Official video is embedding disabled but, again, the video is iconic.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that all the guitar work on Let’s Dance was by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Ah, doesn’t that feel good?
“China Girl” is as unlikely a hit song as one could imagine, especially in the Reagan 80′s. Its unquestionably a song about Western imperialism and yet, in the summer of ’83, it was a huge smash.
The song was composed by Bowie and Iggy Pop for Pop’s 1977 album, The Idiot, during Bowie’s Berlin Period. Pop’s version is very different:
Bowie released “China Girl” as a single at least in part to help out Iggy Pop financially. Pop received half the royalties and Bowie had an international hit.
The video featured model Geeling Ng. While it didn’t exactly make her an international household name, it did help propel her to New Zealand’s version of Dancing With The Stars.
I have this theory, but it will take a moment to explain, so bare with me.
If you’ve ever watched the Academy Awards (The Oscars, I mean), you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon which I call the Al Pacino Effect. Pacino acts in The Godfather, The Godfather 2, Dog Day Afternoon, and a dozen other classic movies. His performances are hailed as masterful, but he doesn’t get win an Oscar. Oh, he’s nominated, but somebody else always gets one. Then he chews the scenery a little in Scent of a Woman and, bam, Oscar.
Did he really win the Oscar for Scent of a Woman? Probably not. He was being rewarded for a body of work.
I think that sometimes in music, artists are rewarded with hits for their previous work. Which song by The Romantics is more familiar to you? “Talking In Your Sleep” or “What I Like About You?” “Talking In Your Sleep” was a big hit, but “What I Like About You” came first and didn’t do especially well on the charts. What was the Grateful Dead’s big hit? It wasn’t “Truckin’” or any of a dozen other songs – it was “Touch of Grey.”
I’m not saying that this happens all the the time, but by the time Let’s Dance came out, Bowie’s entire body of outstanding 70′s work had become standard rock radio fare (“Suffragette City,” anyone?) and the radio listening public – certainly in America – had started regarding him as a much bigger star than his 70′s American sales would suggest.
To put it another way, I don’t think Let’s Dance would have been nearly the hit it was if it hadn’t been preceded by 15 years of remarkable music. This, in effect, was Bowie’s financial reward for everything he had done before.
That’s my theory, anyways.
“China Girl,” for what its worth, is one of my favorite Bowie songs.