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200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time

From Chic to Skrillex, from Chicago house classics to festival rave anthems, from songs that filled the floor at the Loft and the Warehouse to ones that blew up on TikTok.

Daft Punk

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

From Rolling Stone US


Mr. Fingers, ‘Can You Feel It’ (1986)

A Chicago drummer-for-hire turned house music’s go-to mood-music man, Larry Heard’s early singles as Mr. Fingers set the standard for what would soon be called “deep house” — soulful, jazz-tinged, sometimes plangent, always stirring. One of the first tracks Heard composed, “Mystery of Love,” released as Mr. Fingers, established house as an abstractionist’s realm. The up-and-down bass line stretches like taffy, the kick drum thumps imperturbably, and the keyboard parts crisscross like 3D sculpture. “I don’t think I’m the inventor of ambient house,” Heard once demurred. Wanna bet? —M.M.


Moby, ‘Go (Woodtick Mix)’ (1991)

“How do I feel about it being a hit? Completely surprised,” Moby told the NME when “Go” hit the U.K. chart, where it peaked at Number 10. “I recorded it in a couple of days in my living room. The budget was about four dollars.” And the version that hit the charts wasn’t even the original — Moby had remixed the song numerous times already before hitting upon the idea of replaying the luminous chords of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme music for Twin Peaks. Decades on, it remains Moby’s signature tune. —M.M.


Corona, ‘The Rhythm of the Night’ (1995)

Although the Eurodance project Corona was formed around Brazilian-born singer-model Olga Souza and producer Francesco Botempi, it was Italian singer Giovanna Bersola, a.k.a. Jenny B, who lent her vocals to the group’s signature hit, “The Rhythm of the Night.” “It’s a beautiful thing, I’m happy to be in so many people’s hearts and beautiful memories about those years when they were going out and dancing,” Bersola said in a 2021 interview. “It’s a happy place for me.” Though Bersola was uncredited for her work on the song, her voice on “The Rhythm of the Night” lives on in clubs around the world, as well as in the iconic ending to Claire Denis’ 1999 film Beau Travail. —C.S.


Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force, ‘Planet Rock’ (1982)

“Even before we’d recorded those vocals, I knew that ‘Planet Rock’ was going to make musical history,” Arthur Baker once said. “It was just so fucking incredible.” Self-interested words, maybe, since Baker co-produced Afrika Bambaataa’s wall-breaking global anthem — but not unwarranted. “Planet Rock” is still like nothing else, even if it is made from easily recognized parts: Baker and Bambaataa both “had the idea of copying the melody from ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and the beat from ‘Numbers,’ another Kraftwerk record,” Baker said. The record featured an early use of the Fairlight CMI, the first digital sampler — the orchestral “hits” come from one of its presets. —M.M.


Steve Poindexter, ‘Work That Muthafucker’ (1989)

Some records sneak up on you over time — even when everything about them is right on the surface. That’s the case with Chicagoan Steve Poindexter’s “Work That Muthafucker.” It’s not much of a song, more of a purpose-built DJ tool: mostly just a sample of the title phrase over a pared-down, electro-tom-heavy groove, it’s raw, basic, very mixable — and so deadly effective that its popularity with DJs hasn’t waned a bit over three and a half decades. It jolts any floor it touches. Three cheers for use value. —M.M.


Pet Shop Boys, ‘West End Girls’ (1984)

When Smash Hits magazine editor Neil Tennant and architecture student Chris Lowe made their first single with the cult New York dance producer Bobby Orlando in 1984, “West End Girls” was rough and raw, with a pronounced gay-club vibe. But when rerecording it for their 1986 debut, Please, with producer Stephen Hague, they slowed it down and made it “moodier.” Tennant intended the U.S. and U.K. Number One as a rap song, inspired by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5’s “The Message.” Lowe’s contribution was the unforgettable bass line: “Our first bouncy bass line,” Tennant noted. There would be many more. —M.M.


Skrillex, ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ (2010)

Skrillex took off like a rocket, and the speed of his his ascent was dizzying for everyone — particularly when the California native was suddenly anointed the figurehead of dubstep, which had been aggressively, proudly British. He had to fight the impression “that I was coming in and taking something and mainstreaming it — like it was this plan, this conspiracy,” he said. “For me, it was only about the underground. There wasn’t mainstream dubstep, there wasn’t mainstream bass music.” Not, that is, until the face-melting bass lines and sharply detailed production of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” the title track from his second EP, made the mainstream sit up and take notice — and Skrillex’s triumphant set at EDC Vegas in 2011 sealed his stardom. —M.M.


