What do we mean by “dance songs”? Good question. In a sense, any song that ever got any one person moving in any perceptible direction is a dance song. The Beatles made great dance songs — as did Slayer. Nearly all the hip-hop and reggae ever made is great dance music. But to make our list of The 200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time, a song had to be part of “dance music culture.” It’s a more specific world, but an enormous one too, going back nearly fifty years and eternally evolving right up to today and into the future.
After paying homage to the godfather of the extended groove, Mr. James Brown, our story of dance music begins in the mid-1970s with disco, and moves into early Eighties club sounds like electro and Latin freestyle. It gets born again when disco is re-engineered as house music in Chicago and techno in Detroit, and mutates with almost comic velocity into the Nineties rave explosion that produced everything from jungle to trance to gabba to garage, and eventually the EDM and dubstep bonanzas of the 2000s. These sounds all had peak moments of exposure, but they never fade away: drum ”n’ bass is having a new moment right now, and there are house songs here from the past few years.
The list doesn’t attempt to incorporate every ripple in this oceanic confluence of sub-genres. We were looking for tracks that seemed to transcend and feel more universally canonical, and we were especially mindful of the moments where dance music has intersected with the wider musical world– with synth-pop, hip-hop, funk, Miami bass, R&B, indie-rock, Latin music and pop. That’s why you’ll see Prince, Robyn, Britney Spears, Shakira, and Justin Bieber in here bumping up against Adonis, Frankie Knuckles, Moodymann, Goldie, and SOPHIE.
If you’re wondering how we got to a summer where Drake and Beyonce are suddenly releasing house records, this is that story — or, at least, our version of it.
Video Editor, Brian Lynch for Rolling Stone
Visual Credits (in order of appearance): Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Crystal Waters – Gypsy Woman, Beyonce – Blow, Corona – The Rhythm of the Night, Madonna – Sorry, Britney – Till the World Ends, Madonna – Vogue, Daft Punk – Get Lucky, Robyn – Dancing on my Own, Joey Beltram – Energy Flash, Azealia Banks – 212, Rihanna & Calvin Harris – We Found Love, DJ Snake & Lil Jon – Turn Down for What, Sylvester – You Make Me Feel, Piri – Soft Spot, Chic – Le Freak, Dee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart, Donna Summer – I Feel Love, Prince – When Doves Cry, Erik B & Rakim – Paid in Full, First Choice – Let No Man Asunder, Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ’Til you get Enough, A Guy Called Gerald – Voodoo Ray, Grace Jones – Bumper, Marshall – Move Your Body, Internet sensation kid 1997 in Berlin, Whitney Houston – It’s Not Right. Licensed Tracks/SFX (in order): Biodynamic modulated stutter riser, Dance like crazy – Ikoliks, Our Vibe – Superlative, Dance Out There – Alejandro Molinari, Pineapple Disco – Audiopanther, Bring It – Naems, Blurry Stars – Nbdy Nprtnt, Dark Future – Skygaze, Taika Promo (Rolling Stone VO). Song Samples (in order): Erik B & Rakim – Paid in Full, Dee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart, Madonna – Vogue, Azealia Banks – 212, Sylvester – You Make Me Feel, Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ’Til you get Enough, Marshall Jefferson – Move Your Body, DJ Snake ft. Lil Jon – Turn Down for What, Dee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart, Whitney Houston – It’s Not Right
Donna Summer, ‘Last Dance’ (1979)
As cinema, Thank God It’s Friday was an extended infomercial for the roster of powerhouse disco label Casablanca Records, an early sign that the label, and disco, was ready to jump the shark. But this song deserves its Oscar for Best Original Song: “Last Dance,” which starts out so slow it makes “Three Times a Lady” seem like speed metal and then steps out into taut, thrilling disco. MVP: Casablanca’s in-house producer Bob Esty, who conceived of the song’s tempo shift. —M.M.
Fatboy Slim, ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ (1998)
“It’s funny,” producer-DJ Norman Cook said of his biggest hit as Fatboy Slim, “The Rockafeller Skank.” “The first time it ever got played was at the Boutique in Brighton. I put it on and everybody just looked up, mouthing, ‘This is you, isn’t it?’” But of course: Cook’s breakbeats-plus-guitar-riffs formula was operating at peak efficiency, and “Skank,” with its surf-rock riff and Lord Finesse vocal sample (“Right about now, the funk soul brother/Check it out now, the funk soul brother”) quickly became inescapable. “There was lots of jokes about ‘Frat-Boy Slim,’” Cook said. “I suppose ‘Rockafeller Skank’ became an anthem for that sort of beer-boyish mentality.” —M.M.
