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The Top 100 Disco Songs of All Time

The Top 100 Disco Songs of All Time
by Rick Garman

I’m turning 54 this year, so in honor of the legendary Studio 54 nightclub, I’m hereby present to you my list of the Top 100 Disco Songs of all time. Why? Well, mostly because I’m coronabored, but also why not?

I am an unabashed fan of Disco. Its unofficial “era” was 1974 to 1980 or 1981 depending on who you ask, so roughly from when I was 8 until I was 14, some pretty formative years I think you’d agree. Yes, a lot of it was inane, but I would argue that a fair chunk of just about any musical genre is inane. For every great country, rock, or rap song, there are 12 others right behind it that are just terrible and you know it. So, just because some Disco was bad doesn’t mean all Disco was bad. In fact, there were some pretty amazing songs along the way and that’s what my list is about.

It’s impossible to deny that the genre had a huge impact, not only on our culture (in ways both good and bad) but on music since then. You can draw a straight line from Disco to Madonna to Britney to Gaga and to Ariana with all sorts of off-shoots into house, EDM, rap, soul, and even some modern rock.

So, what makes a song “Disco?” There are markers like a four-on-the-floor beat, layered harmonies, and lots of instruments beyond just guitars and drums (synths to full orchestras). You also will hear some some signature sounds like the hi-hat (oontz, oontz, oontz, oontz), the chicken scratch guitar (wocka wocka), whistles, and the “ooh-ah, ooh-ah” chant. But not all Disco songs have all of those things so identifying one is more of an ear thing. You know it when you hear it.

There are also many sub-genres of Disco including Disco funk (think Gap Band) and Euro-Disco (Giorgio Moroder), plus offshoots like Hi-NRG and even Post Disco, which were mostly just Disco songs that came out after Disco was declared “dead.” While some would argue they aren’t “true” Disco, this is my list and if I feel like including them, I’m going to, so there, nyah.

I’m also going to be leaving some fairly obvious songs off the list. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees was picked by Rolling Stone readers as the best Disco song of all time. I think it’s a calculated impersonation of a Disco song that only got big because of John Travolta’s white suit. You also won’t see “YMCA” or “Macho Man” from the Village People either because they were more novelty songs like Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” than good music.

Okay, so enough pontificating, let’s get to listifying. Each video is featured separately as you scroll down the list, but at the very end the entire playlist with all 100 songs is embedded.

100) “You Should be Dancing” by the Bee Gees
The Bee Gees were Disco royalty, but most of their music left me feeling a little cold. I always felt it was more manufactured than crafted, with a bit of an assembly line quality. But of all their hits, this one has the grooviest hook that speaks to the era better than anything else they ever did. Why yes, I should be dancing.

99) “Lovin’ is Really My Game – Brainstorm
One of several more obscure tunes on this list, Brainstorm really only had this one hit and it was not a huge one, but it is an undeniable classic about a woman’s fruitless search for love at a discotheque. How can you deny a lyric like “I believe in the boogie, but the boogie don’t believe in me”? Girl, I feel you.

98) “Let’s All Chant” by The Michael Zager Band
Is there anything that identifies a Disco song more than backup singers doing that high-pitched “ooh-ah, ooh-ah?” Yes, it’s classic, but then they layer in the classical-adjacent breakdown in the middle and the whole thing becomes something almost baroque in presentation. Weird and wonderful at the same time.

97) “Lay All Your Love On Me” by ABBA
Everything I said about the Bee Gees applies to my feelings about ABBA. It wasn’t until “Mamma Mia!” came to a stage and a movie theater near you that I finally understood why. To me, their music felt more suited to Broadway than the dance floor, expertly “arranged” but without a deep well of emotion behind it. Having said that, this song has a darker atmosphere that takes out some of the bubble gum overload and practically demands that you strap on your dancing shoes.

96) “There’s No Business Like Show Business” by Ethel Merman
Okay, here’s the deal… yes, it’s kind of awful. There was no reason for Ethel Merman to turn the classic Broadway hit she performed in “Annie Get Your Gun” into a Disco song. None. And yet, the song itself is about the shiny, glossy lure of the business of show and what speaks more to shiny and glossy than Disco? It shouldn’t work and yet somehow it does. Great, silly fun.

95) “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Released in late 1973, it would be easy to argue this song falls more into the soul or R&B categories than Disco but take a good listen and you’ll hear things that became hallmarks of the Disco sound including lush orchestrations, multi-layered vocals, a thumping drum, and the hi-hat cymbal on the off beats. All that and a flawless, aching vocal from Melvin makes this a must on this list.

94) “Car Wash” by Rose Royce
It’s easy to dismiss this as a craven bit of fluff designed to sell soundtracks for the movie of the same name, but it was actually the other way around. The score and soundtrack were written before the move was made and this song became such a huge hit that it drove people to the theaters. Easy to hear why, with its hooky beat and funky bass.

93) “Instant Replay” by Dan Hartman
Probably more well known for his 1984 hit “I Can Dream About You,” Hartman had several Disco era hits including this 1978 high energy classic that topped the dance charts for five weeks. Heard now, there’s a bit of a cheese factor to it but for its time it was dancefloor gold and deserves a spot in the Top 100. Sad side note, Hartman died of AIDS in 1994.

92) “Dance With Me” by Peter Brown
I love the funky feeling of this 1978 hit with its repeated lyric riff, “You gotta keep on makin’ me high, you gotta keep on makin’ me high.” Backup vocals were done by no less than the inimitable Betty Wright, a bit of stunt casting of R&B divas that became signature for Disco songs of the era. Brown had a few other Disco hits but his biggest success came as a songwriter – he cowrote “Material Girl” by Madonna.

91) “I’m in Love” by Evelyn ”Champagne” King
This is the first of three Disco classics on this list from King, a powerful singer who probably deserved the kind of fame that Donna Summer achieved. This one was released in 1981 at the tail end of Disco dominance and could arguably be put in the R&B category – Janet Jackson sampled the main hook for her song “R&B Junkie” – but the Disco trappings are still there if you listen closely and it would have probably been a much bigger hit had it been released a few years earlier.

90) “If My Friends Could See Me Now” by Linda Clifford
Remaking Broadway songs into Disco songs was a thing back then and several of them show up on this list including this dancefloor version of the Cy Coleman classic from “Sweet Charity.” Clifford was an extra on the film version of the musical and originally resisted the concept, but it wound up being popular in the clubs with its retro, flapper-era horns. Coleman himself reportedly liked the updated version!

89) “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by Bonnie Pointer
A remake of a 1966 Motown hit by The Elgins, this arrangement of this version was reportedly patterned after “YMCA” by the Village People, but with extra flourishes like strings and tubular bells. It was Bonnie’s biggest hit after leaving the Pointer Sisters, reaching #8 on the dance floor charts. She just passed away recently, in June 2020, from cardiac arrest.

88) “Could it be Magic” by Donna Summer
When this Barry Manilow song was first recorded it used an arrangement by Tony Orlando that was upbeat and pop. Manilow re-recorded it in his signature slow version and had a huge hit with it in 1975. Donna Summer released this version only seven months later, her second major label single behind “Love to Love You Baby” and it helped to kick off her reign as the undisputed Queen of Disco.

87) “So Many Men, So Little Time” by Miquel Brown
Disco had been declared dead by 1983 when this came out, with uptempo dance songs being rebranded as Hi-NRG even though at least some of it was just Disco with better PR. Want to hear the difference? Listen to a few moments of this and then listen to pretty much anything by Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Bronski Beat and it becomes clear that “So Many Men” owes more to Disco than Hi-NRG. This camp classic was written by a DJ in the London gay nightclub scene and has become an enduring gay anthem.

86) “Fame” by Irene Cara
This title track from the hit 1980 movie of the same name is probably put into the Disco category more because of when it was released than the actual attributes of the song. Although it has the driving beat, vocal queues, and other trappings of Disco, it has a harder edge with lots of electric guitar work that you really didn’t hear too much on the dance floor. Still, it went to #1 on the dance charts right in between “Upside Down” by Diana Ross and “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Holloway, so you do the math.

85) “Gimme Gimme Gimme” by ABBA
Again, not a huge ABBA fan, but this is another one of their classics that has a bit more of an edge than most of their pop-overload hits. The pounding beat and the lusty subject matter are what sell it for me and even though its darker tonally than most Disco of the era, it still works on the dance floor. Interestingly, while it was a hit around the globe, it never charted in the US.

84) “Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer
This was the first major-label single from Donna Summer and it immediately established her as a dance floor force to be reckoned with. Co-written by legendary writer/producer Giorgio Moroder, it’s significantly slower than most Disco songs (96 BPM vs. 128 for “I Feel Love”), but it spent four weeks atop the dance chart, so people obviously didn’t mind. If you have the endurance, listen to the 17-minute version here, an orchestral bit of overkill that almost singlehandedly created the need for the 12-inch single.

83) “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang
Hard to believe but this was Kool & the Gang’s only #1 hit. Co-opted by sporting events and weddings, it has become synonymous with the cheesy overindulgence of the Disco era, but it’s really hard to deny the infectious rhythm and upbeat spirit of the whole thing. And it’s perfect for a kick-ball-change if you’re in swing choir (an in-joke for my high school peeps).

82) “Blame it on the Boogie” by The Jacksons
Originally written for Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons hoped this bopping bit of boogie fever would return them to the top of the charts after a string of failed singles. It didn’t really work, peaking at #61 on the US charts. It should have been bigger and probably would have been if it had been released after mega-hit “Shake Your Body” instead of before it. It’s interesting to hear the MJ inflections that would become part of his signature sound.

81) “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
I think we can all agree that the movie is deliriously awful, a fever dream of roller-skating nymphs and Gene Kelly almost destroying his own legacy. Really, the only way it should be watched is in a big gay singalong setting, but you have to give the title track its due. The soaring synths, the strings, the driving drumbeat… Olivia freakin’ Newton John! Come on. What more do you want?

80) “Le Freak” by Chic
This song dominated 1979, hitting #1 on the singles chart, the R&B chart, and the dance chart where it sat on top for an astounding seven weeks! “Awww freak out!” became a rallying cry for the anything goes ethos of the Disco era although a bit of trivia – it was originally “Awww f**k off!” and intended for the doormen at Studio 54 who wouldn’t let members of the band in to meet Grace Jones.

79) “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” by Barry White
This classic was released in 1974, early for the Disco era and really only categorized as such in hindsight probably. But while the soul/R&B influences dominate the track, you can hear elements that would later come to define Disco, especially the build to the chorus which you can link directly to the EDM “drop” you can still hear in clubs today.

78) “I Am What I Am” by Gloria Gaynor
Again with the Broadway covers! Originally a showstopper in “La Cage aux Folles,” it was already a gay anthem before dancefloor diva Gaynor put a Disco spin on it. Even though it came out in 1983, well after Disco was declared dead, this has glitter ball written all over it from the slow open to the synth-driven beat and beyond. And that vocal!

77) “Born to be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez
The Disco era is littered with one-hit wonders and French singer Patrick Hernandez is a prime example. This was his solo debut and it conquered the globe, going gold or platinum in more than 50 countries and hitting number one on the charts in many of them. His follow-ups tanked and he pretty much stopped recording by 1981. But in 1979 the “mmm-chck, mmm-chck” beat, the horn flourishes, and, of course, the basso “born to be alive” hook made it definitive Disco.

