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The 100 Greatest Dance Songs

We suggest you get yourself to a music shop or online downloading service and stock up your vinyl bag or iPod ASAP.

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The 100 Greatest Dance Songs

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.

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100. 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


99. 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


98. 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


97. 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


96. 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


95. Lissette Melendez, “Together Forever” (1991)

What better way to convey Latin freestyle’s telenovela-esque BIG, BROAD EMOTIONS than with a big, broad stream of clichés? (“Together forever, yours/Together forever, mine/Facing what we feel inside/Ready to stand the test of time,” goes the chorus.) It’s delivered by East Harlem native Lisette Melendez, whose nasal voice wasn’t nearly as heinous or happily off-key as many of her peers (here’s lookin’ at you, Lil’ Suzy). “Together Forever” helped indoctrinate freestyle’s new-school revision; by 1991, it was more rhythmically layered and complex than it was during its early days of tone-deaf melodies over electro beats. Carlos Berrios, the producer of “Forever,” would go on to recycle his production for the likes of Corina (in her inferior but infinitely more popular “Temptation”) and Jammy (in “Walk Away”; if you aren’t from Jersey, you can’t be faulted for not knowing that one), but Melendez’s bond with this beat is eternal. Juzwiak


94. Two Tons o’ Fun, “Do You Wanna Boogie, Hunh?” (1980)

Maybe more than anyone on Earth, Martha Wash has a genetic predisposition to disco and house music. Her voice is so massive, it’s as though nothing can accompany it, much less compete with it, except for a giant 4/4 beat. Amazing, then, that there was a time when there was not one, but two matches for her: fellow Ton, Izora Rhodes and Sylvester. When Wash and Rhodes recorded their self-titled debut in 1980, they were best known as Sylvester’s back-up singers (Harvey Fuqua, responsible for producing much of Sylvester’s ’70s output, was behind the boards for this one, too). They’d go on to be renamed (thanks to the intro of “It’s Raining Men,” they became known as the Weather Girls), and have shares of solo success (even if it was somewhat anonymously—Wash infamously provided the original, uncredited vocals to C+C Music Factory and Black Box hits of the early ’90s). But maybe all that was redundant, in retrospect. In simply asking “Do you wanna boogie?” against lush disco, Wash and Rhodes had already answered their own question. Juzwiak


93. George Michael, “Killer/Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1993)

George Michael had major cojones to combine covers of “Killer” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” into one live performance. This five-minute fusion of the two has nothing to do with race (gone is a didactic but significant lyric from Seal’s song) but it’s still very much about the fallout of prejudice. Both the propulsive production and Michael’s vocal—girly and soulful as ever—tease out an emotional connection between the songs. Way before his balls-out performance inside a Beverly Hills park bathroom, it was obvious that Georgie’s ridiculously danceable lament to abandonment came to us from a very lonely closet. Gonzalez


92. Bedrock featuring KYO, “For What You Dream Of” (1993)

A grandiose, perpetually oscillating stream of synthesized sounds and thumping bass, Bedrock’s prog house anthem “For What You Dream Of” is impressive not only for its many unpredictable ups and downs but also for the sheer force of its soulful vocal (by ex-Staxx of Joy singer Carol Lemming, appearing here as KYO), which posits dance as a form of spiritual healing. It sounds as if John Digweed and Nick Muir haven’t left a single button on their synthesizers unpressed, but “For What You Dream Of” scarcely feels synthetic. Gonzalez


91. Uncanny Alliance, “I Got My Education” (1992)

The queen of all bitch tracks, “I Got My Education” starts where so many limp-wristed diatribes of its time did: “Miss Thing, Miss Thing, Miss Thing, Miss Thing.” Producer Brinsley Evans and rapper/bitcher E.V. Mystique were a cut above your standard pier queens, though: With its minimal vibe and maximal organ, the track opens up to become a clever, soundalike satire of Crystal Waters’s “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless).” Co-produced by Masters at Work, “I Got My Education” is like a prequel to Waters’s bleeding-heart house, as E.V. mocks her Miss Thing character for getting fired, seeking work at Burger King and then panhandling while pretending to be blind and armless. “I’ll buy you a sandwich, but I ain’t givin’ you no money/You might try to buy crack or somethin’ with it,” camps E.V., proving that the social consciousness that drove a lot of early vocal house had nothing on a piping hot serving of bitch. Juzwiak


90. Clyde Alexander & Sanction, “Got to Get Your Love” (1979)

The infectious, completely organic free-range disco of “Got to Get Your Love” languished in total obscurity for decades, known only to the most hardcore vinyl enthusiasts. That’s because Peter Brown, who commissioned the single from genius R&B composer Gary Davis (who pieced together Sanction entirely out of talented teenage musicians) released the song without fanfare or adequate distribution, perhaps in retribution for the fact that only one of the group’s members actually signed a contract with his label. (Hint: it’s the dude billed over the band’s title, despite the obvious fact that the lead vocals were sung by a female.) “Got to Get Your Love” sounds, in retrospect, like the precursor to Deee-Lite’s entire tie-dyed house ethos: dubby, loopy (that trumpet!), and full of that Lady Miss Kier brand of boho bounce. An underground gem. Eric Henderson


89. Christina Aguilera featuring Redman, “Dirrty” (2002

“Dirrty,” the lead single from Christina Aguilera’s sophomore effort Stripped, should have been a huge chart success. Though the video became a top request on MTV, the song hardly dirrtied up the pop charts. What to make of the mixed message? People were more interested in Aguilera’s ass than her vocal assets—or maybe the track just wasn’t what the public wanted from the formerly squeaky-clean genie in a bottle. But the single was, in fact, one of the year’s strongest, with an over-the-top performance built on a durable high-energy hip-pop track that borrowed heavily from Redman’s “Let’s Get Dirty (I Can’t Get In Da Club).” An undisputed club banger and a signpost of a new era in Aguilera’s career, “Dirrty” was an arrival song in every sense of the term. Cinquemani


88. Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (1987)

In the end, it might be a slow dance Whitney’s craving to cure her dusk-inflicted loneliness, but with its parenthetical title, gummy bassline, schmaltzy horns, tinkling keyboards, and half-step key changes, Houston’s 1987 #1 pop and club hit “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is definitive ’80s dance-pop, beseeching the lion-maned, mini-skirted divas in us all to take a chance for a burning love that will last at least three to four weeks, depending on the severity. And it hurts so good. Cinquemani


87. Chic, “Good Times” (1979)

Was the chorus’s assertion that “these are the good times” (sung so that every word sounded like a period followed it) a sincere sentiment or Chic’s attempt to convince themselves that disco’s madness was magic? Either way, the 1979 single “Good Times” is an effective time capsule. Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers’s songwriting and instrumentation is lean and effective enough to put a cap on full-band disco and spawn countless imitations, including, of course, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” which stole Edwards’s nimble bassline. Juzwiak


86. Miss Kittin & the Hacker, “Frank Sinatra” (1997)

The first time this song called me to a dance floor I was, fittingly, in the VIP area of NYC’s now-defunct Vinyl dance club. Danny Tenaglia introduced his party happening people to some good shit back then, but no song has stayed with me off the drugs—with the possible exception of Brother Brown’s “Under the Water” and the Zipless comedown mix of Vanessa Daou’s “Sunday Afternoons”—as much as this deadpan critique of starfucking nightlife. Backed by the Hacker’s happy-to-be-cheap retro production, Miss Kittin provides the ultimate electroclash statement: she makes social climbing sound so stupid and empty, while reveling in it. Call it the Official Paris Hilton Theme Song, with a special appearance by Frank Sinatra as her much-trodden red carpet. Gonzalez


85. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Crazy In Love” (2003)

Beyoncé’s simultaneously calculated and fresh “Crazy In Love” made producer Rich Harrison the go-to boy for urban crossover success. Harrison composed similar-sounding tracks for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and protégé Amerie, but failed to match the across-the-board sensation that was “Crazy.” A slice of retro-stylized ’70s funkadelia including a show-stopping guest spot by then-DL boyfriend Jay-Z, a horn-y Chi-Lites sample, some go-go-influenced breakbeats, a proud, bottom-heavy, hip-pop posterior, and a hook (not to mention a video) so hot that it permanently branded “diva” to the singer’s, uh, résumé, the single positioned the curvy bottle blonde as an MTV-generation Tina Turner. Unlike the soda-pop “Crazy” was licensed to promote shortly after every person in the nation had already heard the song a zillion times, good pop doesn’t ever go flat. And temporary insanity never tasted so sweet. Cinquemani


84. Gwen Stefani, “What You Waiting For?” (2004)

After a faux-live piano intro, during which Stefani laments leaving her “family” (as if she hadn’t been preparing for solo stardom ever since she blew our minds with Eve), “What You Waiting For?” explodes into an urgent electro dance track, its impish “tick-tock” pre-chorus, driving club beat and mesh of hook-buttressing guitar licks helping to make it one of the hottest arrival songs ever. In a sexist industry, Gwen’s larger-than-life image often eclipsed her famously disgruntled No Doubters (see Sophie Muller’s “Don’t Speak” video), and it’s this insecurity that fueled her first official completely solo outing, her trademark vocals bleating like a cat in heat stuck in a moving car: “What if they say that you’re a climber?/Naturally I’m worried if I do it alone…Take a chance ’cause you might grow” (or, alternately and thanks to Linda Perry, “Take a chance you stupid ho”). A mélange of various psychological fears and disparate genre-splices (distilled into an Italo/hi-NRG homage by Stuart Price on the Jacques Lu Cont remix), “What You Waiting For?” was a fitting opening to a solo venture that celebrated the consumerist pop culture of Tokyo’s Harajuku district like the ’80s era its star emulates. Cinquemani


83. Nu Shooz, “I Can’t Wait” (1986)

It’s impressive that a songwriter with a name like John Smith managed to compose and produce such a distinctive song amidst a sea of homogenous mid-’80s dance-pop and anonymous one-hit wonders. Smith manufactured the impatience in his wife Valerie Day’s otherwise affable, matter-of-fact vocal (“Baby, I-I-I can’t wait” goes the stuttering, synthesized lyric) and layered her performance with an instantly recognizable bassline, live sax and multiple rhythm tracks. The single topped the club chart and went Top 5 in 1986, after which the duo split. Cinquemani


