15 Songs That Gave Dance Music a Good Name

Let's be honest: Major record labels have no idea what the fuck they're doing, and haven't for years. You can't teach someone what makes an artist spe

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Let's be honest: Major record labels have no idea what the fuck they're doing, and haven't for years. You can't teach someone what makes an artist special in a college class. You can't show someone how to pick songs that will move a crowd of thousands. Opinion isn't something that can be taught. The repetition in the Grammys and on Billboard should be an indicator that something is wrong with the system. Today's music business depends on highly connected people with deep pockets and deeper contact lists; no wonder the same people are getting the same results.

The problem has been the same within the industry for decades. Artists seem to land #1 singles on the Billboard charts over and over again. Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga account for ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY ONE #1 singles on the dance charts. Interestingly enough, Depeche Mode, Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears, Donna Summer, Kristine W (am I the only one wondering who this is?), Kylie Minogue, Deborah Cox, David Guetta, Katy Perry, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston all have more than eight #1 singles on Billboard's dance charts.

Ah, but a glimmer of hope. Until recently the Billboard dance charts contained records created in the studio to serve singers. Record producers were an afterthought in the mainstream. In as early as 2004, we saw a swing to production charting without the help or co-sign of pop stars. In one year, we had #1 singles from Daft Punk, Axwell, Robbie Rivera, Richard "Humpty" Vission, Frankie Knuckles, Milk & Sugar, Dirty Vegas, and more. Deep Dish and Kaskade in 2005. Things were heading in the direction of the producers responsible for these records, and though there was a lull for a few years after that, it seems that there is another push for producers to acquire pop star status on their own. We are actually in the middle of an upswing.

The only dance music artists charting on Billboard with any consistency are artists like David Guetta, Zedd, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, Afrojack, Martin Solveig, and Daft Punk. There is a formula that labels, managers, and marketing teams are falling into, and the records representing mainstream electronic music are one small sliver of what's available. As soon as the power shifts to people that know and appreciate all forms of electronic music, the possibilities of equal representation are endless.

Instead of penning another rant on how blind we are to the factors within the business that muddy the art, looking back to find the rare treats that landed on these charts seemed like the power move. We decided to point out 15 singles that went #1 on Billboard's dance charts that ultimately gave dance music a good name. None of these singles were credited to pop stars, and every one of these tunes is unique in some way. This is a diverse list spanning several decades, and an indicator that superior music has its place in the mainstream.

Deee-Lite ft. Q-Tip - "Groove Is In the Heart"

Not Available Interstitial

Before A$AP Rocky called on Skrillex or Kanye West called on Daft Punk, you had the Native Tongues who, in their Daisy Age days (daze?), were experimenting in all kinds of music, including the disco-influenced funky house of Deee-Lite, which featured future stars in Super DJ Dimitri, Towa Tei, and Lady Miss Kier. Their 1990 hit "Groove Is In The Heart" featured a great verse from A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, helping show the world (yes, the world, as this hit #1 in Australia) that the sounds of dance music and hip-hop weren't as far off as one would imagine. This cut not only included heavy use of a Herbie Hancock sample, but bass work from P-Funk's own Bootsy Collins. This took over the clubs and charts worldwide, and while the group had a number of hits in the career, this track is their most well-known, and most accessible.

Robert Miles - "Children"

Not Available Interstitial

This song was created to stop people from dying. Seriously. A term called "Strage Del Sabato Sera" (Saturday night slaughter) was coined in Italy, as thousands of deaths were tallied in the '90s that were linked to people driving home from clubs. Robert Miles made this record to fit at the end of his sets in order to calm down his crowds so they would drive safer once they left the club. It went on to peak at #1 in more than a dozen countries.

Crystal Waters - "Gypsy Woman"

Not Available Interstitial

This track is such a mixture of vibes. It's a funky house record that forces you to bob your head... to the story of a homeless woman. It's been sampled quite a bit (T.I.'s flip on "Why You Wanna" was huge), and undoubtedly had more people than just me scrambling to reload the original into to their DJ sets and iPods. Crystal Waters has a way with words, though. She was inducted into the American Poetry Society at the age of 14, the youngest person ever to receive that honor. And it's really amazing that this record ever came out as a Crystal Waters song. It was penned for Ultra Naté, who has a handful of singles on the #1 dance charts herself. Waters smashed the demo version, and the producers decided to keep on the record instead of handing it off. The rest is history.

Technotronic ft. Felly - "Pump Up the Jam"

Not Available Interstitial

Call it what you want, but "Pump Up the Jam" was the first house track to crack into the mainstream. It helped that it was a "hip-house" track, combining rhymes over an uptempo beat that played perfectly into the sound of the scene, with the Jungle Brothers' "I'll House You" being one of the best examples of this trend. With the late '80s/early '90s experimenting more with electronic sounds in pop music, "Pump Up the Jam" was the perfect track at the perfect time.

Enigma - "Sadeness (Part 1)"

Not Available Interstitial

That Gregorian turnup, "Sadeness (Part 1)" was a certified international hit, hitting #1 and #5 on the US dance and pop charts (respectively), and hitting #1 in the charts of 24 countries total. We doubt that something like this, with lyrics in Latin and French that dealt with religion and the sexual desires of Marquis de Sade, would fly in today's pop charts, but there's something that was so undeniable about this new age/downtempo track that it was featured everywhere, from Single White Female to Tropic Thunder.

