Creating The Ultimate Dance Party Playlist [Updated for 2013]

Note: This article’s accompanying Spotify playlists have been updated for winter/spring 2013, with a wholesale update to the article coming for Summer 2013.

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, summer — and the peak of 2012 wedding season — is officially beginning! Many occasions of great happiness are imminent, but it’s also a time of stress, hassle and expense.

One money-saving suggestion that I see in a lot of articles on the subject is to “skip the band and be your own DJ.” When executed well, it’s a win-win, even a value added, but when blundered, it’s close to a dealbreaker. I think we can all agree that the open-bar-fueled dance party is the highlight of any great wedding reception — any great party, for that matter — but unless you or one of your close friends is a true mixmaster, you might end up with a boring dance floor, which is pretty much curtains for your party.

That’s why ROTI is leveraging the power of Spotify and the wisdom of our panel of experts to help you be your own DJ in righteous fashion! 

To pull this off, I enlisted the services of the finest DJs and dancers I know. In preparation for this post, I huddled in close consultation with dance floor scientists including DJ Walls of Sound, Alison the Business Casual, DBuu, GoGoMrPoPo, Kelly, Nils Coq au Vin, SecretM, CPA3, El Guapo, Major Beans, and Lady McGregor. These people have schooled me in the art of dance party mayhem for years, and thanks to their wisdom and assistance, ROTI has developed a series of building blocks that you can utilize to create a playlist sure to slay.

I dissected all of the great dance music our experts identified — over twelve hours, all told — into a series of subsets (categorized by era, genre, etc.) and identified the best selections within each category. This way, you can either create a dance party mix that spans many eras and types of music, or instead, pick four or five genres that your crew enjoys and go from there.

Guided by the wisdom of our panel, I’ve also compiled five-plus hours of these tunes into a Spotify playlist (“Dance Floor Annihilation 2012″) that you can use straight-up if you want — instant dance party!

But the true point of this list is to help you create your own master list of dance jams. Before we begin, a few pro tips.

  • Activate crossfade. Nothing kills a dance floor faster than a song fading out into silence and everyone standing around waiting for the next jam to begin. A few seconds of crossfade will take care of that. This might require connecting a computer to your speaker rig and running the Spotify or iTunes client. It’s worth it.
  • Pick music that the most energetic, least self-conscious people want to dance to. They’ll provide cover for everyone else. I’ve seen dance floors sit empty while classic dance tracks play because none of the twentysomethings want to get down, and I’ve seen elderly grandmas dance to 50 Cent because the dance floor is packed and they want a piece of the action.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously! Although your wedding guests’ tolerance for silly pop hits may vary, I’ve observed that even the most snobbish crews can have a good time if they down a few cocktails and hit the floor to the throbbing beats of “Da Dip” and similarly absurd dance tracks.

Let’s boogie!

The 50s/60s

I realize I’m lumping a TON of amazing music together here in one section, but unless the crowd is particularly devoted to this stuff, I recommend taking an efficient overview of the best hits from the “oldies era.” You’ll need a little Motown, a little Stax, a dance-craze record or two, and a little rock to transition forward in time.

Key tracks:

  • “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” by The Temptations. My personal favorite Motown group has a ton of great songs, but these are the two that most make me want to take the floor. David Ruffin’s performance on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is pretty much the best singing I have ever heard in my life. The whole group gets into the act on “I Can’t Get Next To You,” a track from the post-Ruffin era, with amazing production from Norman Whitfield.
  • “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. Every dance craze song that followed (“The Macarena,” “Teach Me How To Dougie,” etc) owes this masterpiece a massive debt. Plus, any dance move that you can do even if fat and uncoordinated is a sure winner.
  • “Do You Love Me” by The ContoursOne of Berry Gordy’s many strokes of genius. The fake ending fires me up every time.
  • “It’s The Same Old Song” by The Four Tops. Levi Stubbs was a musical master. Get the mono version — the stereo remasters sound weird to me.
  • “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. James Jamerson lays down one of the sweetest bass grooves ever and Smokey’s voice inspires yer soul. Co-written by Stephen Wonderful.
  • “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” by Stevie Wonder. A perfect song. I’m also forever obsessed with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”
  • “Hold On! I’m A Comin” by Sam & Dave. A monumental Stax track co-written by Issac Hayes, it’s one of the ultimate fist pumpers of all time. “Soul Man” is obviously a winner as well. Rest in peace, Duck Dunn.
  • “Twenty Five Miles” by Edwin Starr, a superior dance track to his better-known “War” and a true Motown deep cut that I learned about from DJ Walls of Sound.
  • “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone. The horn break (when Cynthia and Jerry show their stuff) is effin’ electrifying.
  • “Gimme Some Lovin'” by The Spencer Davis Group. An 18-year-old Steve Winwood lays down filthy organ and miraculous vocals.
  • “Think” by Aretha Franklin. Gets the nod over “Respect” for the glory of its refrain (“Whoa, Freedom!!!”)
  • “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones (released in 1971, but recorded in 1969!). For some reason Mick Jagger keeps getting shouted out in pop songs lately (“Tik Tok” and “Moves Like Jagger” being the most prominent examples). Here’s his best dance song ever, and he didn’t even need Keef to hold his hand while writing this one.

