The 100 Greatest Dance Songs


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


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

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


Skyy, “First Time Around” (1979)

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


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

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


A Number of Names, “Sharevari” (1981)

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


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

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


Stacey Q, “Two of Hearts” (1986)

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


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


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

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


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

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