76) “Back in Love Again” by LTD
Was it R&B? Was it funk or soul? Was it Disco? Let’s say it was all of the above and deserves a spot on this list since it made into the Top 20 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco chart of 1977. With vocals by Jeffrey Osborne, a chicken-scratch guitar, horn flourishes, and those on-the-four hand claps, it certainly has Disco influences but no matter what you call, it’s just a great song.

75) “And the Beat Goes On” by The Whispers
The Whispers had been making music for a decade before they turned to the dancefloor in 1979 and scored the biggest hit of their career. This is another genre edge case, with a lot of R&B, soul, and even funk elements in it, but this is at least a first cousin to Disco classics like “Shake Your Body” by the Jacksons or “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, so it belongs on this list.

74) “Boogie Shoes” by KC & The Sunshine Band
This is the first of many times you’re going to see KC&TSB on this list. Let’s face it, they were one of the biggest bands of the Disco era and for good reason. Their super danceable mix of funky rhythms, sing-along choruses, and party all the time lyrics made them perfect for the times but beyond all that they made really good pop songs. This one was fairly obscure upon its release in 1976 but found glory when it was included on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack the following year.

73) “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills
Mills gained fame by playing Dorothy in the original Broadway run of “The Wiz” in the mid-1970s, but radio hits eluded her until she turned to Disco a few years later. Despite it being more sweetly romantic than most of the “get down and boogie” tunes that were ruling the airwaves, this particular song was her biggest hit and won Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1981.

72) “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead
As songwriters and producers, McFadden & Whitehead were huge forces in the music industry, writing classics such as “Wake Up Everybody” and producing hits for Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and more. As a performing duo, this was their only serious hit but what a hit it was. Those harmonies, that orchestration, the “Let’s do the hustle” hand claps. A dance classic.

71) “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers
Family act The Sylvers had the biggest hit of their career in 1975 with this classic about a guy who took his girlfriend to a drive-in movie, only to discover that she had come down with a serious case of Boogie Fever. Lyrically, it’s silly fun, but that synth-driven bass line, the nine-sibling harmonies, and the horn flourishes make this more compelling than it has any right to be.

70) “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The SOS Band
This Atlanta-based group hit it big with this, their debut single from their debut album in 1980. The song hit #1 in the US and was a smash worldwide, but they were never able to replicate that success, putting them in the one-hit wonder category. BTW, SOS = Sounds of Success.

69) “Love Rollercoaster” by Ohio Players
While “Fire” by Ohio Players is undoubtedly a superior song, it’s not really Disco even though it sometimes gets lumped into the Disco Funk category. This one also embraces the funk, but you can hear the glitter ball all over it and that’s why it makes it onto the list while “Fire” does not. Listen closely at 2:32 on the YouTube track and you’ll hear a scream in the background. This is the subject of an enduring urban legend saying that it is the scream of someone who was murdered, perhaps even in the adjacent studio. It was really keyboardist Billy Beck, but the band let the legend persist because it sold more records.

68) “Best of My Love” by The Emotions
I think it’s impossible to listen to this song and not immediately be happier. It’s pure joy in musical form written by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire (further cementing its Disco roots). After this chart-topping hit in 1977, The Emotions never really had another radio success until 1980 when they teamed up with EWF for “Boogie Wonderland.”

67) “Take Me Home” by Cher
Cher reportedly wanted to do a rock album in 1979 when she moved to Casablanca Records, but the head of the label told her to go Disco and it resulted in this, her biggest hit since “Dark Lady” in 1974. This burst of pure dance floor bliss was co-written and produced by Bob Etsy, who was responsible for some of Donna Summer’s biggest hits. The follow-up singles didn’t do as well, and it wouldn’t be until the late 1980s that she would reinvent herself again as a rock diva.

66) “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross
I was surprised to find out that this was the first single off Luther Vandross’ solo debut album. Released in 1981, it’s now categorized in the Post-Disco genre, but all that really means is it was released after Disco was considered dead but still had a lot of the same musical elements. Put it in whatever box you want, this was the song that helped establish Vandross as a star.

65) “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen
Come on… that double hand clap every 8 beats? If you don’t have at least a little part of you wanting to join in, you’re not human. Patrice Rushen was a prolific jazz musician before she went Disco/R&B with this record in 1982, and while it was by far her biggest popular hit she’s still going strong at 65, performing, composing, and mentoring as Ambassador for Artistry in Education at Berklee College of Music.

64) “He’s the Greatest Dancer” by Sister Sledge
Sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge had been recording for years without much success until they partnered with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic in 1979. This was the first of two massive Disco hits that the sisters had that year and probably would’ve been bigger had the label not rushed to release the follow up… a little ditty about family that we’ll get to shortly.

63) “I May Not Be There When You Want Me (But I’m Right on Time)” by Loleatta Holloway
I’d wager that most of you have probably never heard of this song, but you can thank me later after you listen to it. With a fiery vocal from the inimitable Holloway and a church revival spirit, this laid the groundwork for a fusion of dance and gospel that would carry forward into following decades with huge house music hits like “The Pressure” from Sounds of Blackness, “This Joy” by Vernessa Mitchell, “Unspeakable Joy” from Kim English, and even more recent songs like Alex Newell’s “Mama Told Me.”

62) “The Boss” by Diana Ross
Although the supreme Ms. Ross had been playing in the Disco pool for several years with songs like “Love Hangover” and even, some could argue, “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz, this song kicked off a string of dance floor hits that would catapult her back onto the radio in a big way. Proving its status as a dance classic, a remix by DJ/Producer Eric Kupper hit #1 on the Billboard Dance Music charts in 2019.

61) “Makin’ It” by David Naughton
Does anybody else remember the 1979 TV show of the same name, which starred Naughton as Italian-American Billy Manucci, a young man who went to the Disco a lot? Yes, it was a blatant rip-off of “Saturday Night Fever” and it only lasted nine episodes, but the show’s theme song made it to the top 5 on the US pop charts. Its optimistic, “the top of the ladder is waiting for me” vibe was infectious, especially to overweight, unpopular junior high kids who lip-synced and danced to it endlessly in their bedrooms. Just a theory.

60) “I Want Your Love” by Chic
Released as a follow-up single to “Le Freak,” this was one of many dance floor anthems by the group Chic that established them as Disco royalty. Something to listen for are the tubular bells that mimic the melody of the chorus. It was one of two big hits of 1979 to use them, the other being “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by Bonnie Pointer.

59) “Dazz” by Brick
This feels like straight ahead funk or R&B, but who am I to argue with the title of the song, which is short for Disco Jazz. And yes, if you pay attention you can hear the Disco flourishes, especially behind the frequent saxophone solos. Just in case you’re confused, this song is “Dazz” by Brick but there was also a group called The Dazz Band that had a big funk hit with “Let it Whip.” No relation.

58) “Disco Nights” by GQ
Most of GQ’s success was on the Dance/Disco charts, but this was their one of only a couple of crossover hits, reaching #12 on the pop charts. With a four-on-the-floor beat, lush harmonies and strings, and a non-stop funky bass, this is quintessential Disco. Love the “So get up!” moment – iconic.

57) “Up to the Ladder to the Roof” by Bette Midler
I’m totally cheating with this one since this was never released as a single and only appeared on the Bette Midler Live at Last album, not as a regular studio album cut. But had it been, I think this Disco-licious remake of the classic Supremes song probably would have been a massive hit on the dance floor. It’s got it all – a driving beat, wocka-wocka guitars, and delirious harmonies from the Harlettes. Cap it all off with a typically energetic, balls-to-the-wall vocal from Bette and this could have been a contender!

56) “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
Because this particular hit has some guitar work, including a meaty solo toward the end performed by a former Doobie Brother/Steely Dan guitarist, it is sometimes put into the “rock” category, but come on… there’s a reason why Summer was known as the Queen of Disco. This is a companion piece to “Bad Girls” and there was a non-stop remix of the two songs on 12” vinyl (I think I still have it somewhere). By the way, in case you’re wondering why this classic ranked relatively low at 56, it’s only because of an embarrassment of Donna Summer riches – there are 12 of her songs on this list!

55) “Do You Wanna Funk” by Sylvester and Patrick Cowley
Why hasn’t anyone done a biopic of Sylvester? The other “Queen of Disco” had a huge influence on the genre including with this late in the game, 1982 entry that was produced by Patrick Cowley, who had his own hits with songs like “Menergy.” Although a little more post-Disco/Hi-NRG in tone, this still has Disco written all over it and is the first of several Sylvester songs on this list. Both artists died from complications due to AIDS, Cowley at 32 in 1982 shortly after this song was released, and Sylvester in 1988 at the age of 41.

54) “Everybody Dance” by Chic
Released before their big hit “Le Freak,” this song helped lay the groundwork for Chic’s dominance of the dance floor for the next few years. Written by hitmakers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, it features a simple, yet insanely catchy, lyric hook – “Everybody dance. Ooo, clap your hands, clap your hands.” It was a love letter to the discotheques, so it wasn’t surprising that it was so popular in them.

53) “Get Down on It” by Kool & the Gang
“Whatcha gonna do? Do you wanna get down?” Iconic opening lines of another Kool & the Gang classic that is a much better song – lyrically, musically, sonically – than “Celebration.” At least I think it is and this is my list, so to repeat I say, nyah. This is one of those that’s makes it hard to not move to when you hear it.

52) “Get Off” by Foxy
Since this was Foxy’s only really notable hit, I never paid that much attention to the group, so I have to say I was surprised when I saw the music video. Not what I was expecting. Having said that, this is classic Disco Funk, complete with “whoo whoo” background chants. Interesting Foxy trivia: the percussionist of the group was Richie Puente, Tito Puente’s son, and one of the lead singers, Carlo Driggs, left the group and became the lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders.

51) “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
Another Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards jam, my initial instinct was put this a lot lower on the list (like 85 or so), but then I realized it was just because it has gotten so overplayed over the years. Save me from another pride celebration sing-along of this, please. But then I gave it another listen, and I had to move it up. There’s a reason that it became such a huge and enduring hit.

50) “Sunset People” by Donna Summer
Wait, wait, wait… this is a better Donna Summer song than “Hot Stuff?” Well, yes. From its spacy electronic tweets, whistles, and flourishes to the dreamy vocal to the insistent, pounding beat, it feels like it’s about to explode at any moment. It’s one of those lose yourself on the dance floor songs that is reminiscent of another Summer hit, “I Feel Love,” which you’ll see much higher on this list. A tidbit… because of a label dispute, this song was never released as a single in the US but became a big hit in the discotheques anyway.

49) “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross
Such an interesting song structure. For the first roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds, it’s a groovy jam with a delicious Diana croon, but then it speeds up as it kicks into full on Disco mode with every bell and glittery whistle thrown at it. The 8 minute long extended track is a dreamy, get lost on the dance floor classic, so much so that DJ Eric Kupper had a #1 hit with a remixed version in 2020.

48) “I Love Music” by The O’Jays
I have to admit that I’m actually partial to the 1993 remake by Rozalla, but the original is fun and probably The O’Jays most purely Disco hit, spending 8 weeks atop the dance chart in 1976. You have to give it up for those perfectly balanced harmonies.

