This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #316: Let’s Dance by David Bowie.
There is a fairy tale story written by the master of the genre, Hans Christian Andersen, called, “The Red Shoes”. The essence of the story is that a humble young girl discovers a pair of red shoes laying about. She puts them on because she thinks they will make her look beautiful…and, because she has come from humble roots, she has never really owned anything fancy before. Well, the shoes fit. She feels radiant. The girl never takes the shoes off because, in her mind, they are what make her beautiful and desirable. Eventually, it comes time for her to be with God but, because she has always worn the shoes for years, they have grown into her feet and have become as one with her body and, therefore, cannot be removed. When God sees the shoes, he denies her entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven because she has placed her faith in materialism and is now, lacking the Grace which had made her beautiful in the first place.
“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie is the Tale of the Red Shoes but, updated, to make political commentary on the encroachment of Colonial powers and materialism in Australia with regard to the Indigenous population who are, forever, being pushed to the fringes of existence. In the lyrics for this song, Bowie uses the line, “Put on your red shoes and dance the Blues” to indicate how Indigenous societies are being sullied by exposure to the greed of capitalism and the ultimate emptiness of trading centuries of knowledge and peace for trinkets and baubles being offered condescendingly in return.
If you watch the video, you will see a young Indigenous girl find her version of the Red Shoes and what the reaction is when those shoes lead her into the white, colonial world. Mockery, derision and exclusion all come her way. In fact, during the filming of the bar scene, the “regulars” in the video were real customers and the scene with some of them pretending to dance along with the girl were their attempts at ridiculing her and those filming the scene. According to Bowie, they were not welcomed into that bar. So, they completed their filming as quickly as possible and went on to other locations to shoot the rest of the video. Racism is alive and well in Australia (and throughout the world, for that matter.)
“Let’s Dance” was a #1 hit for David Bowie and, along with “China Girl” and “Modern Love”, helped him enjoy a bit of a career-revival in the late 1980s. Prior to that, he had already enjoyed much success with songs such as “Ziggy Stardust”, “Space Oddity”, “The Jean Genie”, “Young Americans”, “Rebel Rebel” and scores more. Over the course of his career, Bowie has pushed the boundaries of Art and Sexuality, all the while creating original material that has stood the test of time and that remains as relevant today as it did half a century ago, when first released. David Bowie has sold in excess of 150 million albums worldwide. He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
We will hear plenty more from this man as the countdown continues but, for now, here is David Bowie, with a cautionary tale about materialism versus the purity of living a humble life, Colonialism versus Indigenous Peoples and a modern re-telling of a centuries old Fairy tale, to boot! This is “Let’s Dance”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, can be found here.
The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their official website can be found here.