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The 100 Best Dance Songs of All Time

Dim the lights, pump up the volume, and join us as we imagine a future where we won’t be dancing on our own.

100 Best Dance Songs of All Time
Photo: Universal Music

When we published the original iteration of this list back in 2006, dance music had been pushed unceremoniously underground, relegated to discotheques and niche radio stations that were increasingly incorporating hip-hop into their playlists. Of course, hip-hop can be traced directly back to ’70s funk and disco, and the origins of dance are firmly rooted in black music—a circle that’s impossible to dismiss. But we lamented the apparent slow death of dance music’s popularity while holding out hope for its inevitable revival.

Be careful what you wish for. Just a few years later, EDM exploded, with artists like David Guetta dominating pop radio with garish bangers more interested in pounding you into submission than luring you to the dance floor. More than a few gems emerged from the rush, though, including a handful of instant classics: Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love,” and Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind” among them.

Eventually, the EDM bubble burst, but dance music seems to be on the upswing yet again, with disco throwbacks like Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” and Doja Cat’s “Say So” bumping and grinding their way to the top of the charts. So it’s ironic that Billboard has paused publication of its club play tally for the first time in almost 50 years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now seems like the perfect time to dust off our record players and celebrate that most enduring of genres—even if it’s just in the privacy of our own homes.

We’ve added songs, both old and new, but we’ve also shaken up the entire list to reflect our evolving taste as well as the durability of some songs over others. So, dim all the lights, pump up the volume, and join us as we imagine a future where we won’t be dancing on our own. Sal Cinquemani

Editor’s Note: The original version of this list, published on January 30, 2006, can be found exclusively on our Patreon page.

100. 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. 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!” Eric Henderson


99. 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 heed 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. Ed Gonzalez


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

One of Guyanan composer-musician Randy Muller’s string of train-centric tracks (he was also the man behind the chugging string arrangements of B.T. Express), Brass Construction’s “Movin’” 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. Henderson


97. Lisette 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. Producer Carlos Berrios would go on to recycle this style 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. Rich Juzwiak


96. 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, Minnie Riperton-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. Gonzalez


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

R&B’s gospel influence is so vast, it barely needs explaining. 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 and Terry Lewis didn’t get that the first time around (they serviced “The Pressure” with a new jack swing production), but that’s okay—the late 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


94. 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


93. Underworld, “Born Slippy .NUXX” (1995)

Who’s that boy? He’s dirty and numb but also capable of angelic poses. He’s also terribly fond of lager, chemicals, and blondes. Sounds a bit like the libidinous bugger Ewan McGregor played in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the film that made this dark, long, chest-puffing techno anthem ubiquitous for a hot second back in 1996. Like Benton’s craving for smack, the beats are frantic, dizzying, ravenous, even pained, rippling outward like ginormous waves or cascading ribbons made of steel, grasping for the sort of ecstasy that seems to only come with absolute annihilation. Such is the gnarliness of Underworld’s music. Gonzalez


92. 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. Inner City’s “Good Life” clanks like techno, pumps like house, and features disco diva vocals from 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


91. 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 in the mid-aughts. 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 Bey’s breakout solo smash. 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 so infectious that it permanently branded “diva” to the singer’s, uh, résumé, the song positioned the curvy bottle blonde as an MTV-generation Tina Turner. Temporary insanity never tasted so sweet. Cinquemani


90. 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


89. Cathy Dennis, “Touch Me (All Night Long)” (1991)

It’s ironic that a singer who carved out a second act for herself by writing iconic hits for other artists, including Britney Spears’s “Toxic” and Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” initially made a name for herself with someone else’s song. But Cathy Dennis made Fonda Rae’s disco trifle “Touch Me (All Night Long)” her own by completely rewriting the song’s throwaway verses, imbuing a fleeting physical connection with the weight of manifest destiny. DJ extraordinaire Shep Pettibone likewise put his signature on the track by amping up the melodic hook and distinctive Roland 909 house beats, propelling it into the stratosphere of early-’90s house-pop. Cinquemani


88. 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 the latter, 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” features jazzy piano, a portentous synthesized whistle, 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 the Terminator himself. Watley’s follow-up, “Don’t You Want Me,” might be more danceable, but it’s nowhere near as iconic. Cinquemani

