The 100 Greatest Dance Songs

40

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

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

39

Basement Jaxx, “Breakaway” (2001)

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

38

Connie Case, “Get Down” (1982)

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

37

Klein & M.B.O., “Dirty Talk” (1982)

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

36

Paula Abdul, “Straight Up” (1988)

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

35

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

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

34

Mr. Flagio, “Take a Chance” (1983)

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

33

Candido, “Thousand Finger Man” (1978)

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

32

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

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

31

Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1982)

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

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