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From Madonna To Puff Daddy: How David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” Redefined Pop Music

David Bowie And Sean "Diddy" Combs In 2001
  – David Bowie And Sean "Diddy" Combs In 2001

As we continue to sort through all the posts being shared about the legendary singer David Bowie who passed away on January 10th, one of the coolest tributes to him that we found may surprise some of Bowie’s older Rock music fans. It came from Hip Hop mogul and rapper, Sean “Diddy” Combs. Combs took to his Instagram account to share a personal message about how Bowie had touched his life.

“One of the reasons why I always had The courage to change my names and reinvent myself was because of David Bowie. He lived so many different lives. And he did his way. David Bowie God bless you. Rest in peace!”

 

That message is shared with a photo of Bowie and Diddy taken in 2001 at Combs’ studio Daddy’s House In New York City. It was taken when they were busy collaborating on the song “American Dream” for soundtrack to the now acclaimed Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke film, Training Day. Diddy also famously sampled David Bowie’s 1983 hit, “Let’s Dance” for his 1997 single “Been Around The World.” While recording “American Dream”, Bowie talked about working with Combs on both that song, and “Been Around The World” in a July 2001 interview with MTV.com.

“I’m in the studio recording with Sean,” Bowie said, “We’re doing live vocals. It’s not really so much like a sampling kind of affair. The first time we did it we had a lot fun, it was kind of cool, but we might as well have phoned in our performances, because it was done 2,000, 3,000 miles apart. This time, really, it’s like a nice thing.” (Referring To the sampling of “Let’s Dance” for “Been Around The World”)

David Bowie And Sean "Diddy" Combs At Daddy's House Studios In New York City Working On The "Training Day" Soundtrack In 2001

David Bowie And Sean “Diddy” Combs At Daddy’s House Studios In New York City Working On The “Training Day” Soundtrack In 2001

English singer David Bowie with American rapper Diddy (Sean Combs) in a recording studio, circa 2001. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

English singer David Bowie with American rapper Diddy (Sean Combs) in a recording studio, circa 2001. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

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P. Diddy And The Bad Boy Family Featuring David Bowie 

“American Dream” (Explicit)

From Training Day The Soundtrack

Capitol Records

Bowie and Combs’ first collaboration, “Been Around The World” was featured on the Puff Daddy And The Family album No Way Out (July 1, 1997), which sold over seven million copies in the USA. That single itself also sold one million individual copies as well. “Been Around The World” was released as the fourth single from No Way Out and hit Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the first two weeks of 1998.

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“Been Around The World” (Explicit)

From No Way Out

Bad Boy/Arista Records

 

Bowie’s original track sampled for “Been Around The World”, “Let’s Dance” was the second and last song of Bowie’s career to reach number one in the United States. “Let’s Dance” also hit number 14 on the Hot Black singles chart (Now The Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Chart) Bowie’s album of the same name that the song was taken from was groundbreaking for many reasons for his career and Pop music in general. Selling 10.7 million copies worldwide, Let’s Dance helped introduce Bowie to a wider and younger audience than his previous one that knew his music from the 1970s. As the fifteenth studio album of his career, Bowie had just signed his then new long-term deal with EMI at the time. He had enlisted former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers to co-produce the album with him. They were determined to create an album with the perfect blend of Dance, Rock, and Pop that had the right amount of commercial appeal in the post-Disco era of the early 1980s. In a May 1983 interview with Musician Magazine Bowie described the album as having a sound of “original party-funk cum big bass drum sound greater than the sum of its influences.” The album’s influences were said to be taken from artists like Louis Jordan, the Asbury Jukes horn section, Bill Doggett, Earl Bostic and James Brown.

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David Bowie

“Let’s Dance”

From Let’s Dance

EMI

David Bowie "Let's Dance" Album Cover EMI

David Bowie “Let’s Dance” Album Cover EMI

 