Taana Gardner, ‘Heartbeat’ (1981)

The Eighties were the decade of the bass line, and this was the bass line that ruled the decade, sampled by everyone from De la Soul to Ini Kamoze. Only 100 beats per minute — as opposed to faster disco tempos — “Heartbeat” was turned into a hit by Larry Levan at New York’s Paradise Garage, and his remix, a 10-minute extravaganza, stretches out Muki Wilson’s liquid bass strut till the tension crackles. But it’s Gardner’s squealing vocal, bright and hard as acrylic nails, that seals this classic. While in the studio, she looked out while she sang: “I saw everybody in the booth jumping and screaming,” she said, “because I must have been doing something good.” —M.M.


Aphex Twin, ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ (1991)

A Dylanesque shape-shifter who has recorded under awesomely opaque names like Polygon Window and Italic Eyeball, and put his avant-garde imprint on everything from techno to ambient to jungle, Richard D. James did more than anyone to create the notion of ‘intelligent” dance music in the Nineties. Released in 1991 under his most well-known moniker, Aphex Twin, his breakthrough track “Analogue Bubblebath” was techno at its most elegiac and slippery, a glistening burblescape that feels like it might whisk you right off the dance floor and into dreamland. It still might be the greatest wind-down, nightcap opus of all time. —J.D.


Green Velvet, ‘Flash’ (1995)

“Green Velvet is an artiste, a character who gives me a different feeling than usual,” said Curtis A. Jones, the Chicago house icon who works under that alias. “It’s like how a person acts when they have a suit on, compared to when they have a pair of shorts on.” Green Velvet’s records often enact outlandish scenarios — the artiste narrates his kidnapping by aliens, for example — but the most devious is still “Flash,” an update of Bam Bam’s “Where’s Your Child” that literalizes its parental panic. Here, Velvet plays a leering tour guide leading a cadre of parents through the druggy bacchanalia of a rave: “Cameras ready, prepare to flash,” Velvet leers, followed by a battering-ram drum tattoo that underlines the whole thing. A club smash in its time, “Flash” is regularly reissued with new remixes — Danny Tenaglia’s in 2000 and Nicky Romero’s in 2010, in particular, also became DJ favorites. —M.M.


Front 242, ‘Headhunter’ (1988)

With a hovering pulse doubled by a kick drum like a Doc Marten to the head, the greatest industrial dance tune ever made has the most iconic Eighties drum-machine intro this side of “Blue Monday.” Like so many of life’s most vicious things, the lyric concerned office politics. “It was very polite and very nice with men in suits, but at the same time it was very cutthroat,” said Front 242’s frontman Jean-Luc De Meyer. “I wanted to make a parallel between tribal warfare and these activities.” —M.M.


piri & Tommy Villiers, “soft spot” (2021)

Weirdly, the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic was an extremely productive time for dance music: DJs made hay with livestreams and uploaded tons of mixes, and a number of new artists germinated. The most ear-catching so far has been Piri, the Manchester, U.K., duo of Piri and Tommy Villers, whose “Soft Spot” is a twee starburst of liquid drum-and-bass (a substyle with particularly slippery bass lines) that blew up on TikTok and has received 14 million Spotify streams. “When I wrote it, I did think it had the right kind of vibe to do well on TikTok, but [viral success] still felt like a very distant dream,” Piri told NME. “When we first self-released ‘Soft Spot’, I paid three TikTok creators to use the song — and then it just snowballed from there.” —M.M.


Crystal Waters, ‘Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)’ (1991)

Baltimore’s Basement Boys — originally the trio of Thommy Davis, Teddy Douglas, and Jay Steinhour — were some of early-Nineties house’s most consistent hitmakers, scoring club hits with homegirls Ultra Naté and Crystal Waters. The latter’s “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless),” her biggest hit, sat unreleased for a year after they had finished it. But they’d play it as DJs, and watch people go nuts, like when Douglas dropped it at Baltimore’s Club Fantasy: “They were throwing trash and paper at the DJ booth, screaming and hollering ‘Put it back on!’” Douglas told Beatport. Once the track got into DJ Danny Tenaglia’s hands at the 1991 Winter Music Conference, that was that: “By the time people got back to New York, it had already created this hysteria,” said Douglas. —M.M.


