In the studio

The backing tracks for Let’s Dance were recorded in the first three weeks of December 1982, at New York’s Power Station Studios.

I treated making the Let’s Dance album as if we were making a black record, cutting it in those same eight-hour shifts. We didn’t have the budget to stay in the studio all night, just in and out, especially since David was paying for the album himself. He did not have a record deal yet. His deal with RCA had been fulfilled and he wanted to have new music before he committed to a new label. I therefore wanted to make it as cost effective as possible. I actually don’t believe he ever thought we were cutting the actual album. I really don’t believe that.
Nile Rodgers, June 2017
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book

The sessions stuck to a rigid 10.30am to 6pm schedule. The first song recorded for the album was the title track.

If you take ‘Let’s Dance’, the thing that gave it that depth and perspective was David’s interpretation of it. Having the synth bass with the Fender bass, David threw in little elements like that and gave it that edge and excitement that I probably wouldn’t have thought of. On a song such as Chic’s ‘Good Times’ the most important part was the breakdown, when the instruments are taken out just leaving the bass, and then the piano, then the Fender Rhodes, then the guitar, then the solo, then the backing singers and finally back to the song. Whenever the band would go to the breakdown the audience would scream. We used the same tactic for the 12-inch version of ‘Let’s Dance’.
Nile Rodgers
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Despite Bowie’s hiatus from music since 1980s’s Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, Let’s Dance contained just five new compositions. There were, additionally, reworkings of ‘China Girl’ and ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’, which Bowie had previously recorded with Iggy Pop and Giorgio Moroder respectively. There was also a cover version of ‘Criminal World’ by the band Metro, originally released in 1977.

With the backing tracks completed before the break for Christmas, more instruments and vocals were overdubbed in January 1983. The additional instruments included Vaughan’s lead guitar work, which was performed on an old Fender Stratocaster plugged into a Fender amplifier.

On 6 January the songs ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ and ‘Ricochet’ were worked on. ‘Ricochet’ was recorded with the working title ‘Shame Shame (It’s Not The End Of The World)’, and originally had more of an Afrobeat sound. After completing the percussion for the backing track, Rodgers arranged the song for trumpet, flugelhorn, and tenor and baritone saxophones.

Vaughan’s lead guitar on ‘Let’s Dance’ was recorded on 9 January, along with the horn arrangement overdubs.

When the quality of the music is so good, you get to feel all of the love that was in that room. You get to feel these relationships growing through the music. When I listen to it, I think of Stevie Ray Vaughan showing up from Texas and walking into a room full of people he hadn’t met before – remember he was pretty much a complete unknown up to the day the album was released. There was so much love, awe and wonder. After Let’s Dance the entire world knew who he was and his wonderful career as an artist was able to flourish…

One of the greatest moments in my rock and roll history is the look on Stevie’s face when he heard the groove and guitars of ‘Let’s Dance’. He was like, ‘What the hell and I gonna play? This is perfect!’ Having said that I love the contrast between my guitars and his and when you hear his first solo on ‘Let’s Dance’, it’s just one note. It’s the most perfect B flat I’ve ever heard in my life!

Nile Rodgers, June 2017
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book

On previous albums, Bowie had taken a break to write melodies and lyrics, overdubbing the vocals some time after the backing tracks were recorded. On Let’s Dance he worked far more quickly, laying down all his vocal parts in just two days.

David did the lead vocals for ‘Criminal World’, ‘Modern Love’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Shake It’, all those vocals in one day. And we got most of the instrumental solos done in a day too… In the end, we had the entire album mixed and delivered in 17 days.
Nile Rodgers, June 2017
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book