‘Let’s Dance’ was released as a single on 14 March 1983, precisely one month before the album of the same name.
The song was a huge international hit, topping the charts in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was also a top five hit in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and South Africa.
‘Let’s Dance’ gave Bowie a much-needed hit in the US. It was his second and final single to reach number one, following ‘Fame’ in 1975.
Despite its success, the song was not Bowie’s initial choice for release as a single.
The truth is, I told Nile, ‘Why on earth you think that’s a single, I have no idea.’ I had serious doubts – I wanted ‘China Girl’ to be the first single. But he said to me, ‘No, you’re wrong. ‘Let’s Dance’ is the one.’ And he was absolutely right.
Blender, August 2002
‘Let’s Dance’ remains Bowie’s second-best-selling single, after ‘Space Oddity’. Its success propelled Bowie into pop’s 1980s premier league, beginning a period of huge commercial sales, stadium tours, and diminishing artistic returns.
In 2015 a live performance of ‘Let’s Dance’, first released on the Serious Moonlight video, was the b-side of a limited edition single available at the David Bowie Is exhibition in Melbourne, Australia.
For Record Store Day 2018 four Bowie vinyl releases were issued: Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78); a reissue of the US promo compilation Bowie Now; Bowie’s debut LP for Deram on coloured vinyl; and a 12″ single containing the ‘Let’s Dance’ demo.
A promotional video for ‘Let’s Dance’ was shot in February 1983, directed by David Mallet.
It was filmed on location in Australia; the key locations were the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, the tiny village of Carinda in New South Wales, and city scenes around Sydney.
The shots of Bowie performing in a bar were filmed at the Carinda Hotel bar, and some of the featured bemused local drinkers.
It was so alien for both sides, Bowie and the locals. They didn’t believe who he was. It was so off the wall. It was kind of weird.
Starring alongside Bowie in the video were Terry Roberts and Joelene King, students from Sydney’s Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre.
Bowie had first visited Australia on tour in 1978, and whenever his schedule allowed he took a detour into the outback to explore the rugged terrain and untouched beauty. He also became aware of the plight of the indigenous Aboriginal population.
The video for ‘Let’s Dance’ was put on heavy rotation by MTV. Intended as a commentary on genocide, racism, and the encroachment of capitalism, it was the first of several Bowie videos to portray a social conscience.
As much as I love this country, it’s probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa. I mean, in the north, there’s unbelievable intolerance. The Aborigines can’t even buy their drinks in the same bars – they have to go round the back and get them through what’s called a ‘dog hatch.’ And then they’re forbidden from drinking them on the same side of the street as the bar; they have to go to the other side of the road.
It occurred to me that one doesn’t have much time on the planet, you know? And that I could do something more useful in terms of… I know this is very cliché, but I feel that now that I’m thirty-six years old, and I’ve got a certain position, I want to start utilizing that position to the benefit of my… brotherhood and sisterhood. I’ve found it’s very easy to be successful in other terms, but I think you can’t keep on being an artist without actually saying anything more than, ‘Well, this is an interesting way of looking at things.’
There is also a right way of looking at things: there’s a lot of injustice. So let’s, you know, say something about it. However naff it comes off.
Rolling Stone, 12 May 1983