The 70s

The disco era, when great dance music became the dominant force in pop. Meanwhile, funk geniuses came up with some of the dopest rhythms ever. With time, the distinctions between these genres have been elided a bit and it’s pretty easy to combo them up into a ridiculous dance party. For more from this era, check out the “Club Classics” section. Key tracks:

  • “You Should Be Dancing” and “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. The whole Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is pure gold. Despite their rep, I actually think these guys are better at slow jamming than dance-jamming, but regardless, one of the best bro-groups ever.
  • “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer. Pure TNT. Giorgio Moroder lays down insane synths, Donna delivers incredible vocals, and Dan/Doobie Skunk Baxter shows up to shred on guitar!
  • “Move on Up” by Curtis Mayfield. Great horns, great vocals, great percush. This should be placed into a long-range rocket and sent into space so aliens discover it.
  • “Higher Ground” and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. Just two among the many transcendent tracks Wonderful recorded in this decade. I endorse these two in particular, but also pretty much everything he did (although “I Wish” has been kinda ruined by Will Smith).
  • “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. The most joyful music I’ve ever heard.
  • “Get Down on It” by Kool and the Gang. Basically, follow the instructions for a good time. “Celebration” also receiving votes.
  • “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston. An immense chorus keys this Gamble and Huff tune, and the LA Motown production is outstanding. For bass nerds, here’s a great thread trying to decipher who funks on this.
  • “Heart of Glass” by Blondie. New Wave’s finest dance floor anthem. As SecretM pointed out, it’s the soundtrack to a key dance party scene in Kicking and Screaming.
  • “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & the Sunshine Band. I have mixed feelings on KC and co; most of their songs really seem like they were written for children, they are so basic and silly. Not this masterjam — it’s got a fierce horn section, a dank chorus, and of course, KC’s signature tambo beats.
  • “Upside Down” by Diana Ross. With writing and production by the guys from Chic. Technically this dropped in 1980, but it’s 70s sound all the way.
  • “Good Times” by Chic. The most frequently bitten bassline ever.

The 80s

My fellow 80s kids know this era was magical — there were so many genres in play on the charts that an 80s dance party can be its own wonderful organism. Disco elements still remained, but this was also a time when dance-punk began to evolve, lending a darker edge to the dance floor. All that plus the nascent sounds of hip hop made this an incredible decade for tunes, and one that’s been better appreciated with the ascendance of Lady Gaga and other heavily-80s-influenced acts. Key tracks:

  • “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant. BOYS! Allmusic calls this an “almost primal slab of funk punctuated by a pumping beat and percolating synthesizer.” I can’t beat that.
  • “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by Prince. The purple one has dozens of great songs, obviously, but this one stands out to me as the track best suited for a dance jam in 2012. Others that come close are “1999,” “I Would Die 4 U.” Deeper cuts I’d recommend for a full blown 80s dance party are “Erotic City” and “The Glamorous Life” (the latter credited to Sheila E).
  • “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. What a classic. The pre-chorus is magical. You’ve really gotta bring it with your dance moves to be worthy of the high standard Paula lays down.
  • “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. The song that inspired the Carlton Dance is worthy of any 80s dance party you could dream up.
  • “Take On Me” by a-ha. If you dance to this passionately enough, you will be able to travel between the real world and realms of illustration.
  • “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. Amazing cover of the 60s classic evokes joyous nostalgia in all who hear it.
  • “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Classic fist-pumper that builds to an epic finale. It’s really tough to resist the piano slide thirty seconds in, I know I never have.
  • “Burning Up” and “Borderline” by Madonna. My personal favorites among her catalogue.
  • “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis build a throbbing dance beat around a sample of Larry Graham’s magical bass. Someday in the future when everyone in America looks like Derek Jeter, the national anthem will be changed to this song.
  • “Gloria” by Laura Brannigan. LOVE.
  • “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club. The track that launched a thousand samples. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth are so good on this. One of my favorites.
  • “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q. A perfect 80s one-hit wonder. People are jealous ’cause we always stay together.
  • “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. A tortured jam. There’s a 2:11 version that gets right to the point, I recommend using that.
  • “Jump (For My Love)” by the Pointer Sisters. All-time great key change.
  • “Bust a Move” by Young MC. Stone cold rhymin’ and an INCREDIBLE performance by Flea on session bass. An 80s/90s crossover track that everyone loves.