82. Yarbrough & Peoples, “Don’t Stop the Music” (1980)

Recorded by childhood sweethearts on the cusp of taking both their careers and love lives to the next level, Calvin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples’s “Don’t Stop the Music” is probably the most carnal, lusting set of marriage vows ever preserved on vinyl. Making Ashford and Simpson’s tasteful love songs look milquetoast in comparison, it’s a synth-gritty, pumping slow jam with a walking bassline that doesn’t so much strut as it does play Chutes and Ladders up and down the well-greased procession line and a steamy synthesizer wash that sounds more like a rush of blood to the tip. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Because no marriage can sustain this type of sexual momentum forever, the song even comes with its own contraceptive device: those irritating chipmunk voices (be they sperm or the resultant rugrats) that interrupt every break with “You don’t really wanna stop? Nooooooo!” Henderson


81. Brass Construction, “Movin’” (1975)

Brass Construction, Guyanan composer-musician Randy Muller’s contribution to the dynasty of what Funk author Ricky Vincent dubbed United Funk bands (so called either because of their machismo-fuelled single-gender alignment or because of their post-hippie, pan-political optimism), was a nine-man group with nearly half on horns and almost everyone picking up a cowbell or maraca at some point. While never anywhere near as dynamic as the P-Funk mob, as musicianly as Earth, Wind & Fire, as lascivious as the Gap Band, or as swamp-thick as early Kool and the Gang, BC knew their polyrhythmic strengths and blew them out for their one and only pop-charting hit. “Movin’,” one of Muller’s string of train-centric tracks (he was also the man behind the chugging string arrangements of B.T. Express), is eight solid minutes of concentrated disco-funk synergy that surges like a runaway locomotive. Muller lets his band cobble together the industrial jam’s rising action with blue-collar professionalism, keeping one ear toward whimsical production effects: clanking percussion suggesting the sound of pennies under steel wheels, otherworldly autoharp glissandos and a trendsetting, octave-leaping string arrangement. And there’s only about a line and a half’s worth of lyrics holding the song together, but the way they hold back devilishly on “Gonna get h-i-i-i-i-i-g-h” before reverting into Sly and the Family Stone/Sunday school mode with the suffix “-er” is playfully naughty. (No wonder this was the song playing in the background when Good Times’s Norman Lear killed off John Amos’s patriarch over the actor’s objections that Jimmie Walker’s “Dy-no-mite”-isms had turned the show into neo-minstrelsy.) Henderson


80. Run-DMC vs. Jason Nevins, “It’s Like That” (1997)

Don’t be fooled by the slick bassline of mixmaster Jason Nevins’s awesome 1997 remix of “It’s Like That,” which doesn’t try to disguise Run-DMC’s blunt, bracingly honest polemic about black disillusionment. The original song’s sarcasm was coded in its spare design, but its effrontery was still palpable. It was an anthem blacks and the racially enlightened could all rally behind. (One wonders where modern rap and hip-hop would be had the song never been released.) Nevins updates the sound but doesn’t allow us to lose sight of Run-DMC’s embittered lyrics. The new sound gives the brutal discontent of 1983 a changing-times context, making the original’s disdain accessible to a new generation—if mostly to hipsters and ravers. It’s more danceable but still every bit as confrontational. Gonzalez


79. The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette, “Justified and Ancient” (1992)

The KLF might have one of the strangest backstories in dance music history: Fisherman-turned-punk Bill Drummond teamed up with musician Jim Cauty to form the hip-hop group the JAMS (Justified Ancients of Mu Mu), which was almost immediately disbanded after the infamously stingy Swedish group ABBA refused to grant them permission to use samples of their music, forcing the duo to destroy the remaining copies of their now-unsellable album. After burning the album in a field outside ABBA’s recording studio, Drummond and Cauty—who simultaneously formed the Orb with DJ Alex Paterson—adopted the moniker the KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front) and went on to blaze a trail for both ambient and stadium house in the late ’80s and early ’90s. On the heels of hits like “What Time Is Love?” and “3 A.M. Eternal,” from their album The White Room, a new version of their 1992 single “Justified and Ancient” kept them riding high on the club and pop charts, effectively turning Tammy Wynette, “The First Lady of Country,” into a temporary club diva. The genre-bridging song’s own backstory can be found within the lyrics: “They called me up in Tennessee,” Wynette sings, “They said, ’Tammy, stand by the jams.’” It was an offer she couldn’t refuse. There are numerous versions of the track, with various vocalists, but it’s the late Wynette’s distinctive delivery that gave a patently American voice to the KLF’s quirky, utopian mythology of the Ancients of Mu Mu and their global peace-touting ice cream van. Cinquemani


78. Skyy, “First Time Around” (1979)

Randy Muller had originally formed Brass Construction around three sister vocalists, who were later dropped and subsequently snatched up by Muller schoolmate Solomon Roberts, who was forming his own band from the same Brooklyn pool of talent. The group Muller and Roberts eventually came up with was Skyy, one of the venerable Salsoul label’s most enduring acts. Their biggest hit was “Call Me,” but their sexiest single was their appropriately-titled debut “First Time Around,” with percolating electric piano baubles, a tricky bassline that nattered about on the root until swooping to the basement on the third bar of each refrain, and just enough sci-fi laser effects to catch the ear of Paradise Garage svengali Larry Levan, who retrofitted the track with a breathlessly hectic 12” remix. Henderson


77. Jody Watley, “Looking for a New Love” (1987)

“Looking for a Love” was the first in a long line of hits for former Soul Train dancer and Shalamar vocalist Jody Watley, who, by the end of the ’80s, seemed poised to join the same league as dance-pop icons like Madonna and Janet Jackson. Like Janet, Watley aligned herself with a Prince cohort, Revolution bassist Andre Cymone, who whipped up some of the most defining dance-pop confections of the era for his muse. “Looking for a New Love,” just one of clubland’s many “I Will Survive”-influenced anthems, featured jazzy piano, a portentous synthesized whistle (that sounds a lot like the whistle from the X-Files theme, come to think of it), and Watley’s original stark 8-track demo vocal—”Hasta la vista, baby” was a calm, cool and collected sayonara long before it got cheesed up by California’s sitting governor. Despite the consistency of her stellar self-titled debut and an instantly recognizable alto that continued to mature and carry her into the early ’90s, Watley’s popularity slowly diminished. In 2005, Watley revisited her very first solo hit with a set of newly-recorded, sonically diverse remixes (part of the forthcoming Makeover Project full-length, due in ’06) that once again brought “Looking for a New Love” to the top of the dance charts. Cinquemani


76. A Number of Names, “Sharevari” (1981)

If there’s such a thing as proto-techno (beyond the more-than-halfway-there early works of Juan Atkins), “Sharevari”’s really it. Created by high school students Paul Lesley and Sterling Jones and named after the ultra-chic Detroit party Charivari, “Sharevari” is appropriately icy, with a beat that clanks like chains hanging in a breezy warehouse and a bassline so simple it would have sounded primitive in an Atari game. Despite its Detroit origin, 1981’s “Sharevari” sounds like it could have been made anywhere—or at least anywhere in Europe (the absurdly Euro accent on the main vocal certainly only adds to the geographical confusion). But in the glitzy make-believe world of clubland, it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you go. Juzwiak


75. Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, “Can You Feel the Beat” (1985)

The angular, carnation-and-slate ’80s was the decade of cold excess. More specifically, it was the decade of shoulder pads, feathered hair and Venetian blinds—the kind a scorned Lisa Velez peered through after throwing away her estranged lover’s neckties in “Can You Feel the Beat.” “I looked and saw my heart just overrule my mind,” she sang. The hit “I Wonder If I Take You Home” may have put Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam on the musical map, but their marginally less successful follow-up single (also produced by Full Force, whose influence was so pronounced that they were even mentioned in the album title), was a much cooler, propulsive, club-ready concoction. LL’s vocals are uncharacteristically calm and collected, at times so disaffected you wonder whether her heart is even beating at all, but given the juxtaposition of the song’s pulsating beat and lyrics about a passion that gives its victim a cardiac arrhythmia, it’s not surprising that, despite her insistence that her “love won’t grow cold,” she would be left in a near-comatose state. Cinquemani


74. Stacey Q, “Two of Hearts” (1986)

Madonna copycat Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts” was a fun, hi-NRG response to the Material Girl’s “Burning Up.” Madonna says, “Don’t put me off/’Cause I’m on fire/And I can’t quench my desire.” Stacey says, “My body’s burning/So come on heat my desire.” Neither song is empowering per se, at least in the sense that Madonna and Stacey Q hadn’t discovered masturbation like Cyndi Lauper had on “She Bop,” but less is more and the love-in-my-heart Stacey Q has Madonna beat, telling us her burning snatch needs hosing down in infinitely less words. I still don’t know if “When we’re together it’s like hot coals in a fire” is the stupidest or greatest lyric of all time but “Two of Hearts” is still the quintessential white-chick-in-heat cheese anthem. Yeah, baby. Gonzalez


73. Armand Van Helden featuring Roland Clark, “Flowerz” (1999)

The resolutely hetero B-boy Armand Van Helden (the same dude who would later rap “I’m looking for them female ejaculates, spreading that koochy with the masturbates”) was probably the least likely house producer this side of Green Velvet to provide the resurgent disco-house craze of the late ’90s with a swoony anthem. Surprise, surprise. He offered not just one, but two. His Carrie Lucas-sampling “U Don’t Know Me” was the overtly flamboyant club smash, a euphoric swirl of disco strings and an almost preternaturally perceptive approximation of just the sort of “Fuck you, I’m fabulous” soundtrack drag queens love to step off to. But, truthfully, it’s not all that difficult for straight guys to fake fierce. They “get” that aggressive aspect of gay culture. What’s trickier and more elusive is replicating the guileless, hedonistic abandon of total, submissive rapture. Thanks to a lush, spangled sample from Donald Byrd’s classy “Think Twice” and aided by Roland Clark’s astonishingly unbridled, almost Philip Bailey-esque falsetto, “Flowerz” is the gayest filtered disco record that doesn’t suck, executed without a trace of misguided testosterone. To be overwhelmed by the overdubbed vocal harmonies on the chorus is to experience the excitement of walking up that ramp to the Paradise Garage all over again. If you listen closely, you can even hear the tambourine from that club’s logo quivering in the background. Henderson


