How David Bowie Scored His First-Ever Platinum Album
Heading into 1983, David Bowie hadn’t placed an album in the Top 10 since 1976’s Station to Station.
His "Berlin Trilogy" (made up of 1977’s Low and Heroes and 1979’s Lodger) and 1980’s Scary Monsters were critical hits, but they didn’t sell all that well. With his artsy experimental records behind him, Bowie once again got serious about his commercial career, tapping Nile Rodgers – the mastermind behind the bestselling disco group Chic – to co-produce Let’s Dance.
It was an immediate hit, thanks in part to MTV, which launched just two years earlier. Bowie was a no-brainer for the nascent network; as a visually-minded artist, he adopted videos as another forum for his music back in the late ‘70s. MTV’s constant airing of videos for the title tune and the Iggy Pop co-write "China Girl" helped Let’s Dance become a huge commercial success.
It also didn’t hurt that Bowie had made his most mainstream-leaning music in years. Rodgers applied a super-glossy sheen to dance-pop songs like "Modern Love," "China Girl," "Let’s Dance" and "Without You" that made them radio-ready. The hot band – including members of Chic as well as guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was still relatively unknown at the time – glided through the songs with slick professionalism.
Issued on April 14, 1983, Let’s Dance reached No. 4, becoming Bowie’s first-ever platinum-selling album. It spawned four singles, including two Top 10 hits. The title tune became Bowie’s second No. 1 ("Fame" reached the top in 1975), and Bowie set out on one of his biggest tours in support of the album.
But then he crashed, following up the record with the dismal Tonight a year later. Subsequent records – including 1987’s Never Let Me Down, Bowie’s final album of the ‘80s – came off tired and bored. Sales reflected this. It would be another 30 years, with the release of 2013's The Next Day, before Bowie again found the creative and commercial spark that ignited Let’s Dance.