Thursday, August 12, 2010

The QH Blend's Ten Dance LPs

What is a dance record? Is it molded and refined by an ambitious DJ or an assemblage of shrewd music industry insiders? Are its origins drawn from pre-disco Motown? Or has it transformed into something else? The answer is an amalgam of yes and no when it comes to what a dance record is or isn't. The inspiration for this piece came from being someone who enjoys music that makes me move. This motley crew of artists and their albums are what I'd want to be tripping the light fantastic to if out for a night on the town.

The choices were difficult to make as many records easily deserved to make this list. I based my selections on my requirements of what makes a dance long player for me. Requirements include a relentless energy that propels one section of the album and a necessary "cool down" area for refreshment. Additionally, albums like these cross genres because dance is not just an electronic medium. I hope you enjoy what I have picked.

#10 Emerald City
Circa 1986, as performed by Teena Marie

Hot off the win of 1984's Starchild, that record was rendered tame next to the dark, steamy brew Marie served on Emerald City. Still bearing all of Marie's hallmarks, a shift toward guitar and heavier beats lined the first half of the album. The caustic pull of "Lips to Find You" and the explicit grind of "Shangri-La" had Teena Marie in full effect.

#9 Secrets
Circa 2001, as performed by The Human League

The nucleic trio of Phillip Oakey, Susan Sulley, and Joanne Catherall behind the era definer "Don't You Want Me?" have had trouble escaping the reach of that song. A look at their last effort of original material, Secrets proved as ingenious as any Human League '80's effort. With delectable instrumental vignettes tying together the other nine vocal tracks, Secrets was cool, British musical art.

#8 I Feel For You
Circa 1984, as performed by Chaka Khan

One of the records to highlight the oncoming onslaught of hip-hop's influence on overall popular music, I Feel For You was a pre-New Jack Swing collision of hip-hop & R&B production techniques. Bold, exciting, sometimes jarring, I Feel For You had Khan steering her unmistakable voice through the interesting curves and bends on the album.

#7 Bring Ya to the Brink
Circa 2008, as performed by Cyndi Lauper

Lauper's first journey into the glitterati realm of dance music wasn't an exercise in creative contentment. Enlisting a group of reputable collaborators in the fields of electronica and dance, Lauper built shimmering sonic structures. Dense and daring, Brink remains a staunch strike of genius for Lauper.

#6 A Funk Odyssey
Circa 2001, as performed by Jamiroquai

Resisting the notion of disco's bastardization at the hands of crueler critics, Jay Kay & Co. pulled out all the tricks that made groups like Tavares and Earth, Wind & Fire great. Equally symphonic ("Corner of the World") and electronic ("Twenty Zero One"), Jay Kay pumped vocal vitality into A Funk Odyssey.

#5 Gloria!
Circa 1998, as performed by Gloria Estefan

Estefan's first two major international crossover hits "Dr. Beat" (1984) and "Conga" (1985) professed Estefan's love of dancefloor phonics despite her later Spanish language and adult contemporary forays. Marketed as her official return to dance music, Gloria! brilliantly embraced classic disco, nu-disco, and Latin styles.

#4 Off the Wall
Circa 1979, as performed by Michael Jackson

Seminal black dance record of all time or appetizer to the all-conquering Thriller (1982)? Most would say, I'd hope, the former over the latter. Off the Wall was Michael Jackson at the peak and joy of his power. Split into two movements, footloose funk ("Rock With You," "Get on the Floor") and handsome chill ("I Can't Help It," "Burn This Disco Out"), Jackson's Off the Wall remains his definitive statement.

#3 Night Work
Circa 2010, as performed by Scissor Sisters

These New York pop hedonists and culprits returned with glam fists swinging on Night Work. Through a wealth of influences, Night Work is a glowing, smutty mess that had the group dividing between current European and vintage American dance music.

#2 Four Seasons of Love
Circa 1976, as performed by Donna Summer

One of many masterpieces in Donna Summer's vast discography, Four Seasons of Love is a special record due to its sheer scope. Based on the idea of the four seasons, the songs glide by in various moods. Summer occupied desire ("Spring Affair," "Summer Fever") alongside regret ("Autumn Changes," "Winter Melody") believably on all four sides of the record.

#1 Neon Nights
Circa 2003, as performed by Dannii Minogue

No record in the last 10 years dealt in early '80's dance music mixed with all the now European and American toppings. Dannii Minogue, Kylie Minogue's sister, did just that with Neon Nights. It carried the boundless energy of dance music without effort.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kylie Minogue: A Study in Pop Perfection

The heir apparent to Madonna's throne, Kylie Minogue has unleashed her 11th affair Aphrodite to applause since its July release. The year of 2010 is an important milestone for Minogue in other ways. It marks two anniversaries in her discography: 1990's Rhythm of Love and 2000's Light Years. Minogue's power has been her pop purity, the full on froth that springs her that musical exhibitionism. Three records, three decades, one woman, each connected by the need to keep pop  changeable and creatively charged.

Rhythm of Love
Minogue's first big step, Rhythm of Love held a defined sonic that acknowledged an edgy, dance tone. With clubby pulses moving underneath them, Rhythm produced four staples: "Better the Devil You Know," "Step Back in Time," "Shocked," & "What Do I Have to Do." The album tracks also boasted gold on the bouncy "Secrets" and flirty title track. A marked vocal improvement made Minogue an unmistakable presence on Rhythm and she tried her hand at songwriting here as well. Not bad for the Stock-Aitken-Waterman doll many were writing off three years prior to Rhythm's release.

Light Years
Emerging from the exploratory deConstruction epoch, Light Years was Minogue's debut for her new home Parlophone Records. Decked out in mainstream and underground disco motifs, Light Years was equally credible and camp. The surging rushes of "Disco Down" and "Butterfly" were daises for the savant Minogue became during her deConstruction years. Minogue occupied boogie down brilliance on "Spinning Around"  and "Under the Influence," the latter a cover of the Love Unlimited classic. The pool party of the millennium started here.

Partnering with Stuart Price who led projects for Madonna (Confessions on a Dance Floor, 2005), Seal (System, 2007), and the Scissor Sisters (Night Work, 2010), Aphrodite is Minogue at her most European. At first listen, one dismisses the high gloss as perfunctory, but by the second listen "Get Outta My Way," "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)," and "Cupid Boy" are beyond enjoyable, they're euphoric. There are surprises in the baroque  "Closer" and the saucy switch of "Better Than Today." Within the lead single "All the Lovers" and "Aphrodite," we find thematic spirit of the album.

Eleven albums deep into a career that has seen Minogue dominate the globe, barring America which houses a loyal, cult following, Kylie Minogue is more than a mere "princess" to Madonna's "Queen Mother" stature. In reality, as the new album proclaims, she is above such human monikers, she is one of the few goddesses of the pop realm.-QH

[Editor's Note: Like majority of Kylie Minogue's pre-Fever work, both Rhythm of Love & Light Years are available as affordable imports, or within larger, music specialty shops. Visit for more information.-QH]