47) “If You Could Read My Mind” by Viola Wills
Originally a hit for Gordon Lightfoot, this makes two in a row where I prefer an even later remake, this time a 1998 version done by a supergroup of dance divas Amber, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Ultra Nate who put a modern spin on the song for the movie “54.” Still, the original is hard to resist, especially when you notice the vaguely Latin flourishes (listen to the horns at the end of the chorus).

46) “Good Times” by Chic
Of course, you can’t hear this without thinking of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which liberally sampled this for its hook and was released only a few months later in 1979. Niles Rodgers sued and was eventually credited as a co-writer, although later he said that the rap version was a much more important song than his original with Chic. Maybe, but we’re talking about Disco and “Good Times” was a perfect ode to the era.

45) “Outside” by George Michael
Wait… a song released almost two decades after the end of the Disco era is still a Disco song? Listen for 20 seconds to be convinced. Wocka-wocka guitars, hand claps, strings, and even a Disco whistle! Need more proof? Watch the video, which is probably the best George Michael ever did, a two-middle-fingered “F-you” after he got arrested for lewd conduct in a bathroom in Beverly Hills. Not only is the video very funny, it has Disco balls, a “Saturday Night Fever” light up dance floor, and mirrored urinals. Genius and totally Disco in all the best ways.

44) “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges
“I love the nightlife, I’ve got to boogie on the Disco round, oh yeah.” Does any lyric encapsulate the Disco ethos better than that? Alicia Bridges co-wrote this song and while it really was her only serious hit, it has had a number of lives. It made it onto the charts again in several countries after being featured in the 1994 movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and is now included in the musical stage version.

43) “Boogie Ooogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey
Although Taste of Honey was not exactly a “one-hit-wonder” – does anyone remember “Sukyiaki”? – this was by far their biggest success and the song that would not only define them but become a signature piece of the Disco era. Apparently lead singers Janice-Marie Johnson and Carlita Dorhan had to fight to prove that it was really them playing bass and guitar respectively. Ah, sexism. How very 1978… and beyond.

42) “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
Okay, let’s talk about ABBA. As I have mentioned, not a huge fan but it is impossible to not give this song its due. It was the group’s only #1 hit in the US and eventually went on to launch a musical and movie franchise that became a global phenomenon. But all that distracts from the classic Disco mood the song creates, even though it is a little light on the usual genre trappings. This is the type of song they invented dance floors for.

41) “Stomp” by The Brothers Johnson
I love this song. It’s pure dance energy with just enough Disco flourishes to give it a groovy vibe. And that breakdown at 2:21?! Slapping bass and a jazzy synth solo? Come on! An interesting bit of trivia… The Brothers Johnson were one of many acts whose master tapes, including the original recording of this song, were lost in a 2008 fire at Universal Studios.

40) “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer
The audacity of this song is almost breathtaking. Originally a hit for Broadway and film star Richard Harris in 1968, the lyrics are nonsensical – why would someone leave a cake out in the rain? – but it’s the production by Giorgio Moroder that turned this on its head. The version released to radio is 4 minutes long, the version on the album is over 8 minutes long, the dance single version was 11 minutes long, and there’s an 18-minute-long version that incorporates two other songs that hit #1 on the dance charts and stayed there for five weeks in 1978. Can you imagine anyone paying attention to anything for 18 minutes these days?

39) “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman
Elliman got her start singing the part of Mary Magdalene in the original recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and eventually played the part in the film, gaining her a Golden Globe nomination. But it was this Disco era hit, written by the Bee Gees and featured on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack that gave her the biggest hit of her career. A lush arrangement and layered Bee Gees style harmonies really make this one stand out.

38) “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
With a few notable exceptions (ABBA, for one), Disco was mostly driven by American acts but this UK group had one of the biggest hits of the genre with this funky, dance floor groove. I love the harmonies and dreamy orchestration of the opening before it settles into the danceable part. Notably, the song was not included on the soundtrack for the 1997 Mark Wahlberg film “Boogie Nights” because the lead singer of the group is a born-again Christian and wouldn’t license it for a film about pornography.

37) “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
This is a fun, throw-your-hands-in the-air and dance Disco classic, but it’s the story behind it that takes it to the next level. Fresh of her Disco-fueled success of “The Boss,” Ross asked Chic members Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards to write a song for her follow-up album. Inspired by drag queens dressed like Diana Ross at a NYC club, they wrote the song but didn’t mention the inspiration to the former Supreme. She loved it, relating it to her exit from Motown Records, but didn’t know the song’s origins and that the title was a phrase used by the gay community. She was so upset that she tearfully confronted Rodgers, convinced it would ruin her career. Instead it went on to become a massive hit, one of her signature songs, and an anthem for LGBT people everywhere.

36) “Take a Chance on Me” by Abba
Part of me wants to say that the version by Alvin and the Chipmunks is better than the original, but I have a feeling I’d be chased down with pitchforks and torches. This song is a great example of me setting aside my personal tastes to admit that it deserves a spot on the Top 100 Disco songs and in a higher position that some of ABBA’s other, bigger hits. Most ABBA songs are pretty lightweight but this one has a celebratory air to it that is admittedly infectious and was perfect for the dance floors.

35) “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & The Sunshine Band
This is another one that’s easy to dismiss as fluffy Disco silliness because, let’s face it, the lyrics are idiotic. “I want to be your rubber ball?” What? But forget all that and listen to the music. Those classic R&B horns, the propulsive piano, the non-stop chugging cymbal. Sure, we need to look at songs as the whole package, so the words knock it down into the 30s on this list, but otherwise this would have been in my Top 20 easily.

34) “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer
“Toot, toot, heeeyyy, beep beep!” If that doesn’t get you in the Disco mood, nothing will. One of Summer’s biggest hits, this song was co-written by the Disco Queen herself after a run-in with police officers who thought she was a prostitute. Casablanca Records wanted to give it to Cher, but Summer refused and recorded it herself. It went on to be a global smash, sitting at #1 on the charts in the US for five consecutive weeks in 1979.

33) “Kill the Lights” by Alex Newell & DJ Cassidy with Niles Rodgers
More proof that Disco is not dead comes in this 2016 track from the soundtrack to the short-lived HBO series “Vinyl.” With a soaring vocal by Alex Newell and guitar work from Chic’s Niles Rodgers, a musician songwriter, and producer behind some of the biggest Disco hits of the era, this glitter ball confection is both classic Disco and perfectly modern at the same time. There are multiple versions of this including one with Jess Glynne handling half of the vocals.

32) “Shake Your Groove Thing” by Peaches & Herb
In the “you learn something new every damn day of your life” category is the fact that while there was only ever one “Herb” (Herb Fame), there were seven (!?!) different “Peaches.” I’m shook. Linda Greene was the Peaches on this particular song and the part of the duo’s biggest hits including this and “Reunited.” Now, if someone could just show me how to find my groove thing, I’d be set.

31) “The Main Event” by Barbra Streisand
Babs doing Disco probably wasn’t the most earth-shaking event of 1979, but it was a pretty big deal especially when it came in the form of this non-stop boogie fever dream from the hit film of the same name. It’s so Disco it almost hurts but still has La Streisand all over it, making it feel almost like one of the many Broadway hits that got converted to dance floor tunes during the era. Admission… the nearly 12-minute-long extended version got a LOT of play in my bedroom as a kid. There was dancing and lip-syncing. Why the fact that I’m gay came as a surprise to anyone is a mystery.

30) “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls
Speaking of gay, this was released in 1982 so it was technically not a part of the official Disco era but there are few songs that represent the genre better. The vocals are provided by Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, who got their start as a duo known as Two Tons O’Fun, backup singers for Sylvester. It’s big, silly fun and was a huge hit on the radio and in the clubs, especially the LGBT variety where this has become an enduring anthem. Check out the beefcake video!

29) “Dim All the Lights” by Donna Summer
Summer was a prolific songwriter but this is one of the few that she wrote entirely on her own. She originally wanted to give it to Rod Stewart but kept it for herself and turned it into another smash hit. Note the slow open, which is a staple of Disco tunes from the era and found on several Donna Summer songs including “Last Dance.” This extended version of “Dim all the Lights” returns to that slow section before building back up into a fiery finish.

28) “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton
Although it has a fun, almost celebratory arrangement, this is actually a really dark song. It was written for Candi Staton by songwriter David Crawford after she told him about an abusive relationship she had recently ended. Just check those lyrics… “Say “I’m gonna leave” a hundred times a day/It’s easier said than done/When you just can’t break away.” Wow. I’m willing to bet you that most of the people who packed the dance floors in 1976 when this was a hit had no idea what it was really about.

27) “Love Come Down” by Evelyn”Champagne” King
Released in 1982, this is another one that is technically categorized as “Post Disco,” but screw that. It’s got most of the hallmarks of a great Disco song with a little bit of grooviness thrown in that makes it feel like it could’ve been a hit for The Jacksons. Plus there’s the fact that it’s from Evelyn “Champagne” King, one of the biggest stars of the genre.

26) “Love is in The Air” by John Paul Young
I freely admit that my love of this song is mostly driven from its use in “Strictly Ballroom,” but even absent that it’s a great song. The chugga-chugga beat, the lush orchestration, and that build to the chorus… it’s almost cinematic, which is why it worked so well in the movie. This is a song I want played at my wedding. Stop laughing. It could happen.

25) “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life” by Indeep
Another 1982 song, this one is admittedly a little more “Post Disco” than most of the songs on this list, but it’s such an enduring classic that not including it here would be almost criminal. That percolating bass-line drives the beat and makes up for the ridiculous white-guy rap toward the end, which is probably more embarrassing nearly 40 years later than it was then.

24) “On the Radio” by Donna Summer
No other artist has as many songs on this last as Donna Summer. And why not when you have great songs like this one? It was written by Summer and Giorgio Moroder for the 1980 film “Foxes” with Jodie Foster and Scott Baio. To say that this song was the only good thing from the movie is probably an understatement. Lush and romantic to start and non-stop movement once it kicks into gear, this is peak Disco.

23) “Upside Down” by Diana Ross
Another jam from Chic’s Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, this was another massive hit for Ms. Ross, hitting number one in the US and in countries around the world. According to published accounts, the original version was much funkier and Ross didn’t like it, eventually hiring new producers to rework the track into the Disco glory that we all know and love.

22) “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Holloway
Remember Dan Hartman, whose “Instant Replay” came in at #93 on this list? He wrote this song that has gone on to be such a classic that samples (or entire pieces) have been used in dozens of songs since then, most notably “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and “Ride on Time” by Black Box. And why not? The boogie fever is strong and that vocal by Holloway? It’s rattle the rooftops power that makes you want to get up and move.

21) “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
If not for a DJ with a good ear, this song could have never become the enduring hit it is. It was never intended to be released as a single, going out as the B-side to another song that Gaynor and the label liked better. But Studio 54 DJ Richie Kaczor reportedly took one listen to the female-empowerment anthem and put it into rotation in the club in 1978, and before you could say “At first I was afraid” it had become a phenomenon and was released as a proper single that topped the charts around the globe.

