David Bowie called R&B and soul "the bedrock of all popular music," and he returned to their incarnations again and again, from his second single, a 1965 cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's No. 1 R&B hit "I Pity the Fool" to the Kendrick Lamar records he listened to while recording Blackstar half a century later. His early-1972 performances with The Spiders From Mars included a medley of James Brown's "Hot Pants" -- then less than a year old -- and "You Got to Have a Job." He called out MTV in 1983 for "the fact that there are so few black artists featured on it." And he was ahead of the rock'n'roll curve in flirting with disco: "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)," released in 1979, actually had been recorded five years earlier.
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Bowie's collaboration with one of disco's masterminds, Chic's Nile Rodgers, on 1983's "Let's Dance" gave him the first of his half-dozen top 10 dance hits and resuscitated Rodgers' flagging career: "He rescued me," Rodgers tells Billboard. " 'Disco sucks' happened. I'm persona non grata. And this guy David Bowie, who is a rock god, says, 'Not only do I want to take a chance with him, I believe in him.' "Bowie and Rodgers reunited in 1993 for Black Tie White Noise, whose title track was a duet with new jack swing star Al B. Sure. By 1997, Bowie was incorporating drum'n'bass rhythms into his Earthling album and playing the dance tent at England's Phoenix Festival. He even appeared on the Hot Rap Songs chart with "Fame '90," a remix featuring Queen Latifah.