Let’s go to the zoo: David Bowie’s Sydney story as Let’s Dance turns 35

On David Bowie’s 69th birthday two years ago we visited Taronga Zoo Sydney. Being a 69’er who was born on the day Bowie finished recording his signature song, the debut hit that was Space Oddity – coupled with a brand new album, Blackstar, dropping that day – it somehow seemed appropriate to make a bit of a fuss.

Me? I’d arrived in Australia two years previously, but was only now finally able to witness that wonderful cityscape from the giraffe enclosure that was so indelibly featured in the promo video for Bowie’s other signature song, 1983’s Let’s Dance. The rocks to the right of the pen are the very same ones Terry and Joelene, the aboriginal couple of the story, clambered up for a better view, though sadly they’re not open to the public.

Bringing things in a nice circular key way, today would have been Bowie’s 71st. To mark the occasion, his estate have made available a fascinating sleek and Chic-sounding demo version of Let’s Dance for the very first time. It’s like a skeletal Backfired (by Blondie‘s Debbie Harry, which disco supremo Nile Rodgers had also helmed and played his trademark clipped funk guitar on the previous year) but stripped back and, yes, less in your face.

Recorded at Queen‘s Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland in late 1982 by a makeshift band including Turkish-born multi instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay on bass and an unidentified local guitarist and drummer (though quite possibly Erdal as well), the fledgling “pre-production” track has been mixed and mastered for the first time for this release by Rodgers and Russell Graham. Indeed, in 2017 Nile, as producer of the Let’s Dance album, was given access to the multi-track recordings for both the Montreux and New York recording sessions, so it will be interesting to see what else he’s able to pull out of the remastering bag for the Parlophone label’s expected 35th anniversary deluxe edition of the chart-topping set this April.

As I’m currently located in Elizabeth Bay I found myself listening to the track across the road from Kincoppal, the Mirvac-built Australian pad David bought in 1982, just before the recording was made. What a wonderful part of the planet. It’s a funny old world, and a criminal one without you in it, cobber.

Steve Pafford, Sydney