Mescalinum United, ‘We Have Arrived’ (1991)
Techno’s heavy-metal equivalent is “gabber,” which means “buddy” in Dutch — the Netherlands holds the music’s hardiest following. But gabber’s premiere auteur is Marc Acardipane, possessor of some 90 aliases. His first real salvo remains bracing: “We Have Arrived,” credited to Mescalinum United, is built on crushing drums and a handful of crisscrossing air-raid noises, and was the record gabber was built upon. At the Brooklyn raves where Lenny Dee played — his label released the track in America — the kids would mosh to it. —M.M.(Video) 200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone
Oliver Heldens, ‘Melody’ (2016)
By the mid-2010s, even festival main-stage DJs were sick of the brute-force build-and-drop dynamics that had flooded the dance market. This record signaled a dramatic change. Dutch producer Oliver Heldens was only 18 when he released “Melody,” but its dramatic string swirls and up-and-at-’em piano line had the mark of an airier sort of dance-music classicism, while the bass still stomped as hard as anything. —M.M.
Kerri Chandler, ‘Rain’ (1998)
New Jersey house producer Kerri Chandler’s buoyantly soulful tracks aren’t the only reason his work has become a lodestone for younger producers and DJs. “I never considered myself a singer,” he said in 2014. “I feel I’m more of a vocalist. I write my life’s story and let it out through the music.” Maybe the word should be “monologist.” Chandler’s plea on “Rain,” with each line punctuated by the title, which somehow says it all (“Never knew you could be this way — rain”), skirts the edge of tears, but the music is more teasing than sad, especially the xylophone solo. —M.M.
Detroit Grand Pubahs, ‘Sandwiches’ (2000)
Andy Toth and Mack Goudy — a.k.a. Dr. Toefinger Paris the Black Fu — first met while working at a restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan. “We both liked whiskey and working on music,” Toth said. One night, Toth programmed a buzzy, absurdly limber electro track, and Paris told him to turn on his microphone: “I said ‘What you got?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just turn the mic on.’” Within minutes, Paris had improvised some sleazy doggerel about a dance-floor three-way — the biggest pop moment of Detroit’s turn-of-the-century electro renaissance, and an instant global club hit. —M.M.
Black Box, ‘Everybody Everybody’ (1990)
Sometimes a great record comes about under nefarious circumstances. Take “Everybody Everybody.” When Martha Wash of the Weather Girls was hired in 1989 to sing some demos for a trio of Italian house producers calling themselves Groove Groove Melody, she was told the songs would be presented to other singers. Instead, the tracks came out with her (uncredited) vocals under the name Black Box, and they compounded the insult by hiring a model to mime Wash’s vocals in the videos — she sued and won. (She did the same to C+C Music Factory, who’d also hired a model for the same purpose.) Daniele Davoli of Black Box was contrite afterward: “We didn’t know any better at the time. I guess we had to learn from our mistakes,” he said in 2013. —M.M.
Big Freedia, ‘Azz Everywhere’ (2010)
“I’ve run across half the globe now, spreading the goodness of bounce and trying to get people everywhere onto what’s been around for two decades,” Big Freedia said in 2011 of New Orleans’ fast, blithering, and raucous homegrown club sound — the music for which twerking was invented. “Azz Everywhere” was the track that broke the sound wide: a veritable riot of snares, samples and the shouted title phrase. “We hold classes on the road sometimes at performing venues and different colleges to teach about the history of bounce music,” Big Freedia added. “We describe it as an uptempo, heavy bass, holler-response music. And it definitely has a lot to do with azz shaking!” —M.M.
Joy Orbison, ‘Hyph Mngo’ (2009)
In the late 2000s, dubstep producers were feeling their oats, resulting in a wave of freewheeling tracks — and the biggest dubstep track of 2009, Joy Orbison’s debut, “Hyph Mngo,” captured that scene at its crest. The bass line and the plastic-sounding synthesizers both glide smoothly, but the ricocheting snare drum and foreshortened vocal samples — a woman calling out, alternately, “Ooh!” and “I do” — gave it a heart-tugging feel rare for dubstep, and helped guide it into the mainstream. —M.M.
