Music

So You Know You Can Dance

But these albums guarantee that you actually will.

Le Tigre
Le Tigre
1999, Mr. Lady

Okay, so the American anarchist Emma Goldman didn’t actually say, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” but she was once insulted by a fellow radical for dancing too joyously and it’s that kind of either/or mentality that makes me wonder if a person can fight for a world where everyone is equal and ALSO want to have dance parties every night? Because that’s what this album is all about: jumping up and down with your friends and shouting “Misogynist! Genius! Alcoholic!” when Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman ask, “What’s your take on Cassavetes?” It’s about feeling a surge of maniacal happiness when you hear Hanna shout, “Who took the bomp?” and you know that you’re about to dance to “Deceptacon,” even if no one else thinks what you’re doing is dancing. “Hot Topic” is an ode to the feminist heroes who have inspired the trio and when Hanna says, “Don’t stop / I can’t live if you stop,” my heart does stop for a moment even. The rest of me keeps moving. —Jenny

Blackout
Britney Spears
2007, Jive

A record that will always be haunted—and, for some, enhanced—by the dark period in Britney’s life during which it was released, Blackout is the encapsulation of the era in which pop’s princess threw off her crown and replaced it with a pink wig (not to mention some of the best beats of the past five years). It’s one of my favorite records ever and a standard “getting ready” album as it’s filled with the kind of snotty Britney bangers that make you want to go out and dance. It’s also a survivor’s record—a woman owning her “bad media karma” and going into everything from fame to sex to divorce while reminding her listeners that “It’s Britney, bitch.” The rest of the record plays out like a follow-up declaration: “And don’t you ever forget it.” —Pixie

Hunky Dory
David Bowie
1971, Rykodisc
When David Bowie isn’t busy being totally normal, I like to imagine him as the little old woman who lives in a shoe, only the shoe is a gold platform and the children aren’t children but, like, little bits of his brain (which is bright purple) everywhere. And instead of making them broth and sending them to bed, he sprinkles them with glitter and puts them in jumpsuits and sends them out to us, the mortals. (God, that’s a really good sci-fi YA book right there.) Hunky Dory is a PRIME example of such magic. It’s just delightfully dramatic and silly all at once. Also, it’s important for your pop culture education, if that happens to be a priority of yours. “Changes” is quoted in the very beginning of The Breakfast Club, and songs named for Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan appear back to back. ALSO, the album art was inspired by a Marlene Dietrich photography book. What more do you want? Listen to this when you feel like being in love with life without betraying the side of you that sometimes watches Bridezilla just to laugh at how stupid it is. —Tavi

My World
Justin Bieber
2009, Island

Close your eyes for a second. Think about Bieber. Are you concentrating? Good. Now, erase all your preconceptions of this precious little Canadian. Forget about how his fans annoy you and send Selena Gomez scary death threats. Forget every obnoxious joke about his effeminate voice. Even go so far as to forget about what an adorable little nugget he is. With a clear and unprejudiced mind, queue up My World (or My World 2.0!) and let his golden voice totally rock your world. I dare you to resist singing along to “One Time” or “Baby.” With the exception of the potentially awkward “First Dance,” every song on his two part debut is infectious. You will be INFECTED with his glorious, glorious music. I also HIGHLY recommend giving “Kiss and Tell” a couple hundred listens. I can’t explain to you how many times I have come home from a rough day at school and let Bieber sing me back to happiness. When my mother once accused me of having a celebrity crush on Justin, I screamed, “No, I just like him for his music!” It was a ridiculous argument to have, but it’s totally true. —Katherine

Flesh Tone
Kelis
2010, Interscope

Dance music with a message is next to godly in my universe. We need it. Flesh Tone is probably the best album title ever and Kelis gives it her all. Recorded whilst enceinte and after kicking Nas, the father of her child, to the curb, she crossed from “Milkshake” to sleek masterpiece. It’s like dancing in a Bob Fosse gown with a fireworks backdrop—I get a lump in my throat while shaking a rump to “Brave.” To quote Pam (the world’s greatest Rolling Stone reporter) from Annie Hall, “The only word for this is transplendent.” —Sonja

