The 100 Greatest Dance Songs


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

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


Madonna, “Into the Groove” (1985)

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


Taana Gardner, “Heartbeat” (1981)

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


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


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

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


Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It” (1986)

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


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

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


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


Deee-Lite, “What Is Love?” (1990)

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


Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation” (1989)

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