ESG, ‘Moody’ (1981)
The Scroggins sisters from the South Bronx left an indelible mark on New York dance music when they began performing as ESG in the late 1970s. While their grooves were indebted to funk and disco, their sparse sound and emphasis on percussion made them popular with the post-punk and no-wave clubs as well, especially after they enlisted Joy Division producer Martin Hannett to produce their debut EP. “Moody,” its centerpiece, still sounds like the future: a slinking rumble of bass, bongo drums, and Renee Scroggins’ distant voice calling through the noise. —C.S.
La Roux, ‘In for the Kill (Skream’s Let’s Get Ravey Remix)’ (2009)
Sometimes performers feel iffy about their songs being remixed. And sometimes they’re La Roux, whose Elly Jackson credited her fellow Londoner Skream for not only capturing the essence of her mid-tempo synth-pop single “In for the Kill” in his remix but also claimed that it “regave birth to the real meaning and atmosphere of the song as we wrote it.” Skream’s rearrangement chucks the original’s bopping beat (and Kanye West’s guest rap), flattens out the synths into an incredibly tense atmosphere, then shatters the tension with hurtling drum-and-bass breaks. “What he did with the song is what we would have done if we’d been brave enough,” Jackson continued. “We wanted to make a pop record and that just isn’t a pop thing, what he did to it.” —M.M.
Double 99, ‘RIP Groove’ (1997)
After working together as RIP for a few years in the mid-Nineties, London producers Tim Deluxe and DJ Omar switched monikers to Double 99 to commemorate “a double-pack vinyl EP,” Omar said. Because they were late getting the package together, he added, “ee decided to make up track names and get the artwork done before the tracks had actually been made.” “RIP Groove,” titled in homage to their earlier selves, and cannily constructed from samples from Armand Van Helden’s remix of CJ Bolland’s “Sugar Is Sweeter,” plus Kenny Dope and singer Tina Moore, took three hours to cut and became one of the biggest tunes of 1997, putting U.K. garage (then dubbed “speed garage”) on the pop charts and announcing the arrival of a new sound. —M.M.
Snap!, ‘The Power’ (1990)
A dance-music archetype: Two German producers sampling an American rapper (Chill Rob G of Queen Latifah’s New Jersey crew, Flavor Unit) and American R&B diva (Jocelyn Brown) make a club hit, it gets picked up by a major label (Arista), and recut with a new vocalist (in this case, an American G.I. stationed on a German military base who went by Turbo B). Then the originally sampled American rapper recuts that, under the name Power Jam feat. Chill Rob G. Both are club hits, but beyond that, “The Power” became the new Europop blueprint, as Snap!’s Michael Muenzing explained in 1994: “Now you have 50 or 60 groups singing this way — rapping, singing the chorus, and going back to the rap.” —M.M.
DJ Frosty feat. Fatman Scoop, DJ Webstar, Young B. & Smooth, ‘Ride That Wave (Remix)’ (2010)
With origins in Newark, New Jersey (it was originally called Brick City club), Jersey club is marked by bristling, syncopated grooves, clipped vocal samples, and a feel that’s visceral but never violent, a little like classic hip-house in a blender. All that is excellently displayed on DJ Frosty’s “Ride That Wave,” a relentlessly catchy chant-along banger that arrived right as the sound was beginning to get picked up by EDM producers all over the world, part of a process that eventually saw Jersey club trickle all the way up to Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind. The remix featured, among others, Fatman Scoop, whose Nineties 12-inches of hip-hop cut-ups on AV8 Records were favorites of DJs like Armand Van Helden and Fatboy Slim. —J.D.(Video) Most famous dance songs 2000s
Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” (2012)
When Norwegian nu-disco producer Todd Terje cut “Inspector Norse” — which, like the rest of 2012’s It’s the Arps EP, was made entirely from sounds generated by a vintage ARP synthesizer — he wasn’t expecting the amiably ambling track to take off. “I thought it was going to go well with the DJs, as I’d tried it out and it had a danceable beat, but I never thought I’d hear people singing along to the melodies,” Terje said. But the track’s wiggly tune proved irresistible. “It really helped me as a DJ in terms of popularity,” he said. —M.M.