72. Jomanda, “Got a Love for You (Hurley’s House Mix)” (1991)

The rare first-wave Chicago house producer to find most of his success post-acid, Steve “Silk” Hurley took years to come into his own. One of many self-proclaimed “non-musicians” who helped house become a global phenomenon (his “Jack Your Body” was the first house track to hit No. 1 in England), Hurley’s aim was simple: to replicate the disco that inspired him to make music in the first place. By the late ’80s, he knew enough to give his work a distinctly plastic pop sheen, and by 1991, he had perfected his craft. Every component of his definitive remix of house girl group Jomanda’s “Got A Love For You,” from the three-note piano riff to the chop-chop-chop-chopped vocal patterns to the obnoxiously fake horns to the fucking bongos (!), is a hook, the perfect realization of how house could be a vehicle to speak to millions (unsurprisingly, the song landed in the U.S. Top 40). Lead singer Joanne Thomas opens her lungs so wide, it’s like she was born with Aretha Franklin in her mouth. “The first day we met/My heart stood still,” she starts, and by then, you can already relate. Juzwiak


71. Sounds of Blackness, “The Pressure Pt. 1 (Classic 12” Mix)” (1991)

R&B’s gospel influence is so vast, it barely needs explaining (go listen to any Mariah or even Mary song, and you’ll inevitably hear her taking it to church). Because so much of house is derived from disco, which itself came from soul, the combination of full-on gospel elements (gigantic choirs, never-ceasing organs, Jesus praisin’) with house seems like a no-brainer. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis didn’t get that the first time around (they serviced “The Pressure” with a new jack swing production), but that’s okay—house vet (already, in ’91!) Frankie Knuckles was more than capable of doing the job. Outfitting the 40-person choir’s caterwauls with a frenetic bassline, giant four-on-the-floor beats and hip-house rattling, Knuckles could have blown the stained glass out of a church and make it seem like an act of God. Juzwiak


70. Teena Marie, “Behind the Groove” (1980)

Though she was an artist in her own right apart from her unfair reputation as the most high-profile, most musically gifted member of the Rick James harem, Teena Marie’s self-written R&B smash “Behind the Groove” betrays Marie’s tutelage under the Motown funk sultan. The rattling, snapping backbeats, the aggressive popping bass, and the aphrodisiac deflection of horny energy onto the abused keys of a severely thrashed piano are all in James’s debt. Teena Marie’s shortlist of hit singles ranges widely, and almost no other artists discussed for this list generated as many viable candidates (certainly no artists we had slated for a single slot, anyway), from the double-time disco of “Square Biz” to the proto-Saved By the Bell pop of “Lovergirl.” “Behind the Groove” simply stands in for all the Rick James songs we didn’t even consider. Now who’s in whose shadow? Henderson


69. Janet Jackson, “The Pleasure Principle” (1986)

It’s human instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but Freud argued that the matured ego “no longer lets itself be governed by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle,” or, more simply, defers said pleasure. Janet Jackson certainly followed this paradigm in her musical career, delaying her sexual satisfaction until the very end of her first two blockbuster albums and not fully submitting to it until 1993’s janet. While the title track of her 1986 breakthrough Control found the singer taking the reigns of her professional life, the album’s final single, “The Pleasure Principle,” found her taking control of a personal relationship by refusing to settle for loveless materialism: “What I thought was happiness was only part time bliss,” an all-grown-up Janet sings. Written and produced by one-time Prince keyboardist and Jam & Lewis cohort Monte Moir, the entire song parallels a fleeting love affair with a ride in a limousine, while the synths bump like busted shock absorbers and the electric guitar screeches like rubber on pavement. Janet (vis-à-vis Moir) invokes “Big Yellow Taxi,” a song she would more blatantly call on for 1997’s “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” while Moir, Jam and Lewis pave over every soul tradition to put up a clanking, whirring, smashing industrial park. Cinquemani


68. Debbie Deb, “When I Hear Music” (1983)

Discovered at a Miami record store by electro producer/drug dealer Pretty Tony, 16-year-old Debbie Deb was the voice and lyric-writer behind the high-tech “When I Hear Music,” one of the biggest ’80s freestyle dance songs (the genre is allegedly named after Pretty Tony’s group of the same name). Early freestyle only had hints of the full-bodied rhythms and melodies of Latin music, and “When I Hear Music” is no exception. Instead, the track is heavily influenced by electro, featuring robotic vocals and strict, syncopated rhythms inspired by Afrika Bambaataa’s seminal “Planet Rock.” Debbie Deb and Pretty Tony reprised their union with the sparse, similarly electro-sounding but less popular follow-up “Lookout Weekend.” Cinquemani


67. Lime, “Babe, We’re Gonna Love Tonight” (1982)

The hi-NRG “Babe, We’re Gonna Love Tonight” is all tease. Its infectious intro melody suggests a na-na-na-na-na-na schoolyard taunt, and every subsequent beat ladled on top evokes a teasing tickle or poke. With her giddy, Mini-Pinkerton-esque vocal, Joy Dorris gets to play out a shy creature pulling away from busy hands. It sounds ridiculous but it seems like the only reasonable response to Chris Marsh’s at once earnest but disconcerting bullfrog-in-the-throat come-ons. Bonus points for being the song to soundtrack an unusually sexy Mariah Carey’s booty-shaking first scene in Glitter. Gonzalez


66. Extra T’s, “E.T. Boogie” (1982)

Rumor has it “E.T. Boogie” was sued out of circulation by Steven Spielberg. I now question the veracity of this rumor (which I fully admit I only heard once from a DJ on a retro show and have subsequently taken as truth ever since), especially given that the strongest evidence in favor of this theory is the fact that there is a fully-instrumental version of this electro-boogie cash-in. But, it turns out, this is just the B-side of the original 12” version, spotted with the supposedly copyright-infringing sporadic interjections from a vocoderized imitation of Spielberg’s beer-drinking alien hero: “E.T. phone home” and “Ouch!” I know, it sounds about as appealing as those early-’90s dance parodies featuring Bart Simpson or Forrest Gump. But the clunky-chunky dance funk of “E.T. Boogie” and its fabulously sloppy, held-together-by-paper-clips 808 beats are the real thing. (Busta Rhymes sampled the track on “Dangerous.”) The close-but-no-spliff encounter of the camp kind is just icing. Henderson


65. The Bucketheads, “The Bomb (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)” (1995)

Masters at Work began their long career in house music producing spare, techy tracks with miles of open space between each of their scant layers of drum programming. But as their moniker reached pop-cultural middle age-dom, they went all analog-crazy on our asses. A lot of clubheads have written off just about anything “Little” Louis Vega and Kenny “Dope” have produced since 1995, calling their attempts to give the middlebrow likes of Tito Puente and George Benson and Luther Vandross street cred a waste of resources. Tough shit. The truth is that the four tracks that constitute the house-inflected portion of Nuyorican Soul (first and foremost Jocelyn Brown’s fiery “It’s Alright, I Feel It!”) are all high points of Latin-fusion house. And even if they softened their beats and flattened out their sound, their rhythmic sophistication was still unparalleled. The Nuyorican sessions represent their most sustained post-tech effort, but their biggest single unplugged-era hit was “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind),” a Chicago-sampling jaunt on the caboose of the Quad City DJs’s train that brought disco revivalism to the world of jock jams. Henderson


64. Yaz, “Situation” (1982)

Vince Clarke, the fairy godfather of dance music, began his illustrious career of reinvention as a member of Depeche Mode and today pounds out the synths for Erasure. In between outfits, he and former Screaming Abdabs member Alison Moyet created Yaz, the short-lived but successful electro-pop group whose album Upstairs at Eric’s remains surprisingly fresh for a 23-year-old relic. For “Situation,” Clarke dipped Moyet’s soulful vocal into a dense sea of prickly synths, chants and iconic laughter, creating a wave of ambi-sexual heat and here-there-and-everywhere momentum that continues to cast a shadow over today’s bleak dance music landscape. They don’t make them like this anymore—and they never will again. Gonzalez


63. Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (2001)

Some songs have a way of worming themselves into your head and wrapping their long, synthetic tentacles around your brain. Co-penned by former dance-pop songstress Cathy Dennis, Kylie Minogue’s aptly-titled, unabashedly cheeky “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is one of those songs, invading brains in almost every capitalist society in the world and becoming the Australian singer’s first U.S. hit in over a decade. For added infectivity, the track was remixed into a mash-up with New Order’s “Blue Monday” for Minogue’s live stage show; the mutation, titled “Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of My Head,” gave the song new life in clubs around the world. Cinquemani


62. Eighth Wonder, “I’m Not Scared” (1988)

Hot off the success of their hit single “West End Girls,” the Pet Shop Boys were commissioned to write a song for U.K. actress Patsy Kensit and her dance-pop group Eighth Wonder. “I’m Not Scared” is unmistakably a Lowe/Tennant composition, with sharp staccato synth lines, a fluctuating bassline, histrionic lyrics ending in curly, figurative question marks (“Tonight the streets are full of actors/I don’t know why…Tonight I fought and made my mind up/I know it’s right”), and—on the extended Disco Version—dramatic string stabs. On this side of the pond, Eighth Wonder’s biggest hit was 1988’s “Cross My Heart,” which, while it holds its own alongside the best of late-’80s pop, doesn’t have the epic edge of “I’m Not Scared.” The Pet Shop Boys went on to release their own version of the song on their album Introspective, but we prefer this one—Kensit’s broken French and all. Cinquemani


61. Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love” (1981)

“What cha gonna do when you get out of jail?” “I’m gonna have some fun!” The opening lines of Tom Tom Club’s toss-off “Genius of Love” are worth isolating for being among the most bizarre calls to the dance floor. But then the entire TV Party-era song is blissfully, petulantly off its rocker: a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness smoke signal from a lovesick club girl tearing her ears away from Bootsy Collins (and her nose away from the white lines) just long enough to ask if anyone’s seen her “genius of love” boyfriend lately. Former Talking Heads bandmates Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (and a disparate cast of Caribbean musicians, including the same “Sly and Robbie” mentioned in the lyrics, borrowed from Grace Jones) didn’t seem to actually write the song so much as channel its juicy/sweet guitar-driven energy into a compact diorama of the disco-friendly vitality of New York new wave. That which borrows is, in turn, borrowed from, and “Genius of Love” became a charter samplers’ paradise, showing up in songs by artists as diverse as GrandMaster Flash and Mariah Carey. Henderson


