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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


Wink, ‘Higher State of Consciousness (Tweekin’ Acid Funk)’ (1995)

Few dance producers have ever had a year like the Philadelphia dance-scene don Josh Wink had in 1995. Everything he touched that year, from the explosive tribal house of Size 9’s “I’m Ready” to the gimmicky LOLs of “Don’t Laugh” to his berserk remix of Moby’s “Bring Back My Happiness,” was solid gold. But the track that ruled everything was the “Tweekin’ Acid Funk Mix” of “Higher State of Consciousness.” While the other versions of “Higher State” were also excellent — the “Hardhouse Mix” is richly psychedelic filter house — the “Acid Funk” version was an instant smash, laying the ultimate yammering 303 line over a crisp breakbeat and letting the sparks fly. There’s nothing like it at 6 a.m., with the sun glinting through the warehouse windows. —M.M.


Dubtribe Sound System, ‘Do It Now’ (2000)

One of the top U.S. rave draws of the Nineties, Dubtribe Sound System was the San Francisco husband-wife duo of Sunshine and Moonbeam Jones; they’d sit cross-legged onstage, boxes and synths surrounding them, grinding out heavy grooves in strictly real time. Their greatest moment, “Do It Now,” is a pep talk that blossoms into a love song (“You’re beautiful inside/I’m in love with your mind”). The full 13-minute version also blossoms, building instrument by instrument into a surging groove monster that can make even the crustiest skeptic believe in universal love. —M.M.


Objekt, ‘Theme From Q’ (2017)

Breakbeats came back into house-music vogue again in the late 2010s, and this track was a big reason why. Objekt is the alias of TJ Hertz, a British techno producer-DJ residing in Berlin, and “Theme From Q” was inspired by a club there, Basement Q, which closed in 2012, and it sounds less like an excerpt from a night there than a survey, with a James Brown sample (from Lyn Collins’ “Think”), dubstep-like bass drops, and occasional beatless stretches that only ratchet up the tension. Mixmag named it the best track of 2017. —M.M.


Strafe, ‘Set It Off’ (1984)

For a year, Strafe’s serpentine, early-Eighties electro-hip-hop masterpiece “Set It Off” — a solo recording by Brooklynite Steven Standard — was a huge club hit. That was because almost nobody could find it — the president of Jus Born, the label that released it, was only pressing a thousand copies at a time and sold them solely for cash out of his own car trunk. Clubs like the Fun House and Paradise Garage were nearly the only places you could hear it. Even after that changed, Standard sometimes disdained his own work — “I was ashamed of the mix,” he said in 1986. But it’s hard to stay mad when something you’ve made gives so many people so much pleasure, and there’s a poignant scene in the documentary 808 of Standard singing “Set It Off” live over the original machines he made it with. —M.M.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix)’ (2009)

A-Trak was watching NYC post-punk revivalists Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform at Coachella in 2009 when he decided to “lock in” a remix of the second single from their album It’s Blitz, “Heads Will Roll”: “Usually it’s the other way around, the band would ask the remixer, but I heard something there and I needed those stems” (i.e., complete unmixed multitrack recordings). Though he turned it in way late, A-Trak’s stab-riff turnout of the song blew up among the DJ peers he sent it to (Busy P, Aeroplane, Erol Alkan) forced the YYYs’ label to put it out. “I still hear DJs play it,” he wrote a decade later. —M.M.


Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ‘Relax’ (1983)

Though Frankie Goes to Hollywood was a functioning group long before they began recording with super-producer Trevor Horn, “Relax” was constructed by Horn alone in the studio in a 14-hour spurt, following two frustrating weeks of the band not quite capturing the spark. With Holly Johnson’s buzzsaw tenor declaiming about holding off an orgasm — the lyrics led to a de facto ban from the BBC — over awesomely overscaled synths, “Relax” became a sensation — for a while it threatened to become the bestselling British single ever. More importantly for dance-music history, it was a hit that became famous as a 12-inch single, released in several editions containing a plethora of remixes. —M.M.


Roy Davis Jr. feat. Peven Everett, ‘Gabriel (Live Garage Version)’ (1997)

In the late Nineties, “garage” meant very different things in the U.S. and U.K. For Americans it was East Coast house music rooted in soul and very song-oriented; the Brits’ version tended to be faster and more instrumental. But the “Live Garage Version” of Chicagoan Roy Davis Jr.’s “Gabriel” featured a swinging rhythm that chimed right alongside the rising U.K. garage sound; its lyric offered parallels between the biblical trumpeter and the modern house floor (“He was an archangel of love … Dancing soon became a way to communicate”). For Davis, the subtitle “Live Garage” wasn’t a specific reference to any genre: “That was because my studio was next to my garage,” Davis told Resident Advisor. —M.M. 


Thelma Houston, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ (1976)

Hal Davis had a very productive 1976. He was one of Motown’s key in-house producers, and in that bicentennial year, he helmed two dense, swirling dance-floor epics: Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover” and this soaring remake of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ bruised disco ballad. MFSB, the Philadelphia International house band, teases out a widescreen arrangement on the original “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” but for Thelma Houston’s cover, Davis and arranger Art Wright concentrate on the groove — a much more immediate recording. —M.M.


Midland, ‘Final Credits’ (2016)

For his February 2016 Essential Mix, the British house producer-DJ Midland finished off with an untitled, unissued track that paired a reedited version of the synth-disco obscurity “Rockin’-Poppin’ Full Tilting,” by Lee Alfred, with Gladys Knight’s a cappella vocal from her 1973 hit ballad with the Pips, “Neither One of Us,” sped up to a chipmunk timbre. “I dropped the vocal into the wrong channel, which was pitch-shifted up,” he told Billboard. “It fell in in the right key.” The track felt immediately timeless. —M.M.