87. 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. Juzwiak


86. Hercules and Love Affair, “Blind” (2008)

DJ and once-Butt magazine model Andrew Butler’s Hercules and Love Affair outfit paid poignant homage to the queer man’s feelings of yearning, wish fulfillment, and survival on their sensual, vaporous, and bittersweet self-titled debut album. A fabulous experiment at looking at the present from some kind of beyond, their splendiferous “Blind” was like a post-mortem address by “Queen of Disco” Sylvester, reminiscing on libertine days gone by through the gender-bending voice of Antony Hegarty. A groovilicious, undulating foot-stomper that continues to stir the soul. Gonzalez


85. Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” (2012)

It could be said that the world of dance, a dozen years into the new millennium, was just ready for a little unabashed brightness amid the proliferating subgenres of EDM, grime, trap, vaporwave, and post-dubstep. (Just a single spin of Blawan’s homicidal 2012 hit “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” would be enough to make one run screaming from the dance floor to never return again.) And if that’s the case, it should’ve surprised no one that that much-needed dose of uppers came from the Land of the Midnight Sun. Norwegian DJ Todd Terje (yes, that’s a riff on Todd Terry’s name, and yes, that’s what all Scandinavian humor is like) was already a rising figure thanks to “Snooze 4 Love” and a series of quirky re-edits, including Chic’s “I Want Your Love.” But the world reacted to the release of the knowingly absurd loping synth riffs of “Inspector Norse” like a group of preteen boys coming in from a game of touch football to a tray full of Sunny D. And when critics said his music was fit only for strandbars (Norwegian for “beach bars”), Terje turned around and called his next relentlessly chipper disco-house release, “Strandbar.” That’s some A-grade Norwegian passive-aggressiveness right there. Henderson


84. The Knife, “Silent Shout” (2006)

Pac-Man and his red-bowed honey’s wedding song? The metronomic production—minimalist but intense beats chasing each other as if in and out of love, or nightmares—is perfectly and surreally married to the equally disquieting lyrics, which recount a flashpoint in a person’s life when their sense of complacency is shattered by a dream of falling teeth. Is that love or death on their horizon? Like much of the Knife and Fever Ray’s music, or a Luis Buñuel film, the song seduces as it frightens. Gonzalez


83. 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


82. Björk, “Big Time Sensuality” (1993)

Björk’s got the turtleheart of a bona fide boogie monster of the hardest order, as anyone who’s watched her jam out to LFO’s “Freak” while performing “Hyperballad” live can plainly see. But even at the height of her mixtape era (namely 1993’s Debut and 1995’s Post), she seemed to perpetually intellectualize herself out of simply reveling in, to borrow from Deee-Lite, just “a good beat.” Nellee Hooper’s original production on “Big Time Sensuality” had the bones of a great dance song, and Björk’s lyric appropriately harnessed her “big feelings” to match that message up. (If “I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to” doesn’t sum up that most eternal 3 a.m., nothing does.) But it took Fluke’s scope-widening remix of the song to bring its anthemic potential into full bloom. It takes courage to try to best Björk, but in this case it paid off big time. Henderson


81. 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


80. Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell” (1979)

The epitome of the one-hit wonder, 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


79. Andrea True Connection, “More, More, More” (1976)

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,” 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


78. 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. 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


77. 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


76. 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


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 (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. 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 lyricist 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.” Cinquemani


73. Daft Punk, “One More Time” (2000)

And on the seventh day, two robot gods did not rest but instead brought the filtered disco craze of the late ’90s to its star-spangled apex. Body-glittered pink cherubs brought to their neon lips a chorus of trumpets, the chosen people congregated at the foot of a luminescent temple, and the world was either baptized or skull-fucked by a most tumescent bass kick. No room for little fluffy clouds this high up in the stratosphere. So it was written, so it has been done: “It’s Christmas in Disco Heaven, every single day.” Henderson


72. 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,” a new version of their 1992 single “Justified and Ancient” kept them riding high on the club and pop charts, effectively turning country singer Tammy Wynette 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


71. Was (Not Was), “Wheel Me Out” (1980)

The psychotronic, bass-popping first single from the endlessly performative eggheads Was (Not Was), “Wheel Me Out” rushes in with its relentless wall of rock guitars, shimmering percussion, and sci-fi dialogue snippets about a scientist who discouraged his young, female protégé and now, presumably, will live just long enough to regret it. The inscrutably funky hipster ditty now feels like one of the most galvanizing examples of every disparate niche genre of the moment coming together like Dr. Funkenstein’s monster. Such was the scene in Detroit, where P-funk had recently turned slop into a cosmic initiative and where very shortly A Number of Names would unleash “Sharivari” and, with it, techno. Henderson


70. 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


69. 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 Minogue). 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


68. 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 hi-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


67. 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-blond 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