20) “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps
This is another song that almost missed its shot at glory. It was originally included on a 1976 album from The Trammps but it never gained any momentum. Two years later, producers decided to include it on the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” and the song blew up, dominating the dance floors and the pop charts alike.

19) “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC & The Sunshine Band
Quick – what does the KC in the band’s name stand for? Trick question, it doesn’t stand for anything. The lead singer’s name was Harry Wayne Casey… KC. Get it? Whatever the origins, KC&TSB was one of the most influential groups of the Disco era and this was one of their biggest hits, a funky dance floor workout with their signature wall of sound horns and sing-along lyrics.

18) “I Wanna be Your Lover” by Prince
Prince actually made several songs that would qualify as disco, but this was far and away the best of the bunch and would become his first significant hit, reaching #11 on the pop chart and #1 on the soul chart. With its signature falsetto and percussive guitar work, it is signature Prince and as was often the case he wrote, produced, and performed every part of the song including playing all the instruments.

17) “Last Dance” by Donna Summer
This is one of two Disco songs on this list that won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the other being “Fame”). Released as part of the soundtrack for “Thank God It’s Friday,” in which Donna Summer had a role, this went on to become one of her most beloved songs and a staple in the Disco pantheon. “Yes, it’s my last chance, for romance tonight.” Who hasn’t felt like that at some point in their life?

16) “Shake Your Body Down to The Ground” by The Jacksons
Although it’s plenty Disco in the single version we all know and love, check out the 12” “Disco” remix, which is one of the few of the era that qualifies as an actual remix instead of just an extended version of the original song. It’s got a more driven dance floor beat and a three-octave glissando that isn’t heard on the album version, giving it just a bit more Disco ball stardust.

15) “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire
This is a great example of a song where you can hear the influences that make it, technically, “Post Disco” – the more overtly electronic synthesizer tones are a dead giveaway. But forget the genre rules for a moment and “just moooove yourself” to that non-stop dance floor beat and the lush EWF harmonies. They really knew how to do Disco.

14) “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester
Frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley heard the original version of this song, done with a mid-tempo gospel arrangement, and thought it would be perfect to remix into a high-energy Disco stomper. His instincts proved right and the song stayed at the top of the Billboard dance charts for six weeks in 1978. You have to watch the video for this – it’s pure 1970s Disco deliciousness.

13) “Was That All It Was?” by Jean Carn
This relatively obscure song may come as a surprise coming in this high on the list, but if you’ve never heard it go take a listen. It’s a definitely a cut above of most of the songs of the era, both melodically and lyrically, a plaintive examination of a love affair gone wrong. With an almost aching vocal from jazz vocalist Carn (she changed it to Carne later), it upends the usual Disco party-all-the-time ethos in memorable ways. Check out the 1999 remake of the song by fiery vocalist Hannah Jones and remixes by Razor N Guido.

12) “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)” by Donna Summer with Barbra Streisand
Put two of the world’s best vocalists (of any gender) on an empowering, take-no-prisoners anthem about standing up for yourself and the results are going to be enduring. Really listen to that slow open – the vocal dynamics are incredible and way beyond what most of the songs in the Disco landscape offered. Sadly, Summer and Streisand never performed the song together.

11) “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire with The Emotions
Those horns! It was a part of EWF’s signature sound, but they were used here in a way that went above and beyond even what they usually accomplished, bolstering the staccato, syncopated rhythm in luscious ways. Then add in a fierce vocal back and forth with Phillip Bailey and guest stars The Emotions and you have a recipe for one of the best songs of the era, only missing the Top 10 by one spot!

10) “Knock on Wood” by Ami Stewart
This song had already been done twice, first by Eddie Floyd who had a #1 hit with it in 1966 and then by none other than David Bowie in 1974. But it is Stewart’s 1979 cover that became the definitive version, a drum-fueled dance floor rager that is sent into the stratosphere by a belting, growling, soaring lead vocal. Listen for the beat of silence before the chorus… “You better knock… on wood!” That hook alone makes it top 10 material to me. Interesting side note: Stewart’s step-brother is Miquel Brown, whose “So Many Men” came in at #87 on this list.

9) “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor
Although it had just been a major hit for the Jackson 5 a few years earlier, Disco royalty Gloria Gaynor decided to upend the mid-tempo original and turn into a dance floor celebration, and to great effect. In fact, it was the #1 song on the very first Dance/Disco chart published by Billboard. “I Will Survive” was a bigger hit for Gaynor but from a writing and production standpoint, this is simply a better song.

8) “Shame” by Evelyn ”Champagne” King
1977 was the year of “Saturday Night Fever,” so the airwaves were already primed for Disco glory and King’s funky, groovy, in-your-face belter was a perfect antidote to the more tightly arranged Bee Gees and ABBA hits that were dominating the era. Full of spunky flourishes and a driving, get on the floor beat, “Shame” became King’s signature song and helped expand the boundaries of the Disco genre.

7) “Turn the Beat Around” by Vicki Sue Robinson
“Love to hear percussion!” Yes, we do, and it’s that “syncopated rhythm with the rat tat tat tat on the drums” that sends this song to a totally different level than most Disco tunes. Latin rhythms infuse this with an energy that is undeniable and unique amongst its dance floor peers. Staccato bursts of strings, dramatic harmonies, and the unmistakable “scratch” of the guitar makes it signature Disco and the impassioned vocal from Robinson, who had been a Broadway star before recording this, completes the package.

6) “Heaven Knows” by Donna Summer
Although certainly not Summer’s biggest hit, this 1979 classic is one of the best songs she ever wrote, with an aching lyric that is highlighted by the co-vocal with R&B group Brooklyn Dreams (who also co-wrote “Bad Girls”). Lead singer Joe Esposito’s rich baritone is the perfect counterpoint to Summer’s melodic alto and then it all comes together in the chorus with a perfectly effortless harmony that soars. Check out the alternate version that was on Brooklyn Dreams 1979 album, which flips the vocal duties, giving Esposito the lead and Summer the backup.

5) “Get Down Tonight” by KC & The Sunshine Band
Few lyrics encapsulate the Disco era better than “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.” KC&TSB’s signature funky flourishes give this one life (listen closely for the white guy growl, “woo,” and approximation of a James Brown “huh!”), but it’s the spacy guitar and synth that drive it home and help make it the band’s best song and one of the best Disco songs ever made. The version I have on the YouTube playlist is from the album, but go check out the live versions, which kick up the tempo and make it even more of a dance floor classic.

4) “Got to be Real” by Cheryl Lynn
This song has it all – a funky bass line, killer vocals, hand claps, percussive horns, a singalong chorus, and one of the greatest key changes in musical history. That’s not just my opinion – ShortList magazine said it, too. This song is one of those enduring hits that seems to transcend generations. Put it on in any club and it’ll get people on their feet and dancing from the first brass flourishes to the “soo hoo, soo hoo, soo hoo, I’ve got to have you baby” refrain. Put this back on whatever playlist you listen to often and I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face and a groove in your step every time.

3) “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
I’m pretty convinced that if they were to create a musical dictionary, where songs are associated with the words they evoke, “September” would be used for words like “celebratory,” “uplifting,” and “joy.” It’s three and a half minutes of pure sunshine, with an infectious beat, intricate and in-your-face horns, and a sing-along “ba-dee-ya!” chorus that is virtually impossible to resist. This is one of those songs that practically dares you to not move, smile, or enjoy yourself.

2) “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer
Simply put, this is one of the most important songs ever written and produced. Released in 1977, Summer and longtime producer Giorgio Moroder set out to create a concept album in which each track would represent a different decade, and this is what they came up with for “the future.” Almost entirely electronic (other than Summer’s vocals and the kick drum), this was revolutionary for the time and quite literally changed the course of music, fueling everything from house and techno to new wave and beyond, even providing the DNA for modern EDM today. It is the foundation on which most of the popular music of the 1980s was made and has been said to be a major influence on artists like David Bowie, Madonna, and more. But even if you feel like arguing about the song’s cultural relevance, there is no denying that it is one of the most perfect dance music songs ever written. One of the reasons the genre became (and remains) so popular is its almost hypnotic effect, allowing people to stop thinking about whatever personal or global problems are out there and just get lost in the beat. Think of the socio-political landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s, from Watergate to AIDS – or maybe even just look at the news today – and then put on this song and bliss out to the nonstop, driving energy of the synthesizers and Summer’s dreamy vocals. This is what dance music is supposed to be and it the only reason it doesn’t take the top spot is because there is one song that embraces Disco just a little bit better and I’ll tell you what it is, tomorrow. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

1) “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston
Choosing between this and “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer for the top spot on this list was an unexpectedly hard decision that I went back and forth on at least a dozen times. Yes, “I Feel Love” is, without a doubt, the most important Disco song ever made but the reasons that it is important – it’s groundbreaking use of synthesizers – is what makes it a little, tiny bit less of a pure Disco song. “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” on the other hand, is about as pure Disco as it gets. The nonstop kickdrum beat, the high hat, the orchestration, the harmonies, the bell-like flourishes, and the stairstep bassline that kicks in toward the end… it has all the ingredients you need for glitter ball glory. But it’s so much more than just the sum of its parts. Originally a hit for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Houston’s fiery, gospel-tinged vocal on the deeply yearning lyrics give this a fierce emotional heft – an almost palpable sense of “need” – that is missing from a lot of Disco songs. “I Feel Love” was designed to get you on the dance floor and forget everything. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is designed to make you feel everything and if you aren’t moved by that volcanic build to the chorus… “Awwwwwww, BABY!”… then I’m pretty sure you might just be dead. It is the definition of a “throw your hands in the air” moment and if Disco taught us anything, it is that we need more of those types of moments. Put all that together and you have what I think is the Best Disco song of all time.

Here’s the full video playlist of all 100 songs from #100 to #1.


Visiting the Pulse Memorial


I went to my first gay bar when I was 15.

I didn’t go because I was gay, of course. I went because a friend identified as gay and they would let us in to drink, or at least that’s why my 15-year-old “I’m not gay!” brain told me.

The people at the bar knew better. They didn’t let us in because they believed we were 19 (the legal drinking age at the time). I mean, come on. I’ve seen pictures of myself when I was 15 and I looked 15. But they knew what was really going on and they let us in because in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the early 1980s, there weren’t many safe havens for gay people. There was no internet or location dating apps. There were no gay-straight alliances in the local schools. There weren’t any positive representations of gay people on TV unless you count Paul Lynde.

The bar was the place where people could go and feel safe. It was a sanctuary. It was a refuge. Where you could be who you were, as feminine or as butch as you wanted to be, and dance and chat and be catty and gossip about who did what to whom and where or you could be serious and talk about the whisperings of some “gay disease” that was killing people in the big cities.

Even if the darkest of times – sometimes despite them – the gay bar was the only safe haven that existed for people like us, even if we didn’t recognize it at the time. The staff and the regulars protected us, especially when an older “chicken hawk” would try to move in on the young guys out on the dance floor. Inevitably, someone who worked there or one of the regulars would come over and chase them away so we could just have fun.

When I moved to California when I was 18, it wasn’t as easy to get into the bars, but I made it a few times. Long gone neighborhood places like the Apache, Job Site, and the Detour were usually easier than the big clubs in West Hollywood and they became my semi-regular haunts. I knew the bartenders and the DJs, and the doormen and they knew me. It was a great place to meet people. It was the only place to meet gay people.