The Immaculate Collection
Madonna
1990, Sire

This record is such a perfect bedroom dancing album that, were it to come to life, it would manifest itself as a character in an ’80s rom-com standing in front of a mirror and mouthing the words into a hairbrush. It contains most of her hits from that era, a few from the early ’90s. Aside from a few ballads, most of the songs are designed to get you into the groove—especially “Into the Groove.” Here is how fun this record is: I can’t dance for shit, but when Madonna tells me I can, I totally believe her. And for as long as the record plays, I think she may be right. —Pixie

Was Dead
King Tuff
2008, Teepee
King Tuff is the dude. As the frontman of Happy Birthday, whose self-titled debut earned my Most Fun Album of 2010 award (presented by me), his solo material packs the same variety of addictive garage pop antics that will make you fall in love—guaranteed. This is a great choice for those crucial, precious hours before a party. However, you may sweat too much from jamming too hard and end up gross and sweaty before you even get there. But deal with it. King Tuff rules. —Dylan

Off The Wall
Michael Jackson
1979, Epic

You can almost picture yourself swirling around Studio 54 when this record is playing. It’s atmospheric and beautiful and endlessly danceable. Basically, it’s an Emergency Record: should you find yourself at a party where the only exciting thing on the floor is a Chili Cheese Frito, put this on and save the day for everyone. They will thank you. They will also probably grind that Frito into the carpet, but whatever, you’ll deal with that later. —Pixie

This Is Happening
LCD Soundsystem
2010, Virgin

Pretty much everyone can agree on LCD Soundsystem and this is a prime display of their crowd-pleasing prowess. The songs are long—perfect for really getting into the zone—and each one is immensely satisfying. “Home” is my time-tested favorite: as a satisfying dance jam, it hits all the right notes and the lyrics are abstract and relatable, like most of frontman/DFA cofounder James Murphy’s writing. Also, the first 60 seconds of “All I Want” makes for the most perfect minute. I could live in that moment forever. —Dylan

The Singles Collection
The Specials
1991, 2 Tone/Chrysalis

Years ago, my sister and I decided that the song “Guns of Navarone” by the Specials would make the perfect wedding recessional: the rapid-fire vocals, boisterous horns and infectious guitars conjure pure celebration. Spearheading their own music genre—bandleader Jerry Dammers dubbed it “2 Tone” around 1979—the band drew from ska, reggae, New Wave, and Jamaican rocksteady to create a raucously lilting sound that demands to be danced to. Race and class are addressed ardently and often, and the lyrics sometimes get political (e.g., “If you have a racist friend / Now is the time for your friendship to end.”). But mostly, you’ll feel a beat, you won’t be able to stop bouncing, and then you’ll hear a trombone. That trombone! —Emily C.

Purple Rain
Prince
1984, Warner Bros.

Asking me to pick my favorite Prince album is like asking me to choose which one of my hypothetical future children I love the most, but then again, no one’s asking and there’s no baby so I’ll spare you my anguish. I’ll also spare you the poem I once wrote about my cassette tape of Prince’s 1979 self-titled album and instead I’ll just say that Purple Rain—the soundtrack and the movie—have been so important to my life that I once nearly broke up with a boyfriend of three years because he dissed them. I mean, what is there to diss? The weird, bassline-free tenderness of “When Doves Cry”? Or “The Beautiful Ones,” a slow jam for when you want to be right up close to that certain someone? Or is it that “Purple Rain” is the greatest song to sway to by yourself—closed-eye ecstasy and all—without feeling lonesome or pathetic because every moment is all your own? Bonus tip: look up the B-sides. If you’ve already danced to “Erotic City” with all your friends in a sweaty room with too much glitter and too many phallic balloons, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. —Jenny