60. ABBA, “Lay All Your Love on Me” (1980)

ABBA made great pop music but they rarely put out a song the hipster could dance to without losing face. The Swedish group’s entire canon, at once corny and exhilarating, is notable for sounding as if it’s being kneaded by the glamorous hands of disco on one side and the sticky fingers of glam-rock on the other. It’s this dreamy, boxed-in sense of in-betweeness that probably explains why ABBA’s music so easily appeals to desperate housewives and the Napoleon Dynamites of the world—theirs is pop music for people living in the closets of their own frustration. Then and now, their lyrics are scarcely extraordinary, but their sound still evokes odd but catching states of confusion. Dancing queens can have the cheery cornball of “Dancing Queen” and “Mama Mia.” I’ll trade them any day for the ominous seductions and ruminations of “Voulez Vous,” the Madonna-hijacked “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” and their fantastic “Lay All Your Love on Me,” the group’s sole U.S. club-chart topper. Sexy and poignant, “Lay All Your Love on Me” is a song about love and regret, made when the group’s dynamic was at its most frayed. Pitch-perfectly grafted into the urgent, slip-and-sliding sounds of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson’s organ-infused production, the disaffected vocals by Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad evoke a sad state of affairs between these former lovers. It’s the group’s take on Bergman’s relationship-on-the-rocks dramedy A Lesson in Love. I swear, if my local church ever played this song during Sunday service, I might just take up Catholicism again. Gonzalez


59. New Order, “Blue Monday” (1983)

How does it feel to be immortalized by electroclash? Probably underwhelming, but no matter. The fact that “Blue Monday” became a staple of the typically boneheaded ’clash DJ is testament to its blatant appeal. “Blue Monday” funnels influences from just about every electronic dance record that led up to its 1983 release (including guidance from “Planet Rock” producer Arthur Baker), achieving timelessness via an obsessive knowledge of history. No wonder it’s the best selling 12” of all time. Juzwiak


58. Cybotron, “Clear” (1983)

No less than the baptism of Detroit techno, Cybotron creators Juan Atkins and Richard Davis’s “Clear” infused the breaking electro sound with a Motor City edge of industrial gloom, closer in spirit to their teutonic Kraftwerkian influences than the conviviality of Bambaataa, Robie, or Whodini. Using little more than 808 trickery and pinched vocal non sequiturs, “Clear” suggests the epic scale of mankind’s troubled relationship with its electronic Frankenstein that lies at the heart of techno’s dark-sided masters of dystopia from Throbbing Gristle to Second Toughest-era Underworld. Henderson


57. Soul II Soul, “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)” (1989)

A U.K. club collective including producer giants Nellee Hooper and Jazzie B, Soul II Soul’s crossover hit “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)” and its smooth, intoxicating blend of Caron Wheeler’s becalmed Sade-meets-Lisa-Stansfield vocals and simmering piano accompaniments was a pop anomaly on either side of the Atlantic. In Britain, the unrushed top-down tempo stood in marked contrast to the Isles’ exploding acid rave scene. In America, we were all reminded of what jazzy fills sounded like when played on an actual piano and not one from those walls of synths keyboardists used to surround themselves with (like Poe’s The Cask of Casio). And, on either side of the pond, the full, round bassiness of the lower end heralded the end of ’80s pop’s decade of treble. We’ve been riding on the low end ever since. Henderson


56. The Flirts, “Passion” (1982)

Bobby Orlando became something of a disco pimp in the time between 1979’s “Disco Sucks” blowout and house music’s takeover. Representing New York, he released an unending stream of hi-NRG records in the early ’80s, which varied wildly in quality. Among his best production work, though, was what he did for the Flirts, a trio of women with an almost constantly rotating lineup. Maybe it’s just that his pimpishness was never more lucid. Certainly, his girls more than held up their end—1982’s “Passion” is a sleazy romp of gushing synths and a bobbing erection (I mean, bassline). The title isn’t trying to twist love with sex, it’s just describing work ethic. Juzwiak


55. 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


54. 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


53. 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


52. 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


51. 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


50. Michael Zager Band, “Let’s All Chant” (1978)

Disco keyboardist and New Jersey native Michael Zager’s quirky 1978 hit “Let’s All Chant” was a deft mix of disco, funk and baroque-pop, its relentless bassline and multiple hooks (“Ah-ah, eh-eh, let’s all chant” and “Your body, my body, everybody work your body” among them) tailor made for the discotheques of the late ’70s. But it’s the song’s breakdown that makes “Chant” so special: Just as the track works itself into an organ-fueled frenzy, the bottom drops out, leaving Afro-Cuban drums and a few lone disco caws to fill the void before gradually reprising the bass and handclaps and building to Zager’s rollicking piano lines, garnished with an array of live wind instruments, including a trumpet solo that sounds like it’s straight out of the Dynasty opening theme song. Cinquemani


49. Stephanie Mills, “Put Your Body in It” (1979)

The production/songwriting team of James Mtume and Reggie Lucas was the Quincy to Stephanie Mills’s Michael, the Jam and Lewis to her Janet, the Jermaine to her Usher. While they usually draped their muse in lush, live disco with strings so giant, “cinematic” wouldn’t begin to describe them, 1979’s “Put Your Body in It” didn’t have time for such sentimentality—it was too busy predicting the future. Around live drums and polite strings swirl synths with the technology-for-technology’s sake gusto and sound that fueled most of the black, post-Disco Sucks dance floor output of the early ’80s. If the production verges on the robotic, Mills does anything but, bringing a nurturing vibe to standard here’s-your-chance-now-dance lyrics. She coos, “I know you can get to it,” with the warmth of a matriarch on this, the mother of boogie. Juzwiak


48. Crystal Waters, “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” (1991)

Crystal Waters’s thick-ankled house anthem takes the baton of social consciousness from the likes of Machine. And just as “There But for the Grace of God Go I” makes its pungent point clear through its musical prickliness, “Gypsy Woman” sets its portrait of a crusty, haphazardly made-up bag lady begging dementedly on street corners to the Basement Boys’s unforgivingly brutish, mongoloid thump. As Crystal’s first-person protagonist stands there, singing for money, her lah-dah-dees are nearly buried in the brackish clatter, subtly expressing the heartbreaking fact that the plight of the homeless often falls on completely deaf (sometimes ringing) ears. Waters’s astringent message was delivered to a club clientele that had become too pathologically petrified of breaking a sweat, canting a weave, or otherwise allowing themselves to get ugly to actually set foot on any dance floor not shaped like a fashion runway. Thus, Waters’s class-conscious portrait of economic indifference serves as a working metaphor, equating “Sorry, I don’t have any change on me” with the plastic fuckers who’d choose making the scene over tasting the rainbow. Henderson


47. Amoretto, “Clave Rocks” (1986)

Latin freestyle wasn’t exactly known for its musicality. If you wanted to make a freestyle track in your papi’s basement, all you had to do was score yourself a keyboard synthesizer, put your tone-deaf 14-year-old sister on a half-decent mic and, presto, you had an instant hit in New York and Miami. So what elevates Amoretto’s “Clave Rocks” above such pop-crossover hits by Exposé, TKA and other more famous freestyle acts? Well, for one thing, the extended musical break on the Club Vocal mix, featuring Tito Puente on timbales, Latin salsa performer Luis “Perico” Ortiz on trumpet and Latin-pop producer Sergio George on piano. “Clave Rocks,” co-produced by Rae Serrano (a producer on Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock album) and remixed by the Latin Rascals, was an ode to the Afro-Cuban “clave” rhythm and rivaled anything coming out of the Miami Sound Machine at the time. An obscure one-hit wonder from 1986, there hasn’t been much ink spilt about Amoretto, which, organized by Serrano, allegedly featured a group of Latina vocalists who may or may not be the ones pictured on the single’s sleeve and left behind a small legacy of unpaid royalties and disgruntled back-up singers. Cinquemani


46. Donna Summer, “MacAurthur Park” (1978)

Donna Summer’s cover of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” became the disco icon’s first #1 crossover hit in 1978. Much of the credit goes to Webb, whose nostalgic, ornate lyrics paint a picture as vivid and elaborate as “Strawberry Fields”: “Between the parted pages/We were pressed/In love’s hot, fevered iron/Like a striped pair of pants…I remember the yellow cotton dress/Foaming like a wave/On the ground beneath your knees.” The gorgeous, understated string-and-vocal intro of Summer’s version—produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, of course—is faithful to Webb’s poetry, at least in interpretation, before Moroder and Bellotte’s elaborate disco arrangement and Summer’s zealous vocals (“Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don’t think that I can take it!/’Cause it took so long to bake it!/And I’ll never have that recipe again!/Oh, no!”) elevate the song to a whole new level of camp splendor. While the more popular edit spares us Jay Graydon’s extended guitar solo (but also those glorious vocal echoes of the melody, not to mention the bridge), the full 17-minute “MacArthur Park Suite” includes the Summer/Moroder/Bellotte compositions “One Of A Kind” and “Heaven Knows,” a duet with Brooklyn Dreams that went on to become a Top 5 hit in its own right, segued together in classic, over-the-top Moroder/Bellotte fashion. Cinquemani


45. Orbital, “Halcyon + On + On” (1992)

Maybe it’s because of its perfect structural and allegorical design, but it was always this song that would soundtrack my exhausted bus ride home after a night of clubbing. Designed for our starved imaginations, if not exactly our dancing feet, this life-as-trance classic by brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll of Orbital used metronomic beats and a touched-by-an-angel vocal to approximate the calm and surrender of the insomnia drug prescribed to their mother. Like Halcion, the song guides us gently into sleep but not before inducing a lucid connection to the beauty of our immediate, seemingly mundane modern surroundings. It’s the oddest thing in the world: an eye-opening, sleep-inducing dance song. Gonzalez


44. Chaka Khan, “My Love Is Alive” (1984)

Behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Slant’s dance list: Throughout this project’s painfully long gestation period, I frequently threw support to non-single album tracks over the canonized 12” classics, stunting for Michael Jackson’s buttery “Baby Be Mine” over “Billie Jean” and (at my most quixotic) Paula Abdul’s frenetic, Cherelle-lite “State Of Attraction” over “Straight Up.” About the only instance where this rhetorical game of devils’ advocate actually gained traction was in the case of this cover of Gary Wright’s trip on the good starship MOR “My Love Is Alive.” Chaka Khan’s I Feel for You collaboration with celebrated electro producer John Robie (one of the men behind Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and Jenny Burton’s “Remember What You Like”) is an admittedly opportunistic stratagem from Khan in her (successful) attempt to maintain her street cred. But it’s also a completely harmonious confluence of ingredients that highlights the best of all worlds. Robie smashes Wright’s pop-symphonic overtures into a jagged series of strokes that are neither verse, bridge, nor chorus. He chops and pushes Khan’s raspy vocals back so far into the mix that they occasionally register as just another of his airy, buzzing synth lines, uniting the vocalist’s famously adenoidal delivery with his fragmented musical vision in a way that was never possible with previous vocal collaborators who were never independently supple enough to withstand his drum pad artillery fire. Khan’s performance here screams, “Damn the Linndrums, full speed ahead!” Henderson