Dominatrix, ‘The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’ (1983)

In 1982, Stuart Argabright, a downtown New York musician who’d been in a number of a few arty bands, received a Korg MS-20 synthesizer “as part of an exchange with a Dominatrix friend,” he said years later. That synth featured prominently on a song that same friend inspired, “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight,” credited to Dominatrix — Claudia Summers did the plainspoken vocals. The song blanketed New York clubs in 1984 and has had a healthy afterlife; though the video, directed by artist Beth B., seems tame today, it was too outré for MTV — but not for the Museum of Modern Art, which added the clip to its video collection. —M.M.


Phuture, ‘Acid Tracks’ (1987)

Initially recorded in 1984 to a cassette, and played so often by the pivotal Chicago house DJ Ron Hardy that people initially called it “Ron Hardy’s Acid Track,” this foundational 12-minute 12-inch was the beginning of “acid” — the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer, with its dials twisted till they scream in delirium. It was an instrument and style that grew worldwide in no time. The knob twister was DJ Pierre, who found a ghost in the machine that was both funky and avant-garde; he went on to one of the most illustrious production, remixing, and DJ careers of any Chicago-house originator. —M.M.


Octave One, ‘Blackwater’ (2002)

Not only did the Detroit sibling group Octave One — Lawrence, Lenny, Lynell, Lance, and Loren Burden — have a solid instrumental floor-filler when they first released “Blackwater” in 2000, but two years later, when they added strings and vocals (by Ann Saunderson, wife of another Detroit techno master, Kevin Saunderson), they went Top 50 in the U.K. The track’s stirring string intro, soulful groove, and searching vocal hook (“Just open your heart, just open your mind”) have made it a techno and house standard. —M.M.


Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, ‘The Love I Lost’ (1973)

Released in December 1973, “The Love I Lost” was one of the first hit records to have all the hallmarks of full-fledged disco — kick and snare on every beat, open-and-close hi-hat, the bass playing octaves, a string section sawing away. It also contained another disco hallmark — an awe-inspiring diva vocal. Teddy Pendergrass’s deep, wide, expressive baritone was a cunningly deployed erotic roar, and when a song called on him to express wounded pride, nothing could prepare you for the onslaught. The beats are every bit as impressive as the emotions — especially on Dimitri from Paris’ “Super Disco Blend,” a 12-minute cataclysm. —M.M.


The Aztec Mystic, ‘Jaguar’ (1999)

The greatest backstory in techno goes like this: Released by the label Underground Resistance in March 1999 and produced by Detroit-native DJ Rolando, “Jaguar” was immediately an anthem — its gurgling synth washes and spirelike string hits gave it goose-bumpy resonance. Sony Music Germany wanted to release the track, but UR refused to let them license it, so the Sony put out a “remix-cover” by Don Jaguar — a blatant copy — at which point UR urged fans to “flood Sony’s office with calls, emails, and faxes.” They did, Sony dropped it, BMG grabbed it, and then UR dashed out an EP of “Jaguar” remixes — including one from ex-member of UR (the group) Jeff Mills — and cut BMG out of the picture. David beat Goliath, and “Jaguar” blanketed the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival, in 2000. —M.M.


Eddie Amador, ‘House Music’ (1997)

In 1986, critic Barry Walters wrote, “Chicago house is about house,” and from the beginning, house music has taken pains to define itself to the world, from Rhythm Controll’s “My House (Acapella)” — “In the beginning, there was Jack” — to Maurice’s “This Is Acid (A New Dance Craze).” But the capper is L.A. producer Amador’s statement of purpose: “Not everyone understands about house music/It’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.” And Amador’s subtly filtered groove underscores the point better than anything else could. —M.M.


Age of Love, ‘The Age of Love (Watch Out for Stella Club Mix)’ (1992)

The record that crystallized the early sound of trance — head down, into the wind, machinelike, intoxicating — was also its first major anthem, although over time it’s become more likely to be played by a techno DJ than a trance one. Age of Love are a true dance-music one-hit wonder: an Italian duo that literally never made another recording under that name. But the heroes of this track are its remixers, the Frankfurt duo Jam & Spoon, who got rid of the original’s goofy rap (!) and slowly built its intensity up to a climactic chorus, with an angelic vocal sample played, enchantingly, as a riff. —M.M.


Bad Company UK, ‘The Nine’ (2000)

The Nineties drum-and-bass supergroup Bad Company UK — a.k.a. ƆEIƎC; not to be confused with Paul Rodgers’ blues-rock troupe — were the face of the genre at its roughest and most dystopian. “At the time, we felt like things in the scene were a bit too stripped back, and we wanted to bring some aggyness into it,” said co-founder dBridge. “We just loved distortion and guitar pedals.” Their masterwork, “The Nine,” is a model of dark and mucky D&B — a track so brutal the group skipped making the usual prerelease dubplates and just put it out. “People were like, ‘What the fuck is this!’” dBridge said. —M.M.


Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, ‘Where Are Ü Now?’ (2015)

Diplo and Skrillex intended their Jack Ü project to stretch the rules of dance music as well as pop. “What we do with Jack Ü, it’s all about taking things that shouldn’t make sense but make them make sense,” Skrillex explained to Charlie Rose, “whether it’s getting 2 Chainz or Justin Bieber on a record, whereas normally, traditionally in dance music, you wouldn’t have something like that.” But there was no backlash: “Where Are Ü Now?” was so perfectly slinky, from the cicadalike hi-hats to the birdlike flute sample, that nobody bothered to resist. —M.M.


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.