Body Talk
Robyn
2010, Konichiwa

This record has totally been owning my life lately. It kicks off with a song about Robyn seeing her boyfriend go off with another girl while she “dances on her own,” but Robyn is no wallflower and it becomes super-obvious that her answer to all of life’s problems is to go out and shake it. “Call Your Girlfriend” is what hooked me up to her vibe in the first place, but literally every track could be the most popular song on the radio at any given time. I’ve been listening to “We Dance to the Beat” for like two days straight, with its minimal hum, pulsating bass and machinized voices singing about dancing to the beat of “bad kissers clicking teeth” and “false math.” Listen to it once and try not to keep it playing for the rest of your life. —Laia

My Soul
Leela James
2010, Stax

To listen to Leela James is to feel, over the course of 11 songs, the full range of experiences that come with being a lady. Not a “lady,” like someone with ringleted hair who wears gloves and doesn’t burp in public, but a lady, as in a girl or a woman who careens between bravado and vulnerability and arrogance and need and loneliness and desire—and who likes to dance. Perfect for the all-girl empowerment bash or co-ed revelry (there’s plenty of slow jams), My Soul throbs with old soul swagger. James’ deep vibrato growls and whispers through walls of backing vocals, piano, horns, guitar and percussion, and by the end of the first, and maybe best, song, “I Ain’t New to This,” you’ll be dancing through your feelings with your hips. —Emily C.

Gold: Greatest Hits
Abba
1993, Universal

Okay, so how PERFECT is “Dancing Queen?” I mean, let’s be serious, that song is for every sweet and swinging teen from the 1970s until now. Also, “Knowing Me, Knowing You” might make you cry glittery tears on the dance floor, and “That’s Me” may have dark lyrics— “What if I ain’t worth your while?” — but it sounds so pretty. And please, do NOT forget to watch the music videos! So many velvet jumpsuits and feathered bangs. Ugh, why didn’t I live in the ’70s? I’m a dancing queen, I swear! —Hazel

Moment Bends
Architecture in Helsinki
2011, V2

When I was 10, I bought an Abba cassette, which introduced me to a pop utopia that I have been in search of ever since. Enter Architecture in Helsinki. Though their name suggests a frosty origin similar to the Swedish superstars, they are actually an Australian quintet, whose latest album Moment Bends is a piece of perfection. The synths are plentiful and the album kicks into gear with the super smiley “That Beep,” which is impossible to listen to while sitting down. By “B4 3D”, you’ll be worn out from dancing and ready to have this sweet slow dance, even if it’s with your favorite stuffed toy. —Cynthia

Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
The Orb
1991, Universal

I confess to raving between 1990 and 1994, before things turned really dark and druggie. It was a good reason to dance for five to eight hours at a time and it helped me survive the ’90s. I loved everything from house to drum ’n’ bass to jungle to trance to dub to ambient, but my theme song from that era was “Little Fluffy Clouds” by the Orb. It’s like the soundtrack to the inside of my brain. Or heart. —Sonja

41 Comments

  • Sarah January 12th, 2012 11:22 PM

    DANCE/DANCE/DANCE/DANCEDANCE TO THE RADIO

  • Sue Denim January 12th, 2012 11:35 PM

    I love ABBA so much. I have this old ABBA poster of my Mum’s and also this huge black ABBA book all about the story of ABBA.

    And forget about “Someone Like You” being the ultimate break-up song. “The Winner Takes it All” for the win. Writing a song about the break-up of your marriage and then getting your ex-wife to sing it. That’s brutal.

    • timelady January 13th, 2012 6:21 AM

      My feelings about ABBA exactly! I found an ABBA record at a yard sale at a neighbor’s, and couldn’t believe they were selling it for like, two bucks. So glad I have a record player. It joined my Elton John stash.

  • vadergurl January 12th, 2012 11:50 PM

    For mentioning Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and ABBA all in the same post I love you even more Rookie. Finally I don’t feel alone in my music tastes!

