This is another long piece. I encourage you to take your time with this.
I've always enjoyed dance music, as I've written about in previous articles. Dance music does something for me that many other genres can't do. It makes me get active. I've not really a fit fellow, but when I hear a dance song of any sort, I'm always ready to move 'til I sweat, out of breath and thirsty for water.
Where do I begin to celebrate this genre? I'll begin with one of the naughtiest girls of the 80s, the one and only Samantha Fox.
I've written about her in several previous articles, some of which have been well-received ("Together Is Better") while others not so much ("Synthesis: The 80s And The 00s"). I could do a Top 10 article about my favorite songs from her, but instead, I'll go with my favorite dance track by her. The song is "I Want To Have Some Fun".
I wish I could recall how I first came across this track. If I recall correctly, it would have to be on one of my cassette-buying sprees early in the 00s. I was always looking for 80s music, and the album "I Want To Have Some Fun" is one of the titles I owned.
The title defines the subject matter. It's all about making a break from the everyday and having a good time at night. I did that a lot of Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island, for many years, served as a place where, if it was only for one night, I was a person that I couldn't be up North...A dynamic dancer with a fun and outgoing personality.
The last time I was there, I requested that they play this song at 8Trax. It didn't really go over that well. Some danced to it, but it wasn't nearly as successful as I hoped it would be. I wonder why that is. If I could take a guess, it would be because there were many people in their early 20s there. Yes, they liked 80s music, but more well-known titles. It seems like Samantha Fox may be an obscure artist to them. I encourage looking further into her music. She definitely had her finger on the various pulsations of 80s music.
What songs could get them hopping? Well, Madonna has always had a special way of getting people to their feet.
I first became a fan of Madonna in the early 90s, after having seen her in "Dick Tracy" when I was 7 years old. I didn't know of anything she did before the 90s, then again, when it comes to "Dick Tracy", I didn't know that Warren Beatty was well into his 50s when he made the movie.
As I grew older, I started to become more acquainted with her music. I had bought a few of her CDs, but another mad cassette buying spree led me to her self-titled debut album. The early 00s was basically a holding pattern for me, a twisted nexus between youth and adulthood. When things got rough, though, I could always put on this album, and things would lift off. My favorite track was "Burning Up".
Madonna's early work was fraught with much tension, just like my life was. When I heard the drive of this song, it made me think of where my life was headed. I was speeding towards the unknown, and I was sort of burning up myself, only my burning was with anger at what I was going through.
I often needed some music to calm me down, and yes, dance music could do that, too. One of my favorite upbeat dance songs would have to be Whitney Houston's "So Emotional".
When Whitney Houston is thought of now, she's usually associated with drugs and troubled relationships. All of her troubles seem to have obscured the fact that she's a wonderful singer. Whenever I hear her 80s material, I hear a voice resonant with the sound of triumph, the sound of pride, the sound of a good time. Love can be a physical thing. Whether it's running to embrace your lover or fucking each other senseless, it's exhausting, but enjoyable. It can give you a great feeling...A feeling that says "You've got nothing on me. My life is great". At least, that's what I get out of this song.
We now reverse things to head back to another uncomfortable time in my life. The time was college. College life was hard for me. I just wasn't emotionally, mentally or physically capable of being a collegiate. I didn't want any help with my school work because I was confident that I could do it on my own. That confidence would cost me dearly, with my teachers routinely savaging my work. It was difficult to get along with other students as well. I didn't get angry at them...It's just that college was the time when the social awkwardness aspect of Aspergers' Syndrome reared its' ugly head. I was from a different world than my fellow students. I came out of the special education hellhole, while my fellow students all had their heads screwed on straight.
One of my few pleasures was discovering Napster back when it was a free music service. I was searching for 80s artists to listen to, and I came across an artist named Cherrelle.
She was the first person to perform the song "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On". This song was one of my first introductions to the concept of the extended version. When a song is thought of as danceable, producers will find a way to extend the action further. Extended beats, new vocals, different samples...Anything and everything to get the party moving.
So it was with "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On". I didn't have many fond college memories, but the many tracks I downloaded from Napster will stay with me, and this was a prime example of that.
Earlier in this article, I made reference to my 2008 article "Synthesis: The 80s And The 00s". I talked about my ideas for an album that would combine 80s and modern artists to cover 80s songs. In retrospect, I guess I was talking about a variation on what they call mash-ups. That's where they combine songs from different genres and even different decades to create new sounds.
A lot of my favorite mash-ups combine 80s songs and 00s songs, but since the 00s are anathema on here, I'd like to mention one of my favorite 80s-on-80s mash-ups. It combines Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" and Iron Maiden's "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner".
Quite a few rock purists like to pretend that other genres don't count for anything. The whole "metal up your ass" attitude seems rather bullying. I've never cared for rock purism. My earphones have the sound of lots of different artists, and so does my singing voice. At karaoke, I have done songs by Guns 'N' Roses and Bon Jovi, but I've also done tracks by Charlie Daniels, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra and Rihanna, among many others. Variety is the spice of life, and if you yoke yourself to one genre, you're closing your ears to a world of sound. I feel that mash-ups can build bridges between fans of different genres.
How would you feel if you heard this track in a club, though?
Not all of the tracks I dance to are traditional ones, though. Sometimes I enjoy pogoing. I'll jump around to the rhythms of the song as they accompany the rhythms inside my head. With adrenaline circuiting through my body like an electric current, I feel a sense of freedom that I can't quite define, but I do know feels great.
