stadiums.
Smashing Pumpkins covered this song in 1998 along with Joy Division's "Transmission" during a 25-minute live jam.
Suggestion credit: SJ - Skalj, Denmark
Nile Rodgers said of this song in the 2013 film Davie Bowie: 5 Years in the Making of an Icon: "'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.'"
Gnarls Barkley are digitally inserted into this video during their own video for "Smiley Faces."
Nile Rodgers recalled to The Guardian May 18, 2012: "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."
Speaking with the Daily Telegraph July 30, 2013, Nile Rodgers recalled Bowie unveiling this song to him. "He says, 'Nile, darling, I think this is a hit,' and he proceeds to play what sounds like a folk song to me, with a twelve-string guitar," recalled the producer. Unable to tell Bowie that what he was playing was not dance music, Rodgers wrote an entire arrangement, taking it in "a funky direction." Said Rodgers: "I was like the Terminator, I was unstoppable, I just wanted to make hits with David."
Bowie's brief cameo in the Ben Stiller film Zoolander is accompanied by this song.
Peter Lawless was the location finder for the music video. He was also the location finder/manager for the Matrix films, which were also filmed in Australia.
Suggestion credit: Hunter - Sydney, Australia
The song stands out from Stevie Ray Vaughan's usual blues-rock territory. Nile Rodgers said in a 2018 AMA Reddit he wishes there was cellphones back when they recorded "Let's Dance" so he "could have captured the look on Stevie's face when he first heard the track."
Rodgers added: "He knew it was so important that the first thing he played was one single note - a Bb - to stay out of the way of the groove. He then ripped as he got more comfortable with the band and everyone in the room. We became lifelong friends and I produced The Vaughan Brothers and gave the eulogy at his funeral."
Craig David's 2007 UK Top 10 hit "Hot Stuff" extensively samples this song.
Bruce from San Jose, Calif.Bowie's tired-sounding, dry voice in this song adds a tinge of world-wearyness to the song's story...when I was younger and singing it, I could not quite imitate that timbre of his voice....now decades later and being more world-wise, my voice can sing it like Bowie did...
Josh from Champaign, IlJust read that Carinda is in trouble due to an extensive drought there. Mr. Bowie is involved in an attempt to bring in more tourism to save it!
Bruce from San Jose, Ca"Dance the Blues..." I never knew one COULD dance to Blues Music....but with the intoxicating rhythm and beat of this song, I'm sure I could if I tried.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxI always wondered if this was a dig at a certain classic. Picture Elvis or Carl Perkins putting on their blue suede shoes and dancing the reds.
Ozzie Outback from Bangkok, ThailandRory in Sydney. The pub featured in the video 'Lets Dance' was the Carinda pub in NSW. I know, I spent a bit of time there when I was a young chap. ;-)
Jema from South Portland, MeI really love the intro to this song.I replay it a bunch before I listen to the whole song.This is totally random but my little sister has sparkly red shoes and it seems that whenever she wears them she's also wearing a blue shirt.I always think of the line "Put on your red shoes and dance the blues".
Britt from Boston, MaAwhhhhhh, Awhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Awhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, AWHHHHHHHHH.
I don't like how Bowie copied the Isley Brothers/The Beatles with the progressing 'Awh, Awhh, Awhhhh' part. It just reminds me of Twist and Shout too much. You know?
Emma from Adelaide, Australiaim from australia and i could tell straight away that it had been filmed here. there are still places like that, oddly enough for a city slicker like myself
Rory from Sydney, Australiadoes anyone know where abouts in australia that pub where everyone dancing is in. i want to go on a pilgrimage their to me it looks a bit like maralinga
Dan from Sandiego, Cawhen stevie ray played guitar on this song he still had a day job as a truck driver that seamed surprising to me being on a hit album and all
Hanny from Roden, NetherlandsYes,Andreas,I think you are right about that.Especially at the end of the video,you can see a part of the Sydney skyline with the Operahouse in the background.And a few aboriginals were playing in the video.The young couple is dreaming about a better life when the girl is putting on the red shoes.They then see what could happen and they accept their lives how they are.While crushing the red shoes and walking away from the city. It may not be the song that David Bowie likes best,but I think that even these lyrics are close to perfect.But that is my opinion!
Matthew from Milford, MaThis song is used for Mission #13 in Elite Beat Agents.
Matthew from Milford, Ma"Tremble like a flower"? Does that mean dying in his arms?
Andreas from Melbourne, Australiathe songs music video was filmed in australia yer?
Nathan from BrugesDavid Bowie probably had this in mind: KISS: 'keep it simple suckers'. He did, but what a song!
Rabalac from Kingston, OtherThis song was also sampled by Diddy for Been Around The World with Notorious B.I.G. & Ma$e.
Clovis from Ft. Wayne, Ingotta sing this for fantacular, gunna have to practice. I love ?David Bowies voice!
Rus from Noble, OkWhile Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar on this song, he didn't get credit for it in the liner notes. It seems that shortly after recording this song, Bowie and Vaughan had a falling-out centered around Vaughan's girlfriend. If you pay attention to the video, Bowie pantomimes playing the solo at the end of the song. Goofball ;)
John from Newcatle, EnglandCan't quite work out if i love this song, or if i hate it
Leya Qwest from Anchorage, AkThis blue-eyed rock and soul tune was David's comeback single after nothingness on the music scene since his Scary Monsters album in 1980. It was Memorial Day weekend 1983 at the US (us, not U.S.) Festival, Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino California, and The Thin White Duke was decked out in a gold suit with yellow hair as the artist chosen to climax the EPCOT of music concerts that to this day still holds the Guiness World Book of Records as "Largest Rock Festival Attendance" with a record crowd for all four days of 670,000 fans. I was one of 'em and, man, I gotta tell ya ZIGGY ROCKED. He did Modern Love and China Girl, but when he performed LD everybody in the crowd and I mean everybody went completely nuts. I'll never forget it! Then his Serious Moonlight Tour took off and he was paid a million bucks for one of the appearances, an incredible feat back in the day by a solo artist. After this hit, David practically owned the airwaves of MTV for months with videos from the slick, stylish post-disco dance sound album.