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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


The Prodigy, ‘Firestarter’ (1996)

When Liam Howlett, the Prodigy’s producer-composer, came up with “Firestarter,” he figured the song was a finished instrumental. “That track just came out of experimenting, messing around in the studio. Not from thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got to write a single.’” Then frontman Keith Flint heard it and said, “I wouldn’t mind having a go at some vocals on this.” Released a full year before their 1997 alum, Fat of the Land, “Firestarter” glimmered with menace, enhanced by a black-and-white video featuring Flint looking like a cartoon villain come to life. A year later, Fat debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart. —M.M.


Tori Amos, ‘Professional Widow (Armand’s Star Trunkin’ Club Mix)’ (1996)

When it came time to commission remixes for her second album, Boys for Pele, Tori Amos had only one edict: “I just want it to be different. I don’t want it to sound like everything else.” So Atlantic Records reached out to Armand Van Helden, then carving his own lane with a roughneck melding of house beats and jungle-derived low end. Amos’s song — a barely veiled shot at Courtney Love — was “slow, really not moving,” as Van Helden put it, so he remade it into a galloping stomp that runs off a short, amazingly tensile plucked bass line. “Three-and-a-half minutes in off the bass stem, I just grabbed one little bar,” he said. That bar never quits: “Gotta be big,” Amos yelps – mission accomplished. —M.M.


Beyoncé, ‘Break My Soul’ (2022)

Take this job and shove it: Beyoncé ain’t workin’ here no more. And before she starts her next gig, she’s gonna party, and she came armed with samples of Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” (that metallic keyboard line) and Big Freedia’s New Orleans bounce classic “Explode” (“Release ya job!”) — a canny pairing, unsurprisingly. (Bey had also sampled Freedia on “Formation” in 2016.) Robin S. was thrilled: “Thank you so much for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive,” she told the Los Angeles Times. —M.M.


808 State, ‘Pacific State’ (1989)

With its soprano sax riff and loon noises atop a languid beat that evokes a beach sunrise more than a warehouse rave, “Pacific State” reached the U.K. Top 10 and drew the blueprint for countless chill-out records to come. The imitations hit immediately — the year it was released, 808 State’s Graham Massey quipped, “There were about 140 [versions] of ‘Pacific State.’ I heard a version the other night, and it took me three minutes to realize it wasn’t us.” —M.M.


Jungle Brothers, ‘I’ll House You’ (1988)

As leaders of the freethinking Native Tongues movement, the Jungle Brothers were firm believers in an anything-goes vision of hip-hop, and they proved it on the landmark “I’ll House You.” The trio had been hanging out in New York house clubs, partaking in the new sound, so rapping over producer Todd Terry’s track “Can You Party” was an inspired no-brainer. The result was the first hip-house track, a culture-bridging sound with utopian implications that are still being felt. “It brung a lot of people together,” Terry recalled in an interview. “Music does that all the time.” —J.D.


Fennec, ‘Boy-U’ (2020)

A grad student in Austin who declines to identify himself beyond his moniker (a.k.a. a large-eared fox), Fennec makes purely delightful house jams that sample damn near anything — in the case of the giddy, cut-up-vocal-led “Boy-U,” the Kevin Smith film Red State and the K-drama This Is My Love. “The core of the tune came together in about 15 minutes,” the musician said. “The only tricky thing was the bass line.” The key change when the track hits the bridge is a chef’s-kiss moment. —M.M.


Cloud One, ‘Disco Juice’ (1976)

Patrick Adams, who passed away earlier this year, was one of disco’s most imaginative and profligate practitioners. He cut a dizzying number of records under a profusion of names during the music’s prime era, including Top 40 hits like Musique’s “In the Bush” (1978) and Inner Life’s “Caught Up (In a One-Night Love Affair)” (1979). But the club-oriented instrumental 12-inch was his true métier. “Disco Juice” is Adams at his giddy, gaudy best, the strings and soprano vocals ready to take the listener to Shangri-La. R.I.P. —M.M.


Tiësto, ‘Adagio for Strings’ (2005)

Tiësto isn’t the only producer-DJ to cover Samuel Barber’s classical concerto “Adagio for Strings”: William Orbit (with Ferry Corsten remixing) and Paul Oakenfold have all had a go at it. But when the Dutch trance DJ filmed a show in Holland for a DVD, he decided to open it with a moody splash. “I wanted to have a grand opening with a track people already know, but still in a different mode,” he said. When the DVD came out, “I got so many emails from so many people, ‘When is the track going to be released? Please release the track!’” It became a global smash. “It’s my biggest record from back in the day, and it’s a classic,” he told NME. —M.M.


Ron Trent, ‘Altered States’ (1990)

Ron Trent is a Chicagoan who came up deep inside the Warehouse and Music Box-sired house scene, and created “Altered States” when he was only 15; it’s one of the best records ever made by a teenager. The track’s synth stargazing is both expansive (nearly 14 minutes) and urgent — the snares are practically the lead instrument. The track took off at the 1990 New Music Seminar after Frankie Knuckles got hold of a promo: “They came back and they told me, ‘Frankie played your record three times that night,’” Trent recalled. “That’s what catapulted my career.” —M.M.


Ghost Town DJs, ‘My Boo’ (1996)

A strong contender for one of the most timeless-sounding dance songs of all time, “My Boo” was a Miami bass track by way of Atlanta, recorded and released via Jermaine Dupri’s then-fledgeling label So So Def Recordings. Anchored by the honey-sweet vocals of Virgo Williams, the song became a surprise international hit, and even very recently proved that it still has mass appeal: In 2016, the “Running Man Challenge” went viral on the video platform Vine, using “My Boo” as its song base. —C.S.