The Rapture, ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ (2002)
“Most people now have no memory of how absolutely sacrilegious it was at the time,” DFA founder and “House of Jealous Lovers” co-producer James Murphy told Spin. “We wanted to make a rock track that could compete with dance music. We obsessed over it.” The Rapture’s debut single set ornery Gang of Four-style guitar slashing and an infectiously maniacal shout-along vocal atop a sick beat and thick low-end specifically engineered so no dance DJ could deny its excellence. It worked. The song was the peak of the early-aughts “dance punk” moment, and suddenly every new band in New York sounded like they were from 1979 Manchester or Leeds, and every indie bar in town had a DJ booth and some turntables. —J.D.
TNGHT, ‘Higher Ground’ (2012)
“The first time around was our take on big American rap beats, with a little bit of cheekiness to it,” Hudson Mohawke said of the 2012 EP he made with Lunice as TNGHT. Only five songs long, it catapulted both performers to EDM’s center, thanks to its frisky, floor-focused take on trap. A jeweled-elephantine stomp, “Higher Ground” is cavernous and detailed; Within a year, Kanye West grabbed TNGHT to produce “Blood on the Leaves,” from Yeezus. —M.M.
Roni Size and Reprazent, ‘Brown Paper Bag’ (1997)
In the late Nineties, drum-and-bass was becoming increasingly fragmented and also further removed from its beginnings as an offshoot of dancehall and hip-hop. Bristol, England, crew Roni Size and Reprazent were able to make drum-and-bass that felt exploratory and expansive while still maintaining its Black roots by fusing frenetic beats with warm, organic jazz-funk influences. “It’s funny how ‘Brown Paper Bag’ split people,” Size told an interviewer in 2018, referring to the group’s biggest track, the double-bass driven highlight from their 1997 album, New Forms. “They heard the jazz, how it sounded different from everything else, and they saw this other audience that loved it.” —J.D.
Soul II Soul, ‘Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)’ (1989)
Led by the charismatic DJ-producer Jazzie B and, for two albums, co-producer Nellee Hooper, Soul II Soul had been a London sound system specializing in reggae and soul, and when they began making records in the late Eighties, their supple grooves melded both with unhurried grace. Initially their tracks were intended solely for Soul II Soul’s parties. “It was literally for our sound [system] at the beginning,” Jazzie B said. “We weren’t really interested in what anybody else was doing.” But everyone became interested in them — “Back to Life” hit Number One on the Billboard R&B chart and went Top Five on the Hot 100. —M.M.
Felix da Housecat, ‘Silver Screen Shower Scene’ (2001)
Felix Stallings Jr. is a Chicago house lifer—he’d made the acid house classic “Fantasy Girl,” as Pierre’s Pfantasy Club, with DJ Pierre in 1987, while in high school. But his career went global, and for the 2000 album Kittenz and Thee Glitz, he convened an international consortium of collaborators, including Junior Sanchez and Tommie Sunshine and Parisian vocalists Miss Kittin and Melistar, for a quasi-conceptual work about celebrity and artifice. “Silver Screen Shower Scene” was an instant anthem, its celebrity-tweaking words and music both seeming to call forth the entire electroclash epoch by themselves. Jacques Lu Cont’s “Thin White Duke Remix” was even more popular with DJs.–M.M.
Dntel feat. Ben Gibbard, “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan (Superpitcher Kompakt Remix)” (2001)
In 2000, Death Cab for Cutie’s frontman Ben Gibbard had “a weird dream … involving [Lemonheads frontman] Evan Dando and Chan Marshall,” a.k.a. Cat Power: “It was completely G-rated, not one of those inappropriate dreams, but it was bizarre – you know, in the same way you dream that you’re in your house but it’s not your house, your friend is there but he’s a merman.” He turned it into a song, collaborating with Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello) before their Postal Service album together. The producer set Gibbard’s vocal to scampering beats and buzzing synths, but the remix by Superpitcher, of the white-hot German label/scene Kompakt, featured foggy, fuzzy synth overlays and ricocheting bells that achieved the dream state the lyrics only hint at. —M.M.
Patrick Cowley feat. Sylvester, ‘Do Ya Wanna Funk?’ (1982)
Patrick Cowley was a synth wizard who’d become the prime innovator of the gay-club staple, Hi-NRG, in his work alone, with Sylvester, and on his bonkers 16-minute extension of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” But Cowley had gotten sick in November 1981, and when he died a year later, at 32, the official term “AIDS” was only four months old. In his final months, Cowley held himself up on pillows in the studio to finish his plastic-fantastic grooves. “Do Ya Wanna Funk” remains a landmark — pealing synth riffs, Sylvester’s falsetto at its most stratospheric; it also provided one of the great movie needle drops when it soundtracked the party scene in Trading Places. —M.M.