When I turned 21 I got a job as a bouncer at a bar in West Hollywood. Over the next 15 years or so, I would graduate to bartender and then DJ, spinning in clubs all over town. The people I worked with became an extended family and while many of them, sadly, did not survive that particularly brutal era (the late 1980s especially), the ones that did are still special to me. I met one of my best friends there and we still go out to bars on occasion, although not as frequently and often with greater consequences the next morning.

Leaving at 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes made me a little unsettled. I didn’t always feel safe going to my car. But inside the bar was different. The angry, confusing, often hateful world stopped at the door and it was a relief.

No offense to straight people or their bars, but they aren’t the same. You may have a little neighborhood pub where “everybody knows your name” and you know theirs. The kind of place where they have your drink ready before you sit down, and they ask you how Mary or Bob is doing and commiserate with you about the grief your kids or your boss is giving you.

But it isn’t the same.

A gay bar is a safe harbor. It is a sanctuary. It is a refuge.

When the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando happened on June 12, 2016 it hit me hard. I was in Jamba Juice, getting my usual morning smoothie, and I checked the news while I was waiting. I read the story and burst into tears.

I knew that place.

I had never been to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I didn’t know any of the people who died or the people who survived. I didn’t know any of the first responders or the community leaders or anyone else directly affected by the shooting.

But I knew that place. I knew the people. I knew what it was like inside and I could practically hear the music and the laughter and the dizzying tumble of conversations. I could feel the pounding bass of the sound system and see the DJ’s head bopping along to the tempo and their patient smile when someone requested whatever song was the most popular for the tenth time that night. I could smell the cologne – people often wore too much of it in the clubs, probably to drown out the other smell, which everyone who has ever worked at a bar knows. It’s sort of a sickly-sweet smell, a little sour and yet clean, too, like bleach trying to remove a stain that just won’t quite go away. I could taste the drinks – they were strong. You always get a bigger pour at neighborhood spots. I could see the bartenders trying to keep up with the orders and trying not to let their annoyance show when someone ordered anything more complicated, and therefore time consuming, than a gin and tonic. I could see the smiles and feel the embraces and taste the kisses, from friends and from lovers and sometimes – a first time – from someone that you wanted to be one or the other. And most importantly I felt what it was like once you walked through the doors.

It felt safe. It felt like a sanctuary. It felt like a refuge.

Standing there today, looking through a pane of glass at a waterfall that has been installed on the side of the building I sort of felt like I could still hear the music and taste the drinks and feel the feeling of what it must have been like there that night, before it all went to hell.

Then I looked through another pane of glass at the spot where the police used a battering ram to break through the wall, so people could escape the hail of gunfire. Then I looked through another and saw the names of the dead. The list went on… and on… and on…

The interim memorial that is there today starts with a message board of translucent panels that wrap around the base of the sign out in front. On it people can write messages of hope, sadness, grief, consolation, or, in some cases I saw, just their name – a statement, I believe, that they paid witness to this hallowed ground.

A tall wall has been put up around the building on three sides, covered with photographs sent in from around the globe. There are none of the night of the shooting. These are all of people coming together, mourning, grieving, and, ultimately, hoping and praying and taking action that will try to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

There are several windows in the wall allowing people to see the building itself, but they are done tastefully and always with an eye toward honoring those that lost their life – their names, the waterfall, the breach wall.

In front is a smaller fence that people can leave notes, photos, or tributes. All of them are collected and saved.

Finally, an electronic kiosk allows visitors to sign a guest book and learn more about the “Pulse 49.”

At first, I was a bothered by the rush of traffic whizzing by on the street a few feet away. Not only was it noisy, but it felt offensive somehow. “How dare you go on with your lives when something like this exists.” There should be a stop sign out front and everyone should be required to come to a complete halt, look at the place, and recognize its importance and only then will they be allowed to drive away.

But eventually that faded away and I could hear the music again.

The One Pulse Foundation was created by the owner of the club, Barbara Poma, to support construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for the survivors and victims’ families, endowed scholarships in the names of each of the 49 angels, educational programs to promote amity among all segments of society and, ultimately, a museum highlighting historic artifacts and stories from the tragedy.

The interim memorial was unveiled in the spring of 2018 and they are hoping to have the permanent facility finished by summer of 2020. They are currently working with the families, the community, and the local government to go through the design phase and are actively working on the capital campaign. They are negotiating to buy two adjacent lots, so it will take up a big chunk of a city block and are looking to places like the 9/11 Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial as blueprints for what to do. This is not a government led effort – it is the owner of the bar putting together a world-class organization that is drawing support from everyone from major corporations like Disney to anyone who wants to contribute in whatever way, big or small, they can.

When I asked what I could do to help, other than write checks, I was asked to share my story since that was the most effective tool anyone has to create connections to tragedy.

I wasn’t there, but I knew that place.

For more information or to donate, please visit

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My Top 50 Prince Songs Countdown


Not long after Prince faked his death and moved to a tropical island to live with a couple of hot models who follow him around all day striking random poses (you believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe what I want to believe), I culled a list of what I felt were the best songs Prince ever did. At the time I just did a simple alphabetical list, saying there was no way I could rank them. Well, it has taken me two years and a lot of arguing with myself, but I have finally done it. There is an audio player of the song under each entry.


50. Adore from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
I will admit that I was not always a fan of the Prince slow jams but this one gets me every time. “Until the end of time, I’ll be there 4 U.” Come on. And that breakdown at 2:30 that leads to a classic Prince line: “You could burn up my clothes, smash up my ride… well, maybe not the ride…” A perfect mix of love and seduction.

49. Bambi from Prince (1979)
It was a track from his second album but it announced him in ways that would come to define his sound for years to come. That fuzzy, dirty guitar; the screaming falsetto; the rock God trappings. It’s all there and remember he was only 20 years old when he recorded it. Evidence, if you really needed it, that he was a prodigy.

48. Good Love from Bright Lights, Big City Soundtrack (1988)
This song has a bit of a tortured history. It was originally recorded by Prince with the Revolution for an album that was to be called Dream Factory, which was going to be the follow up to Around the World in a Day. When the band broke up in 1986, Prince put many of the songs on another unreleased multi-disc album Crystal Ball and then eventually put many of them on Sign o’ the Times, after taking out much of the Revolution’s contributions to the songs. This one, a funky pop ditty that gets in your ear and won’t let go, was included on the Michael J. Fox movie soundtrack but never released on an official Prince album or b-side (that I know of).

47. Alphabet Street from LoveSexy (1988)
The short, radio version of this is fun, funky, and get yo ass on the dance floor groovy but the longer version with the rap from Cat is where it really throws down… “Talk to me lover/Come and tell me what you taste/Didn’t your mama tell you/Life is too good to waste?”

46. Lolita from 3121 (2006)
I will freely admit that by the early 2000s I had pretty much stopped paying attention to Prince. For the better part of the previous decade or so I felt like he had gotten a little too myopic, doing music that was much more interesting to him than to anyone else. But then he released this album, certainly the closest thing he did to his old sound in years, and then really got my attention by doing a residency in Vegas. This song, while never released as a single, is classic Prince fun with a danceable beat, a vaguely naughty lyric that evokes his peak period during the 1980s and 1990s.

45. Feel U Up, b-side of Partyman (1989)
Interesting back story to this bass heavy jam – it was originally recorded in 1981 but then redone in 1986 for a project that never got released. It was used as the b-side of the single from the Batman album.

44. Gett Off from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Prince did a lot of dirty jams in his time but this one grinds in a way that practically demanded he wear pants with no butt cheeks on the Video Music Awards in 1991. Although he was certainly influenced by the music of his soul/R&B/funk godfathers, he rarely did what he did here, sampling a little bit of a James Brown and adopting the lyrics… “Remind me of something James used to say, I like ‘em fat, I like ‘em proud… ”

43. Private Joy from Controversy (1981)
I love the stacatto delivery of the lyric, which perfectly matches the propulsive drum beat and digital hand claps. Listen close for the occasional tamborine flourish in the background, like a accent mark. But my favorite part of the song is at the end, “Come on honey, baby get up!” as it strips down so you can really hear the intricate bass and the line “If anybody asks you belong to Prince.” Oh yeah. Then it fades into apocalyptic guitar and synth screeching as the album segues into Ronnie Talk to Russia, an ode to the cold war fears of the era.

42. Darling Nikki from Purple Rain (1984)
“I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend.” Talk about an opening line setting the mood. But don’t let the lyrics distract you too much – the thing that makes this song truly dirty is the fierce, fuzzy guitar work in the background. And for the record, the backwards recording at the end says, “Hello. How are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”

41. If I Was Your Girlfriend from Sign ‘o the Times (1987)
The track itself is spare and evocative but to me it’s the lyrics that really sell this one. “If I was your one and only friend / Would you run to me if somebody hurt you even if that somebody was me?” That’s almost as meta as the closing lines of the longer album version, “We’ll try to imagine what silence looks like.”

40. Shockadelica, the b-side of the If I Was Your Girlfriend single (1987)
Another funk workout with stunning, screechy guitar work and a (purposely) tinny vocal from Prince that works perfect with the taunting lyrics.

39. Cream from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
How can you not love a song that starts with overtly sexual moaning? But then you add in the church organ doing a pop beat and Rosie Gaines providing background and it turns the whole thing up a notch. A decidedly sexy song.

38. The Beautiful Ones from Purple Rain (1984)
Back in 1985 I took a sign language class and the final project had us sign a song. I picked this one for its expressive lyrics that matched the beautifully expressive nature of signing. That moment at around 3:20 where the drum beat goes into hyperdrive and he starts screaming “Do you want him? Or do you want me? Because I want you!” is the definition of yearning.

37. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Mustang Remix) from The Gold Experience (1995)
This is one that I’m going to toss to a remix as being superior to the original. While the radio version is a sweet ode with a classic Prince falsetto, the Mustang Remix I have on a German EP called The Beautiful Experience is the one I really like. This is less a remix than a completely different recording of the song with Prince singing in his chest voice over a sultry lounge beat that adds a funk, heat, and sex to the song.

36. Sexy Motherfucker from the o+> album (1992)
This was Prince at his all time coolest. Nobody else could get away with a song like this that seemed dirty but was really all about respect and love. Prince made it the epitome of suave.

35. Diamonds and Pearls from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Probably the most traditional love song he ever wrote, enhanced by the simplicity of the lyrics (“All I can do is just offer you my love”) and a soaring co-vocal with Rosie Gaines.

34. Controversy from Controversy (1981)
“Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?” Prince answers the critics of his androgynous sexuality with a resounding middle finger of song that pulses like an angry heartbeat. And then the audacity of putting the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of it? That’s some balls, right there ladies and gentlemen. My favorite line: “Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be?”

33. Do Me, Baby from Controversy (1981)
Pure sex in the form of a falsetto slow jam. I’m guessing there were quite a few babies conceived while this song was playing.

