Listen to Ana's top 10:
It's difficult to get through 50 years + of dance music made for the club, but here goes...
1. Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango 1972 - a true dance floor hit, Soul Makossa was an import record championed by David Mancuso of The Loft that took off in popularity with his crowd and spread throughout the discos of New York. Its underground popularity rose to the ears of legendary radio DJ Frankie Crocker, who gave it airtime on New York’s WBLS and introduced a generation of listeners to Afrobeat. The song helped sparked the world music influence on disco, and its iconic refrain ‘Mama ko mama sa make makossa’ became an international call to the dance floor (Makossa means DANCE in the Duala language of Cameroon), and was famously echoed by Michael Jackson in his song ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’.
2. I Feel Love by Donna Summer 1977 - What is there to say about the iconic trio of Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, and Pette Bellotte that hasn’t been said before? I just steal the line from my friend Brandon: “it always sounds like it’s from 15 minutes in the future” - and it remains the #1 most requested song I get. Pure dopamine and serotonin in sonic form, this song is the living, churning, molten core of Planet Dance.
3. You Make Me Feel Mighty Real by Sylvester 1979 - Unabashed and unapologetically queer, Black and femme, Sylvester is the embodiment of that fluid and fabulous dance floor spirit. Mighty Real is a treatise on queer liberation, the term ‘Real’ having a multi-layered meaning encapsulating the feeling of freedom in an all-queer space, the delight in embodying another gender or the ability to “pass” in daylight hours, and the honesty in loving openly and without fear. His partnership with Patrick Cowley established the Bay Area sound and inspired what disco would become in the 1980s as Hi-NRG.
4. Love is the Message by MFSB 1973 - A song that is a disco anthem, a Black empowerment anthem, a Ballroom anthem that inspired Madonna’s Vogue, and a quintessentially New York song despite its Philadelphia origins. With the disco pedigrees of Vince Montana and the assorted virtuosos of MFSB, Gamble and Huff, Three Degrees, and the mixing mastery of Tom Moulton, this song is dance floor history in a nutshell. Ask any DJ and they will insist on a particular version to play, and whichever one they choose is indicative of their overall style — personally, it’s all about the 1982 Danny Krivit Re-Edit for me.
5. Trans Europe Express by Kraftwerk 1977 — From the warmth of American R&B to the chill of Krautrock, no band heralded the future quite like Kraftwerk. Working to create something entirely new from the ashes of WWII, Kraftwerk helped redefine what it meant to be German and provided a counterpoint to the wild and wooly excesses of 1970s rock ’n roll. Building off the foundation of their groundbreaking 1974 hit Autobahn, it was 1977’s Trans Europe Express that really solidified their robotic sound, one that would be fully realized in their next album, Man Machine. This song would famously divide a dance floor back in the day, some people not ready for the long, cold, hypnotic ride — one of those people was Steve Rubell of Studio 54 — he famously fired Nicky Siano for playing it!
6. Blue Monday by New Order, 1981 — If I Feel Love is the molten core of the dance world, then Blue Monday is the mantel. It is the electronic phoenix that rose from the ashes of Joy Division, and will forever be a part of my musical DNA. Those first few seconds are forever cemented in my mind, the fluttery Linn Drum opener signaling the descent into something totally consuming and utterly intoxicating. It’s simple and complex, it’s a push and a pull, it’s a rip current of expectant electronic fluctuations pulling you under and depositing you on distant cold shores of longing. How does it feel THIS GOOD, every time?
7. Clear by Cybotron 1983 — Another one that, like I Feel Love, sounds FROM THE FUTURE every time. Detroit HAD to be represented on this list, and I believe Juan Atkins represents the pure robotic soul of techno. Instantly recognizable and widely sampled, this song inspired a legion of knob twiddlers and had a generation of breakdancers popping and locking.
Love Can’t Turn Around by Farley Jackmaster Funk ft Darryl Pandy 1986 — It feels weird not putting Frankie Knuckles on this list, but this was the first US House song to chart on the UK pop charts. Embodying the Warehouse spirit and exemplifying the Chicago sound, it kicked off a transatlantic movement that would bridge US and UK club culture forever, and create a global family of ravers.
8. Promised Land by Joe Smooth 1986 - Inspired by classic R&B “message songs” and up there with the best of them, Promised Land is the “What’s Going On” of house music. Promised Land puts lyrics to the desire to create Utopia on the dance floor and demonstrates the soul music and R&B core of house and its ethos, deeply rooted in the notion of the many coming together as one to celebrate the moment and create joy for marginalized people.
9. Last Train to Trancentral by The KLF 1990 — From the piano stabs to the crowd noises to the chants of “MU MU”, everything about this track communicates EPIC RAVE ENERGY. It’s a manic collage of hip hop, acid house, sampledelica, and just about every other genre that was happening at the time, and cemented The KLF as the arch masters of musical and cultural mayhem. In every way, shape and form: LEGENDARY.
10. Ride on Time by Black Box 1989 — Sampling the belting lyrics of Loleatta Holloway, this song was a controversy and a classic from the moment it made the scene. Built off the 1980 song “Love Sensation” produced by Dan Hartman, Ride on Time crystallized the sound of Diva House and would herald the struggle for the Diva (and other sampled artists) to get credit and compensation for their original work.
Honorable mention: Soon (Andrew Weatherall Remix) by My Bloody Valentine — it was the Guv’nor that really “got me” musically, was the first proper remixer I was aware of and followed, and he turned one of the best songs from one of my all-time favorite rock albums into something truly special and all-encompassing. He also did it with St Etienne’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, but something about Soon feels revelatory, groundbreaking, and communicates the energy of shoe gaze, grunge, trip hop, and rave - distinctly and uniquely era-defining, yet totally timeless.