Funkadelic, ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ (1978)
Surely the greatest funk track ever to be led by a banjo, “One Nation Under a Groove” has an instantly appealing undertow that put it atop the R&B singles chart for six weeks in 1978. Assigning the song to the guitar-heavy rockers Funkadelic (as opposed to the horn-heavy R&B of Parliament) was George Clinton’s way of giving it heft: “Parliament is smashing,” he explained. “But Funkadelic is the movement.” —M.M.
Evelyn Thomas, ‘High Energy’ (1984)
Released in April 1984, this was the record that gave Hi-NRG, the synthed-up gay-club staple, its name, but it was hardly the first of its kind even for its creators. Chicago singer Evelyn Thomas was signed by Manchester producer Ian Levine to Pye Records in the mid-Seventies, when she was a teenager. Levine was a DJ on the Northern Soul circuit, playing rare Sixties American R&B, who began moving toward disco, particularly as synths began to dominate: Smash Hits reported that Levine “straddle[ed] both gay disco and old Motown — the two main Hi-NRG ingredients.” Brash, cheerful, and irresistibly cheesy, “High Energy” reached the British Top Five and still smashes it, as the DJ-producer Black Madonna (now the Blessed Madonna) showed on her Bunker Podcast. —M.M.
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, ‘Get Lucky’ (2013)
When Pharrell Williams first met Daft Punk, at a party for Madonna, he told them he wanted to work together: “If you just want me to play a tambourine, I’ll do it.” When they got together in Paris, Williams said he wanted to channel Nile Rodgers — and the robots played him the track they’d cut with Rodgers. Williams cut his coconut-oil-smooth vocal on that visit. “You don’t need MDMA for this music, because it’s so incredibly vivid,” he enthused.–M.M.(Video) 90's Megamix - Dance Hits of the 90s - Epic 2 Hour 90’s Dance Megamix!
Mat Zo and Porter Robinson, ‘Easy’ (2013)
“‘Easy’ in my mind is an homage to Daft Punk’s Discovery,” Porter Robinson said in 2013 of his surging collaboration with Mat Zo. “It takes the disco chords of all of the early French stuff and gives it a louder, more trance-inspired feel.” It’s an expert updating, equally glittering and classicist: The central synth line evokes a Theremin as much as a Moog, and the vocal line (sampled from Colourblind’s NYC garage classic “Nothing Better”) has the heart-in-throat feel that eluded so much of the era’s stadium EDM. —M.M.
Justice vs. Simian, “We Are Your Friends” (2006)
In 2003, Parisian musicians Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay entered a contest to remix the British rockers Simian’s “Never Be Alone.” “You could download the separate tracks: guitar, drums, and other things,” de Rosnay told The New York Times. “But we were working without music software: just a sampler, a sequencer, and a synthesizer. So we downloaded just the voice on the chorus, because there was not space enough for more than eight seconds of sound on our sampler.” The result was a jagged blare that perfectly bridged electroclash and EDM; retitled “We Are Your Friends,” it became a hit in 2006 and launched Augé and de Rosnay’s career as Justice — as well as prompting Simian to make themselves over as the dance act Simian Mobile Disco. —M.M.
Martin Garrix, ‘Animals’ (2013)
Dance music is a young person’s game, and no epoch demonstrated it like the early-’10s EDM boom. Built around a swarming synth vamp so catchy it wasn’t uncommon to hear people chanting along with it (there are no lyrics), Martin Garrix’s “Animals” was issued when the Dutchman was only 18, and became an instant worldwide smash. Naturally, this aroused suspicion. “At first, people in the industry assumed I didn’t make my own shit,” Garrix later said. “So I would do livestreams and production tutorials on the internet to get rid of that stigma.” —M.M.
