To ignore race when discussing music is to ignore the very origins of the art form itself. We won't lecture about tribal music in Africa, the oral tradition of communal song across Europe and Latin America, or the origin of rhythm and blues in the spirituals of the American South, but it's impossible to overlook the fact that, in 2006, dance music is a force to be reckoned with everywhere around the world except the United States. Hip-hop—bless its formerly repressed, underdog heart—rules the U.S. charts to the point where a dance single cracking the Top 10 is considered a huge accomplishment. What constitutes a “club” song today is vastly different from a decade ago. In 1996, Everything But the Girl and La Bouche were climbing the pop charts; in the 21st century, we've got, at worst, Fat Joe's 2004 hit “Lean Back,” a song about not dancing, and, at best, Pussycat Dolls' more-hip-hop-than-dance “Don't Cha.” Dance music (that is, dance-pop and house, the two most popular post-disco offshoots) has been ironically ghettoized, pushed back underground and relegated to discotheques and niche radio stations that are increasingly adding urban artists to their playlists. Of course, America's ethnic diversity is a primary factor, so it's no surprise that the crossover-R&B club banger would become the new dance-pop. Hip-hop can be traced directly back to '70s funk and disco and the origins of dance music are firmly rooted in black music—a circle that's impossible to dismiss. Rather than lament the apparent slow death of dance as we know it, we've decided to celebrate one of the most varied, perpetually evolving genres in music today…in anticipation of its next great leap. If you're unfamiliar with any of the songs on our list, we suggest you get yourself to a music shop or online downloading service and stock up your vinyl bag or iPod ASAP.
Listen to the entire list at here.
Sven Väth, “My Name Is Barbarella” (1992)
Deep Dish's boomy, velveteen remix of “Barbarella” is a sincere form of flattening; it's hot-to-trot but strips Sven Väth's “My Name Is Barbarella” of its multifarious, galaxy-bouncing textures. If Dubfire and Sharam's mix doesn't rise above the dance floor at Roxy, Väth's original trance anthem—a rich tapestry of synths, drums, deep bass and angelic flights of fancy at once heavenly and wicked—takes us considerably higher. Guided by dialogue samples from Roger Vadim's camp-trash classic Barbarella, the track is so rich you don't need the psychedelic drugs to vicariously experience the thrill of Jane Fonda's 1968 space odyssey. Call it music for Care Bears. Ed Gonzalez
Moby, “Everytime You Touch Me” (1995)
Phillip Lopate once noted that “Fellow [Mikio] Naruseans do not fall into each other's arms but are testy, as though irritated at meeting another keeper of the flame.” If you, like me, were all of 18 and a Moby fan some 10 years ago, you might have felt the same about the little bald bugger. Five years later, though, there was no way of pretending Moby's music was mine—and mine alone—given the throngs of moms, businessmen, frat boys and drunk girls giddily throwing their hands in the air at a Play concert in New York City. It may have been the day I lost my soul to the hipster devil Armond White lobs holy water at on a weekly basis, because in that moment I became too cool to listen to someone who'd carelessly license their music the way Moby did after trumpeting an anti-establishment song for so many years. But let's be fair here. If you were able to get past the didactic sleeve notes and song titles, Moby was making some really great music before the glossy commercial formulas of 18 and Hotel. I could never hang out with the guy—he's a fucking vegan, for God's sake!—but for giving us the humane, spiritual exaltation of Everything Is Wrong and Play, the Little Idiot is still pretty fly for a white guy. Any number of songs could have made this list (“Feeling So Real,” “Machete,” or even the Rollo & Sister Bliss remix of his Mission of Buhrma cover “That's When I Reach For My Revolver”) but “Everytime You Touch Me” seems the most definitive given that it mashes together every Moby pretense (the conservationist concerns, girly vocals, black fetish) into one song with effortless aplomb. Moby is singing about the planet, but “Everytime You Touch Me” is no “Earth Song” (for that, check out the tree-hugging hysteria of “The Blue Light of the Underwater Sun”). It's a love song first, and it's been compiled with the manic energy of someone whose heart clearly beats for their work—godless hipsters be damned! Gonzalez
Mariah Carey, “Dreamlover (Def Club Mix)” (1993)
A musical carbon copy of the Emotions's “Blind Alley” (Hammond organ and all), 1993's “Dreamlover” is one of Mariah's most enduring uptempo numbers. The basic musical concept of the song remains the same on the popular Def Club Mix, but Mariah's vocals are completely rerecorded to fit the essence of David Morales's house track, effectively creating an entirely new song in its own right. The chorus, once bouncy and girlish, is restrained and sexy, with Mariah exuding a come-hitherness that wouldn't fully be revealed on her albums until several years later. It's almost as if, in the dark, private confines of Morales's studio (and in the name of the down-and-dirty club scene), Mariah was given license to be who she wanted to be by a record label set on maintaining the status of their crossover chart princess. In other words, let Mariah do what she wants as long as it stays on the remix—this practice became even more prevalent once Mariah set her sights on hip-hop. Morales's deep bass, beats and spliced-up vocals are patently a product of early-'90s house, but the ambitious arrangement was just a preview of his forthcoming remixes with Mariah, including his epic, multi-part dance floor suite for “Fantasy,” which harks back to the days of Moroder and Bellotte. Though it's not exactly the influence-wielding track many claim it to be, “Dreamlover” was certainly one of the first massively reconstructed remixes of its kind to cross over in such a big way. It's also a testament to Mariah's commitment to club music and respect for the remix process. Sal Cinquemani
Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell” (1979)
The epitome of the one-hit wonder (a term that has become almost synonymous with “disco artist”), Anita Ward made her mark in popular music with the 1979 hit “Ring My Bell.” Sporting one of the first uses of synthesized percussion on a popular record since Donna Summer's “I Feel Love” and a smattering of electronic flourishes, the track is a cutesy, borderline-novelty tune that manages to withstand the battering of time thanks to Ward's coy vocal performance and R&B producer-songwriter Frederick Knight's lyrical composition about the perks of domesticity. Cinquemani
Metro Area, “Miura” (2001)
Metro Area's foot-thumper “Miura” is nothing if not all-inclusive, ladling economical spoonfuls of tribal beats, Latin drums and funk grooves across what may be the hottest eight-minute bassline in the world. It was released in 2001, when all eyes were on Moroder for dance revivalism. Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, instead, chose to infuse their techno sensibility with disco strings and boogie keyboards, providing a much-needed alternative to electroclash. Others tried to convince us that what they were doing was new (even if “new” meant “injected with irony”), but the sound-for-sound's-sake craftsmanship on this and virtually every other Metro Area offering bespoke a love for its source material so profound that it wasn't afraid to make its throwback nature blatant. Rich Juzwiak