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

ABBA’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 the Swedish group’s music so easily appeals to desperate housewives and hipsters of the world; theirs is pop music for people living in the closets of their own frustration. 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. Gonzalez


65. 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


64. Grace Jones, “Pull Up to the Bumper” (1981)

The symbiosis between disco’s superstar divas and the clubgoers whose songs they entranced was in almost every case a two-way street. The former group delivered to the latter blissful sonic hedonism in regular, 12-inch installments, and the latter returned the favor with unyielding fervent worship. This circuitous relationship breaks down each and every time when it comes to singer-model-virago Grace Jones, who, once she got disco-Broadway kitsch out of her system in her first few albums, seized control of her image and commanded respect and fear, and carried herself as someone who frankly couldn’t give a fuck whether you worshipped her or not because, clearly, plenty of others already did. “Pull Up to the Bumper” allegedly isn’t a song-length metaphor for anal sex, at least according to interviews Jones has given since its release, but that sure doesn’t mean she didn’t snatch an audience member up on stage at a live Paradise Garage performance to, quoting the Village Voice review, hump his bumper. Henderson


63. The Emotions, “Best of My Love” (1977)

Backed by Earth, Wind & Fire at the peak of their pop crossover power, the Emotions hold their feet firmly planted within their gospel roots throughout most of “Best of My Love,” keeping their melodies sweet, holding the vocal tenor of that titular love discreet, if not downright chaste. But when that last bridge comes sweeping in, their high notes start arpeggiating, and their interchanging interjections get husky. And then, just before the chorus, they allow themselves to get swept up in the physical sensation the rest of the song had already been taking listeners. And then…“Ow!” Alicia Myers’s transgressively holy-horny “I Want to Thank You” made the pursuit of sexual fulfillment nothing less than a spiritual mission statement, to beatific effect, but these one-time church choir girls managed to best her with one single note. Henderson


62. Basement Jaxx, “Breakaway” (2001)

Latin, dub, disco, electroclash, purple music: No style seems beyond Basement Jaxx’s grasp, but if there’s one track that seemed to announce the arrival of the duo 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


61. 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 “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


60. 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


59. 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? Gonzalez


58. 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


57. Bob Sinclar, “Gym Tonic” (1998)

Simultaneously deep as hell and completely ridiculous, “Gym Tonic” 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 Sinclar and remixer Thomas Bangalter 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


56. 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


55. George Michael, “Too Funky” (1992)

Even amid the best efforts to quell AIDS hysteria and steer activists away from slut shaming, it took some breathtaking balls to present, as the lead single for the AIDS-research benefit compilation album Red Hot + Dance, a song that insists “I’ve got to see you naked, baby” and “I gotta get inside of you.” It semiotically embodies the very essence of house-fueled cruise culture. The same year that Madonna and Shep Pettibone got the fever on Erotica, Michael’s piano-pounding “Too Funky” was first in line to turn up the thermostat. Henderson


54. 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. “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


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

Disco keyboardist and New Jersey native Michael Zager’s quirky 1978 hit “Let’s All Chant” is 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


52. 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


51. 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. 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. Cinquemani


50. 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


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

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 drum set 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


48. 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


47. 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


46. Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, “We Found Love” (2011)

Announcing itself with a set of syncopated synth intervals that sound as much like a fire alarm as they do a call to the dance floor, “We Found Love”—more than any other song in Rihanna’s fun-demanding catalogue—makes the urge to get turnt up feel like an almost religious impulse. (Hell, even the most devout parishioners throw their hands up for this secular party hymn.) For understandable reasons, the title cuts off right before the qualifier “in a hopeless place.” But it’s the juxtaposition of the two (emphasized in the VMA-winning music video) that makes Rihanna’s best-selling single ever a fully shaded descendent of “The Pleasure Principle.” Henderson

45. Patrice Rushen, “Haven’t You Heard” (1980)

“Haven’t You Heard” is the apex of all-in-one musical genius Patrice Rushen’s enduring knack for drawing equally from R&B, disco, and jazz traditions and somehow coming up with the freshest, cleanest, perkiest ditties to ever captivate crowds from dank, dirty club speakers. Seriously, they’re pristine enough to magically summon a flute filled with perfectly chilled Veuve Clicquot into the hands of anyone within earshot. Like Rushen’s biggest crossover hit, “Forget Me Nots” (also co-written by bassist Freddie Washington), “Haven’t You Heard” is precisely calibrated to strip away all cynicism from the first galloping kick. And Rushen’s tour-de-force performance on both acoustic and electric piano justify her aspirations of “looking for the perfect guy.” Anyone who can spread warmth this relentlessly deserves nothing less. Henderson


