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Bowie Cover of the Week: Joss Stone and friends perform “Let’s Dance”

This was yet another good week for Bowie covers. There were several well-performed renditions of lesser-known songs, often featuring some sort of innovation. Nonetheless I feel almost compelled to pick this video of Joss Stone and a cast of thousands (well, not literally thousands) including Nile Rodgers performing “Let’s Dance.” Why? Because the performance has a big quality about it, like it demands attention.

Big. This is big because Joss Stone is big. It’s big because there are so many other artists joining her. It has the quality of a concert’s concluding performance— I don’t know if that’s the case, but it feels like the culmination of something. It’s big because it’s “Let’s Dance,” one of Bowie’s biggest hits was from a time where he was at his bigliest. Bigger is not necessarily better. “Let’s Dance” is not Bowie’s best song, and 1983 was not his best year. But it can’t be ignored. I think this performance is hard to ignore.

What is the point of “cover of the week?” It boils down to highlighting how Bowie’s music lives on and is given new life by artists big and small. I tend to gravitate toward videos created by lesser-known artists, especially those who put care into both their musical performance and the video itself. I also favor lesser-known songs, or at least songs that are less frequently covered, but the full spectrum of Bowie’s enduring influence includes the big name artists covering his greatest hits at big concerts. That’s the case here. And, by the way, I like the performance. I am not one who thinks “Let’s Dance” is a bad song, or that 1983 was a low point for Bowie. Perhaps surprisingly for those who might only know of Bowie from his Let’s Dance era output, some fans still think that he sold out. From the vantage point of more than 40 subsequent years, though, “Let’s Dance,” the song and album, should be viewed in the context of Bowie’s entire output. With the sequence of events fading further and further into the past, Lets Dance now exists alongside Ziggy, Low and Blackstar, not before or after anything else. Nobody today is waiting three years for another Scary Monsters, as fans waited between 1980 and 1983 for whatever Bowie was up to next. Today, the average age of an American is 38– which is to say that most Americans are younger than Let’s Dance. Forever, for more and more people, the album and songs will have always existed. Out of sequence, they stand on their own, and I think that’s the best way to appreciate them. On their own, the album and song sound good. Like most good Bowie songs, “Let’s Dance” contains mysteries to unravel, some of which I’ve discussed before and some of which I’ll address in the future. But for the moment, just enjoy this cover.

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So what were some of the other good covers this week? Click on their bolded titles to link to their YouTube posts:

Come Buy My Toys. Instrumentals cover of an obscure song from Bowie’s first album by Six String Steve. This was my second choice for “cover of the week,” because, by highlighting the music itself and stripping it down to a piece for a single guitar, the performer takes one of Bowie’s truly lesser works and shows that it can be made to be quite pretty.

I Can’t Read by loveheart34. I really like this cover, too, which, much like the above, elevates a somewhat lesser song. In this case, the performance highlights the nuances of the lyrics, which were lost on me for years in the context of the song’s placement on the first Tin Machine album amidst several preachy issue songs.

This is Not America. Mostly instrumental cover by Mike Neer.

Sons of the Silent Age by Eden Bloom.

And believe it or not, there were even more good covers this week. Hopefully next week will give me as many options.

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