On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
David Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983)
We’re back in the UK today dear reader and find ourselves in London once more. David Bowie has made two prior appearances on our list, one as a solo artist and the other in collaboration with Queen. It’s been a busy time for Bowie, emerging in the late 1960s, becoming a big star in the 1970s before the less commercial but critically acclaimed Berlin trilogy that rounded out that decade. Into the 1980s Bowie has topped the UK charts with Ashes to Ashes but now in 1983 he is about to hit his commercial peak with his 15th album, Let’s Dance, from which 1001 Songs have gone with the title track.
Let’s Dance sees Bowie singing to a lover, beseeching her to dance with him but the song sounds far from upbeat. The narrator calls on his partner to dance the “blues” and they move beyond the crowds to find an “empty space.” In the chorus Bowie sings of the couple running away together and hiding and that his love for her is overwhelming every facet of his being. In the second verse the dancing couple seem to be embracing the moment for this could be their last night to do so. This sounds pretty ominous actually. We’re never clear what danger they may be in though. The music video helped give the song even more traction. Filmed in Australia it depicted an Aboriginal couple who find a pair of red shoes in the Outback and she begins to dance upon wearing them. They find themselves in a bar where Bowie is playing guitar and singing and the locals are far from friendly. Sadly, many elements here were genuine with the locals not being actors, not knowing who Bowie was or why he was there and they did not take kindly to an Aboriginal couple in their town. The video sees the young couple lured to the city where capitalist society and materialism threaten to overwhelm their spirits until they see the same red shoes for sale and remember their roots. They cast aside the red shoes and the city and return to their home in the Australian desert.
A personal favourite from the Bowie catalogue, Let’s Dance showcased his ability to adapt to new musical styles and transform his image once again. This would be something the likes of Madonna and Lady Gaga would also do when their careers took shape. Let’s Dance would top the charts in the UK and the US but the rest of the 1980s proved to be tough for Bowie. The albums that followed were geared towards maintaining his new found audience and success but did not fare well, even by Bowie’s own admission. His memorable turn in Labyrinth as Jareth the Goblin King remains a cult favourite but at the time did not lead to a box office hit which is a great shame. By the end of the decade Bowie had formed a band named Tin Machine to reboot himself creatively. By the time of his death in 2016 at the age of 69 Bowie had regained his status as one of the great music legends and his legacy looks set to remain strong for all time.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)