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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


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.


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’”— Hawtin’s hometown, right next to Detroit. —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.


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.