Nile Rodgers Says David Bowie Changed His Life: “No One Would Work With Me Because Of ‘Disco Sucks’”

Robbie Daw | January 12, 2016 10:36 am
Editorial: Farewell To David Bowie
Our take on the loss of pop and rock's one-of-a-kind, unrivaled chameleon.

Several generations know “Let’s Dance” as a pop music staple. In fact, it’s one of three David Bowie songs currently in the iTunes Top 10, following the iconic musician’s death at age 69 after a battle with cancer. And in a heartfelt remembrance posted on Yahoo, producer and Chic founder Nile Rodgers explains how working with Bowie on 1983’s Let’s Dance album changed his life, once disco had faded from popularity once that decade started.

“…at the time in my life that I was persona non grata, when no one would work with me because of ‘Disco Sucks’, this guy, who was considered one of the great, innovative rockers, picked a disco guy, who nobody wanted to work with, to collaborate with, and we wound up making the biggest record of his career, Let’s Dance,” Rodgers says.

The pair initially met in New York City at after-hours club Continental, where, famously, Bowie “was sitting all by himself, drinking a glass of orange juice,” Rodgers says. They bonded over a shared love of jazz that night, and agreed to work on what Bowie hoped would be a “commercial” album.

“That’s why I would call him the Picasso of Rock ’N’ Roll: Because for him, making a commercial record was almost like an art project,” Rodgers explains. “It wasn’t to get it to sell millions; it was almost like he wanted to make a commercial record just so he could feel what it felt like to do that.”

Let’s Dance was ultimately responsible for giving MTV three of its most memorable visuals of the early ’80s — and the world of music a trio of classics:  “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love.”

“That record, the amount of units we sold, was staggering. I’ve listened to him talk about it, and it really was uncomfortable for him, because it put him in a world that even he had never experienced before,” Rodgers says. “And I get it. You go from being a very eclectic, avant garde artist that people had tons of respect for, where you’re speaking to people on a higher level and… I don’t mean to sound elitist, but the appreciation of David Bowie’s music prior to Let’s Dance presupposes a certain amount of sophistication on behalf of the listener.  He was very, very on the cutting edge.”

After Let’s Dance, Rodgers became one of the most sought-after producers of the 1980s, who recorded with a virtual Who’s Who of the decade’s pop elite.

“I produced INXS, then I did Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’, the biggest record of their career, then I did Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’,” Rodgers says. “David Bowie put me back on the right path. He changed my life.”

Incidentally, Let’s Dance wasn’t just a one-off collaboration; David Bowie and Nile Rodgers eventually reunited 10 years later to work on Bowie’s 1993 LP Black Tie White Noise.

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