Old School Dance Classics

Oct 24, 2000 (Updated Oct 25, 2000)

Dance albums, you say? Who needs to listen to those when we can have the one stellar track, remixed and stretched to 45+ minutes, on our cd single or white label record?

Well, me, because I think dance music can be varied and entertaining, and worth a listen in its own right. Most of these albums I bought on cassette, for easy instant access to my walkman, so I could listen at work or while shopping in the city. Or, yes, for practising my moves alone in my room before heading out to clubland later on that night. These albums move your feet to the beat, and the tunes are pretty sweet!

They're also sometimes as old as twenty or more years, because, well, I am too.

1) Chic: Le Plus Grand Succees de Chic -- this is their first greatest hits collection, and it's got "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Le Freak," and a special little nugget called "My Feet Keep Dancing," which features an extended tap solo alluding to a vaudeville past. Disco had a lot of antecedents and influences, after all. Also, of course, the classic "Good Times," riffed on almost as much as tracks from my next act:

2) Kraftwerk: Computer World -- this is actually not as good an album as either the Man-Machine or Trans-Europe Express. And Autobahn is a real early classic, even if it is only about 4 songs total. But these tracks get you moving, esp. "Pocket Calculator," "Computer World 1 and 2" and "Numbers." "Computer Love" is as emotionally affecting as these robot boys ever got: of course they do it with the melody, not their vocals.

3) Donna Summer: I Remember Yesterday -- what an interesting concept album from La Summer and Le Moroder: a track each that mocks the styles of the 40s, the 50s, the 60s and the new Millenium with that final synth masterpiece, "I Feel Love." Her voice is up to the challenge of every epoch.

4) Opus III: Mind Fruit -- I always expected more from this band, and the followup album Guru Mother is pretty good, too. Still, the smooth girlish vocals of wee Kristy Hawkshaw, the silly shiny costumes, and the driving high NRG techno beats that inform these loose sci-fi tunes are enchanting. "(It's a) Fine Day" is super-positive and unrelenting and their range is great enough to allow a tune like "Stars in My Pocket" to be wistful and strange, too. You will be tired after grooving to this album, which is why the give you the ambient "intro" and "outro" bookend tracks.

5) Grace: If I Could Fly -- More deep Eurodisco, an average voice on the scale of Cathy Dennis from rented diva Dominique Atkinson, stellar production, a lifted track from Opus III ("Hand in Hand" a less subtle, but still vibrant version) and you have an album of forgettable but pristinely perfect driving tracks. I'd buy a sequel if there ever were one.

6) Heatwave: Too Hot to Handle -- the ersatz rep as Earth, Wind and Fire clones has faded from memory, but these supremely focused tracks offer endless entertainment value. Not just "Boogie Nights," but the title track and fun riffs like "Beat Your Booty" (if you ain't been doing your duty), "Ain't No Half-Steppin'," the blaxploitation anthem "Super Soul Sister," and that unavoidable ballad "Always and Forever" make this one a timeless winner. Check out the tenor vocal harmonies on the other ballad, "All You Do is Dial."

7) Madonna: Erotica -- quibble if you will over when she's good and when she's not, but she threw herself headfirst into house music on this album, and sounded just as vital as she did on her early post-punk debut. "Rain" is a grand ballad, "Secret Garden" a flirty seduction song, "Thief of Hearts" a bitterly acid diatribe, and "Deeper and Deeper" as swirling a piece of deep disco as you could ever find. Also, like the classic disco albums of yore, an allusion to earlier eras with her house cover of "Fever," which was a hit for Peggy Lee in the torch singer days.

8) New Order: Low-life -- the smartest dance music you'll ever hear, from the weird folky vibe of "Love Vigilantes" to the ornate, unrequited passion of "Perfect Kiss" and even the darkly affecting, sometimes instrumental album tracks. A dance album about depression, who'da thunk it?

9) Sugarcubes: It's It -- here's the dance remix album you never expected, an early example of Bjork inviting the djs to go wild with her material. It's fun, smart stuff. Who would have expected the sprightly reggae setting for "Birthday," or the trancey "Regina?"

10) Orbital II: It's got a sample from Star Trek: TNG's Worf, it's got the aptly-titled "Halcyon" for eleven extended minutes, and it's just about the smartest instrumental music you'll find this side of the much more uneven Aphex Twin.

Honorable mention: The Pet Shop Boys -- Introspective; this album only has 6 tracks, because they wanted the room to make some of the most operatic epics of their career. "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat" is only one quote from this literate, sexy album. Each track grooves as well as percolates, and they even had a hit single with their unlikely cover of Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind." Beautiful cover art, too, just some nice stripes.

Yep, I've left stuff out, but all of these at least are albums I've since bought on CD or transferred to computer files or in some way or other still listen to regularly. Dance on!

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