43. Masters at Work featuring India, “I Can’t Get No Sleep” (1993)

India couldn’t get no sleep, dance listeners didn’t want it, and “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez (collectively, Masters at Work) didn’t have time for it. Since joining forces in the early ’90s as a DJ and production duo, Masters at Work have relentlessly turned New York house into the melting pot (or, if you prefer, salad bowl) it should be. Out-discoing disco (their remake of Loleatta Holloway’s “Runaway,” again with India on the mic, insistently surpassed the original), bumping samba house, programming sample house, and leading full-band blow-out house, you get the feeling that these masters never really stop working. 1993’s “I Can’t Get No Sleep” represents them at their best and most individual sound—post-Chicago deep house—with its frigid, minor melody melted by a wannabe church organ. Or maybe it’s just that love making it weak. Juzwiak


42. Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (1978)

Blondie turned more than a few punk purist heads with their first #1 hit “Heart of Glass.” Originally born out of the New York punk scene of the mid-1970s, the band made a surprising shift toward more pop-oriented material on their third album Parallel Lines. With its swirling synths and Chic-like guitar riffs radiating off a drum machine beat and singer Deborah Harry’s sweet, honey-dipped vocal, the song about fragile love helped lift new wave from the underground and into the mainstream, marrying it with the sounds of the then-booming disco movement. Harry’s layered, airy vocals were a contrast to her usually deeper, more punk-rooted brass, while the track’s languorous instrumental ending emulated the disco formula Giorgio Moroder was perfecting at the time. One can only imagine what Moroder could have done with the track, but the fact is that he probably wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Coincidentally—or, perhaps, not so coincidentally—Harry collaborated with the German disco maven the following year on “Call Me,” the theme from the film American Gigolo, which would become the band’s second chart-topper. Cinquemani


41. Robin S., “Show Me Love” (1993)

“Show Me Love” was not just one of the biggest house-pop crossovers of the early-’90s club-radio boom, it was also one of the last. At least radio house went out with its face on (that is, before it came back in its more Euro varieties). 1993’s “Show Me Love” was as representative as any track of the way house distilled disco’s flamboyant, strings-and-all yearning into a minimal thump with skeletal keyboards doing the bulk of melodic support (as defined by Swedish producer Stonebridge’s remix). Not that Miss Robin needed it with her post-LaBelle (and, really, post-Peniston) grunts and caterwauling. Her devotion to dance music ran deep—she was willing to get ugly for it. Juzwiak


40. Giorgio Moroder, “From Here to Eternity” (1977)

From ABBA to Zhané, it seems as if our entire history of dance can be traced to the fruit of Giorgio Moroder’s innovative work with Donna Summer. But to ignore the Italian-born producer’s own solo work would be a dangerous oversight. With its dirtied combination of 4/4 kick drum, passive female sopranos and Moroder’s own commanding baritone, the song’s forceful masculine subjectivity immaculately complements and interlocks with the ferocious sexual agency of Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Consider “From Here to Eternity” the Adam to the Eve of “I Feel Love”; to listen to these songs today is to behold the creation of electronic music. Gonzalez


39. Basement Jaxx, “Breakaway” (2001)

Basement Jaxx haven’t even been around for much longer than a decade (half that if you take their first full-length LP Remedy as their “debut”) and already have a string of intensely inventive house-hybrid singles to be reckoned with. Latin, dub, disco, electroclash, purple music: No style seems beyond their grasp, but if there’s one track that seemed to announce the arrival of Basement Jaxx as a genre unto themselves, it very well might be a non-single track from the Rooty album: “Breakaway.” Anticipating the heady overkill that marked Kish Kash (while still avoiding that album’s oxygen-deprived lack of space), “Breakaway” is simultaneously a Paisley Park throwback (that very well might be Camille providing the helium-sucking vocals) and a blazing broken beat workout juiced out of Earth, Wind and Fire’s aggressively polytonal “Lady Sun.” Check out how they manage to make the simple descending bassline progress from twangy naked funk to a deep, fiery whirling dervish. Henderson


38. Connie Case, “Get Down” (1982)

One of the most-sought-after 12″s in the land of eBay, Connie Case’s electronic disco unclassic “Get Down” can probably thank its inclusion on 2001’s hipster-friendly Disco Not Disco 2 compilation for its renewed interest. But “Get Down” is about as “not disco” as Sylvester was “not gay.” Regardless, 1982’s “Get Down” is one of countless invitation-to-the-dance tracks, a proto-house number that offers pre-acid squelching and a domineering bassline that goes down-down-down-duh-down. The track was a rare excursion into disco for Miami-based producer Noel Williams, who’d go on to produce more electro- and Miami bass-oriented material. Fair enough, though—“Get Down” was a hard act to follow. Juzwiak


37. Klein & M.B.O., “Dirty Talk” (1982)

For a bunch of Italians, Tomas Ramierez Carrasco and Mario Boncaldo knew shit about talking dirty. That the lack of effective sex banter doesn’t at all hinder 1982’s “Dirty Talk” is a testament to the wonderfully nonsensical charms of Italo disco. Helping make this one a camp classic are Rosanna Casale’s shrill, dippy-blonde vocals. The percolating rhythms, though, were nothing to laugh at—that tubular bassline sounds suspiciously like a 303, and even if it wasn’t, “Dirty Talk” provided more than a few footsteps to house. Juzwiak


36. Paula Abdul, “Straight Up” (1988)

Third time was a charm for Laker-girl-turned-choreographer-turned-pop-singer Paula Abdul. From the very first lyric (“Lost…in a dream…”), the breakout single from her initially DOA 1988 debut Forever Your Girl struck a chord at radio and clubs, igniting a career that spawned a string of chart hits and two blockbuster LPs and eventually led to where all serious pop stars aspire: the American Idol judging panel. Expertly produced by Elliott Wolff (whose credits include little of note before or since), “Straight Up” was a true product of its time but still managed to stand up (and stand out) on legs as long and sinuous as the funky, elastic bassline lain beneath the track’s stuttering synth ascensions and faux horn and flute melodies, not to mention Abdul’s myriad car metaphors. Though the song never reached the top of the club play chart (only one Abdul single has that distinction, and, surprisingly, it’s 1995’s “My Love Is for Real”), “Straight Up” is still one of our favorite dance-pop ditties of a long-gone era. Oh, oh, oh. Cinquemani


35. Patrick Cowley featuring Sylvester, “Do You Wanna Funk” (1982)

Sylvester ensured himself a footnote in pop music history by hitting the U.S. Top 20 while wearing a dress. But his legacy has nothing to do with novelty; one of the most distinct vocalists of the disco era, Sylvester’s soul drove his music more so even than its typical pounding bass drum. “Do You Wanna Funk,” a production from San Francisco-based Patrick Cowley, finds Sylvester navigating one of his most robotic settings—it is the synth-overloaded epitome of balls-and-cock-out hi-NRG (a post-disco sub-genre almost exclusively appreciated by gays, and most famously reveled to at the infamous New York club The Saint). “Funk” might come off as disposable as an unrequited advance at a sex club, but its backstory has much more gravity. The lore of “Do You Wanna Funk” goes something like this: Cowley was dying of AIDS in ’82 (he’d go on to be among the first few hundred people documented to succumb to the disease) and Sylvester forced him to create and produce the track from his deathbed. The paralyzing sadness that underlies such an outwardly ecstatic, kick-my-heels-up-and-fuck track sums up being gay amidst early-’80s homophobia as well as any piece of pop culture. Juzwiak


34. Mr. Flagio, “Take a Chance” (1983)

Before I-F provided the great public service that was the 2001 DJ mix Mixed Up in the Hague, “Italo” was a dirty word, signifying either piano- and sample-based early-’90s house (a la Black Box) or the brand of European mid-’80s soulless post-disco that, in fact, wasn’t very disco at all (think synth-based footsteps to Stock Aitken Waterman beneficiaries Bananarama, Rick Astley and early Kylie). Thank God, I-F set us straight, focusing his definitive Italo mix on the genre’s early offerings and their permutations, including A Number of Names’s “Sharevari,” Klein & M.B.O.’s “Dirty Talk” (both on this list), and especially 1983’s “Take a Chance,” among the most loved Italo disco track of all time. A remake of the Nona Hendryx-voiced Material song, “Take a Chance” provides the dance floor with everything but blood. One minute a chorus of excitable Europeans have things shrill and dramatic, the next it’s impossibly cool, as an icy robot voice generates sweet nothings over a grinding bass line. It’s the sound of the future, decaying. Juzwiak


33. Candido, “Thousand Finger Man” (1978)

A studio conga musician for many years, Candido Camero’s flirtations with Salsoul disco were merely one stop in the long, versatile career of a man who could play Latin, jazz, funk, soul and even a little Muzak. The steam-machine, start-and-stop salsa of “Jingo” represented his biggest hit, but his caffeinated cover of his own late-’60s downtempo instrumental “Thousand Finger Man” seems, in retrospect, even more visionary and influential. Opening with an atmospheric, fusion jazz flourish, the track eventually jumps headfirst into a supernaturally tight drumset combo, the same monolithic beat that Moroder/Bellotte/Summer would use throughout the entirety of their Bad Girls LP and one that prefigures deep house. The piano seems to emanate from an underwater echo chamber. The female coos of “Candido” float from one end of the mix to the other. As a representation of the Salsoul hit factory’s production ingenuity, “Thousand Finger Man” still sounds ahead of its time. Henderson


32. M/A/R/R/S, “Pump Up the Volume” (1987)

M/A/R/R/S’s “Pump Up the Volume,” which took its title sample from an Erik B. & Rakim song, was a milestone in the world of sampling culture, snatching bits of Criminal Element Orchestra’s “Put the Needle to the Record,” old soul records (a few years before Josh Davis hit the dustbins), and Ofra Haza’s “Im Nin Alu” (long before Kanye played his 45s at the wrong speed), just to name a few. A one-off collaboration between U.K. indie label 4AD’s Colourbox and AR Kane and DJs C.J. Macintosh and Dave Dorrell, the track was a patently European interpretation of American house music and became the first big crossover U.K. house hit. Produced by the famously outspoken John Fryer (who would go on to helm Nine Inch Nails’s Pretty Hate Machine), “Pump Up the Volume” traversed multiple genres in its myriad incarnations, topping the dance charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and eventually becoming both a Top 10 hip-hop hit and dance-pop radio staple in the U.S., transforming both genres with the drop of a needle. Cinquemani


31. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1982)

Not to be confused with ’70s tennis pro Billie Jean King, the titular character in Michael Jackson’s colossal “Billie Jean” was a composite of all the groupies who claimed Michael and his brothers had fathered their children. Looking back, it’s easy to doubt the authenticity of such claims, but there’s no doubting the impact “Billie Jean” had on Michael’s career and music in general. The song defies genre—dance, pop, R&B—by embodying them all with such finesse that it’s hard to imagine a time when the song (not to mention its iconic video) didn’t exist. The beat is measured, even downright sluggish by today’s dance standards, but it’s the bassline, at twice the speed, that propels the song. Impeccably produced by Jackson with Quincy Jones, the track mixes purely synthetic sounds (polyphonic keyboard string samples and that signature analog wind synthesizer) with the more organic approach of disco (Chic-like guitar riffs, live bass). Then, of course, there’s Michael’s borderline-creepy lyrics that evoke a paternity lawsuit that lasts the length of the bibilical flood and prophesize his own downfall: “Mother always told me be careful who you love/And be careful what you do/’Cause the lie becomes the truth.” Cinquemani


30. Missy Elliott featuring Eve, “4 My People” (2001)

Tweet’s wispy PSA on the Miss E…So Addictive’s intro about not needing drugs or weed to enjoy the album would be laughable if it weren’t so true. That’s because beatmaster Timbaland had uncannily refined his signature sound to create an album where every song constituted a different kind of mood enhancer—bump-and-grind songs as MDMA blasts straight into our brain’s pleasure center. Like the equally empowered Erotica before it, the album is a bald-faced celebration of its maker’s narcissism; yes indeed, as Missy insists at one point, no drugs are needed because she provides the high. Any of the album’s evocative uppers could have made this list—namely the retro disco boogie of “Old School Joint” and the Cybotron-meets-He-Man angst of “Whatcha Gon’ Do”—but “4 My People” is my favorite trip. The way Missy’s rhythmic vocal rides Timbaland’s stringy trance (which recalls the signature bassline from DJ Garth and E.T.I.’s “20 Minutes Of Disco Glory”) stirs up a hallucination of the singer actually riding Timbaland through the club, whipping her Ecstasy People as they throw space dust over her (and Eve’s) head. Gonzalez


29. Madonna, “Into the Groove” (1985)

In my review of Confessions on a Dance Floor, I made a distinction between “Into the Groove” and Madonna’s other famous dance anthems, namely the meta “Music,” but also the image-conscious “Vogue” and “Holiday,” on which Madonna, like a good little pop icon, posits The Dance as a venue for social change, or, at least, an escape from the bleak reality waiting on the fringes of the dance floor. But with “Groove,” co-written and produced by her pre-fame friend Stephen Bray, she’s unapologetically single-minded; it’s love she’s looking for, not just a dance partner. On her very first single “Everybody,” on the other hand, she beckoned to the boy sitting on the sidelines to come dance with her but stopped just short of inviting him to touch her body: “I know you’ve been waiting/Yeah, I’ve been watching you/Yeah, I know you wanna get up/Yeah, come on.” It’s hard to imagine the most famous woman in the world dancing alone in her bedroom at night, locking the doors so “no one else can see” (as she sings on “Groove”), even 20 years ago, but you can’t help but believe her. The song—and Madonna’s performance—are that good. House producer Shep Pettibone one-upped Bray with his 12” and dub remixes of “Groove” on 1987’s You Can Dance (which took its name from the track’s opening lyric), adding an extended one-take keyboard solo by renowned recording engineer Andy Wallace and eclipsing the 8-track Desperately Seeking Susan demo as the definitive version of Madonna’s most enduring hit. To this day, “Groove” is the singer’s most played recurrent radio hit in the U.S., ironic since it was never commercially released as a single and failed to appear on the pop chart. Music can be such a revelation, indeed. Cinquemani


28. Taana Gardner, “Heartbeat” (1981)

A pet favorite of Paradise Garage DJ/founder Larry Levan, who reportedly willed this song into the canon against the tastes of his club denizens by spinning it repeatedly until they cried uncle, “Heartbeat” maintains the slowest BPM rate of any song on our list. (Slower than most people’s heart rates. Slower than most horses’ heart rates, even.) Taana’s other major West End hit “Work That Body” might’ve worked up a quicker lather, but “Heartbeat” was the slow-fucking jam that demonstrated unmitigated endurance, eventually becoming the label’s top selling single. The opening cardio-kick buh-bowm, the langorous keyboard doodles on every “You make me feel,” and Levan’s drug-dub, open-pitched kitchen sink production. “Heartbeat” is the case study of the S.O.S. principle: “Take your time, do it right.” Henderson


27. Underworld, “Cowgirl” (1993)

Druggy. Detached. Dystopian. The jewel in the Orwellian dubnobasswithmyheadman’s crown was “Cowgirl”—everything, everything Underworld’s thundering electronica has come to represent as a musical and political force. This dirty epic slinks toward you, big and towering, like some Frankensteinian monster with legs made of digital funk, arms stitched together from stringy electronic beats, and a bobbing head that spits out sinister dictates. It’s Lang’s Robot Maria. The Nothing from The Neverending Story. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man as imagined by Rage Against the Machine. It seduces you with its invisibility and threatens erasure with its laser-guided eye. Once it’s done with you and disappears into the shimmering horizon, you may indeed feel pulverized, too weak to charge after it with torches lit. Gonzalez


26. Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, “It Takes Two” (1988)

While not fast or pounding enough to be technically house music, 1988’s “It Takes Two” was nonetheless key in the formation of the rap-house hybrid phenomenon of the late ’80s and early ’90s called hip-house. Chalk it up to the track’s shuffling, propulsive rhythm, as well as its sonic centerpiece: the “Whoo! Yeah!” sample looped throughout, a mashup of two previously non-sequential interjections from Lyn Collins’s horny “Think (About It).” That sample was, in turn, sped up and repeated throughout hip-house’s duration (most notably in the genre’s anthem “Yo Yo Get Funky” by Chicago’s Fast Eddie). “I wanna rock right now,” announces Rob Base at the start of “It Takes Two.” It turns out that he wasn’t alone. Juzwiak


25. Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It” (1986)

This song is no butterfly, people. It’s all pelvic thrust. I mean, it prowls. Gonzalez


24. Andrea True Connection, “More, More, More (Pt. 1)” (1982)

With a backstory as tawdry as disco itself, Nashville-born actress-turned-one-hit-wonder Andrea True moved to New York City in the late 1960s on a quest for fame and fortune but eventually resorted to pornography for survival. In 1975 she connected with producer Gregg Diamond for the slinky club hit “More, More, More (Pt. 1),” a breezy, laidback dance tune (the track was recorded in Jamaica) with an infectious trumpet solo that hit the top of the disco and pop charts a year later. Despite the song’s bouncy cowbell-driven meter, though, True’s cooed vocals—“If you want to know how I really feel/Just get the cameras rollin’/Get the action going,” sung with increasing gusto with each new verse—reveal an underlying sadness and disconnect only a porn star could truly understand. Cinquemani


23. The Chemical Brothers, “Star Guitar” (2002)

“Star Guitar” is the Chemical Brothers’s most well balanced blend of their LSD-tipped psychodelic hallucinations and frenzied, bass-popping big beat anthems. Like the astonishing Michel Gondry video for the song (in which rhythms are registered through the objects passing outside the window of a passenger train), it’s all about the duo’s careful layering of sonic elements around a monolithic squelch-synth line, distorted into dazzling Technicolor with an epic amount of reverb. If the Chems’s zero-inertia “You should feel what I feel/You should take what I take” refrain comes off as a near-redundancy (there’s just enough space between each repeat for everyone under the tent to giggle “too late!”), the simple tension and release of “Star Guitar” gives listeners a vivid approximation of what they feel without even requiring you to take what they take. Every druggy, squelching aural accoutrement vibrates with its own dizzying life force. Henderson


22. Deee-Lite, “What Is Love?” (1990)

“What Is Love?” boasts one of the catchiest synth melodies and some of the trickiest, sexiest lurches in all of dance music, suggesting an epic confrontation between an organ and a synthesizer. Call it Deee-Lite’s version of Disney’s Make Mine Music: organ serves synthesizer, synthesizer serves organ, organ and synthesizer drown in a boiling stew of drum and bass. The male’s voice—Rodin’s The Thinker?—contemplates an eternal question, a philosophical proposition written out in beats so succinct and universally appealing as to suggest the track was composed entirely in Morse code. Deee-Lite pitched their music to the world in a tongue we could all comprehend, deconstructing the language of music to answer a question every single one of us has entertained at some point or another. When Kier finally chimes in and responds to the HAL-esque voice, it’s only natural the beat reduces her silly schoolgirl adjectives to a mess of unintelligible scats. Who needs words when a good beat communicates all? Somewhere, Aqua weeps in shame. Gonzalez


21. Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation” (1989)

The sonic playroom that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis built for their pet wind-up pop star Janet Jackson and her do-over debut Control already sounded like the Minneapolis sound declaring war on quiet storm R&B. So it was almost a given that the junior high ethics lessons of the Rhythm Nation project ended up literalizing Jam-Lewis’s drum programming-as-armament. “We are a nation with no geographic boundaries,” Janet drones without a trace of humor, “pushing toward a world rid of color lines.” Get the point? Good, now let’s dance with nunchucks. “Rhythm Nation” snatches an indelible sample of Larry Graham’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” bass licks, but shifts Sly Stone’s guarded political optimism into a direct attack on the 1980s’ culture of indifference. And if the song’s music video inadvertently recalled the spirit of Leni Riefenstahl, its vision of unity through mandatory multiculturalism reverses the Nazi demagogue’s ideology. Janet’s interest in the state of the world only lasted for about half an LP side, but maybe that’s part of the statement. First beat justice into the system, then lean back and let the escapades begin. Henderson


20. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (1983)

Language is leaving me now that Martha Stewart has hijacked “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. Before it used to be that I couldn’t separate the Buñuelian iconography of the song’s video, in which a pant-suited Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart travel to a Got Milk board meeting via the River Styx, from the actual song. Now I can’t think of the song, which boasts the single greatest use of a prolonged synth line in the history of dance music, without thinking of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and Week 7 dropout Carrie striking an appropriately serious pose for the camera as Lennox belts how everybody’s looking for something. Fuck you, reality television! Gonzalez