32. Sexuality from Controversy (1981)
The main part of this rollicking ode to letting your body be free is great fun but it’s the spoken word part at the end that really sells it. “Reproduction of a new breed – Leaders, stand up! Organize!” with the up hitting perfectly on the smash beat every time is addictive as hell. And his tourist-bashing – something that would pop up again on 1982’s 1999 is just plain old funny: “Tourists – 89 flowers on their back…inventors of the Accu-jack. They look at life through a pocket camera… What? No flash again?”

31. Head from Dirty Mind (1980)
For this classic Prince funk jam you should go read the lyrics sometime to get the full effect of just how classically dirty of a song it is. Um… he did what on the wedding gown? And love the Star Wars synth work in the break.

30. Raspberry Beret from Around the World in a Day (1985)
Cheeky is the word I think of when I hear this song. The lyrics are kind of lacivious but it is done with such a bouncy, flirty delivery that elevates this beyond just a randy story of a couple doing it in a barn. Check out the extended version with its finger cymbal intro and Prince coughing at random places. What does it mean? Who knows, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that he did that made him and his music so unique.

29. Strange Relationship from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The driving four on the floor beat plays an interesting counterpoint to the swinging melody that dances around playfully. It’s a great song and I always wondered why he didn’t release this as a single.

28. U Got the Look from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Sheena Easton’s induction into the Prince family is a barn burner of a song about a guy trying every bit of flattery he can muster to get the girl.

27. Automatic from 1999 (1982)
Here he not only manipulates the instrumentation to sound vaguely robotic (if robots were funky dancing machines), but he does the same thing with the vocals. The stacatto delivery occasionally chirps up into the stratosphere like a machine coming to life. Be sure to listen to the full length album version with headphones so you can hear the freaky, fade in/out, left/right execution of the the spoken word part (“stop me if I’m boring you”). It’s simple but effective.

26. 17 Days, the b-side of When Doves Cry (1984)
I named my first play after this song, not because it inspired me to write the play, but rather that it’s spare, fuzzy guitar opening and bleak let the rain come down sing-songy chorus were what I pictured the main character, a man dying of AIDS, was hearing in his head every day. One of the many great examples of Prince’s music brilliantly setting a mood.

25. Let’s Work from Controversy (1981)
That slapping bass line is enough to sell me but add in the early 80s synth work and the multi-tracked vocals turn this into a perfect bit of funk fun.

24. Mountains from Parade (1986)
Another song that I stole the title of for a play, this upbeat shuffle has the full Revolution-era treatment including Wendy & Lisa backing vocals, horns, and more. And that breakdown! “Guitars and drums on the 1, huh!” Classic.

23. Girls and Boys from Parade, (1986)
Irresistibly groovy from start to finish with a sax hook that won’t quit and breathy backup vocals from Wendy & Lisa. This is one that loves to stick around in the corners of your brain for days – “Vous etes tres belle, mamma, girls and boys.”

22. Lady Cab Driver from 1999 (1982)
I used to think of this song almost every day while sitting on the 101 freeway behind somebody who isn’t paying attention to the fact that traffic ahead of them is moving. “Put your foot on the gas, let’s drive” pops into my head and then it’s all there – the funky kickdrum/hand clap beat, the twangy bass, and the intricate keyboard work. The extended spoken part on the album version (“This one’s for Yosemite Sam and the tourists at Disneyland:) is both dirty and a little disturbing as a woman moans in the background. Is it love or anger?

21. I Would Die 4U from Purple Rain (1984)
I love the original on the album but check out this 10 minute version (only ever available on vinyl and as an album only cut on the remaster), which isn’t just an extended remix but a live, full band studio recording and a complete rework of the song with shoutouts to Wendy and Lisa, horn players Eddie M and Miko Weaver, and drums by Sheila E. It keeps the driving forward motion of the original but adds depth with intricate synth and percussion work.

20. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
The poppy, kicky beat could distract you from the lyrics but don’t let it – they are profoundly self-aware and heartbreaking. “She asked me if we could be friends/And I said, oh, honey baby that’s a dead end.” This is the long version, which I recommend because the song goes from upbeat pop to dark, tortured guitar at around 3:45 and in just a few bars adds a layer of complexity that is almost heartbreaking.

19. Irresistible Bitch, the b-side of Let’s Pretend We’re Married (1982)
A bass-heavy, stacatto beat works perfectly with the spoken word lament about a woman that did him wrong that he can’t stay away from. Come on… who else would do a song called Irresistible Bitch? No one.

18. Purple Rain from Purple Rain (1984)
A lot of people don’t know this but Prince’s signature song from his breakthrough album was recorded live in 1983 at a benefit concert along with Baby I’m a Star and I Would Die 4U. That the track reportedly required minimal remastering speaks to not only his genius as a musician and performer but as a storyteller. Interestingly the iconic guitar chords at the beginning do not come from Prince, but Wendy. His solo work comes in around the 3:45 mark and is heartache, heartbreak, and heart pounding in aural form.

17. Willing and Able from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
An upbeat, almost acoustic jam with overt gospel influences including a full choir doing back up. Perfect if you need a mood boost.

16. I Wanna Be Your Lover from Prince (1979)
One of the few songs by Prince that you could put into a disco playlist and not look like an idiot. The wocka-wocka guitars and Prince’s perfect falsetto make this an irresistable dance floor groove.

15. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, the b-side to 1999 (1982)
With all due respect to Alica Keys’ remake, Prince’s original version of this bluesy piano ballad destroys not only with its emotion but with its simplicity. From falsetto to chest voice to screaming and back again, this song may have a languid tempo but it feels filled with urgency.

14. Joy in Repetition from Graffiti Bridge (1990)
If you are looking for evidence of Prince’s musical genius, you must listen to this track about a woman in a club on the mic “repeating these 2 words, over and over again” but you really have to pay attention. On the surface it sounds like the same four bars repeated over and over again, which is kinda the point, but it’s what he does with the lyric and its relation to the music that is so subtly incredible. This line: “These 2 words, a little bit behind the beat. I mean just enough 2 turn u on.” He sings the line just a little bit behind the beat and when he gets to those 2 words he sings THOSE a little bit behind the beat. It’s stunningly simple and yet complex at the same time.

13. Anotherloverholenyohead from Parade (1986)
The vaguely Indian intro segues into a piano driven monster with a dirty guitar line and itricately weaving vocals that wraps up (on the short version) with “There’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap your hands.” I saw him do this live at one of his shows and I nearly lost my mind. This is the extended version with a lot of additional funky horn and piano work.

12. Kiss from Parade (1986)
There are few songs that are so instantly recognizeable with their first two seconds but that guitar lick makes this one of them, announcing the falsetto masterpiece that follows. I loved how, in later years, he updated the references when performing this song. I saw him once change “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” to “You don’t have to watch Desperate Housewives.” This is the extended dance mix, which adds horn flourishes and ends with an argument between “Saul” and his wife over seeing Prince on TV.

11. 1999 from 1999 (1982)
“Don’t worry… I won’t hurt you… I only want you to have some fun.” We did, Prince. Thank you.

10. Let’s Go Crazy from Purple Rain (1984)
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” If songs like this dance/rock jam were part of our daily soundtrack, it would be a lot easier to get through life. Note the fuzzy guitar work in the beginning that is a direct descendant of Bambi and see how it leads you to the epic solo that closes the track. Bonus points to this extended version that includes an insane asylum meets Bugs Bunny cartoon mashup of what, from any other artist, would just be noise.

9. Erotic City, the b-side of the Let’s Go Crazy single (1984)
If this naughty, pulsating, highly danceable song featuring breathy backup vocals from Sheila E doesn’t put you and your significant other in the mood, something’s wrong. It’s classic “dirty era” Prince that is remarkable if for no other reason than so many people know it but it never got any mainstream radio airplay because of its lyrics. And this was before satellite radio and social media gave platforms to songs that no one would touch.

8. Something in the Water from 1999 (1982)
Prince did a techno song? Well, no, but this one has the kind of strange alien beeps and a languid synthesizer background on top of a hyperactive drum beat that perfectly underscores the heartbreak of the song’s lyrics. When he gets screams “I’d buy you clothing… I’d buy you fancy cars” it sends a chill up my spine every time.

7. Housequake from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
“Shut up, already, damn!” Okay, I will and just let this delirious house party classic speak for itself.

6. Nothing Compares 2 U from The Hits/B-Sides (1993)
Originally (formally) recorded by the Prince offshoot band The Family and later made famous by Sinead O’Connor, Prince finally took back his song and did it as a stunning, heartbreaking duet with Rosie Gaines and pretty much made every other version look like child’s play. Yes, I have heard the new/old version from the vault of Prince doing it by himself but I still prefer this version.

5. Little Red Corvette from 1999 (1982)
The dirtiest song ever written that doesn’t contain any explicit lyrics. It’s about a car, isn’t it? And something about horses? I love the video as he works the camera with a “You know what I’m talking about” smirk. Check out this Dance Remix that inserts some moody interludes and rattling synthesizer bass lines that aren’t in the original.

4. Baby I’m a Star from Purple Rain (1984)
If you need a party to kick into high gear, put on this song. It’s a clap your hands, jump up and down dose of adrenaline with classic Prince squeals that announced to the world exactly what he was and who he intended to be. “You might not know it now, but baby what I are is I’m a star.” Damn right.

3. Forever in my Life from Sign o’ the Times (1987)
One of his rare non-falsetto slow songs, this reflective work uses overlapping vocals and an overarching feeling of melancholy to perfectly convey the yearning of a man reaching a crossroads. Listening to this song now breaks my heart.

2. When Doves Cry from Purple Rain (1984)
This song literally made me change the way I thought of music, opening me up to a world of possibilities that my limited, Iowa 1970s and 1980s upbringing couldn’t have imagined. Step back and really listen to it. There’s no bass line in the entire track, which is revolutionary on its own, but after the intro it gets stripped down to just drums and Prince’s vocal. Then it slowly layers in a dash of keyboards and then more and more, and finally pushing into a rush of guitars and that makes it feel like the whole thing is going to explode. After more than three decades it might be easy to take this song for granted, but it remains probably his most stunning musical achievement. So why isn’t it my number one?

1. DMSR from 1999 (1982)
Dance, Music, Sex, Romance. What else do you need? According to this classic funk masterpiece, absolutely nothing. Musically, it seems pretty simple on the surface – slapping bass, dirty keys, and a drumbeat that makes you want to move – but take a minute and really listen to the way the music seems to weave in and out of itself, almost like the call and answer vocals (“Somebody say DANCE!”). But in the end, it is less about the music and more about the spirit of this song that gets me. Nothing else he did ever encapsulated as much of the prime years Prince ethos as this song did. I’d like to think this is the spirit of how he’d like to be remembered.

Prop Master: A Look at the November 2016 California Ballot Propositions

In between writing a second Hallmark Xmas movie with a lot of very earnest dialogue about the meaning of the holiday and a Lifetime movie with lots of single white female drama, I decided to take some time and write up my thoughts on the propositions as I do every year.

Now, as we have discussed, I hate the California ballot process. It is ridiculous that laws (or worse, constitutional amendments) are made by 50% plus one person of the fraction of people who actually vote, many of whom don’t take the time to do anything other than pay a little bit of attention to the misdirection and outright lies that most of the campaign TV commercials put out there. My default position is to vote “no” since most of them are put forth by extreme factions, often Republican, who can’t get things advanced legislatively in the state.

