The 100 Greatest Dance Songs


Inner City, “Good Life” (1989)

Before techno was “techno” (thanks to Juan Atkins's sci-fi theorizing and subsequent dubbing), it was known as Detroit house, and before house was house, it was disco. But if distinctions were made to be blurred, consider Kevin Saunderson a supreme smear on the dance music landscape. 1988's “Good Life” clanked like techno, pumped like house and featured disco diva vocals from his partner in Inner City, Paris Grey. “Let me take you to a place you know you wanna go/It's a good life,” she belts, creating the clearest picture of dance floor halcyon since Chic sang about 54 and its roller skates, roller skates. The good times emanating from the track landed it on Top 40 stations around the country, giving all involved a tangible taste of the real live good life. Juzwiak


Shannon, “Let the Music Play” (1983)

Alongside Madonna's “Holiday,” D.C.-born Jazz vocalist Brenda Shannon Greene's “Let the Music Play” helped redefine dance music in the anti-disco early-'80s, setting the stage for the troubled genre for the next decade. Producers Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa, considered one of the founding fathers of Latin freestyle, merged the then-hip electro-funk sound with Latin rhythms, unwittingly creating the world's first freestyle song. Unmistakably an '80s creation, the track evades a precise time-stamp thanks to its futuristic staccato beats, thoughtful production, and the fact that it became a pop radio staple for more than a decade. The song has more lasting power than most of its countless copycats, including Shannon's own “Give Me Tonight.” Cinquemani


Universal Robot Band, “Barely Breaking Even” (1982)

In a pop culture that was emphatically post-disco, a lot of producers had to come up with a variety of methods to disguise the fact that their dance tracks were covertly disco. Punch it up, strip it down, puff out its chest—anything to put roughneck masculinity back into the equation and still make a living out of a murdered musical genre. Sometimes the results were successful: the testosterone rush of Gap Band's long string of singles between “Steppin' Out” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” gives bluster a good rep. One of the more mysterious strategies was to pump up boogie singles by drizzling a coat of shimmery electronic gloss over the entire song. The result was even gayer than before, even without string sections and high-hat backbeats. One of the brightest of these neon-pink records is Universal Robot Band's appropriate, perhaps self-referential ode to living paycheck to paycheck (a topic that probably hit pretty close to home for a number of newly passé disco musicians). The Leroy Burgess-penned “Barely Breaking Even” never knows where the money goes [editor's note: up their noses?], but its aerobic pace and opulently brassy synthesized orchestration belie its financial claims. But for the words, it could've been the theme to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Henderson


Grace Jones, “Sex Drive” (1993)

Jamaican-born model, singer and performance artist Grace Jones is something of a real-life Thundercat. Her weapons are race, myth, and sexuality, which she used throughout much of her career to essay dynamic responses to phallocentric masculinity, most memorably in two massive club hits—“Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Sex Drive”—that liken her vivacious black physique to that of a car. On the thumping “Sex Drive,” Jones uses her sexual agency to powerfully assert her female and racial identity. She doesn't exploit the stereotype of the sexual savage so much as she tears it apart. “Impress your friends,” she irreverently growls, challenging the way a white man might, say, wear a black woman to a party on his arm. Perversely propulsive and loaded with meaning, the song is not about whether we actually want to fuck Miss Jones but whether we can get past our hegemonic baggage to actually feel comfortable enough to take a fetish-free ride. Gonzalez


Mr. Fingers, “Can You Feel It” (1986)

In the beginning, there was rhythm—the tubular, fluid flow of the 303 bassline, the clicking and tapping of primitive drum machines. But with 1986's “Can You Feel It,” house went deeper, thanks to Larry Heard (a.k.a. Mr. Fingers), a jazz musician among insects. The Chicago classic, with a looming, pre-ambient melody and sheets of high hats, sounds like the hard rain of God's tears. The spiritual potential of “Can You Feel It” was underscored in the song's subsequent incarnations—a gospel-tinged version sung by Robert Owens, a revamp featuring Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech and, maybe most famously, the song-as-sermon version featuring Chuck Roberts's much-sampled rant (“In the beginning, there was Jack and Jack had a groove,” it starts, laying out house's genesis). But the moral of Roberts's story—“House is a feeling!”—had already been conveyed by Heard's original, wordlessly and perfectly. Juzwiak