The 90s

Hip hop and R&B roared to the fore in pop in the 90s, and great tracks abounded from both sides of the Atlantic. Many of these songs evoke major nostalgia, but they still sound amazing in 2012. Be sure to include some of these classics. Again, some deeper cuts can be found in “Club Classics.”

Key tracks:

  • “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty. One of DJ Walls of Sound’s go-to jams and a song that gets better with every passing year. Amazing MJ reference, too. DON’T sleep on this.
  • “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa. Girls go ham when this song plays.
  • “Move This (Shake That Body)” and “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic. These songs are like edgier versions of KC & the Sunshine Band tracks. Their classic 90s flavor and pulsating beats practically obligate you to dance. I also like “Get Up (Before the Night is Over)” but it’s not quite on the level of the other two.
  • “Unbelievable” by EMF. Andrew Dice Clay’s existence was justified by this song (he’s the guy you hear hollering “OH! What the fuck?”). Shreddy guitar part toward the end is just icing on the cake. An immortal 90s jam.
  • “Motownphilly” by Boys II Men. The pure essence of the early 90s.
  • “Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee-Lite. I still vividly remember the first time I saw this video — and I’ve loved this ever since. An incredible song, and Q-Tip massacres his verse. One, two, three, bbbbbbbbbrrrrr!!
  • “Steal My Sunshine” by Len. Nothing screams 90s more than the quirky, incestuous vocals Marc and Sharon Costanzo lay over a sample from “More, More, More!” And what a hook! I’m going to advocate for the 3:31 length single version over the longer album version, but if you really like yelling “Sharon!! I love you!” then go for the album version.
  • “Back To Life” by Soul II Soul. So much to love about this cut, but the vocals stand out to me as the true highlight.
  • “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground. What a performance by Shock G, whose “Humpty Hump” character is like a cross between Groucho Marx and Sir Mix-a-Lot. Do the humpty hump!
  • “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Everlast before he softened. I always took pride that they rocked Celtics swag.
  • “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer. Obviously, this owes a massive debt to Rick James, bitch, but Hammer’s energetic rapping and our collective memories of his crew furiously jiving in their parachute pants will enliven any fiesta. Related: “Ice Ice Baby.”
  • “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect. All I wanna do is zoom a zoom zoom zoom and a boom boom! A raw track that presaged where hip-hop would be heading in the future, but it also came correct with a highly chantable chorus.
  • “Finally” by CeCe Peniston. Has there ever been a better lyric than “Unga-ee, unga-ee, yeah yeah ee, OW”? No, there has not.
  • “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan. An superb 90s one-hit wonder straight outta South Central. R&B jamming with a thuggish edge.
  • “I Wish” by Skee Lo. I wish every song was as good as this 1995 gem. Amazing interpolation of “For What It’s Worth” seals the deal.

The Aughts

In the aughts (my preferred term), rock was pretty much extinguished from the charts, as hip hop completely ruled the day. Eurosynth sounds were a heavy influence and super-producers were the rule. It’s still kinda weird to think that this decade is not still going on, but regardless, all these cuts still sound super fresh. Tons more tracks from this decade are in “Reigning Divas,” “Red Hot and Recent,” “Hip Hop Jams,” etc. Key tracks:

  • “Low” by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain. One of my favorite songs ever. Them birthday cakes, they stole the show.
  • “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue. An absolutely hypnotic groove. Co-written by Cathy Dennis, the genius who also penned Britney’s “Toxic.”
  • “American Boy” by Estelle featuring Kanye West. For a dude who’s released so many classics, Kanye hasn’t really made that many great dance songs. This is a major exception (albeit with will.i.am behind the boards). Kanye’s “Gold Digger” also received votes.
  • “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake. An outstanding Neptunes production originally intended for Michael Jackson. Your loss, MJ.
  • “Hot in Herre” by Nelly. Speaking of the Neptunes, this is another of their great tracks, built around a Chuck Brown (RIP) sample. My favorite line is “I got secrets can’t leave Cancun.” We all know you ess dees, Nelly.
  • “Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani. Dr. Dre’s production on this track (ye shall know him by the pounding piano chords) is magnificent. Eve’s appearance is probably the best thing she has ever done in life. How they pulled off a hip hop song that samples Fiddler on the Roof and includes an extended discussion of Stefani’s Japanese servants is beyond my comprehension.
  • “Sweetest Girl” by Wyclef Jean feat. Akon and Lil’ Wayne. An incredible song. Everyone brings it 100% (especially Weezy, who’s incredible on this) and the Wu-Tang shoutout definitely hits home with me. Dolla dolla bill, y’all!
  • “Where the Party At?” by Jagged Edge featuring Nelly. So weird, so fun. All the harmonies seem kinda off, but in a charming way that works.
  • “Get Busy” by Sean Paul. Dancehall goes mainstream with this driving track that doesn’t relent for three-and-a-half dank minutes.
  • “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira with Wyclef Jean. Her throaty voice cracks me up, the beats are winning, and that Jerry Rivera sample works every time.
  • “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado. Timbaland is at his best on this track. A spectacularly good dance jam.
  • “Forever” by Chris Brown. I know…he’s a complete dick. This song is so good, though. ONE TWO THREE FO!
  • “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. A monumental human achievement.

Red-Hot and Recent Gems

Here are some current hits and great tracks from the past three or four years. Virtually all were created expressly for the dance floor, as club music is now the dominant genre in pop. If you’re a rising old like many of us at ROTI, give these tracks a chance. You might be surprised when your inner tween emerges. Key tracks:

  • “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. On a trajectory to be the official Song of the Summer 2012, or as Alison described it, “the greatest song in the history of the world.” See above for one of the many viral videos this track has spawned.
  • “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida. Raiding the EDM genre for ideas is a great idea for hitmakers these days, and this track made off with the best part of AVICII’s “Levels” and added Flo’s consistently great stylings. Etta James pops in periodically to give you a breather, then the beat slams back down. The crazy bridge is a challenge to everyone to break out their Robots.
  • “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. A banger produced by RedOne (also known for Gaga’s “Just Dance”, see “Swedes”) with a distinct Europop feel complete with football crowd chanting.
  • “Ass Back Home” by Gym Class Heroes feat. Neon Hitch. I Shazamed the crap outta this the first time I heard it (in a cafeteria). A poppin’ hook with a nice tempo shift on the verses. And yeah, her real name is Neon Hitch; her dad was a lighting engineer.
  • “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. God, I love this song even if I’d probably want to off myself if I had to spend any time with its creators. It’s just a simple, tasty hook interspersed with decent, bouncy verses and the inspired refrain, “Every day I’m shufflin’.”
  • “Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green. An incredible effort by Cee Lo and Bruno Mars, working behind the scenes to apply his retro songwriting skillz. Don’t use the clean version, it annoys me that it even exists. “Fuck you and fuck her too” is one of the best hook lyrics ever.
  • “Ridin’ Solo” by Jason Derulo. A joyous celebration of singledom, kind of the dude’s version of “Single Ladies.” JR Rotem’s production doesn’t get old for me after hundreds of listens, although I do recommend (if you can find it) the original beat that drew from “Bittersweet Symphony”; ostensibly they found out that Mick Jagger’s lawyers will make sure your kids don’t grow if you use that sample.
  • “OMG” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” by Usher. Two great recent tracks from Ursh, the first featuring will.i.am and the second with a somewhat annoying cameo from Pitbull (I really wish he’d stop saying “Da le” every five words). Usher’s stated purpose in life is to connect with people trying to shake their daily cares off at the club, so he’s perfect for any dance party.
  • “Black and Yellow” by Wiz Khalifa, with production by Norway’s StarGate. So simple, yet so tasty.
  • “Chillin'” by Wale featuring Lady Gaga. An extremely catchy track by the DC MC, with an infectious “Kiss Him Goodbye” sample and an MIA-like appearance from Gaga. Get the explicit version that starts off with a Clay Davis-like “Sheeeeeit.”
  • “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings. In the grand tradition of “Hey Micky” comes this instant classic. Try to deny this chorus, I defy you.
  • “Good Girls Go Bad” by Cobra Starship feat. Leighton Meester. You guys know how I feel about Meester. This song is pretty banal lyrically, but I love the hook, although not nearly as much as I love Meester.
  • “Beautiful Girl” by Vybz Kartel. When Vybz isn’t running afoul of the Jamaican authorities, he’s creating brilliant dancehall tracks, here with spectacularly good production by Dre Skull. One of my top jams of the moment.
  • “The Opposite of Adults” by Chiddy Bang. The rapping is kind of annoying, but the production puts the hook from MGMT’s “Kids” to a better dance beat, and it works.
  • “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. What a hook! Irresistible dance jam.