44. 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


43. 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” is 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


42. Madonna, “Hung Up” (2005)

“Hung Up” employs a ticking clock to represent fear of wasted time, but Madonna isn’t singing about aging or saving the world—she’s talking about love. Coming on the heels of the spiritual musings of Ray of Light and the pedantic socio-political posturing of 2003’s American Life, “Hung Up” was decidedly vapid. With its pitched-upward vocals, infectious arpeggio sample from ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight),” and the bridge’s unironic, archetypical key change, the track points to the past, and it proved that, 20 years into her career, Madonna was still the one and only Dancing Queen. Cinquemani


41. 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


40. Technotronic, “Pump Up the Jam” (1989)

With its prominent hi-hat and dry 909 beat, Belgian group Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” presages the Eurodance acts—from Real McCoy to La Bouche—that dominated dance-pop in the mid-1990s. The track’s fusion of deep house and hip-hop also made it one of the first hip-house crossover pop hits. Like hip-hop, early house music relied heavily on samples, and “Pump Up the Jam” is driven by not just a recreation of the synth stabs from Royal House’s “Can You Party,” but a sample of the 303 bassline from Farley “Jackmaster” Funk’s “The Acid Life,” both released that same year. The result is an intoxicating mix that turned what should have been a forgotten novelty into an enduring dance classic. Cinquemani


39. Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (1978)

With its swirling synths and Chic-like guitar riffs radiating off a drum machine beat and singer Debbie Harry’s sweet, honey-dipped vocal, this 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. Cinquemani


38. 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 subgenre 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 amid early-’80s homophobia as well as any piece of pop culture. Juzwiak


37. CeCe Peniston, “Finally” (1991)

Absolution for the careers, disproportionally black and female, that were cut short when the backlash against disco took hold may well have arrived in the early ’90s, when for three or four years it felt like diva-driven pop-house tracks dominated the airwaves as Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, and Diana Ross did some 15 years prior. A number of those tracks are featured on this list, but few of them speak as powerfully to that moment of resurgence and retribution as CeCe Peniston’s gut-wrenchingly gratified “Finally.” Obviously, she’s singing about the thrill of finally meeting Mr. Right “with brown cocoa skin and curly black hair,” but by the end, when the song’s already threadbare lyrics melt down into a series of syncopated syllables—”nga-nay, uh-nay, ay-yay, aaaow”—the song’s pleasure principle has clearly taken off into the meta stratosphere. The wait to exhale has never felt so richly earned. Henderson


36. Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On” (2001)

It’s a bit hard to capture now, years after it conquered the world, but once upon a time this song was really fucking weird. Of course, there’s the totally twisted sample, hitching a ride to Bollywood in Knight Rider’s car. Then there’s the ADHD-cum-dancehall, chaos-theory stance it takes toward verse-chorus structure, punctuated with sound effects (Missy hocking a loogie!). Not to mention the drum-’n-bass outro and Missy’s ragga toasting vocal stylings. Okay, so this song is still really fucking weird. Dave Hughes


35. Black Box, “Strike It Up” (1991)

While disco never truly died, it’s dealt with its fair share of indignities since its purported flameout. Take the case of Italo house group Black Box, who rolled out single after single with video after video showcasing model Katrin Quinol as the group’s lead singer. But, as anyone who lived through the scandal (concurrent with Milli Vanilli’s) already knows, it sure wasn’t her voice belting out hook after memorable hook on hits like “Everybody Everybody” and “Strike It Up.” It was Martha Wash, whose gigantic voice perfectly embodies the soul of disco and house music; she’s capable of pounding 4/4 beats into total submission. Wash’s demo recordings were used as the final product without her consent (or offering her credit), and in retrospect it’s a wonder that anyone thought people wouldn’t recognize her powerful instrument from the first spin. With the debt and the degradation now resolved, it can be guiltlessly admitted that “Strike It Up” is a masterpiece, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else’s voice rising above the song’s battalion of piano house, synth stabs, and, yes, one gigantic 4/4 beat. Henderson


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

Names can be destinies; titles can be too. So it goes with Kylie Minogue’s most global hit, an iridescent earworm remarkably effective at its explicit mission of reprogramming your brain. Kraftwerk with an armful of million-dollar hooks and an international-scale marketing budget, its robotic after-hours pulse signaled the arrival of a minimal era in dance music. It still sounds like a future where everyone’s coked up, wearing slinky dresses, driving sleek cars too fast on the autobahn en route to the coolest party in the world—and it still lives up to its title’s promise. Hughes