Debbie Deb, ‘Lookout Weekend’ (1984)
“As far as I know, I coined the phrase. I hadn’t heard anybody call it freestyle music prior to me coming up with the name of the group Freestyle,” Miami production pioneer Pretty Tony said in 2015. His airy, hyper tracks bridged the gap between the local epochs of KC and the Sunshine Band and 2 Live Crew. “Lookout Weekend,” his second single with Debbie Weshoff Lopez — he’d recruited her while she was working at a record shop — was freestyle at its frothy zenith. Like its predecessor, “When I Hear Music,” “Weekend” went triple platinum. In response, Tony said, “I bought me a Porsche. As a matter of fact, two Porsches.” —M.M.
Tate Kobang, ‘Bank Rolls’ (2015)
Built around a sample of Tim Trees’ Baltimore club sample “Bank Roll,” then-23-year-old rapper Tate Kobang’s remix is a fine modern tribute to Charm City, its people, its perseverance, and most of all, its energy. In his last verse, he even shouts out K-Swift, the legendary DJ who helped bring Baltimore club music into the mainstream before her untimely death in 2008. “She was just one of those bodies in our culture that was like, ‘She ain’t never going anywhere,’” Kobang has said. And just like K-Swift’s work before it, “Bank Rolls (Remix)” helped introduce a whole new audience to the underground Baltimore sound. —C.S.
Soft Cell, ‘Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?’ (1981)
“We both like Northern soul, Sixties music, and the 12-inch record,” Marc Almond explained in 1981 of himself and Soft Cell partner David Ball — so they combined all three into one almighty slab. The duo’s synth-pop version of the Gloria Jones R&B stomper “Tainted Love” was a hit by itself, but for the extended version, they slid that song into another classic from the same era by the Supremes. “It was originally just going to include a few bars of ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ but we like the way it turned out and included the whole song,” Almond said. The whole nine-minute medley — New Wave disco in a nutshell — has hypnotized dance floors ever since. —M.M.
The Orb, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ (1990)
One day, the Orb’s Alex Paterson received a tape from a friend, with a note: “This might be a good idea for a new Orb single.” Side A was an interview with Rickie Lee Jones, who described the starry Arizona skies of her youth: “The most beautiful skies, as a matter of fact … purple and yellow and red and on fire.” Side B was Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. When Paterson put them together, he got “Little Fluffy Clouds,” the cuddliest record of the acid-house era. Reich “was very happy when he heard it,” Paterson said. “Suddenly, it was being played to the masses, and they were loving it.” —M.M.
Polygon Window, ‘Quoth’ (1993)
Richard D. James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin, may be better known for the kind of dance music best appreciated while seated, but for a time in the early Nineties he pumped out rave bangers of the first order. Exhibit A: “Quoth,” a percussion symphony released under the moniker Polygon Window, and a real barn burner — particularly for American Midwesterners of the period, who got down to this one in actual barns. —M.M.
Skream, ‘Midnight Request Line’ (2005)
Shortly after London dubstep producer-DJ Skream released his playfully brooding 12-inch “Midnight Request Line,” he recalled, “I was on a boys’ holiday with my friends. They had a DJ Magazine or a Mixmag rack up on a shelf … I looked at it, and I had Record of the Month. I was like, ‘Shit, I need to get home.’” The track, with its fluttering synth line, legato bass glide, and clap-heavy beat, catapulted Skream, and dubstep, into the limelight. –M.M.
Paul Johnson, ‘Feel My M.F. Bass’ (1994)
“Ghetto house” was house music’s analog to gangsta rap — the self-described style of a cadre of Nineties Chicago producers (notably, those on the Dance Mania label) who fashioned a rough-and-ready, sample-based, thoroughly street-oriented style. The wheelchair-bound Paul Johnson was the style’s juiciest practitioner, pumping out off-the-wall genre pieces with a singular sense of flair. (Ditto his DJ mixtapes, typically featuring his dreamy voice-overs.) Johnson’s pinnacle was this blunt-force object, a cavernous kick drum over which the producer, who died from Covid in August 2021, gleefully mewls, “Feel my motherfuckin’ bass in your face,” like he’s crooning to a lover. When the kick comes back in, it’s clear he’s doing just that. —M.M.