MJ

The King of Pop and high priest dance floor rocking. So essential to any dance party that he deserves his own section. Key tracks:

  • “ABC” by the Jackson 5. I’m personally sick of this, but it has undeniable party starting power.
  • “Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5. Everyone knows about the Moonwalk, but did you know Michael Jackson popularized the Robot via this track?
  • “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground),” late-stage J5, technically by The Jacksons. Disco style in full effect. My personal favorite Jacksons track.
  • “Rock With You,” from Off The Wall. Michael begins to usher in the 80s. The ridiculous key change is my personal highlight, but really the whole thing deserves to be celebrated.
  • “Workin’ Day and Night,” from Off The Wall. Maybe the most underrated MJ song? Absolutely explosive.
  • “Burn This Disco Out”, also from Off The Wall. Another classic. The dance tracks on that album have aged so well.
  • “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” the lead single from Off the Wall. You know, the force has a lot of power…
  • “P.Y.T.” from Thriller. Pretty much a perfect song, it’s amazing on a lot of levels.
  • “Wanna Be Starting Something,” from Thriller. Mama say mama sah ma ma ku sah!
  • “Human Nature” from Thriller. Michael’s finest slow jam. As this totally true Yacht Rock documentary shows, extraordinary measures were required to make this record a reality.
  • “Billie Jean,” from Thriller. Obviously.

Reigning Divas

Divas rule the dance floor, so don’t go into battle with at least one of them by your side. Key tracks:

  • First and foremost in the year 2012, Rihanna. Rihanna is amazing and if you’re going to have a dance party, she should definitely be invited. Her unique vocal tone has given life to dozens of amazing hooks. Everyone wants to hit the dance floor when Rihanna comes on the stereo, trust. Her best:
    • “Talk That Talk,” her latest single (above). I am obsessed with this. RiRi jams on a really obese synth beat, Jay-Z’s on it. It’s awesome.
    • “Pon de Replay,” her first single.  Mildly dated compared to her current stuff, but I still think it’s great.
    • “We Found Love.” A gentle groove produced by Calvin Harris, but it has enough of a beat that you can still rock it.
    • “Cheers (Drink to That).” Fist pumping weekend song with clever Avril Lavigne sample.
    • “What’s My Name,” featuring now-spurned lover Drake. (@Rihanna ran out of fucks to give about that guy.)
    • “Disturbia,” written and produced by Chris Brown…I know, but it’s still a great song.
    • “Don’t Stop the Music,” with an inspired Michael Jackson interpolaish. A+
  • “Crazy In Love” and “Single Ladies” by Beyonce. I’m a little over the latter track, but it still fires up every lady out there and inspires the people to bust Fosse-style moves. As for “Crazy In Love,” it’s a classic track with great production from DC’s Rich Harrison and a ridiculous horn sample from the Chi-Lites. Don’t get caught neglecting this.
  • “Toxic” by Britney Spears. This could also be filed under “Swedes” because the production by Bloodshy & Avant is simply absurd. The Bollywood-style strings and surf guitar are inspired.
  • “Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga — a modern track in the tradition of 70s/80s club classics. Recorded on her freakin’ tour bus. All respect to Gaga. “Telephone” (with Beyonce) and “Just Dance” are also great Gaga selections, and “Poker Face” is already a classic.
  • “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera. (From what I hear about backstage dramz on The Voice, Adam Levine is every bit the diva Xtina is.) The along-for-the-ride crew in Maroon 5 try to keep up with these two tempestuous vocalists as they let loose over what my sister would call a “bangladesh” guitar groove. Bonus points for whistling.
  • “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston, diva queen emeritus, with pretty much the best voice of all time. Whitney nostalgia is at high ebb and these songs sound as fresh as anything on the radio today. Incredible key changes are par for the course with Whitney.