  • nataliehern January 13th, 2012 12:38 AM

    I seriously love Architecture in Helsinki, and as soon as I saw the beginning of this post I thought to myself “wow if I wrote for rookie I would have totally chosen one of their albums”. So glad you included that, saw them live and they were spectacular!

  • missblack January 13th, 2012 12:39 AM

    I TOO LOVE ABBA!!

    Especially ‘One of Us’, that’s a good one.
    And of course any of the dancey tunes, like Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)

    Little&Trivial

    • missblack January 13th, 2012 12:40 AM

      Also another good disco album is Music Go Music’s Expressions, which is like ABBA 2010 version.

  • Ana Banana January 13th, 2012 12:48 AM

    I have the same birthday as David Bowie, Hitler and my grandmother.

  • Ana January 13th, 2012 1:29 AM

    My mom fed me ABBA as a child and Dancing Queen is her ringtone. I love her and them :)

  • JessH January 13th, 2012 2:03 AM

    This is definitely the best thing ever.

  • Kailey January 13th, 2012 3:34 AM

    I found Purple Rain on vinyl for only $1.99 at a library sale! It was an incredible moment :’3

  • Miarele January 13th, 2012 6:14 AM

    I only started going crazy about ABBA after watching Mamma Mia. Tragically late, I know, but Meryl Streep was AH-MAZING. I mean, she dance to ABBA songs on a rooftop for heaven’s sake! It’s a fun movie overall but most importantly the dance scenes are sooo fun to recreate!

  • Izzy January 13th, 2012 6:43 AM

    ABBA! Oh God, I love them too much! And Starman is my fave David Bowie song. It’s so beautiful!

  • Imogen Quest January 13th, 2012 7:43 AM

    Oh my God YES Hunky Dory. Until you’ve walked down a public thoroughfare theatrically sneering along to “Queen Bitch” your life has not been fully lived, imo.

    • Gracie January 13th, 2012 5:00 PM

      YES. Queen Bitch. I would one day like to know what Bippety Bopetty hat exactly looks like… maybe one day I’ll make one
      And I maintain that the song “kooks”has got me through the majority of my life.

  • rachel January 13th, 2012 9:13 AM

    ROBYN IS SO GOOD. That is all.

    • SpencerBowie January 22nd, 2012 1:09 AM

      FREAKIN’ MOTHAFREAKIN’ ROBYN, I MEAN COME ON Y’ALL ROBYN IS MORE THAN AMAZEING THAN AMAZEING ROBYN, ROBYN. That is all also! ;P

  • 3LL3NH January 13th, 2012 9:58 AM

    I’m crying from the happiness of having my Justing Bieber admiration validated. Well, no I’m not, but I’m glad someone who can be trusted has made it known that his music is what counts. And it is perfect for bad days.

    I also love LCD Soundsystem and Bowie =)

  • Lolita January 13th, 2012 10:07 AM

    MADONNA, MJ, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM AND PRINCE is everything you need to have a mega fun party!!!!

  • tine January 13th, 2012 10:11 AM

    ok, here is my first comment on this beautiful, stunning, special, adorable site! greetings from germany!!!! ok, back to topic: i’ve seen architecture in helsinki 3 times this year in germany, i’m addicted to their live–shows! if someone has the chance to see them, go! even if you never heard a song of them before!like me, when i first went there in july …
    and abba will always and forever be my first love … did i say that i love your site? i post your articles every day in facebook so that everyone of my friends has to read it.

  • Giulia Lain January 13th, 2012 11:32 AM

    I never stopped to listen Justin Bieber… I think I’ve been a little prejudiced… I’ll try to see/hear his strengths next time… Thank ya, I loved it ♥

  • kittenpuke January 13th, 2012 1:48 PM

    where is beyonce on this list?!

    • amelia January 15th, 2012 10:54 AM

      omg yes Bday is the best album for dancing ever

  • HeartPlant January 13th, 2012 3:20 PM

    I love Hunky Dory, such a good album.

