Monday, August 17, 2020

Musical Monday - Let's Dance by David Bowie

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: The week of May 21, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of May 21, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: April 9, 1983 to April 23, 1983.

Let's Dance became the number one song on the U.K. chart the same day that I turned fourteen. I was living in Nigeria, I had my first real girlfriend (Sandy, if you are out there reading this, I still remember that year fondly), and I knew I was there on borrowed time as I would have to leave the next year for boarding school because the American International School only went through the ninth grade.

I've said that one of the things that propelled Michael Jackson to the forefront of pop culture in the early 1980s was his music videos, but the reality is that pretty much every musician who remained successful through the decade jumped into the music video arena with gusto. Those that didn't found themselves consigned to being cultural afterthoughts.

David Bowie, noted rock chameleon, jumped headlong into the music video world, and Let's Dance is an example of this. The song itself is decent, but really there's not much to it. It has a memorable hook, a good bass line, and lyrics that are pretty banal. There's nothing really special about the song itself that makes it stand out from other hit pop songs. It seems odd to say about a song that reached the top spot on the Billboard, Cash Box, and U/K. Charts, but Let's Dance is pretty mediocre.

What made Let's Dance memorable was the music video, featuring two Australian aboriginal teenagers who show up in a collection of circumstances pitting them and their traditional way of life against the encroachment of white Australian culture and society. They dance at a bar while white patrons make fun of them They find red shoes in the wilderness and are suddenly able to dance. They end up working jobs in civilized society - he in a factory and she as a cleaning lady. They get sucked in by western capitalism and the culture of consumption before rejecting it and walking off into the outback.

The only trouble with the video is that it makes the viewer think the song is saying something more significant than it is. Highlighting the fact that Australian aborigines are not treated well by Australian society is notable, as are the elements of the video that critique the exploitative nature of the capitalist consumerist society that they live adjacent to, but there's not all that much in the song itself that connects to these themes. The video wants to be socially significant, but the song simply is not, and as a result, it simply isn't as powerful a statement as it thinks it is. In fact, it comes off as somewhat pretentious, which is a shame, but there's not really anything that can be done about that.

Previous Musical Monday: Beat It by Michael Jackson
Subsequent Musical Monday: Mr. Roboto by Styx

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Beat It by Michael Jackson
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Flashdance . . . What a Feeling by Irene Cara

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Beat It by Michael Jackson
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Flashdance . . . What a Feeling by Irene Cara

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: True by Spandau Ballet

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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