Swedes

When I asked Nils Coq au Vin for his recommendations for this post, he said simply, “Swedes.” Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock stone for the past 30 years knows that the nation of Sweden rules over pop music. Here are some of the best tracks created and/or produced by Swedish geniuses. Key tracks:

  • Gotta start with ABBA, the monarchs of Swedish pop. I especially like “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” (memorably sampled for Madonna’s “Hung Up”) and “Lay All Your Love On Me,” but their catalog is pretty fat with songs that will get people moving. Vladimir Putin approved this message.
  • The modern master of Swedish pop is Max Martin, who in one way or another is behind almost every hit in the last 20 years. Britney’s “Oops! I Did It Again” is one of his many classics; he’s also collabed extensively with the Swedish-American Dr. Luke (see below).
  • “Stars 4-Ever” by Robyn. The hipster’s favorite dance floor diva has dropped a lot of great songs recently, but to my mind, this is the best of ‘em. It’s got a steady beat and a super-hooky chorus.
  • “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga, produced by Moroccan-Swede RedOne (born Nadir Khayat). RedOne immigrated to Sweden expressly because it’s the home of awesome pop music, so there you go. THE POWER OF SWEDEN.
  • “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John. This indie groove hits a lot of my soft spots — whistling, a perky bassline, and a superb hook.
  • “Punkrocker” by Teddybears with Iggy Pop. A driving beat and awesome hook from the Stockholm dance-rockers.
  • The Knife represent dance-punk with their track “Heartbeats.” Sludgy synth groove that keeps things locked in, counterpointed by a mournful vocal.

Dr. Luke

Born Lucasz Gottwald, he’s often mistaken for a Swede, but he’s actually a New Yorker. Dr. Luke spent 10 years as the guitarist in the SNL band, while building a reputation as a DJ in the city. When he met Max Martin, they hit it off and teamed up for some massive hits. The good doctor has had an incredible run for the past 5 years, cranking out smash after smash. So the next time you see some marginally talented pop tart and wonder “how the hell is she so successful?” the answer is probably that she’s working with Dr. Luke. And I, for one, respect the hell outta that. Key tracks:

  • “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. Don’t try to deny its power…
  • “Till the World Ends,” by Britney Spears, off Femme Fatale; a joint effort of Dr. Luke and his mentor Max Martin. A blistering track that incorporates some of the latest EDM sounds while remaining firmly grounded in a pop template. The hook alone is brilliant.
  • “Right Round” by Flo Rida. The original Dead or Alive track now sounds impossibly dated compared to this Dr. Luke masterpiece with significant assists from Bruno Mars and DJ Frank E. Ke$ha crushes it on the hook!
  • “Last Friday Night,” by Katy Perry. Katy’s lyrics are transcendently awful, but Dr. Luke crafts beats so infectious. And how about that screaming sax solo? “California Gurls” and “Hot N Cold” work too.
  • “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha. More asinine lyrics and unstoppable beats. This is one of the best pop hooks in recent memory. The bridge kind of stops things dead in their tracks, but the song recovers soon enough. More recent tracks like “Blow” and “We R Who We R” are usable if you’ve got a Ke$ha loving crew.
  • “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson. The original Max Martin/Dr. Luke megarecord. Not really a dance track at all, but a massive fist-pumper that’s probably one of the best songs of the past 15 years. Three minutes of dynamite.

Hip Hop Jams

These tracks are a little harder, a little rawer. Spring ‘em when guards are down and watch the grindfest ensue. Key tracks:

  • The current master of the hip hop dance jam is Ludacris. He practically guarantees that a track will be a dance floor smash when he guests on it. His best work includes:
    • “Yeah!” by Usher. This song is magic. Ludacris provides the perfect bridge between Usher’s mainstream R&B and Lil’ Jon’s obscene crunk-hop.
    • “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz. Ludacris is great on this, and also helps us to know how to pronounce “Taio”. A really good hook helps this track blend Eurosynth and hip hop styles. It’s a winner.
    • “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)” by Enrique Iglesias. An amazing beat offsets a tasty hook. (I recently learned there is a dirty version of this song, and since there is nothing more cringeworthy than hearing Enrique Iglesias croon “tonight I’m fuckin’ you,” I recommend the clean version.) Luda shows up about two-and-a-half minutes in to drop a quality verse that’ll make the bootys shake.
    • “Southern Hospitality” from Back for the First Time. Still my favorite Neptunes production. An absolutely nasty beat with a badass refrain. Throw them bows!
    • “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Ludacris lends a little credibility to an otherwise bland vanilla-pop number. Not my personal favorite, but I’ve seen this slay too many times to sell it short now.
  • “Ignition (Remix)” and “Fiesta (Street)” by R. Kelly. “Ignition” was easily the most widely mentioned track by members of our panel — what can you say about a song that has lyrics as amazing “It’s like Murder She Wrote once I get you out the clothes,” and “we got food everywhere, as if the party was catered”? As classic as that track is, I might actually like “Fiesta” better. That chorus is so good.
  • “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. Go shawty, it’s your birfday! Ever heard any of 50 Cent’s early tracks, before he got shot in the mouf and ended up with that weird drawl? Not nearly as fun. Anyway, Dr. Dre’s production here is simply masterful.
  • “I Get Around” by Tupac, featuring Digital Underground. A hard track that has enough swing to dance to, and a nice hook. For a West Coast crew better versed in all things Tupac, El Guapo recommends DU’s “Same Song,” Tupac’s first appearance on a record.
  • “4 My People” by Missy Elliott. Something of a deep cut, but Timbaland’s production is so mighty that it’ll move the uninitiated.
  • “Teach Me How to Dougie” by Cali Swag District. Infectious chorus, nice groove, and it caused Kate Upton to do this.
  • “Rack City” by Tyga. Gotta love a beat built from some simple drum and synth and a crew shouting “AY!” Alonzo Mourning references go over real well at ROTI.
  • “Back That Azz Up” by Juvenile. If you can break this out on a dance floor full of unsuspecting guests, magic might happen. It’s hilariously raw.

Eurosynth

A genre I just made up that encompasses aspects of EDM (electronic dance music), electrofunk, synth pop, etc. These songs have pretty much just two things in common — they use a lot of synths, and they rule. Key tracks:

  • “Digital Love,” “One More Time,” and “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by Daft Punk. Parisians that sound like incredibly funky robots. The market leaders in this sector.
  • “Turn Me On” and “Club Can’t Handle Me” by David Guetta; Nicki Minaj does vocals on the first track from Guetta’s Nothing But the Beat; Flo Rida stars on the second from his record Only One Flo. Guetta comes from the Euro DJ scene but has an incredible facility for creating international smash hit dance tunes.
  • “1901” by Phoenix. So smooth, so infectious.
  • “Evacuate the Dancefloor” by Cascada. Pure Euro dancepop from this German crew with power synths in full effect.
  • “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior. A particular favorite of SecretM, this danceable gem still has the power to move almost 10 years after it dropped. Nice side note, Senior co-wrote and produced Gaga’s “Born this Way,” and Junior is now in the NYC buzz band MAKE OUT.
  • “Call on Me” by Eric Prydz. Built around a nice Steve Winwood sample.
  • “Night by Night,” “Fancy Footwork,” and “Needy Girl” by Chromeo. I know…Canada is not in Europe, but this seemed like the best fit for a group that hasn’t exactly scored a hit yet, but repeatedly deliver dance floor gold with a highly synthed-up style and lyrics that challenge listeners to show their prowess on the floor. Their self-description as “the only successful Arab-Jewish partnership in history” is pretty funny.
  • “Sandstorm” by Darude. I used to loathe this song until I saw the light (it might have been the time I saw someone make it rain at the Golden Banana while it was playing that changed my views so profoundly). Now I worship at the altar of “Sandstorm.”

Club Classics

A collection of gems for dance club lovers from the 70s to 90s. Unless your dance party is packed with guys like Stefon, you may not find many takers for these tracks, but it would be borderline malpractice to talk about the “ultimate dance party” without shouting out some of these legendary dance club anthems.

Key tracks:

  • “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. Teamed with Giorgio Moroder, she produced the best dance club music ever created, of which this is a shining example. RIP to my fellow Bostonian.
  • “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae. Written and produced by KC and the Sunshine Band before they were stars, and it has a little more soul and nuance than a lot of their hits thanks to McCrae’s gentle vocal. And y’all best believe KC’s tambo beat don’t quit.
  • “Supernature” by Cerrone. I’d never heard this before beginning research for this article, but it’s like proto-Daft Punk. French disco genius unveils a synth-washed tale of mutants rising against the normals, circa 1977. 10 minutes of glory.
  • “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Holloway. Perhaps best known to 80s kids as the song Marky Mark sampled for “Good Vibrations.” By contrast to that track, “Sensation” has a fatter, bass-y bounce that’s more fun to dance to, but thanks to Marky, it also has the familiarity that many of the other cuts in this section may lack. Take a chance with this one.
  • “A Deeper Love” by Aretha Franklin. This was written/produced by the guys of C&C Music Factory and has that hot 90s feel with the inimitable voice of one of history’s greatest divas.
  • “Chains of Love” by Erasure. Vince Clarke’s amazing synths and Andy Bell’s soaring falsettos zoom to the stratosphere. This song might make you a little gay, but I think you should just let the gaiety in.
  • “Situation” by Yaz. Another Vince Clarke masterpiece, this time with Alison Moyet delivering the mighty vox. Get an edit of this song or it’s going to go on for 8+ minutes.
  • “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind” by The Bucketheads. Masterful UK club jam from the 90s that uses the same “Street Player” (Chicago) sample that Pitbull recently used in his hit “Calle Ocho.” All three of these songs are playable choices.
  • “Where’s Your Head At?” by Basement Jaxx. A 2001 rave-up classic with one of the creepiest music videos ever. Warning: May make you dance like a monkey with a human face.
  • “From Here to Eternity” by Giorgio Moroder. I’m probably pushing the edge of what you could realistically play, but this song is so awesome, I just had to put it on here.

Winning Over The Hard Cases

OK, let’s say you have a crowd of snobbish indie aficionados that seriously hate pop music of the last 10 years and will openly revolt if you play anything from the “Aughts,” “Hip Hop Jams,” or “Red Hot and Recent Gems” selections. Pull this list in case of emergency. Key tracks:

  • “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop. This song is  incredibly hardcore and at the same time, accessible enough that it’s used to promote cruise lines. The Bowie-crafted groove is so sweet.
  • “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello. This guy has never not been cool, and this track is a bassline-driven stomper that only a championship-level curmudgeoun would be snobby enough to resist.
  • “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order. A “hi-NRG” dance classic from the Factory mainstays. “Blue Monday” also received votes.
  • “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash. One of the best bands ever dips a toe into the dance-punk pool and the water turns to champagne.
  • “Cars” by Gary Numan, one of the fathers of synth pop. Perfect for a moody dance throwdown — the beat never relents and pulls you with it.
  • “Drunk Girls” by LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy and crew have a ton of great dance songs, but many of them take a while to develop and you might not want to risk losing your crowd. This track lays down its MO from the very start and builds with an incredible chorus.
  • “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” by CSS. Three-and-a-half minutes of nasty Brazilian hipster groove, it has an immediacy that comparable acts like LCD Soundsystem sometimes bypass.
  • “Cold War” and “Tightrope” (featuring Big Boi) by Janelle Monae from her brilliant The ArchAndroid. I discussed this at length somewhere in here, but Janelle Monae is an incredible talent — so creative but without sacrificing broad accessibility.
  • “Gold on the Ceiling” by the Black Keys, from last winter’s El Camino. This will never be confused with a club track, but Danger Mouse’s production gives it enough bounce to get out on the floor and twist. Lead El Camino single “Lonely Boy” could also serve.

Slow Dances

This is for the ambitious. It takes serious amateur-DJ skill to pull off a slow dance without some kind of MC situation going on to prep the crowd. But if you can do it — much dap to you. Thanks again to DJ Walls of Sound, who helped me ID some of the most essential slow jamz known to man. Key tracks:

  • “Never My Love” by the Association. Probably the tenderest song ever put on wax. The vocal break that goes down after the first chorus (around 1:15 in the track) is emotional sorcery.
  • “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys. The ultimate combination of Early Beach Boys Song Topics and a lovely song taboot.
  • “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding. Music to melt the coldest heart.
  • “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees. Cue the disco ball and the romance. An incredible song.
  • “Bump and Grind” by R. Kelly. A true slow jam that still has a little edge. Perfect for getting cozy with that special someone to set the stage for a magical night of golden showers conventional lovemaking!
  • “Halo” by Beyonce. A Ryan Tedder gem. B’s voice is like an antique instrument she controls with breathtaking skill. Get the 3:44 radio edit.
  • “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. THE definitive slow dance song of the 90s. Anyone getting married this summer probably had their first slow dance to this gem.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments or give us a shout on Twitter (@rumorsinternets). We’ll keep updating our playlists!

Here’s a complete playlist of all 12+ hours of music mentioned in this post (to the extent it was available on Spotify). Use this database to create your own personalized dance playlist and let’s get this summer crackin’!

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