David Bowie By the Threes: A 50-Year Retrospective, Part 1

1983: Bowie's Return to Pop

After the magnanimous success of the early '70s, Bowie had cracked up. He couldn't handle the pressures of fame and the intense drug addiction he had developed. By the late '70s, he had retreated to decidedly experimental records which had little in the way of pop hits on them and had gone to live in Berlin in an attempt to maintain a low profile and kick his drug habits.

But by 1983, Bowie was ready to make a comeback. Having reinvented himself before as a tortured artists lost in the pursuit of a higher sound, Bowie now reinvented himself again as a slick, renewed pop star of the 1980s.

For his next work, Bowie recruited an incredible band, including producer Nile Rodgers, guitarist Earl Slick (who plays with him to this day), and an unknown master blues guitarist from Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughan. With his new band in tow, Bowie integrated synthesizers, disco beats, and a distinct flavor of 1950s bubblegum pop to create a mix of the pop and rock of his youth with new wave and disco sensibilities.

Of course, the album, Let's Dance, blew up and contained three of Bowie's biggest hits: "Modern Love," a re-recording of "China Girl" which Bowie had previously done with Iggy Pop in a much different style, and the title track.

With that, Bowie was off into the stars again as a major force to be reckoned with in the pop world. The album and its subsequent high grossing, massive production Serious Moonlight tour, set the tone for Bowie's 1980s, moving away from his experimental tendencies into pure pop and embracing stardom.

For the first time, Bowie even seemed to be enjoying his fame. Freed from the more intense throes of his addictions, Bowie was able to act in films, record pop music, get chased by the paparazzi, and record silly songs with Mick Jagger without the feeling of hollowness he had once had. Bowie was on top and loving it.

While few would argue the '80s were Bowie's best period musically, there's plenty to love about Let's Dance and his live performances were absolutely magnificent.

Let's Dance also contained re-releases of two other Bowie hits: "Under Pressure" with Queen (in the CD reissue) and his minor soundtrack hit "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)," which managed to garner a lot of new fans after it appeared in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds in 2009.

Tomorrow: 1993, 2003... and future Bowie?

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I like this, but man you glossed over his Berlin period?


@idylwino Admittedly, I may not have given it its fair shake, but I was trying to focus on the specific years while giving only as much preamble to them as absolutely necessary to explain why and how Bowie was where he was in the third year of each decade. In terms of 1983, the Berlin period's influence was reflected very little on Let's Dance. It was something that took place after 1973 and was decidedly over by 1983, so it didn't fit into the parameters of this article's intentions. Besides, whole articles can and have been written specifically focusing on that period as a separate entity from the greater sum of Bowie's career. I almost feel like it deserves a lot more than even two or three paragraphs here. It deserves its own full, deep examination. So maybe in the future? But here, it was not entirely appropriate, which is unfortunate because I could talk about those albums all day.

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