33. 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


32. 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


31. Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It” (1986)

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


30. 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


29. 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 she took the reins of her professional life on her 1986 breakthrough, Control, 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.” Written and produced by one-time Prince keyboardist and Jam and 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


28. 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.” 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 elevate the song to a whole new level of camp splendor: “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!” 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


27. New Order, “Blue Monday” (1983)

The fact that “Blue Monday” became a staple of the typically boneheaded electroclash DJ in the aughts 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


26. 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


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

There’s a reason Marilyn Manson and countless others have covered “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”: Its dread is timeless. There’s no substitute for the original’s pounding inevitability, however, nor for the foreboding Annie Lennox, who seems to be delivering all of her lyrical warnings with the crooked smile of a knowing villainess. Her tales of yearning and worldly ills are punctuated with perhaps one of the most famous synth lines to come out of the ’80s: a gyrating, churning snake of broken electro-brass that, with its looping melody, seems to eternally spiral toward doom. Never have sweet dreams sounded so nightmarish. Kevin Liedel


24. 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. 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


23. 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 self-diddling 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 45 years than Bel Ami’s entire back catalog. Gonzalez


22. 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,” Karyn White’s “Romantic,” and Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love.” 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


21. 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 didn’t exist. The beat is measured, even downright sluggish, but it’s the bassline, at twice the speed, that propels the song. Impeccably produced by Jackson and 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


20. Connie Case, “Get Down” (1982)

Connie Case’s electronic disco unclassic “Get Down” is about as “not disco” as Sylvester was “not gay.” Regardless, it’s 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


19. 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). “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

18. 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

17. 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 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 “Into the Groove,” she’s unapologetically single-minded: It’s love she’s looking for, not just a dance partner. On her very first single, “Everybody,” 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. 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 here), but you can’t help but believe her. The song—and Madonna’s performance—are that good. Music can be such a revelation, indeed. Cinquemani

16. 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 songs like “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” 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. 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-da’s, 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


15. 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 mash-up 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


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. Robyn, “Dancing on My Own” (2010)

Few artists risk Robyn’s emotional nakedness, and with “Dancing on My Own” she reveals the exquisite flipside to her more empowered “With Every Heartbeat.” Once upon a time, she walked away from him, accepting a broken heart because to stay would have hurt infinitely more. Now he’s with someone else. She’s still alone. In the club, in the corner somewhere, her body, like her mind, spinning in circles. Something about those bouncing beats, the way they shoot from the speakers and ricochet around her like beams of light, resonates with her feelings of yearning, doubt, regret. For most, the club is an arena for escape. For Robyn, it’s a place for heartbreaking introspection. Gonzalez


12. 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 languorous 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


11. 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


10. 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 (She’s Homeless)” sets its portrait of a crusty, haphazardly made-up bag lady dementedly begging on street corners to the Basement Boys’s unforgivingly brutish thump. As Crystal’s first-person protagonist stands there, singing for money, her lah-dah-dee’s 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


9. 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


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. Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (1979)

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” launches Off the Wall with a slyly un-declarative feint, playing right into Jackson’s well-documented sensitivity transitioning out of being the clarion-voiced dynamo who fronted his brothers’ Motown quintet: “You know I was…I was wondering, you know, if…if you could keep on…” The false modesty doesn’t last long, though, with Jackson’s fumbling flirtation giving way to the most luxe disco that money can buy: sweeping string arrangements, densely textured interlacing percussion, and twice as many horns as the River City Boys’ Band, all in service of making a song that, aside from its frenzied bridge, makes just two chords sound like the disco equivalent of Shostakovich. While it’s impossible to listen to Jackson’s music without also acknowledging the fall from innocence his reputation now embodies, to hear him match up against this record’s all-stops-out production with nothing more than a ghostly falsetto is to remember the alchemy that kept the world happily distracted. Henderson


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. 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 her, 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, the track 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. 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 languorous, descending electric piano chords perfectly captured the sexy, desperate, cocaine-fueled listlessness of the era. Cinquemani


4. Cerrone, “Supernature” (1977)

Giorgio Moroder and Pete 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 (from 1981 to 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


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

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


2. Madonna, “Vogue” (1990)

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 critic Armond 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. Producer Shep Pettibone, a white boy whose roots lie in house and hip-hop, helps stress this idea with his gussied-up house beats, recognizing voguing for the artifice that it is. This is a point White doesn’t get when he criticizes the singer’s white-fixated rollcall 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


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 four decades has remained untouched by the neon-lit legacy of “I Feel Love.” Henderson

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