19. Afrika Bambaataa and the Sonic Soul Force, “Planet Rock” (1982)

Hip-hop was barely out of diapers in 1982 when Afrika Bambaataa Aasim of the Bronx (where else?), his Village People-esque Soul Sonic Force, and producer Arthur Baker thought it was mature enough to do some traveling. Infusing elements of German collective Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” with a frenetic, broken beat, Bambaataa and company not only provided the template of a pop-and-locking soundtrack, they created a ripple effect that can still be felt today. By virtually creating electro, a still-thriving genre, the crew is also technically responsible for Miami bass and Latin freestyle. But don’t hold that against them. Juzwiak


18. Madonna, “Everybody” (1982)

It’s almost impossible to think of Madonna as she was on her first single, “Everybody”: a faceless voice so understated it would be inaccurate to say it’s that of a diva (post-disco, or not). The Mark Kamins production sparkles with shiny-and-new-for-’82 synths, while Madge offers a preview for the world-as-a-dance-floor motif she’d never stop revisiting throughout the next 23 years. “Everybody” preceded Madonna’s media saturation, the vital balance she’d come to strike between the musical and the visual and her own gigantic persona. As tracky as Madonna has ever been, “Everybody” stood on its music alone. And, really, it was a good look for her. Juzwiak


17. Chaka Khan, “I’m Every Woman” (1979)

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s songwriting collaborations include some of the most transcendently gorgeous music in modern R&B, but they were no less talented as producers or singers. Their thundering production on Diana Ross’s cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is so deep and committed as to transform a Gaye-Terrell love ditty into the pop music equivalent of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. And Nick’s soaring falsetto on “Found a Cure” is practically acrobatic. But they neither sang nor produced what is arguably their finest moment. Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” is unbelievably textured, practically tactile, thanks to both Khan’s gut-wrenching contralto performance (which turns a song about female camaraderie into a unisexual karaoke anthem) and Arif Mardin’s exquisitely silky boudoir arrangement (pure Quincy Jones, but with more ass). But, with apologies to both, this is Ashford and Simpson’s triumph. Their melodies are both familiar and unpredictable, and the climactic key changes during the denouement are soul cleansing. Great modulations aren’t so commonplace in dance music that we can just let them slip by, so when Chaka reaches the yelping transition, everyone howls along. Henderson


16. Cerrone, “Supernature” (1977)

Moroder and Bellotte get all the credit for ensuring dance music’s future beyond standard, orchestrated disco, but the same year that they dropped “I Feel Love,” a French producer was just as forward-thinking. Cerrone harnessed a drum machine (a rarity back then), dueling basslines (one of which bobbed up and down octaves, much like Moroder’s) and a lecherous guitar to craft his own version of Eurodisco. As futuristic as the music is, the lyrical content—a revenge tale pitting Mother Nature against the men who tried to change her (via genetic modification)—was even more so, and resounds today. It would be years before the influence of “Supernature” would truly be felt (1981-1983, or the period regarded as Italo disco’s creative heyday), but you can’t blame people for not wanting to even attempt this for a while. Juzwiak


15. Michael Jackson, “Rock with You” (1979)

With all the lavishness money could buy (string and horn solos?!?), Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones created a polite disco fantasy. You’d swear Jackson never witnessed the debauchery of Studio 54 (even though he was, at one point, one of the club’s staples)—dancing is magic is love to him in “Rock with You.” As tarnished as Jackson’s image is, the nearly supernatural element of his best music is that its innocence never fades. Few songs illustrate this as clearly as “Rock with You.” Magic, indeed. Juzwiak


14. Loleatta Holloway, “Love Sensation” (1980)

Loleatta Holloway’s gospel-trained voice was big enough not only to represent disco and Salsoul (the fierce ruling label of the disco and boogie years that she called home from ’78-’84), but diva-dom as a whole. Holloway’s vocals from 1980’s “Love Sensation,” which housed so many repeated vocal hooks that it’d be virtually impossible to pick a chorus if the song’s name didn’t point you to it, were sampled incessantly in the wake of disco via the music it spawned, perhaps most famously and least understood, in the 1989 misquoting Italo-house anthem “Ride on Time” by Black Box). It wasn’t until Marky Mark used a sample of “Love Sensation” for his 1991 hit “Good Vibrations” that Holloway received on-paper credit for the reuse of her wailing (she even appeared in the video). By then, it was long overdue. Juzwiak


13. Bob Sinclar and Thomas Bangalter, “Gym Tonic” (1998)

The French house scene has made a niche industry out of processed cheese, knowing disposability and forced irony. They’ve made poseur logic work, seemingly intuiting that no amount of artifice, no matter how ridiculous and jerry-built, will tumble provided the samples are abstruse enough, the cheekiness is always bracketed in quotation marks (sometimes two pairs) and, most importantly, the performance-enhanced basslines are morbidly obese. “Gym Tonic,” simultaneously deep as hell and completely ridiculous, is French house’s showroom novelty hit. On the one hand is a musical riff snatched from Motown Sounds’s “Bad Mouthin’,” providing both the playfully bugaboo, hopping bassline, and those popcorn guitar ploinks (scratched with what sound like diamond tips for maximum wonk appeal), and on the other is a snatch of patter ripped from the Jane Fonda workout video, a time-stepping count “2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and back!” whose painfully obvious camp appeal does little to impugn its self-fulfilling legacy as a dance floor mantra. Both participants have had more musically satisfying stabs at le neo-disco française (Bangalter: “Music Sounds Better with You”; Sinclar: the Cerrone-quoting “I Feel for You”), but neither defined the genre’s droll wit and ingrained badness more succinctly. Which is probably why the track eventually turned their collaborative relationship sour. Henderson


12. The Chemical Brothers, “It Doesn’t Matter” (1997)

Elegantly wasted, “It Doesn’t Matter” is a sinister trance monster from which the phoenix of the Chemical Brothers’s Surrender outtake “Enjoyed” was born, operating like a transistor radio being pulled out of the primordial goo surrounding what I like to believe is Castle Greyskull. The Chemical Brothers are trying to make contact, except they don’t want to conduct a fax orgy a la Deee-Lite so much as host a raver’s paradise, and they won’t take no from the wary Sorceress. A fierce, deep house beat drops as they take us inside the castle. “It doesn’t matter,” they say to her (perhaps they threaten to reveal her identity to her daughter Teela), who is neither amused nor easily placated. It’s smooth going for a minute or so before the sculpted minimalism of the thing spirals into an oblivion of big-beats and bird-like shrieks. The lady doth protest too much, but the brothers don’t stop the rock. Gonzalez


11. Prince, “Erotic City” (1984)

While Tipper Gore wailed to Congress that the album at the top of the charts contained a reference to masturbation, no one in power seemed to notice that a non-album B-side to Purple Rain’s punkish “Let’s Go Crazy” single had (possibly, and then again possibly not) broken the “f word” barrier, corrupting the dance floors and hip radio airwaves where the song had developed a playlist life of its own. “Erotic City” is Prince’s most heated sex groove ever, and it’s pretty dirty even if you truly believe he’s actually saying “funk” when your ears are processing “We can fuck until the dawn, making love ’til cherry’s gone.” As if flaunting the song’s taboo nature, Prince’s production has never sounded more naked. His rhythm guitar chickas compete with his raspy, varispeed falsetto to see which can peak at a higher pitch. The second snare hit of each set of four is interrupted and reversed like Tantric hiccups. The synthesizers sound like deep throat tickle. Even if he really is singing “funk,” “Erotic City” is positively obscene. Henderson


10. Donna Summer, “Love to Love You Baby” (1975)

Cymbals brush against the back of her neck as she lifts her legs in the air. A kick drum works its way down her back, around and over to her stomach as her legs begin to part. Guided by liquefied bass riffs, her hands discard a pair of white panties. Her fingers tickle her tender nipples, dancing around the lower part of her breasts before making their way down to her abdomen toward the space between her legs. Steered by wispy synths, the fingers reach inside, spreading apart her seemingly infinite folds. The deeper they delve, the deeper the drum kicks. She works the area, nimbly and considerably, before climaxing to a stream of funky horns, pentatonic bass, horny strings and wah-wah guitar strokes. Her spent fingers withdraw to the sound of a piano, but she isn’t done yet—the kick drum resumes and the ritual begins again. Donna’s twat-twiddling may have only been a tongue-in-cheek recording session lark, but “Love to Love You Baby” has probably loosened up more orifices in the last 30 years than Bel Ami’s entire back catalogue. Gonzalez


9. Zhané, “Hey Mr. DJ” (1993)

The fusion of distaff-centric new jack production with stately-bumping club sensibilities practically ran the charts in the first three or four years of the ’90s (officially ending the moment that TLC’s stripped-down “Waterfalls” turned the four-four kick into yesterday’s sound). Playlists were peppered with urban rhinestones like Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life,” Jade’s “Every Day of the Week” and “Don’t Walk Away,” Karyn White’s “Romantic,” SWV’s “I’m So Into You,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”—not to mention the really creamy uptempo hybrids that added a touch of Latin house and romper-room disco spangle into the mix like Seduction’s “Two to Make It Right” and Stacy Earl’s criminally forgotten “Love Me All Up.” Still, no one nailed the formula quite like Zhané did with this velvet midnight blue floor-filler. As the liberal sample from Michael Wycoff’s “Looking Up at You” suggests, the presence of Zhané and their sisters on pop radio airwaves heralded pure disco’s undeniable return to form. Wasting no time on exposition, “Hey Mr. DJ” hits the needle spinning (giving the impression you’re walking in on a song that’s already been playing for hours) and doesn’t deviate from its slack jack groove or its cool keyboard paradiddles long enough for you to exhale. Henderson


8. Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (1976)

The idea to record a disco version of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” first occurred to producer Hal Davis after he heard the song at a party while in the midst of producing singer Thelma Houston’s third album Any Way You Like It. From the singer’s first gospel-hued hums to the desperate first verse (“I can’t survive/I can’t stay alive without your love/Oh, baby, don’t leave me this way/I can’t exist”) and unashamedly wanton chorus, the song transcends its archetypical disco strings and pulsating beat to become one of the most soulful disco songs ever. After putting on a strong face and dancing all night to anthems like “I Will Survive,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is the subtle, pained plea you listen to privately on your way home to an empty bed. Cinquemani