Ten City, ‘That’s the Way Love Is’ (1989)
“When Ten City started, I think we were both at a point where we wanted to expand the genre by writing proper songs while at the same time doing more abstract things,” said Marshall Jefferson, who produced the Chicago house vocal trio. “That’s the Way Love Is,” Ten City’s third single, crystallized their style — Philly-soul strings over lush love songs, topped by Byron Stingily’s stratospheric falsetto. It went Top 10 in the U.K. and Number One on the Billboard dance chart; moreover, Jefferson said, “people in South Africa have told us stories of how that song represents liberation for them.” —M.M.(Video) Hits Radio 1 - Top Hits 2022 New Popular Songs 2022 Pop Music 2022 Best English Songs 2023 New Music
Nitzer Ebb, ‘Join in the Chant’ (1987)
Hailing from England’s Midlands, industrial groove unit Nitzer Ebb came by their danceability properly. “The clubs we knew were disco and funk,” frontman Douglas McCarthy explained to The Guardian. “It’s in the DNA of the area.” Nitzer Ebb’s most rousing anthem, “Join in the Chant,” was a perfect techno crossover — particularly in Detroit, where techno artists like Carl Craig and Jeff Mills had once made industrial music. Richie Hawtin mixed “Chant” into his pivotal 1999 mix CD Decks, EFX & 909, while Andrew Weatherall once said, “The closest I felt to God was listening to ‘Join in the Chant.’”—M.M.
Bronski Beat, ‘Smalltown Boy’ (1984)
Bronski Beat’s Jimi Somerville once joked that his vocal training consisted of singing along with Donna Summer and Sylvester records. “I wanted a lot more out of life than working in a paint factory and having to accept that being gay was a nighttime occupation only,” he said. “I just had had enough of the abuse and the heartache.” He poured that angst into “Smalltown Boy,” a searing portrait of alienation and escape that, with its keening vocal hook (“Run away, run away, run away”) and supple synth bed, immediately became a gay club anthem, hitting Number One on the Billboard club chart and landing in the U.K. Top Three. —M.M.
LFO, ‘LFO (Leeds Warehouse Mix)’ (1990)
LFO were the kings of Sheffield, England’s so-called “bleep” scene — Warp Records’ original signature sound, which sounds like exactly what that sound suggests. But, as Warp’s Steve Beckett put it, “it had nothing to do with the bleeps for the people making it — for them it was all about the bass.” The track that got LFO signed was their self-titled number, on which icy synth chords and squiggly bleeps set the table for the layers of low end — the bass line makes you move, while the sub-bass can shake a city block. —M.M.
Drake, ‘Sticky’ (2022)
As its title suggests, Drake’s foray into dance music — Honestly, Nevermind — feels minor by design, casually pulling Jersey and Baltimore club music and various deep-house strains. The undisputed peak is “Sticky,” produced by Gordo and Ry X, on which Drake takes a break from the low-key vocals that dominate the rest of the album and raps about topics near and dear to him, like the liberation of the recently jailed Young Thug and the passing of fashion icon Virgil Abloh. It’s a great example of a megastar swooping into a subculture and coming out sounding like a better version of himself. —J.D.
Roland Clark, ‘I Get Deep (Shelter Mix)’ (2000)
“The love of house music started when I went to Club Zanzibar in lieu of my prom,” Roland Clark said — referring to the Newark, New Jersey, spot where Tony Humphries had a king-making DJ residency. This anthem makes the depth of his love plain. Over gamboling kicks and hats and a pinwheeling electric-keyboard line, Clark delivers a monologue that captures a rapturous dance-floor moment — “All the sweat just goes down my face/And I pretend that there’s nobody there but me in this place.” Clark also put the a cappella on the 12-inch, and it was subsequently sampled by Fatboy Slim on his third album, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars. —M.M.
Aly-Us, ‘Follow Me’ (1992)
Early house music was often deeply pitchy — and that handmade quality was a big part of its charm. That’s particularly true of this uplifting anthem, a gospel song in form and feel (“We must stop fighting/To achieve the peace”) from a New Jersey vocal trio who’d recorded it in a basement with a four-track. Its lo-fi roughness, as well as the occasional sharpness on the vocal trade-offs, only add to the song’s sense of urgency. —M.M.
George McCrae, ‘Rock Your Baby’ (1974)
In the summer of 1974, two songs reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 that had first broken in clubs. One was Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat,” the other was this smooth classic. They were the first disco hits. The glistening track for “Rock Your Baby” was cut by keyboardist Henry Wayne Casey, drummer and bassist Richard Finch, and guitarist Jerome Smith, and McCrae was added since he was hanging out at the TK Records offices: “I think they gave me ‘Rock Your Baby’ to get me out of their hair,” he recalled. After the record hit, Casey, Finch, and Smith would form the nucleus of KC and the Sunshine Band. —M.M.
