To commemorate what would have been David Bowie’s 71st birthday, Parlophone has unveiled a previously unreleased gem from the vaults: the singer’s original demo for “Let’s Dance,” recorded with guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers.
As both devoted and casual fans know, “Let’s Dance,” from Bowie’s 15th studio album of the same name in 1983, marked a sea change for the enigmatic performer. Having pushed the envelope dabbling in glam, disco and alternative rock during the late ’60s and ’70s, Bowie – armed with a new, lucrative record deal on EMI – was keen on making a more upbeat, commercial album. With producer Nile Rodgers, the co-founder of disco legends CHIC, Bowie quickly carved out an album of tight pop-funk (something of a Young Americans for the MTV generation) that left considerable room to flex his vocal chops (as well as the blues guitar of up-and-comer Stevie Ray Vaughan, who’d clinch a record deal that year with his combo Double Trouble). Let’s Dance spun off three megahits: the title track, “China Girl” (a composition by Bowie and Iggy Pop first heard on Pop’s album The Idiot) and “Modern Love,” all of which reached the U.K. Top 5 and U.S. Top 20.
Rodgers has famously told interviewers and fans that Bowie first played “Let’s Dance” for him on a 12-string guitar, convinced it was a surefire hit despite the folk arrangement. This unheard demo, recorded December 20-21, 1982 at Bowie’s home in Montreux, Switzerland, is closer to the final version, featuring Rodgers’ unmistakable choppy guitar, bass from Turkish-born Erdal Kızılçay (who’d later play on Bowie’s The Buddha of Suburbia and Outside albums) and an unknown second guitarist and drummer. Bowie’s enthusiasm is clear throughout, down to his laughing declaration “That’s it!…Got it!” at the end of the track.
“This recording was the first indication of what we could do together as I took his ‘folk song’ and arranged it into something that the entire world would soon be dancing to and seemingly has not stopped dancing to for the last 35 years!” Rodgers said in a statement accompanying the release of the track. “It became the blueprint not only for Let’s Dance the song, but for the entire album as well.”
It’s unknown if this demo, newly mixed by Rodgers for this digital release, is a prelude to the next phase of anthologizing Bowie’s career. (Last year’s A New Career In a New Town box set capped what was Bowie’s original tenure with RCA Records, just before Let’s Dance was released. And none of the posthumously released album box sets really trafficked in outtake material.) But one thing’s for sure: it’s always good to hear Bowie’s voice, today and every day.