The 100 Greatest Dance Songs


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

Language is leaving me now that Martha Stewart has hijacked “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. Before it used to be that I couldn’t separate the Buñuelian iconography of the song’s video, in which a pant-suited Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart travel to a Got Milk board meeting via the River Styx, from the actual song. Now I can’t think of the song, which boasts the single greatest use of a prolonged synth line in the history of dance music, without thinking of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and Week 7 dropout Carrie striking an appropriately serious pose for the camera as Lennox belts how everybody’s looking for something. Fuck you, reality television! Gonzalez


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


Madonna, “Everybody” (1982)

It’s almost impossible to think of Madonna as she was on her first single, “Everybody”: a faceless voice so understated it would be inaccurate to say it’s that of a diva (post-disco, or not). The Mark Kamins production sparkles with shiny-and-new-for-’82 synths, while Madge offers a preview for the world-as-a-dance-floor motif she’d never stop revisiting throughout the next 23 years. “Everybody” preceded Madonna’s media saturation, the vital balance she’d come to strike between the musical and the visual and her own gigantic persona. As tracky as Madonna has ever been, “Everybody” stood on its music alone. And, really, it was a good look for her. Juzwiak


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


Cerrone, “Supernature” (1977)

Moroder and 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 (1981-1983, 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


Michael Jackson, “Rock with You” (1979)

With all the lavishness money could buy (string and horn solos?!?), Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones created a polite disco fantasy. You’d swear Jackson never witnessed the debauchery of Studio 54 (even though he was, at one point, one of the club’s staples)—dancing is magic is love to him in “Rock with You.” As tarnished as Jackson’s image is, the nearly supernatural element of his best music is that its innocence never fades. Few songs illustrate this as clearly as “Rock with You.” Magic, indeed. Juzwiak


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


Bob Sinclar and Thomas Bangalter, “Gym Tonic” (1998)

The French house scene has made a niche industry out of processed cheese, knowing disposability and forced irony. They’ve made poseur logic work, seemingly intuiting that no amount of artifice, no matter how ridiculous and jerry-built, will tumble provided the samples are abstruse enough, the cheekiness is always bracketed in quotation marks (sometimes two pairs) and, most importantly, the performance-enhanced basslines are morbidly obese. “Gym Tonic,” simultaneously deep as hell and completely ridiculous, 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 participants 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


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


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