7. Lil’ Louis, “French Kiss” (1987)

By the time of the 1987 release of “French Kiss,” Chicago’s Marvin Louis Burns (a.k.a. the Lil one) had been DJing for over 10 years. It’s safe to say that he knew just how masochistic a song choice “French Kiss” would be, as it threatened to bring any brave DJ’s set to a crash: “French Kiss” is a moaning, sex-as-house track that audaciously and amazingly slows down and then stops altogether. It builds again, chugging back to its initial speed until it fades brighter than ever in post-orgasmic glow. Juzwiak


6. Machine, “There But for the Grace of God Go I” (1979)

Story songs are rare in disco. At best there are tracks like Patrick Juvet’s subtly heartbreaking “I Love America,” where most of the backstory is supplied by the listener (to wit: gay immigrant comes to America and falls in love with the disco scene’s social melting pot and pansexual freedom, unaware that not too long after the song ends lurks not only the death of disco but also the death of a disproportionate number of gays to AIDS). Not so with half-hit wonder Machine’s “There But for the Grace of God Go I,” a dark and pessimistic parable that spits social criticism along with its bitter rhythm guitar riffs and maddening “doo-doo-doo” refrains to the delight of closet dance freak rockists everywhere. So the song goes, a pair of overbearing Latino parents try to protect their bouncing baby girl from the real world, moving away from the Bronx to a place where they can raise their daughter, an environment with “no blacks, no Jews and no gays.” And no heritage. By denying their daughter her rightful knowledge of her own roots (denying her of even rock n’ roll records), Carlos and Carmen Vidal eventually find themselves the parents of a dissolute, neurotic, fat little teenage runaway. Almost too fast and chaotic to actually dance to, and practically dripping with ugly synthesizer lines that sound more like abortions, “Grace of God” is dance culture’s Scared Straight. And as far as hopelessly nihilistic conclusions go, few songs can match the grim wit of Machine’s isolationist punchline: “Too much love is worse than none at all.” Henderson


5. Clivillés & Cole, “A Deeper Love” (1991)

Shortly after Robert Clivillés and David Cole formed their prefab outfit C+C Music Factory and scored major hits with “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “Here We Go,” and “Things That Make You Go Hmmmm,” songs which infectiously cheesed up the duo’s already accessible pop-house sound for the masses, they helped invigorate Aretha Franklin’s career for all of four-and-a-half minutes with a cover of their own “A Deeper Love.” Aretha’s big-throated sister-act rendition has its fans, but it isn’t the real deal. For that you’d have to turn to the original, featuring Deborah Cooper on vocals. The former Change frontwoman takes the song to church on the Club Mix but takes it to the dance floor on the Underground Mix, which features much of the same beeps, scratches and horns but dares to put the church’s organ on equal footing with Cooper. The woman’s vocal goes in some incredibly fierce directions on the 12-minute Club Mix (it’s so towering and soulful people have understandably mistaken the voice for that of Martha Wash’s, which only deepens the song’s cred), but the condensed Underground Mix evokes an awesome vogue war. Here, a flurry of synthesized beeps attacks the song toward the end, threatening to wring out its soul, but Cooper dashes our fears with a series of coyly combative la-da-de-da-da-da-das, banishing the noise while a sampled Jomanda belts, “I need a rhythm.” Real rhythm, that is, and the rest of the song grants that wish. Gonzalez


4. Diana Ross, “Love Hangover” (1976)

Disco legend has it that producer Hal Davis and Motown founder Berry Gordy convinced a reluctant Diana Ross to record this dance classic with the help of some disco lighting and a few shots of Remy Martin. Heavy on gushy metaphors and, perhaps by default, light on the kind of disco-diva belting that had become par for the course (Ross’s uncharacteristically under-cranked, low-diaphragmed vocal says there really are some valleys low enough), “Love Hangover” was Ross and Davis’s own “Love to Love You Baby,” a breathy, lust-filled, sweat-inducing ode to disco gluttony and the dance floor orgasm: Those first few langorous, descending electric piano chords perfectly captured the sexy, desperate, cocaine-fueled listlessness of the era. Cinquemani


3. Madonna, “Vogue” (1990)

Is it a subversive gesture—an “I told you” of sorts—that “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister?” follows “Is Paris Burning?” in bell hooks’s 1992 collection of essays Black Looks: Race and Representation? hooks may or may not understand Madonna but she definitely understood the sham of voguing. She wrote: “In many ways [Paris Is Burning] was a graphic documentary portrait of the way in which colonized black people (in this case black gay brothers, some of whom were drag queens) worship at the throne of whiteness, even when such worship demands that we live in perpetual self-hate, steal, lie, go hungry, and even die in its pursuit.” hooks’s problem with Jennie Livingston and Madonna is the same: their “interest in, and appropriation of, black culture as yet another sign of their radical chic.” For hooks, Armond White, or any person of color who struggles not to be seduced away from their race by what hooks describes as a “powerful colonizing whiteness,” Madonna’s appropriation of nonwhiteness isn’t appreciative so much as fixative and fetishistic (see videos for “Secret” and “La Isla Bonita”). “I have the same goal I’ve had ever since I was a girl. I want to rule the world,” Madonna once said. This bald-faced blond ambition helped her achieve worldwide pop domination but it’s also what’s earned her a legion of naysayers. Madonna has repeatedly mined the sacred turf of nonwhite culture for trends to incorporate into the spectacle of her perpetual reinvention. But let’s give the bitch credit where credit is due. Power-hungry as she may be (or was, as her recent dance floor confessions would have us believe), Madonna is not stupid. “Vogue” may not be the greatest dance song of all time, but it’s certainly the chintziest and brainiest of all. I’d argue that it understands the culture that spawned the ritualized play of voguing more critically than Paris Is Burning, throwing shade at Livingston by liberally replicating the very same part of MFSB’s “Love Is the Message” that appears in the film. At the very least, the song nails the complicated and contradictory messages of voguing. hooks says, “Livingston does not oppose the way hegemonic whiteness ’represents’ blackness, but rather assumes an imperial overseeing position that is in no way progressive or counter-hegemonic.” She might say the same thing about Madonna’s song and video, which White decried in The City Sun in 1990 for the way “Madonna and her voguers are vamping for class approval.” But that’s exactly why voguers “pose”: for social acceptance. “It makes no difference if you’re black or white,” belts Madonna; one could say she recognizes the Latino roots of voguing ignored by White and hooks. Madonna’s dance floor, like the arena of the drag ball, has the atmosphere of a sports event, a place of social communion. The thrill of voguing for Black and Latino queens is trying to pass for white. Madonna understands this “racial pathology,” to quote White, as a form of “going with the flow” compliance. “Beauty is where you find it,” she sings, counteracting the self-denying fantasy voguing encourages—the song could be a precursor to Celeda’s “Be Yourself.” Madonna may find beauty in the Hollywood icons of the past but she understands the feelings of negation their stardom often disguised. Shep Pettibone, a white boy whose roots were in house and hip-hop, helps stress this idea with his gussied-up house beats; he and Madonna recognize voguing for the artifice that it is. This is a point White doesn’t get when he criticizes Madonna’s white-fixated roll-call of stars, forgetting that Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino and that her superstar status in white-bread Hollywood was predicated on her ability to give good face. Gonzalez


2. Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart” (1990)

According to Eric Cartman, the hippie is extremely resilient. Case in point: When Deee-Lite blasted into the musicsphere in the early ’90s, many mistook the group for nostalgia-wanking clowns trying to revitalize the passive flower-children ethos and artifice their parents embraced in the ’60s and ’70s (“We are trying to make contact,” they’d go on to say on their ironic “I.F.O.” a couple of years later, cheekily toying with those presumptions), which trivialized the truly forward-thinking momentum of their music. Straight from the halls of New York City’s bygone super clubs to God’s ears, Deee-Lite’s bohemian philosophy imagined the denizens of the global village collectively bopping their heads to a kaleidoscopic fusion of funkadelic house beats, giddy samples, back-to-nature rhythms and a stream of coy lyrics with big-themed ambitions. This was dance music in a language everyone could understand. No song delivered the group’s world-conscious Word as colorfully and open-heartedly as “Groove Is in the Heart,” which flew up the Billboard charts while goosing stuffed shirts. For as long as Deee-Lite was popular, even if it was only for 15 minutes, the world (and music scene) seemed like a much happier place. Gonzalez


1. Donna Summer, “I Feel Love” (1977)

In its original sequencing on Donna Summer’s unspeakably campy I Remember Yesterday, “I Feel Love” is merely the “but our story doesn’t end here” epilogue to a corny, disco-fried Time-Life tour through modern pop music, beginning with the title track’s bo-do-dee-oh nod to 1940s doo-wop and ending with the chocolate/vanilla ’70s swirl of “Black Lady” and “Can’t We Just Sit Down.” But the unspoken addendum to that latter song’s request might as well have been “better buckle up,” because Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s futuristic vistavision album coda single-handedly took pop music into the electronic age. No longer would synthesizers remain the intellectual property of prog-classical geeks. And, separated from its LP context and taken as a Top 10 single, it didn’t just suggest the future, it was the future. Cooing ascending couplets of an almost banal ecstasy, Summer’s breathy vocals still dwelled in the stratosphere of her own manufactured sensation. In his liner notes to Rhino’s The Disco Years compilation, Ken Barnes memorably chided, “She’d be lucky to feel a meteorite collision,” but he must have missed her near operatic backing vocals on the chorus. Moroder’s dreamy showers of synthesized good vibes, his intransigent yet understated metronomic beats, and those immortal octave-jumping bass pulsations all insisted that, yes, you could indeed finesse rich, emotional alternate universes from binary code and silicon chips. Artists like Kraftwerk were working similar territory concurrently, but their electronic experimentalism was academicism first, music second. In merging soulful dance music with filters, knobs and sequence-programming, Moroder unwittingly and presciently provided dance music with its own personal underground railroad that became its only salvation following the highly publicized extermination of disco in 1979 (with the Comiskey Park disco record bonfire serving as the movement’s Night of the Long Knives). While the straight-white-male powers that be stomped on Bee Gees and Village People records, the shards of dance music proliferated into countless niche genres thanks to the electro-pop synergy of Moroder’s vision, and no musical genre in the last three decades has remained untouched by the neon-lit legacy of “I Feel Love.” Henderson


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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

Picture

Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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Features

The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani


19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp


18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani


17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins


16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud


15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud


14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp


13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani


12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp


11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins


10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins


9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp


8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins


7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins


6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins


5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani


4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud


3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins


2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud


1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins


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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen
 

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen


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