The 100 Greatest Dance Songs

The 100 Greatest Dance Songs


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To ignore race when discussing music is to ignore the very origins of the art form itself. We won’t lecture about tribal music in Africa, the oral tradition of communal song across Europe and Latin America, or the origin of rhythm and blues in the spirituals of the American South, but it’s impossible to overlook the fact that, in 2006, dance music is a force to be reckoned with everywhere around the world except the United States. Hip-hop—bless its formerly repressed, underdog heart—rules the U.S. charts to the point where a dance single cracking the Top 10 is considered a huge accomplishment. What constitutes a “club” song today is vastly different from a decade ago. In 1996, Everything But the Girl and La Bouche were climbing the pop charts; in the 21st century, we’ve got, at worst, Fat Joe’s 2004 hit “Lean Back,” a song about not dancing, and, at best, Pussycat Dolls’ more-hip-hop-than-dance “Don’t Cha.” Dance music (that is, dance-pop and house, the two most popular post-disco offshoots) has been ironically ghettoized, pushed back underground and relegated to discotheques and niche radio stations that are increasingly adding urban artists to their playlists. Of course, America’s ethnic diversity is a primary factor, so it’s no surprise that the crossover-R&B club banger would become the new dance-pop. Hip-hop can be traced directly back to ’70s funk and disco and the origins of dance music are firmly rooted in black music—a circle that’s impossible to dismiss. Rather than lament the apparent slow death of dance as we know it, we’ve decided to celebrate one of the most varied, perpetually evolving genres in music today…in anticipation of its next great leap. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the songs on our list, we suggest you get yourself to a music shop or online downloading service and stock up your vinyl bag or iPod ASAP.

Listen to the entire list at here.


Sven Väth, “My Name Is Barbarella” (1992)

Deep Dish’s boomy, velveteen remix of “Barbarella” is a sincere form of flattening; it’s hot-to-trot but strips Sven Väth’s “My Name Is Barbarella” of its multifarious, galaxy-bouncing textures. If Dubfire and Sharam’s mix doesn’t rise above the dance floor at Roxy, Väth’s original trance anthem—a rich tapestry of synths, drums, deep bass and angelic flights of fancy at once heavenly and wicked—takes us considerably higher. Guided by dialogue samples from Roger Vadim’s camp-trash classic Barbarella, the track is so rich you don’t need the psychedelic drugs to vicariously experience the thrill of Jane Fonda’s 1968 space odyssey. Call it music for Care Bears. Ed Gonzalez


Moby, “Everytime You Touch Me” (1995)

Phillip Lopate once noted that “Fellow [Mikio] Naruseans do not fall into each other’s arms but are testy, as though irritated at meeting another keeper of the flame.” If you, like me, were all of 18 and a Moby fan some 10 years ago, you might have felt the same about the little bald bugger. Five years later, though, there was no way of pretending Moby’s music was mine—and mine alone—given the throngs of moms, businessmen, frat boys and drunk girls giddily throwing their hands in the air at a Play concert in New York City. It may have been the day I lost my soul to the hipster devil Armond White lobs holy water at on a weekly basis, because in that moment I became too cool to listen to someone who’d carelessly license their music the way Moby did after trumpeting an anti-establishment song for so many years. But let’s be fair here. If you were able to get past the didactic sleeve notes and song titles, Moby was making some really great music before the glossy commercial formulas of 18 and Hotel. I could never hang out with the guy—he’s a fucking vegan, for God’s sake!—but for giving us the humane, spiritual exaltation of Everything Is Wrong and Play, the Little Idiot is still pretty fly for a white guy. Any number of songs could have made this list (“Feeling So Real,” “Machete,” or even the Rollo & Sister Bliss remix of his Mission of Buhrma cover “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”) but “Everytime You Touch Me” seems the most definitive given that it mashes together every Moby pretense (the conservationist concerns, girly vocals, black fetish) into one song with effortless aplomb. Moby is singing about the planet, but “Everytime You Touch Me” is no “Earth Song” (for that, check out the tree-hugging hysteria of “The Blue Light of the Underwater Sun”). It’s a love song first, and it’s been compiled with the manic energy of someone whose heart clearly beats for their work—godless hipsters be damned! Gonzalez


Mariah Carey, “Dreamlover (Def Club Mix)” (1993)

A musical carbon copy of the Emotions’s “Blind Alley” (Hammond organ and all), 1993’s “Dreamlover” is one of Mariah’s most enduring uptempo numbers. The basic musical concept of the song remains the same on the popular Def Club Mix, but Mariah’s vocals are completely rerecorded to fit the essence of David Morales’s house track, effectively creating an entirely new song in its own right. The chorus, once bouncy and girlish, is restrained and sexy, with Mariah exuding a come-hitherness that wouldn’t fully be revealed on her albums until several years later. It’s almost as if, in the dark, private confines of Morales’s studio (and in the name of the down-and-dirty club scene), Mariah was given license to be who she wanted to be by a record label set on maintaining the status of their crossover chart princess. In other words, let Mariah do what she wants as long as it stays on the remix—this practice became even more prevalent once Mariah set her sights on hip-hop. Morales’s deep bass, beats and spliced-up vocals are patently a product of early-’90s house, but the ambitious arrangement was just a preview of his forthcoming remixes with Mariah, including his epic, multi-part dance floor suite for “Fantasy,” which harks back to the days of Moroder and Bellotte. Though it’s not exactly the influence-wielding track many claim it to be, “Dreamlover” was certainly one of the first massively reconstructed remixes of its kind to cross over in such a big way. It’s also a testament to Mariah’s commitment to club music and respect for the remix process. Sal Cinquemani


Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell” (1979)

The epitome of the one-hit wonder (a term that has become almost synonymous with “disco artist”), Anita Ward made her mark in popular music with the 1979 hit “Ring My Bell.” Sporting one of the first uses of synthesized percussion on a popular record since Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and a smattering of electronic flourishes, the track is a cutesy, borderline-novelty tune that manages to withstand the battering of time thanks to Ward’s coy vocal performance and R&B producer-songwriter Frederick Knight’s lyrical composition about the perks of domesticity. Cinquemani


Metro Area, “Miura” (2001)

Metro Area’s foot-thumper “Miura” is nothing if not all-inclusive, ladling economical spoonfuls of tribal beats, Latin drums and funk grooves across what may be the hottest eight-minute bassline in the world. It was released in 2001, when all eyes were on Moroder for dance revivalism. Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, instead, chose to infuse their techno sensibility with disco strings and boogie keyboards, providing a much-needed alternative to electroclash. Others tried to convince us that what they were doing was new (even if “new” meant “injected with irony”), but the sound-for-sound’s-sake craftsmanship on this and virtually every other Metro Area offering bespoke a love for its source material so profound that it wasn’t afraid to make its throwback nature blatant. Rich Juzwiak


Lissette Melendez, “Together Forever” (1991)

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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