Disco pioneer Nile Rodgers helped rock’s rule-breaker land his second leader.
David Bowie was three years removed from one his most critically-lauded albums, Scary Monsters, when, in 1983, he released the most commercial LP his boundaries-breaking career.
Bowie left RCA for EMI (and a reported $17.5 million payday) and enlisted Chic producer-guitarist Nile Rodgers to add some pop polish to his next album. Rodgers had already established himself as a '70s hit-maker, crafting songs for Diana Ross, Sister Sledge and his own group, but his career was in free fall. “I had six flops in a row, after having no flops,” Rodgers told Billboard in 2016. “Then] the 'disco sucks' backlash] happened … And this guy David Bowie, who is a rock god, says … 'I believe in him.' “
“Let's Dance,” the Bowie-penned, Rodgers-produced title track to the former Thin White Duke's 15th LP, topped the Billboard Hot 100 on May 21, 1983. The single, which also features guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, became Bowie's second No. 1 on the chart. (His first was “Fame” in 1975.) The album launched two additional hits: “China Girl,” co-written and first recorded by Iggy Pop (No. 10), and “Modern Love” (No. 14).
The LP additionally led to the successful Serious Moonlight Tour, for which the then-36-year-old Bowie adopted a dapper, fashionably coiffed look that was quite different from some his previous pale, gender-bending glam personas.
Bowie died from liver cancer at age 69 on Jan. 10, 2016, two days after the release his last album, Blackstar, which became his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200. An exhibit his influence in music and fashion, “David Bowie is,” is at the Brooklyn Museum in New York through July 15.