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.
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.
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.