El General, ‘Perezosa’ (1995)
The Panamanian pioneer El General set the blueprint for reggaeton when he began making gigantic international hits using reggae riddims in the Eighties and Nineties. But what often goes overlooked is just how experimental he was — and how much he shaped club music more broadly. One undeniable example of his impressive range is “Perezosa,” the booming — and empowered — dance anthem featured on his album Club 555, which was packed with high-voltage electronic sounds that bottled up the spirit of the most kinetic parties across Latin America. —J.L.
Tom and Jerry, ‘Maximum Style’ (1994)
4Hero — Marc Mac and Dego MacFarlane — are drum-and-bass stalwarts, making hits all along the style’s path from early-Nineties U.K. hardcore to late-Nineties neo-fusion, sometimes under other aliases. Tom and Jerry was one of them; it gets the credit for this gem, released just as jungle’s popularity was blossoming in the U.K. The easy-gliding stepper, with an enchantingly needling guitar and occasional cartoon effects, kept things playful but packed a deadly serious groove. —M.M.
LCD Soundsystem, ‘Losing My Edge’ (2002)
The debut single by James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem is both a killer groove and a brilliant stand-up comedy routine, a hot blast of wry irony that also helped ignite the New York dance-punk scene of the early 2000s. Murphy plays an aging hipster watching his relevance fade as a new generation of cool kids rises up to make him feel obsolete, even if he “was there, at the first Can show in Cologne,” or was the first “to play Daft Punk to the rock kids.” “Losing My Edge” made you laugh your ass off and dance your ass off, and even if you’ve never been anywhere, its FOMO remains universal. —J.D.
Shakira, ‘Ojos Asi (Thunder Mix)’ (1999)
Pablo Flores is considered a secret architect of Latin pop. The Puerto Rican DJ spent years working with major acts associated with Emilio Estefan, including Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin. When he was introduced to a little-known Colombian singer named Shakira in the Nineties, he and his music partner, Javier Garza, helped her compose “Ojos Asi,” a prescient song that honored her Lebanese roots while foreshadowing boundary-pushing, global-sounding Latin music. His extended remix took these ideas even further with masterful production that appealed to dance floors across the world. —J.L.(Video) Dance Hits 1985: Feat. Opus, Baltimora, Thompson Twins, Eurythmics, Katrina & the Waves + more!
Squarepusher, ‘My Red Hot Car’ (2001)
Recording as Squarepusher in the mid-Nineties, Tom Jenkinson twisted drum-and-bass’s frenzied athleticism into aural pretzel logic, turning it definitively undanceable and infusing it with a whiff of collegiate superiority. “Basically, I was beginning to stare up my own ass,” he later said; as a result, “I wanted to shake things up and make music in a more spontaneous, almost flippant way.” But the cut-up vocals and glitch-heavy production of “My Red Hot Car” aren’t mere abstraction — the flickering trickery alternates with cunning negative space, all delineating a crowd-moving groove featuring Jenkinson’s friskiest bass line: catnip to adventurous DJs. —M.M.
Moloko, ‘Sing It Back (Boris Musical Mix)’ (1997)
With a vocal from Róisín Murphy that her partner Mark Brydon memorably described as “Peggy Lee on mescaline,” the duo Moloko’s 1998 single “Sing It Back” was moody, downtempo, and overscaled. It bombed. Then, the Belgian house producer Boris Dlugosch sent them his version — a crisp house groove on the Chic model — the rhythm guitar beguiling, the bass drolly antic. That remix reached the British Top Five and served as a launching pad for Murphy’s adventurous, and frequently danceable, solo work. —M.M.
The Human League, ‘Don’t You Want Me’ (1981)
“Phil [Oakey] had this idea lyrically for this song: a story in the song which is very much A Star Is Born [and] My Fair Lady — the impresario who takes an everyday person and transforms her into a superstar that outshines himself,” Human League keyboardist Jo Callis said of “Don’t You Want Me,” which Callis co-wrote. The group didn’t think much of the song at first — though its he-said-she-said structure and nagging riff were as hooky as the giant chorus. The song was the group’s first Number One in the U.K. and U.S., as well as a Top Three hit on the Billboard Dance Club chart, making it a key moment in the merger of U.K. synth-pop, club music, and the Top 40. —M.M.