But every now and then there are some that come around that I think are worthy of attention. There are few this time around, including one I feel very passionate about. There are a lot of them this year so buckle in.


No on 51 (School Bonds)
No on 52 (Diverting Hospital Fee Revenue)
No on 53 (Voter Approval of Revenue Bonds)
No on 54 (Public Display of Bills)
No on 55 (Extension of Top Tax Rate)
No on 56 (Tobacco Tax)
No on 57 (Non-Violent Parole)
Yes on 58 (Allows Bi-Lingual Education)
Yes on 59 (Demand Action Against Citizens United)
No on 60 (Condoms in Adult Films)
No no 61 (Drug Price Standards)
Yes on 62 (Repeal the Death Penalty)
Yes on 63 (Gun and Ammunition Control)
Yes on 64 (Legalizes Marijuana)
No on 65 (Bag Fees for Wildlife Fund)
No on 66 (Changes to the Death Penalty Process)
Yes on 67 (Bans Plastic Bags)


Proposition 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute

The short version:
Issues $9 billion in bonds to pay for schools and community colleges

Who is for it:
Almost everyone – Democrats, Republicans, teachers, and on and on

What the people for it say:
For God’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children! They are our future, you know?

Who is against it:
Governor Jerry Brown and the Libertarians

What the people against it say:
Nine BILLION dollars? What the fuck? Plus, it doesn’t have enough protections in it to ensure that the money is directed to low-income neighborhoods where it is truly needed.

What I say:
What the fuck? Sorry, kids. I’m with Governor Jerry.

NO on Prop 51

Proposition 52: Voter Approval to Divert Hospital Fee Revenue Dedicated to Medi-Cal

The Short Version:
Hospitals pay fees to the state to help them qualify for federal Medicaid funds – fees that are supposed to go into a fund that is matched by the state. However, legislators sometimes “redirect” those fees to other uses. Prop 52 is a constitutional amendment and state statute that would require any “redirection” of these fees to be approved by voters or by 2/3 of the legislature, which would effectively end the practice.

Who is for it:
Democrats, Republicans, the Health care industry – kind of everyone

What the people for it say:
Politicians are shady and they shouldn’t be allowed to use money for one thing on something else.

Who is against it:
Libertarians, mostly.

What the people against it say:
This will effectively increase funding to hospitals, which means corporate health care companies and their greedy CEOs will profit from it.

What I say:
I had over $2 million in medical bills from my big fun with cancer a few years ago. I don’t feel sorry for hospitals AT ALL. But beyond that, I am very against constitutional amendments being done through the ballot process.

NO on Prop 52

Proposition 53: Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion

The Short Version:
Voters already get the right to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds, often done to pay for things like parks and schools, and repaid through tax revenue. But voters don’t have the right to approve revenue bonds, which often pay for things like roads and bridges, and are repaid through fees and other charges (like Highway tolls). This constitutional amendment would give voters the right to approve any revenue bond issuance valued above $2 billion.

Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians.

What people for it say:
Keep your damn dirty hands off my damn dirty money! Or… Politicians suck and they borrow money to pay for pork projects that we then have to pay for and we don’t have any say in the matter.

Who is against it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations

What people against it say:
Local and community projects would be negatively affected because it would require the approval of the entire state. Plus there is no exemption for natural disasters or other emergencies.

What I say:
Just like I don’t think 50% + 1 should make law, neither do I think they should be able to control state budgets. Plus it’s a constitutional amendment, so you know how I feel already.

NO on Prop 53

Proposition 54: Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote

The Short Version:
A constitutional amendment and state statute that would require that every bill under consideration in the state legislature be posted on the Internet for 72 hours prior to any vote. It also requires the legislature to record all their public proceedings and post them within 24 hours and allows anyone to record any public legislature session and post those recordings publicly.

Who is for it:
Republicans and Libertarians, plus lots of progressive groups like the NAACP, League of Women Voters, etc.

What the people for it say:
Politicians suck and this will help make them accountable.

Who is against it:
Democrats and their usual labor affiliates (nurses, teachers, etc.)

What the people against it say:
There is one billionaire behind this – a right wing nutjob who wants it so he can use the 72 hours to launch public outrage campaigns about pending votes by the Democratic-led legislature.

What I say:
This is one that sounds good on the surface – transparency is a good thing, right? But how many of you are going to check the website listing all the upcoming votes every day and then do something about the stuff that you don’t like? None of you. The ones that will do something are the extremists on both sides who will use it to try to slow down the process and advance their own agendas.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 54

Proposition 55: Extension of the Proposition 30 Income Tax Increase

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment that would extend current tax rates on individual incomes over $250K from 2018 to 2030

Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive organizations

What those for it say:
Rich people suck! Or at least they suck when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes. This doesn’t raise taxes, it just keeps the rate they are already paying.

Who is against it:
Republicans and Libertarians

What those against it say:
I’ve had it with all these motherfucking taxes on the motherfucking plane! Oh, and this is a bait and switch because voters approved this “temporary” tax increase with the 2018 expiration and now it’s going to stay forever.

What I say:
Full transparency – because of all the TV movie gigs I have been getting plus my full time job, this law will affect me. I have always said I don’t have any problem paying taxes and I support the idea of it in general. But this is a constitutional amendment, so that makes me inclined to oppose it from the get-go. Plus, I kind of agree with the LA Times, which says: “When a majority of people provide a substantial portion of the state’s revenue, there is a broader demand for accountability and a greater incentive to vote. But when only a few provide most of the revenue, the majority loses not only its incentive to demand results, but its leverage to do so.”

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 55

Proposition 56: Tobacco Tax Increase

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that raises taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products, and e-cigarettes by $2.00 per pack (or equivalent) to pay for anti-smoking campaigns and health care.

Who is for it:
Democrats and progressive groups

What those for it say:
Smoking is evil. Smokers are bad people. Smokers should die but until they do they should pay for everything.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and evil smokers

What those against it say:
Taxes are bad and the money this raises won’t be used the way it should be.

What I say:
Full transparency – I’m a smoker. I quit when I got cancer in 2012 (which had nothing to do with the smoking, for the record) and then picked it back up again last year and then quit again last year and then picked it back up again this year. I have accepted that much like an alcoholic is always an alocholic even when they aren’t drinking, I will always be a smoker even when I’m not smoking. I’m totally with Bebe Glaser from this classic episode of Frasier:

Having said that, smoking is terrible and in general I support all efforts to keep people from doing it. But in the end this is a constitutional amendment that “punishes” one group of people for their addiction. Do we impose a $2 tax on every bottle of alcohol sold? Or every sugary Big Gulp soda?

The Verdict:
No on Prop 56

Proposition 57: Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements

The Short Version:
Constitutional amendment and state statute that would increase parole chances for people convicted of non-violent crimes and give prosecutors more leeway in deciding whether to try juveniles as adults.

Who is for it:
Democrats, Libertarians

What those for it say:
Prisons are overcrowded, often with people convicted of non-violent felonies (often drug possession violations)

Who is against it:
Republicans and law and order types

What those against it say:
They’re going to release horrible people from jail who will come to your home and KILL YOU!!

What I say:
This is another one that seems like a good idea, but I have a problem with it. State law identifies 23 specific felonies as “violent” and everything else is not officially “violent.” That includes things like, unbelievably, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, gun possession violations, rape, arson, lewd acts against a child, hate crimes, and a lot more . This proposition does not further define what is a “violent” felony. While I generally hate siding with law and order types, I think that’s a problem.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 57

Proposition 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education

The Short Version:
State statute that repeals proposition 227, voted into law in 1998, that requires English-only education in public schools and allows bilingual education programs.

Who is for it:
Democrats and most progressive groups

What those for it say:
227 (the proposition, not the Jackee Harry sitcom) was a racist piece of shit and this repeals it.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, and most racists

What those against it say:
Build a wall.

What I say:
I hate the California ballot proposition process because it allows bullshit laws like English only education to get put into place by racist and/or misinformed voters. But a proposition that repeals a proposition? I can get behind that.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 58

Proposition 59: Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question

The Short Version:
This is neither a constitutional amendment nor a state statute. Instead, it’s an “advisory question” that would “encourage” the California legislature to find a way to overturn Citizens United, the US Supreme Court decision that effectively defined corporations as people and opened the floodgates for dark money into politics.

Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (1960s Doo Wop Group, I believe)

What those for it say:
Corporations aren’t people and we need to get money out of politics. And something about hemp I think.

Who is against it:

What those against it say:
This is a feel good thing that doesn’t actually do anything.

What I say:
The legislature isn’t actually REQUIRED to do anything and what they could do is probably limited, but since this doesn’t change the constitution or make any laws, then why not?

The Verdict:
YES on 59

Proposition 60: Condoms in Pornographic Films

The Short Version:
State statute requiring that all adult movies filmed in California require performers to wear condoms. If they don’t, the people who make, appear in, distribute, and display the films are subject to civil actions by anyone who feels as though they have been harmed by it.

Who is for it:
AIDS prevention groups, the Peace & Freedom party, prudes, people who say they are disgusted by porn but have bookmarked.

Who is against it:
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, sexual deviants, people who have bookmarked and don’t care who knows it

What those against it say:
It’s a poorly written law that will allow any whackjob (no pun intended) to file a lawsuit against porn companies because they feel as though they were somehow “harmed” by it.

What I say:
This is well-intentioned but stupid.

The Verdict:
NO on 60

Proposition 61: Drug Price Standards

The Short Version:
State statute that requires state agencies to pay the same prices for prescription drugs that the US Veterans Administration pays.

Who is for it:
Bernie and the Progressives (who later became Hillary and the Progressives, a 60s girl group)

What those for it say:
Big pharma is evil and this will make drug prices more affordable for those on state programs who need it the most.

Who is against it:
Republicans, Libertarians, Big Pharma (big surprise), and several race groups like the NAACP and the California League of United Latin American Citizens (which actually is a surprise)

What those against it say:
Only helps those icky poor people and it could actually make drug prices go up for those heroic Americans who surved our country proudly. Glory, glory hallelujah! And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…

What I say:
Don’t get me started against Big Pharma but here’s the thing that troubles me about this. Drug manufacturers give discounts to the VA on medications, not because they are required to by law, but because not doing so would be disastrous PR. But if they are faced with the option of lowering their price on meds they sell to the state, they could very well just RAISE the price of the drugs they sell to the VA. Why? Because if this law works the way it is intended to, it will cost them billions and other states will rush to pass similar laws. Big Pharma has turned this proposition into the most expensive in history, dumping nearly $90 million into getting it defeated. They won’t take it laying down if it passes.

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 61 (although a very tough call)

Proposition 62: Repeal of the Death Penalty

The Short Version:
It’s right there in the title – this state statute repeals the death penalty in California.

Who is for it:
Progressives, Bleeding Heart Liberals

What those for it say:
The death penalty is immoral – the state should not be involved in killing people

Who is against it:
Law and order types

What those against it say:
Kill the bastards!