Michael Jackson, ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’ (1979)

Jackson’s first adult solo hit is one of the disco era’s definitive scorchers. Written by Michael himself, and demoed with his siblings Randy and Janet helping out on percussion, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” is a masterpiece of buoyant sensuality, with Jackson drenching a percolating groove in his frisky falsetto. By introducing the world to the new grown-and-sexy Michael, it redefined the course of pop and helped make 1979’s Off the Wall, released when he turned 21, one of the greatest albums of all time. —J.D.


Primal Scream, ‘Loaded’ (1990)

This song is credited to Primal Scream, but the record belongs to producer Andrew Weatherall — it’s a pulsating Dayglo masterwork that calls up its post-acid-house moment like nothing else. Utilizing the bass and slide-guitar parts from Primal Scream’s “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have,” along with an array of other samples — including Peter Fonda’s speech in The Wild Angels and a funky drum sample taken off a white-label 12-inch remix of Edie Brickell’s “What I Am” — it, and the Weatherall-assisted Primal Scream album Screamadelica, recast the band from Sixties jangle merchants to psychedelic futurists. —M.M. 


A Guy Called Gerald, ‘Voodoo Ray’ (1988)

British house delivered its first classic with this homemade track, released on a tiny label, which shocked everybody by barreling to Number 12 on the U.K. charts. Gerald Simpson wasn’t a newbie — he’d been in 808 State while they recorded their first album, Newbuild, in 1988. But “Voodoo Ray” was instantly ingratiating, an interlocking series of instrumental parts (short, thudding bass line, curling acid line, a distended bar of a woman’s voice) turning into something with as much pure juju as the title promises. —M.M.


Everything But the Girl, ‘Missing (Todd Terry Remix)’ (1995)

“I have always thought that Everything But the Girl were great lyricists, but they never seemed to be able to get the sort of strong production vibe they needed,” the New York house producer Todd Terry said in 1996. He had asked to remix EBTG’s forlorn ballad “Missing” — a reversal of the usual order of business — and finished it in a day and a half. “It was a pretty easy record to do because the song was there,” he later said. “Go in there, do it, felt good about it, handed it in.” Not only was it a club smash, but it stayed in the U.K. Top 40 for three months. —M.M.


MFSB, ‘Love Is the Message (A Tom Moulton Mix)’ (1973)

When Philadelphia International’s co-founder Kenny Gamble enjoined Tom Moulton to remix the label’s back catalog for the Philadelphia Classics double LP, he was confused that Moulton wanted to include “Love Is the Message,” an album track. “It wasn’t a hit,” Gamble protested. But Moulton insisted — and then turned it into the ultimate in disco opulence, the theme song for David Mancuso’s foundational NYC disco, the Loft. “It’s just one of those great, great songs, and I don’t think you could tell it all in three minutes,” Moulton said. “That’s why it’s 11 minutes — because I think it’s classical, symphonic. It has everything that you want in a song.” —M.M.


Avicii, ‘Levels’ (2012)

Avicii wasn’t the first EDM star to sample Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” — Pretty Lights’ “Finally Moving” had appeared five years earlier — but he was the one who figured out that James’ “Sometimes I get a good feeling” vocal could be a heaven-sent festival main-stage fist-pump-along over the careening keyboard hook he’d concocted. He premiered “Levels” — then still untitled — on his December 2010 edition of the BBC’s Essential Mix, and when it finally appeared 10 months later, it raced up the charts throughout Europe, reaching Number Four in the U.K. and even making it to 60 on the U.S. Hot 100. —M.M.


Omni Trio, ‘Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Remix)’ (1993)

The alias of Rob Haigh, a Londoner who’d grown up on post-punk, krautrock, and dub, Omni Trio was one of the most purely creative of drum-and-bass’ pioneering producers, turning drum samples into objects of shadow play and overlaying them with cinematic atmosphere. His original “Renegade Snares” was epic enough — Haigh crafted the beat from “single shots” of percussion (individually sourced snare, hat, and tom hits, then combined) and led with a piano part as awestruck as the ending of E.T. But his compatriots Foul Play did him one better by turning it into a percussion symphony, tweaking the snares till they twist like a helix over a darting sub-bass. “Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Remix)” was proof that drum-and-bass had reached artistic maturity. —M.M.