David Bowie And Nile Rodgers Recording The "Let's Dance"  Album

David Bowie And Nile Rodgers Recording The “Let’s Dance” Album

David Bowie and Nile Rodgers created a sound that would help provide the framework of what can now be heard on many of today’s genre bending Rhythmic Pop radio stations. Let’s Dance was recorded in just 17 days. As a Rock artist Bowie did the unthinkable at the time and did not contribute to any of the instrumentation. He instead left many of those decisions to his collaborators like Nile Rodgers who led the way. Nile also enlisted the talents of Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar, Robert Sabino, on keyboards, Sammy Figueroa on percussion, among many others on horns, flutes and trumpets. In that previously mentioned interview with Musician Magazine, Bowie commented on this process by saying “I don’t play a damned thing. This was a singer’s album.” Instead as co-producer of the project, Bowie’s became focused on the arrangements and how the album sounded as a whole. This is a process that has become more and more common thanks to the blending of Hip Hop, R&B, and even EDM production techniques in mainstream pop today. A good example of this in today’s music is how Nile Rodgers later teamed up with Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams in 2013 for “Get Lucky” in a very similar fashion. Another example is how Taylor Swift developed a solid working relationship with Max Martin for her 1989 album and reinvented the rules of what a country singer was allowed to do, in the way Bowie did for rock musicians. The envelope continues to be pushed, as rules continue to be changed. But considering the fact that Nile Rodgers would help introduce the sound and image of someone as iconic in reinvention as Madonna only a year later, it was safe to say that Bowie was rewriting the rulebook before anyone else in his era without even knowing it. He commented on this after Puff Daddy’s success in 1997 by saying the following in an interview with Steve Pond in Live! Magazine.

“At the time, Let’s Dance was not mainstream. It was virtually a new kind of hybrid, using blues-rock guitar against a dance format. There wasn’t anything else that really quite sounded like that at the time. So it only seems commercial in hindsight because it sold so many [copies].”

Nile Rodgers produced “Like A Virgin” for Madonna only moths after the success of the single “Let’s Dance.” She recently wrote about how David Bowie changed her life on her Facebook page after hearing of his death.

“I’m devastated. David Bowie changed the course of my life forever,”she wrote . “I never felt like I fit in growing up in Michigan. Like an oddball or a freak. I went to see him in concert at Cobo Arena in Detroit. It was the first concert I’d ever been to. I snuck out of the house with my girlfriend wearing a cape. We got caught after and I was grounded for the summer. I didn’t care. I already had many of his records and was so inspired by the way he played with gender confusion. Was both masculine and feminine. Funny and serious. Clever and wise … Thank you David Bowie. I owe you a lot … The world will miss you. Love M.”

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“Like A Virgin”

From Like A Virgin

Sire/Warner Bros. Records

Madonna And David Bowie

Madonna And David Bowie

At that time however, back in 1983 at a new height of his career Bowie found himself on the cutting edge between genres, He was more than just a Rock star. As the new definition of Pop star he was entering new territory. His material began being placed on playlists that defied genre, age, or race. He soon found himself pushing the borders of traditional Pop and Rock programming, and joined other groundbreaking artists of that decade like Michael Jackson, Run DMC, and Hall And Oates in helping blur the color lines on the playlists on MTV and Urban radio.

This effort was made evident even yesterday (January 11, 2016) when MTV published a candid conversation from that year between Bowie and inaugural MTV VJ, Mark Goodman. In that conversion Bowie is seen criticizing MTV’s programing, and questioning why more black artists did not have more of presence on the channel. In the video embedded below you will see that MTV’s views on what is appropriate for a Pop/Rock viewing audience, has changed significantly thanks to artists like David Bowie. Without conversations like these all the progression of the racially integrated sounds heard in the music in the years that would follow would not have been the same.

David Bowie Discussing The Lack Of Black Musicians Played On MTV In 1983

MTV

Because the trail he was blazing was unknown to him in the 1980s, the massive Pop explosion of success that Bowie experienced came as a shock. It created a unique pressure on him, when creating the music that would follow. It eventually led to him taking a small break as a solo artist in 1989. He then reinvented himself as part of the Grunge Rock band, Tin Machine.

However despite the creative frustrations he endured at the end of the 1980s, David Bowie remained a prominent figure thanks to his willingness to continue to be bold, be himself, and try new things. Like Sean “Diddy” Combs a.k.a. Puff Daddy said in his previous statement, it was this bravery that encouraged other artists to try new things with new sounds. This is why he continues to be one of the most sampled Rock artists used in Hip Hop songs today. Bowie has also been sampled by the likes of Vanilla Ice (obviously), Jay-Z, EPMD, Ice Cube, Craig David, MC Lyte, and many others. Justin Timberlake has also sited David Bowie as a direct influence for his massive career changing hit single, “Sexyback.” As each of these artists push forward in a new time, let’s not forget it all started when David Bowie and Nile Rodgers teamed up to dare to say “Let’s Dance.”

 

David Bowie 

Let’s Dance (Full Album)

EMI