KLF - "3AM Eternal"

Not Available Interstitial

We feel these feels. Sometimes it feels like we're the only people alive at three in the morning. You leave out of a Manhattan club and the streets are empty. The shops are closed. Numerous versions of this song were released between 1989 and 1992, but the message is universal: Time is eternal. The video was really quite amazing for being 20-years-old as well.

CeCe Peniston - "Finally"

Not Available Interstitial

Early '90s diva house FTW, obviously. CeCe Peniston's "Finally" was the first (and biggest) hit of her career, hitting the top tens on the US and UK charts in 1992, as well as spending time dominating the US dance charts in late 1991. Her soulful vocal helped bridge that gap between dance music and the pop charts, allowing fans of R&B and soul music that might not be into the club scene getting something to latch on to. Plus, with all honesty, this was the sound of the early 1990s, when everything was turning colorful and bright. Happy music for party people.

Snap! - "The Power"

Not Available Interstitial

We won't dwell on how Chill Rob G might have felt after having his original being turned into "The Power" with new vocals by Turbo B (not today, anyways), but Snap!'s "The Power" was a more industrial take on the hip-house scene that blew up, although you wouldn't imagine that it would. Something about that "I've got the power!" vocal? It couldn't have been from Turbo B's bars, as he wasn't really killing it lyrically. Whatever the case may be, "The Power" hit #1 in the US on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and Hot Rap charts, as well as hitting #1 in the Netherlands, the UK, and Switzerland.

Everything But The Girl - "Missing"

Not Available Interstitial

The original version of "Missing" isn't even the one people remember; the legendary Todd Terry stepped in, turned it into a NYC house gem, and it set the world ablaze, throwing it into the charts worldwide, ultimately earning the duo a gold-certified single in the US. In the very least, this exercise showed that the perfect dance remix of a track could breathe new life (and success) into it.

Daft Punk - "One More Time"

Not Available Interstitial

Truthfully, some originally thought this was a bland single. The marketing behind this was genius though, and so was the rest of their Discovery album. And as cheesy as this song was, it prompted people to buy the release in throngs. It went fold in the United States and Australia, platinum in the United Kingdom, and triple-platinum in their home country of France. It sat on the top 10 album chart in a dozen countries at once. "One More Time" was the single that partygoers wanted to hear, but the album had something for tuned ears to enjoy. The sad piece is that I think most people that love Daft Punk have never seen Interstella 5555, the animated feature that Leiji Matsumoto created specifically for the album. Each one of the videos that were released (out of order, of course) made complete sense when you watched the full film.


New Order - "Blue Monday"

Not Available Interstitial

"Blue Monday" is the biggest-selling 12" of all time, and has become an anthem for clubbers worldwide. New Order was a group that was born from the ashes of Joy Divison, and took to experimenting with the Italian disco and electro sounds that they'd fallen in love with while dabbling in their own drum programming. One of the results of their work was "Blue Monday," which became a hit in the UK a number of times in the '80s and '90s, and spawned remixes from a number of artists during both swings. How many artists can say that one of their most influential tracks had been remixed by Plastikman... AND Quincy Jones?!

Kraftwerk - "Musique Non Stop"

Not Available Interstitial

Kraftwerk is the only EDM act that has been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They are truly sound designers, creating their own instruments and customizing audio devices. They hold a patent for an electronic drum kit with sensor pads and had their own custom vocoder for studio use. It might help to consider that "Musique Non Stop" was created 16 years after their inception, and 27 years ago. Imagine what your favorite new producers will sound like when they have 4 decades in the game. The video for "Musique Non Stop" was as revolutionary as the band. Animator Rebecca Allen created the template in 1983, and had to archive it until Kraftwerk's album was ready three years later to sync it to the audio. This is a single that hit #1 on the charts and didn't sound like anything else in the world.

Herbie Hancock - "Rockit"

Not Available Interstitial

If you ever saw the documentary Scratch, you know that Grandmixer D.ST's turntable scratches laid the groundwork for many of the best turntablist DJs in the hip-hop scene. Taken from his clasic 1983 album Future Shock, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" was a huge piece of electro, taken from when the electro sound was heavy into the 808 and vocoder sound. At a time when the sound of hip-hop was still forming, and people were looking for something past disco, you needed a credible artist like Herbie Hancock to put his stamp on the sound, and "Rockit" was the proper song from the Grammy Award-winning album to help cultivate the sounds of the 808 that we're infatuated with to this day.

George Kranz - "Trommeltanz (Din Daa Daa)"

Not Available Interstitial

You might not know this song off title alone, but you've definitely heard the vocal in the intro, which was a staple in the sample-based production circuit for years. Some say this is a precusor to what we now know as beatboxing, and "Trommeltanz" meaning "drum dance" in German. No, we're not sure what either of those have to do with each other, but this definitely spent two weeks at the top of the US Dance Chart in 1983. What do we learn from this? Let your freak flag fly; if George Kranz can top the charts with his vocals and percussion making a wild tune, and Baauer can have "Harlem Shake" go #1 on Billboard a year after its release, your quirky ideas can get you anywhere you want.

Art of Noise - "Moments in Love"

Not Available Interstitial

Art Of Noise is a group from London that released some incredibly chill music through the 1980s. The difference between this #1 dance single and most others is the fact that it's a downtempo electronic record. Oh, and that it's 10 minutes long. This was the tune that your mom would be listening to if she was smoking blunts and you hid her Enya CD. It was played at Madonna's wedding and sampled by Mya for her single "It's All About Me."

Latest in Music