I’ve said it before, but really, I can’t believe I haven’t covered this before. Dancing is such an important companion to music. It can be a joyful release, a form of protest, epoch-changing, style-leading, a celebration, a way of meeting or courting people or even dealing with unimaginable horror. It has changed the world, it has changed attitudes, it has left lasting marks on culture all over the world.
/Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing
And my god, there are a lot of songs about it. As is usual nowadays, I had a handful of songs I was already considering when I opened it up to the floor on Facebook, and the end result was 283 suggestions in total, with 251 individual songs, five of which I’d used before (and I’m getting tougher on not repeating songs). Which, needless to say, made this a tough one to finalise just ten songs, and in fact, it (once again) became twelve this week.
I wanted songs about dancing, not necessarily songs that make you dance (so “dance” music perhaps doesn’t feature as much as you might like), but even so, the breadth of suggestions took me to almost every corner of popular music, including to a few places I didn’t fancy going, and a few places I’d never even considered. Thanks, as always, to all my regular contributors.
By popular demand I’ve added a second Spotify playlist, too, which includes almost everything that was suggested (and that was on Spotify) – made easier to create courtesy of Dylan’s excellent batch Spotify playlist creator.
Oh, and as much as I’d loved to have included Cemetery Polka by Tom Waits (one of his greatest songs and character sketches), it’s not strictly about dancing, and no, the Scissor Sisters do not feature. Especially as they didn’t want to dance.
Got your Dancing Choose on? Let’s head to the dancefloor.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Knowing What You Know Now
“I don’t dance ‘cos I want to / I dance ‘cos I need to / I’m gonna die to own this room / Yeah I need this more than you”
Thanks to rockstardinosaurpirateprincess for this gloriously catchy piece of alt-rock that has lit up my speakers since I first heard it last week. Why dance indeed?
Well, here, it might be to prove that they still can, after the lead singer apparently had a significant injury that knocked their progress after their debut album a few years back. This song sums up exactly why I go out dancing to the music I love – to forget any troubles nagging at my mind, to escape real life for a little while and instead lose my mind amid a familiar and exciting soundtrack. It also makes me want to go dancing again. When can I?
It would appear that these Bingley, West Yorkshire alt-rockers are the “next big thing” in that arena, and with monstrous hooks (this song is one gigantic collection of hooks, frankly) like this, I can well believe it.
/Tyranny >For You<
Electronic Body Music was very much based around the physical connection of music and physical exertion – be that dancing or sex, and frequently it was the latter. This track, though – one of 242’s greatest, as far as I’m concerned – is interestingly one of the relatively few EBM tracks explicitly about dancing (Nitzer Ebb’s Let Your Body Learn is another, and they were another band exploring similar connections as 242). It is also one of their most thrilling live tracks, particularly in the Re:boot version that’s been common in their live sets in recent years, where elements of Neurobashing are hauled in that gives it an almighty energy boost.
Tyranny…, by the way, turned 27 years old just the other week.
/Dance Me to the End of Love
Leonard Cohen wrote a great many songs celebrating beauty and love, often in perhaps oblique ways, but perhaps this song is one of his most direct and elegant. Musically it is apparently inspired by traditional Greek folk songs, and lyrically it has a much, much bleaker side, inspired by the musicians in the holocaust, themselves victims, who were forced to play outside the gas chambers as their fellow prisoners were taken to their death. Despite this unimaginable horror that this image raises, this song remains a glorious celebration of an eternity of love. Indeed, it was used by my-now mother-in-law (a huge Leonard Cohen fan, of course) for her wedding ten years or so ago as the closing song to their ceremony, as they danced out of the room, encouraging everyone to follow…
/The Safety Dance
/Rhythm of Youth
Forget the oddly medieval-themed video of this eighties earworm for a moment, as intriguingly this 1982 smash hit was a snarky response, as the story goes, to local edicts around punk and new-wave shows in Montreal, where bouncers didn’t like the new forms of “dancing” that were appearing. In other words, they didn’t like “pogoing” (that later became “slam-dancing” or “moshing”, and a whole lot more violent), and were trying to stop it. This song, then, can be seen as a protest against that, the “safety dance”. The disagreements over that kind of dancing, of course, continue to this day, and later bands like Fugazi were explicit in their distaste for it (and actually went to some lengths to ensure it didn’t happen at their shows).
Not everyone was being so conciliatory, mind. Killing Joke, just a few years before, had burst to prominence at the end of the seventies with a brand of post-punk that barely sounded like anyone else, and in Wardance, had a beat of the war-drums and a call-to-arms that was enthusiastically taken up by everyone involved. As the song reminded through the incessant, urgent rhythm and Jaz Coleman’s barked lyrics, their sound – and the wider scene they were part of – was a different world to what had come before, one where authority was questioned, individuality was possible, and there was a fight to the sound. Dancing here, whether it was liked or not, had a violent edge to it, and there was nothing “they” could do about it.
