This is a list of 20 great dance songs, in order of when they were released, which is indicated within parentheses.
This is not a playlist, but simply 20 songs I consider great to play when dancing is called for. There are so many to choose from, from so many different genres, that this is not in any way comprehensive.
It does, however, include songs through five consecutive decades. Most are, or should be, familiar, and if any are new and you end up liking it, I’ll feel happy about that.
Let’s start the dance like Bohannon.
1. Rock Steady — Aretha Franklin — Young, Gifted and Black (72)
The first time I heard this was when I watched Spike Lee’s Crooklyn and they showed scenes from Soul Train. This was playing in the background and was included in the soundtrack.
My love and appreciation for the Queen of Soul grew from there.
This is a classic and is great to play because the crowd will either know and appreciate this song, or will be familiar enough with her trademark voice that, along with the beat, it will help them out of their seats and onto the floor.
I read an enlightening youtube comment where President Obama suggested this should be the first song to play at a party. This is first because I’m listing these chronologically, but it’s not a bad suggestion.
2. People Get Up & Drive Your Funky Soul — James Brown — Slaughter’s Big Rip Off (73)
A few years ago I met with a special group of friends from high school to play The Dictionary Game, and during intermission I played this and about half of us were dancing to this on the kitchen floor. I’ll never forget it.
This is great because it’s from James Brown but it’s not played to death. The groove is infectious. The only beef I have with it is that he leaves off Virgo when he calls out the astrology signs.
3. Crossword Puzzle — Sly Stone — High On You (75)
I don’t think I was aware that this album had the original track that De La Soul sampled in Say No Go when I first found this at a local record shop.
Though it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, this is right up there with Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On album.
It’s got a killer funky instrumental in Green Eyed Monster Girl, a couple sweet and chill downtempo songs perfect for weddings in That’s Lovin’ You and My World.
Most importantly, though, it has Crossword Puzzle.
4. Flash Light — Parliament — Funkentelechy vs The Placebo Syndrome (77)
I can’t have a dance party list without including the P-Funk. Sadly there’s still some folks out there who can never dance. For the rest, this helps them get down.
5. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy — Rod Stewart — Blondes Have More Fun (78)
Before the advent of online dating, I thought a sensible way of dating was to gather in a room and privately rate who you thought were the hottest there, let’s say the top ten out of fifty. An official pollster would tally the votes and if the person you rated highly also rated you high on her list, well there you go. No small talk.
Hot Rod sums this fantasy up with his tongue-in-cheek dance floor classic.
The official video to this might be terrible to some, but to me it’s gold. This is my current go-to karaoke song.
6. Deputy of Love — Don Armando’s Second Ave Rhumba Band — 12” (79)
Two other songs originally on this list when I began compiling it were all-time disco hits Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. and Rock With You by Michael. Both of these are certainly deserving, but since they’re so well known, and the fact they share the same release year, I left them off to include this track.
I was blown away by the funky beat and playful lyrics of this disco cult classic, a prime example of early house from places like Chicago and New York. I always have it on my playlist, though I don’t play it as often as I’d like because many crowds just don’t dance to songs they don’t recognize. For shame!
I first heard this when I bought a cheap copy of a disco compilation called Seize The Beat (Dance Ze Dance) from ZE Records. It’s a great album that also has Gichy Dan’s Cowboys and Gangsters and Coati Mundi’s Que Pasa/Me No Pop I.
7. Lay All Your Love On Me — Abba — Super Trouper (80)
If you need a disco track, why not go with Abba? To me, this is their most infectious dance track, beginning to end.
8. Give It To Me Baby — Rick James — Street Songs (81)
If you want to incorporate the 80’s and the funk, along with a light-hearted dose of pop culture, you can’t go wrong with Rick James.
9. Dance Floor — Zapp — Zapp II (82)
This has the mid-70’s funk sound but it’s got the early 80’s electro roller skating vibe complete with vocoder and crunchy grooves expressly for dancing. It’s called Dance Floor for crying out loud.
I can’t guarantee everyone will be happy when you play this, but you know what they say about pleasing everybody.
The original release is about 11 minutes long, so I suggest fading this halfway through.
10. One Thing Leads to Another — The Fixx — 45 (83)
This song is perfect for an 80’s playlist. It’s familiar but not played to death, and the intro has a nice charge to it.
11. Pump Up The Volume — M/A/R/R/S — Bright Lights, Big City Soundtrack (87)
This song could be considered a fusion of mainstream pop, hip hop and house. You even get some Bollywood action.
12. Hot Music (Jazz Mix) — Soho — 12” (89)
This, like the name indicates, is jazzy. It’s also a house classic with great components of drum & bass and some cool samples, including one from Wynton Marsalis.
13. Groove is in the Heart — Deee-Lite — World Clique (1990)
If I could think of one song that embodies the celebration of dance while incorporating funky grooves from the past, while also paving the way to the future, it’s this bridge from the 80s to the 90s to today. It’s always on my playlist when I need to move the crowd.
14. So What’cha Want — Beastie Boys — Check Your Head (92)
This is still one of my favorite Beastie Boys songs, even though it got so much commercial exposure when it came out.
I love the raw energy.
15. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik — Outkast — Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (94)
Any song that mentions Dusty Rhodes, pooper scoops, grits, collard greens and hoe cakes has got to be funky.
When it’s time to play hip hop, this track from Outkast’s first album is always close by. It’s recognizable but not played out like Hey Ya!, and has a much better get-down-and-dirty vibe to it.
16. Ms. Fat Booty — Mos Def — Black On Both Sides (99)
The midtempo groove along with Aretha’s sample and Mos Def’s rhyming prowess combine to make this a favorite dance song of mine and one that can also be played as background music to chill to.
17. Weekends — Black Eyed Peas — Bridging the Gap (00)
I remember being depressed with the state of hip hop’s commercialization in the 90s and the disappearance of the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul by the end of the decade.
The title of this album is accurate. It pays tribute to funk, disco, and early hip hop while being original, current, and attracting a younger generation—what some would call the beginning of the millennials.
18. Che Che Colé (Makossa Mix) — Antibalas — Rewind!3 (03)
There was another song from ’03 I wanted to include, which is Luca Rossi from Barabass & The Happy Few. Instead, I went with this funky Latin number, which is a remix of Willie Colon’s original from 1969.
I had never Colon’s version before I heard this funky, vigorous groove.
If you need something a bit more exotic or unfamiliar, this is a great one.
19. Sexy Back (4) — Justin Timberlake — Futuresex/Lovesounds (06)
To some, this song is old. To me, it’s new. I’m old.
I begrudgingly like it since it’s from someone who comes from the New Kids on the Block mold.
That aside, it’s arguably his best and does have a good dance groove while appealing to the kids and adults alike.
20. Put It On Her (2:50) — Big Grams — Big Grams (15)
Anything related to Outkast is usually a crowd pleaser. This funky collaboration between Big Boi and Phantogram from 2015 keeps it current while having a mid-90s ATL feel.