  • caro nation January 13th, 2012 4:21 PM

    I went to one of LCD Soundsystem’s last shows, with Sleigh Bells. There was a torrent of lights and everyone, EVERYONE, was out of their seats and dancing; no one delivered mordant quips or criticized the bands. It was loud and ambient and there were two bearded guys making out next to me, and James Murphy was really enfolded in his singing, and the beats were really loud, and then when at the merch table I realized I was in noticeably close proximity to Alexis Krauss.

    And also, KING TUFF! Dylan, you have very good taste. Also also, THE SPECIALS! SKA PUNK! Also also also, ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI. And my final deluge of alsos, LE TIGREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

  • roxy189 January 13th, 2012 8:03 PM

    I have to agree with Purple Rain. I listened to all the songs on repeat for two months after I saw the movie. Awesome album, awesome movie.

  • Toria Crux January 13th, 2012 8:20 PM

    ewwww Justin Bieber! The first time I heard him I thought he was some wierd little girl. o_O

    • ghostworld January 14th, 2012 11:08 AM

      have you not read the part where she said “forget about the preconceptions of him” ? also he is apparently really good at picking up chicks. ( jenna marbles reference )

  • vvvaudevillian January 14th, 2012 4:24 AM

    Woah I just went and downloaded ALL the music on this list because I’ve been looking around for good new music to update my collection with and these are all suuuu-PERB.

  • helenafefx January 14th, 2012 10:55 AM

    His ‘n’ Hers or Different Class by Pulp.
    I DARE you not to dance.

  • Bean January 14th, 2012 3:00 PM

    I love the specials!

  • taste test January 14th, 2012 6:16 PM

    Architecture in Helsinki! I’ve been meaning to look them up for like three years! It’s become almost a running joke between my friend and me. Every time they show up somewhere she’ll ask if I’ve listened to them yet, and I’m always like “I’ve been meaning to!” Maybe 2012 will be The Year I Finally Listen to Architecture in Helsinki? This certainly makes a convincing case…

    I freaked out when I saw The Specials in this post! I was totally not expecting it. Your description of them is perfect. Also, Le Tigre is (are? I’m never sure about that) so cool. They are the best at sampling.

    Finally- I’ve never heard of King Tuff, but it sounds like the kind of thing I’d love. Thanks!

  • neon_rattail January 15th, 2012 9:30 AM

    Le Tigre! There is literally no dance playlist that’s complete without Deceptacon.

  • amelia January 15th, 2012 10:53 AM

    immaculate collection, off the wall, purple rain and body talk are ALL getting ready- dance around you room- staples for me; this post is so on the nose! oh any 80s- 90s rap or hip hop like De La Soul and the like are also great for getting you dancing

  • Hedwig January 15th, 2012 10:00 PM

    ABBA

    • Hedwig January 15th, 2012 10:01 PM

      A band name that you can spell backwards and forwards is defiantly danceable

  • Eleanor January 16th, 2012 11:29 AM

    so so happy le tigre is here. deceptacon must be played at every single party me and my friends are at!!

  • The Minx January 16th, 2012 12:14 PM

    YESSS to everything, especially Robyn. Also worth mentioning is Jessie J. So fun, and rocks so hard.

  • SpencerBowie January 22nd, 2012 1:11 AM

    Hunky Dory is so sweet. David Bowie is so sweet. Rookie is so sweet.

    :)

  • tulgeywood January 25th, 2012 6:05 PM

    I was scrolling, and going, “Where’s the ABBA, guys?” and then it was there and it was awesome. I found my Mom’s Best of ABBA CD and spent like three weeks straight listening to “Dancing Queen” and “SOS.”
    But not “Chiquitita,” because it makes me cry. I don’t even know why. This happens when Maria sings “Something Good,” too. Just random, uncontrollable tears.
    That’s normal, right? Right?

  • Paola May 10th, 2012 4:59 AM

    Love for Robyn.