Post-punk, intriguingly, has lots of songs about dancing or at least referring to dancing, and I’m still curious as to why. Back to this song, though, and personally I prefer the Ultimate Version, the 2003 B-side version to Loose Cannon that saw Dave Grohl take the drums and turn it into a rampaging powerhouse (the original sounds rather thin compared to this!).
I couldn’t possibly talk about dancing without featuring two things – Disco, and Chic. Disco was all about liberation and dancing, with an extraordinary hedonistic and aspirational streak at points – and no-one embodied that more than Chic, with a string of monster dancefloor hits that remain enduring classics even now, forty years on. This track was their breakthrough hit and set the template of what was to come. Of course, Nile Rodgers, in particular, has lent his expertise to a great number of other hits (Madonna’s Like A Virgin and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance to name just two), and almost all of them have become dancefloor classics.
/Dance of the Mad Bastards
/Cure for Sanity
Released around 1990, when rave culture had brought itself over the parapet and dance music had become part of the mainstream – and, yes, co-opted into other genres, even whiter-than-white indie rock in many cases – this was perhaps the first instance of the Poppies offering their support to those fighting back again ever-increasing restrictions on dance music (which culminated in the Criminal Justice Bill, one of a great many regressive acts introduced or championed by Michael Howard, and in musical terms the Poppies and The Prodigy unleashing the furious Their Law – also worth reading is this on VICE from a few years back), a song that celebrated the joy and fighting spirit of going raving.
Because we’ll never be / Told by the old school / Sold the old rules / Tho’ we’re no fools / Downbeats down to earth / You down with me?
It was not the first, and not the last, of course, inter-generational struggle with consequences for the younger generation, and some might say it was only a portent of the far bigger fights that have come since.
/From Under the Cork Tree
For some reason, this song – and particularly the smart-and-funny Homecoming Dance video – reminds me of the uncomfortable, forced nature of the school disco, and the awkward interactions that result, particularly if you’re not one of the “cool” kids. Being hyperaware, even in the dimly lit room, of your peers watching and judging you (even if they weren’t, the feeling persisted). God, how did we do that without alcohol? Fall Out Boy manage to hurl all those memories back at me like they were yesterday, even if they were well over twenty-five years ago. The Eighties had only just ended when these were happening. But the song and the video give me a more positive message: Don’t be so scared, make the move. Dance, do your thing, have fun doing so. Ignore those around you and make your mark. I didn’t do so until I was able to “shed my skin” and embrace a new life at university.
/Out of Control
/She Wants Revenge
Next up, we are reminded of the joy of dancing at a club, in two very different songs and styles. First up, She Wants Revenge add a dash of style and sleaze, as they revel in the details of a cool goth club, presumably in Los Angeles, as the protagonist gets dancing with someone in a club, and the song spirals, yes, out of control as they both lose themselves in the music and lust. And yes, I – along with many of my readers – have had flings or even relationships begin in a club situation like this over the years. A chance glance, a chance introduction? Who knows where that might go. She Wants Revenge actually have a number of songs that explore what happens next, too – in particular the fabulous, sleazy Written In Blood.
/Katy On A Mission
/On A Mission
Far away from the perceived decadence of the West Coast and California, Katy B takes us raving in London, with a rare song that is squarely about the rush and joy that music can bring in a club and is full of details that will resonate with anyone who has ever been clubbing, and that could be any style of music. This track – and Katy B herself – comes from the community around London radio station Rinse.fm, a station that has been vitally important in the growth of a number of styles of dance music in London in recent years, giving Inner London a musical mouthpiece that it perhaps has been denied in the past. But the interactions with other clubbers, your own relationship (as it were) with the DJ as he plays “your” tunes, the ones you want to hear? Those are universal ideals – and one perhaps that as we get older, are things more of memory than of current triggers.
There have been, of course, a great deal of excellent electronic/dance music that has come out of France in recent decades, and of the many artists involved, one of the most celebratory and “fun” has at points been Justice. Unashamedly retro in their tastes, often influenced by both disco and seventies rock – and somehow avoiding the whiff of fromage for the most part – they perhaps set their stall out with early single D.A.N.C.E., which had a staggering video that, along with the song, paid homage to their influences – any number of references, particularly to Michael Jackson, are stuffed into the lyrics, not to mention that bassline that doesn’t half sound like Chic to me – and it also simply celebrates the joy of dancing.
Songs about dancing don’t have to have lyrics, mind, and the mix of industrial, noise and tribal elements have made iVardensphere stick out within industrial for some time. Often very much aimed at the dancefloor, where the tribal elements take centre-stage things get really interesting. This track comes from their debut album (which has been re-released and reworked a few times since), and often onstage in the past would feature belly-dancers dancing to the sinuous, mysterious rhythms and vocal samples, providing a link from the present to past forms of dance.
Dancing is of course nothing new – it goes back a long way through human history. It is just the soundtrack to it that continues to change and evolve, but dancing remains at the core of most cultures in some way or form.