One of the groups that can do that for me is Oingo Boingo.
The group changed in many ways throughout their career, starting as a variety show-type band and ending with a 90s alternative rock sound. One of my favorite periods for their music, though, was the early 80s. The ultimate Oingo Boingo song that gets my energy going is "Little Girls".
I think that Danny Elfman's vocals are what energizes me. I've never done any hard drugs, but with his vocals, I find myself feeling like I was on an all-night coke bender. In reality, though, the only Coke I have is what I drink when there's no Pepsi around. Still, if I want to flirt with the dark side of the dance club experience, I'll turn up Oingo Boingo's work.
Sometimes dancing can be strenuous, though. It takes a talented man to make a song about how bad health can affect you.
That man is "Weird" Al Yankovic...That song is "Living With A Hernia".
A great spoof of James Brown's "Living In America", I find myself thinking of how much fun I've had dancing throughout the years, as well as the fact that eventually my dancing days will draw to a close.
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I find myself thinking of these lyrics:
"You can't even do the splits now, Better call it quits now, I'm sick of all this dancing anyhow".
For all of my dancing experience, there are some moves I still can't pull off. I'm almost 28 years old, and I never have been in the best of shape, so those lyrics speak to me.
I've been able to work in all sorts of moves throughout my life, but I've seen footage of James Brown doing all these great dance moves and I'm in awe of his work.
Even well into his 50s, he was doing splits, shuffles, all sorts of moves that a heavyset man like myself has no prayer in the world of ever doing. It hasn't stopped me from dancing to his work, though. I talked about Oingo Boingo earlier. Their work was frenetic, but the Godfather Of Soul made them look sedate by comparison.
My first exposure to James Brown came with "The Blues Brothers", where he played the role of the Reverend Cleophus James, the man who makes Jake Blues (John Belushi) see the light. Brown made the religious sound secular when he performed "The Old Landmark". So many religious songs sound slow...Brown gave it a kick I wish I could see more often.
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I feel his best dance song, though, was "Get Up Offa That Thing". That's something that Brown could definitely do. His moves...My God, I can't describe their greatness, so see for yourself:
My second favorite version of that song came from the 1983 movie "Doctor Detroit". Somehow, this song seemed perfect for a Player's Ball. Fantasy can be a wonderful thing, as I've often said. This sequence is a great example of that. Sometimes I wish that a massive dance number would break out for no particular reason in real life. I'd rather watch news about that than hear about another abduction/rape/murder/suicide/genocide/natural disaster...Ugh. Let's dance!
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2000 was the year that also introduced me to Expose. I purchased their CD "Exposure" at a local flea market, and from the instant I heard it, I was in love with it. In my article "25 Of My Favorite 80s Ballads", I wrote about "Seasons Change". It was a wonderful ballad full of yearning and drama, but the trio could also put the pedal to the metal with their freestyle rhythms, and so it was with "Point Of No Return".
2000 was the year when I went to my own point of no return. When you hit the age of 18, you're technically an adult, but you're still being treated like a kid. I yearned for a world beyond my confined classroom, and I knew that when I graduated, I was never going back. I vividly recall playing various 80s artists in our music class, and almost invariably, my faves were laughed at. I recall stating my dislike of Nirvana, leading another student to crank up "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at full volume. I had this feeling, though, that eventually the music I loved would get the respect it deserved. Now many recordings of the 80s are celebrated, and for me, there's no going back to the days when my celebration of 80s culture was shit on.
What do you get out of this song, though?
Sometimes the versions of dance songs you like aren't the original ones. I'm not talking about covers here. I'm talking about the prototypical versions that may have been recorded for smaller labels or not been fully fleshed out. "West End Girls" by Pet Shop Boys was one of those tracks for me.
I had owned "Please" for several years, but I never knew there was another version of this song. That was changed in 2002 when I purchased a 3-disc set of 12'' 80s songs. "West End Girls" was one of those tracks, and what I heard was a more adrenalizing version of the track. The desperation of the lyrics came out a lot more in this version. Listening to this version, I imagine somebody who is tremendously frustrated sexually and emotionally, and is speeding rapidly to the end, not letting the law stand in his way.
Maybe I'm just being too heavy, though. Better to just let the music take me away...
To end this article, I would like to talk about whether dance music can be appreciated at karaoke. To be honest, I don't really know. Country music is the dominant genre where I perform karaoke, and when people dance, it's in a line formation. The same moves, 5 people each in multiple rows, sad to look at. I call it sad because for me, dance has always been about individuality. Sometimes marching to the beat of your own drum means that the drumsticks will be shoved up your ass, but that's the way life is. Individuality means that sometimes you'll stumble, but you can persevere onwards and eventually you'll be without a care in the world.
I always encourage individuality when dancing, and if they have, one night I'd like to sing "Let It Whip" by Dazz Band.
I've always felt that old school funk defines freedom. There are no set moves, no dance crazes, no group activity. It's a sound that says "what do you got"? I answer that question by saying I have a fire in me that can't be put out. In 2000, I felt that my world was in freefall. Now, a decade later, the sky is the limit. Whatever direction I head in, I'll move like a whip.
In summation, life has always been interesting for me. Sometimes I need to be soothed, but the way I get it is with a pounding beat. Raw, primal, enjoyable...Dance music brings me cheer.
To quote writer Crystal Boyd:
"Work like you don't need money, Love like you've never been hurt, And dance like no one's watching."
With that, the floor is open for discussion:
What dance songs do you like? Do you like dance crazes or prefer individuality? Does dance music do anything for you?