What I say:
My opinion is as simple as the title – I am against the death penalty in all instances.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 62

Proposition 63: Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban Initiative

The Short Version:
A state statute that does a bunch of things related to the sale and ownership of guns and ammunition

  1. Requires background checks and a permit for the purchase of ammunition
  2. Requires a license for the sale of ammunition
  3. Bans exemptions for large-capacity magazines (those purchased before 2000) and set penalties for anyone who possesses them
  4. Puts into place a court process that attempts to ensure that people who aren’t supposed to have guns don’t have them. For instance, someone who has a domestic violence protection order against them is not supposed to own a gun, but currently there is no system in place to enforce that
  5. Moves up the date on which out of state purchases of ammunition are banned from 2019 to 2018
  6. Requires dealers and owners to report theft of ammunition within a few days
  7. Makes stealing a gun a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison

Who is for it:
Progressives, sane people

What people for it say:
We have to do something about gun violence.

Who is against it:
Gun nuts

What those who are against it say:
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We gots to go kill us some things!

What I say:
If it were up to me I’d round up all the guns, melt them down, and turn them into playground equipment. Since I can’t do that, I will do everything I can to add as many restrictions as I can to get in the way of people and their guns.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 63

Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization

The Short Version:
Legalizes recreational marijuana and hemp and puts state taxes on its sale and cultivation.

Who is for it:

What those for it say:

Who is against it:

What those against it say:
Just say no.

What I say:

The Verdict:
Yes on Prop 64

Proposition 65: Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Fund

The Short Version:
State statute that would redirect money from the sale of carry out and grocery bags to a fund for the Wildlife Conservation Board.

Who is for it:
Tree huggers

What they say:

Who is against it:
People who hate baby seals.

What they say:
Why yes, I’d love to wear that baby seal as a fashionable hat.

What I say:
This is actually more complex than it seems because of Proposition 67, which would ban the use of plastic bags entirely. That ban was passed by the state legislature and 67 ratifies it with voters. If it passes, then a 10 cent per bag fee for the sale of any other reusable bag will go into place and that money goes to the retailer to pay for the cost of the bags and for environmental education programs. If 67 passes AND 65 passes, then that 10 cents will go to the state fund. If 67 passes and 65 fails, the money goes to the retailers. If 67 fails, it is all moot. Confusing? Yes, and intentionally so because Prop 65 was crafted by the same people trying to STOP the plastic bag ban, specifically the manufacturers of plastic bags. Sketchy much?

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 65

Proposition 66: Death Penalty Procedures

The Short Version:
Puts a bunch of new stuff around how the death penalty is administered in the state including speeding up the appeals process and restitution for the victims’ families.

Who is for it:
Law and order types

What those for it say:
The death penalty is needed but can be improved. Oh… and KILL THE BASTARDS!!

Who is against it:
Bleeding heart liberals

What those against it say:
It sounds like they want to do something about the death penalty but its a ruse. Don’t believe it.

What I say:
If the state were to keep the death penalty, there are some good provisions in this that would make it a little less horrific. Not much, but a little. Here’s the important part about this proposition though… If Prop 62, which repeals the death penalty, passes AND this Prop 66 passes, the one with the most yes votes wins. So even if 62 passes, we could still have the death penalty if this one gets more votes. Sketchy much?

The Verdict:
NO on Prop 66

Proposition 67: Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum

The Short Version:
The state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. This measure ratifies that ban and institutes a 10 cent per bag fee on other bags that goes to the retailer.

Who is for it:
The same people who are against Prop 65.

What those for it say:
The same thing the people against Prop 65 say.

Who is against it:
The same people who are for Prop 65.

What those against it say:
I think you can see where this is going.

What I say:
This proposition does not create a new law. All this does is ratify a law enacted by the state legislature, the people who are supposed to be making laws in the first place. Since we already have a ban in LA it’s kinda moot to me. But while I miss plastic bags, this is a good thing in the long run.

The Verdict:
YES on Prop 67

Prince 1958-2016

It is not hyperbole to say that Prince literally changed the way I thought of music.

Growing up in Iowa in the late 70s and early 80s, most of the radio stations played country, classic rock, or farm reports and there was only one pop radio station that played, primarily, top 40. This meant that my musical education growing up was primarily disco and soft rock and my tastes ran toward the vanilla side of things – Barry Manilow, the Manhattan Transfer, Olivia Newton-John, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, and the like. Madonna, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson shook things up in the early 80s but it was still all pop all the time.

I will never forget the day that all changed. It was in the spring of 1984 – I want to say April or early May – and I was in the garage waxing the new (used) car I had gotten as a high school graduation present. This was a momentus time for me anyway, just a few weeks away from liberation from the torment of high school, thinking about how I wanted to move to California and pursue my dreams of stardom. I had lost a lot of weight and I had a really cool car – a 1981 Mustang with T-Tops. Things were looking up.

Then a song came on the radio that was sitting on my dad’s workbench. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I swear I could almost hear my mind expanding.

It was “When Doves Cry” by Prince.

More than 30 years later it’s still a great song but when it first came out it was revolutionary, especially for pop radio. Moody and atmospheric; an almost tribal drum beat; no bass line which was virtually unheard of; layered intricate harmonies; fierce guitar work. I stopped mid-wax and just listened. At some point I stood up. And when it was over, music would never be the same for me.

I became obsessed with Prince. I had heard “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” of course (because they were Top 40 hits) but I never owned a single song by him but that changed quickly. I started with the “When Doves Cry” single then the extended dance mix that had the b-side of “17 Days.” I bought all of his prior albums – “1999,” “Prince,” “For You,” “Dirty Mind,” and “Controversy” – shocked and scandalized by the overt sexuality of those early recordings because nothing like that had ever made it on to Iowa radio. Remember, this is a place that thought Oliva Newton-John’s “Physical” was too graphic.

And then “Purple Rain,” both the movie and the soundtrack, which were earth-shattering both to me and to most of the rest of the world.

From that point forward the fandom grew. Albums release days were like Christmas to me and more than once I was outside of record stores before they opened just waiting to get my hands on the new Prince music. I collected 12″ vinyl dance singles, which not only turned four or five minute songs into 10 minute epics but it was often the only way you could get the unreleased b-sides that he loved to include – “Hello,” “Feel U up,” “Shockadelica,” “Irresistible Bitch,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” and the ultimate “Erotic City.” I got underground recordings of concerts, promotional singles, picture discs, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I decorated my corner of my dorm room at Iowa State and later my first apartment in Los Angeles with posters and record covers of Prince and his acolytes.


I still have most of it… the below is all that would fit on my dining room table but there’s more…


Oh yes, the extended Prince family was just as important. I dove head first into the obvious like The Time and Sheila E. but also Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, the Family, Madhouse, Mazerati, Carmen Electra, and more. People who had performed with Prince were added to the list – Sheena Easton, Wendy & Lisa, Rosie Gaines, and beyond.

I got buttons for my jean jacket and I even did the white boy approximation of dressing like him when I went out to clubs – a long coat, a frilly shirt, and a military style cap with lace netting hanging from it.

I saw him in concert at least a dozen times, from arena tours to intimate venues like his Glam Slam club in Downtown Los Angeles and at the Crown Theater in Las Vegas. On stage, nobody worked harder or captivated audiences more fully than Prince.

I even went so far as to study Prince’s music for the hidden messages and obscure references he liked to put in them. I broke a record player just so I could hear what the backwards message at the end of “Darling Nikki” on the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. I still remember it after all of these years – “Hello, how are you? I am fine because I know the lord is coming soon. I know the lord is coming soon.”

I figured out weird tie between his deep cut “All the Critics Love U in New York” from the “1999” album released in 1982. One of the lyrics is “It’s time for a new direction\It’s time for jazz to die\Fourth day of November\We need a purple high.” Two years later Prince launched his global “Purple Rain” tour in Detroit on November 11, 1984. Turn that date into numbers – 11-4-1984 – and add the numbers together. 1999. Mind blown? Mine was.

I was thrilled to figure out how to pronounce the unpronounceable symbol – Victor. Long story but ask me about it if you are curious.

When I started writing I naturally turned to the greatest artistic influence of my life for inspiration. My first play was called “17 Days” (the b-side on “When Doves Cry”) and every play I wrote after that used Prince songs for their titles – “Mountains” (which won a bunch of awards), “I Would Die For You,” “Escape,” “Thieves in the Temple,” and more. I wrote a couple of never published novels called “Condition of the Heart” and “Strange Relationship,” two lesser known songs from “Around the World in a Day” and “Sign o’ the Times” respectively.

My fandom started to wane in the early 90s when he got into his battles with his record label and started releasing stuff from his vault that he knew wasn’t his best work just to fulfill his contracts. By the time he came back with material he wanted to do his sound had changed, or perhaps it was just my tastes and/or the world’s taste. His last top 40 hit was a reissue of “1999” in, appropriately enough, 1999.

But my love for his prolific 1978-1993 period never waned and to this day I still regularly put on my Prince and Family playlist on iTunes. I’m listening to it now as I type this. “Alphabet Street.” I know all of the words to backup singer/dancer Cat’s rap: “Talk to me lover come and tell me what you taste…”

The news that Prince died today devastated me on a level that I have never experienced before with the death of a celebrity. I know a lot of people were laid low by the death of David Bowie or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or (insert other musical great here) and I certainly had a moment of “awww” with all of them. With Prince it was instant tears.

Thank you, Prince, for helping me understand the possibility of music. For me, again today, it will never be the same.

The lyrics to “Sometimes it Snows in April” from the “Parade” album, which seem especially appropriate on this sunny April 2016 day:

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last


21 Words

This will be my last post before the surgery.  I feel as though I should be witty, or wise, or at least pithy but at this point I think the best I can hope for is coherent.  I guess what I am really attempting to gain is a little bit of that much longed for perspective that everyone always wants, thinks they have, and then forgets about as soon as life gets hard, scary, dangerous, or annoying.

My day, tomorrow, is fairly well planned at least in my head.  I’m going to get up at around 5am.  Note that I didn’t say “wake up at 5am” but rather “get up,” because I don’t want to presume that I will actually be sleeping tonight.  Stranger things have happened – Sarah Palin for example – but I think it’s best to stick with “get up” and that will cover any eventuality.

After checking my e-mail and staring at the empty refrigerator for awhile, I’ll go take a shower and greedily use as much of the hot water as I can because it will be my last opportunity to bathe for the next several days.  I apologize in advance to anyone who comes to visit me before I am able to have some alone time with warm water and soap again.

Somewhere around 6am, I’ll call a cab and then wait outside until it arrives.  I always take a cab to the hospital for any kind of procedure, surgery, or test if it involves me not being able to drive myself back home.  It’s not that there aren’t lots of people who would be willing to take me to the hospital if I asked, it’s just that I prefer to go by cab.  Part of it is that it allows me some alone time to gather my thoughts and mentally prepare for whatever I’m about to face.  The other part of it is I figure that if I can survive being driven to the hospital by a Los Angeles cab driver, I can survive anything.

When I get there I will also continue with my other little hospital tradition, which is walking up to the receptionist in the admitting room and stating, with a cheerful voice, the reason I’m there.  In this case it will be thusly: “It’s a beautiful day for an esophagectomy!”

The surgery itself is scheduled to start at 8:30am and should take three to four hours.

Now… and this is important… the one thing I don’t plan to do tomorrow is die.  It’s not on the agenda as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s the deal: I hate things left unfinished.  I don’t always need to have a nice tidy bow wrapping it all up because I understand that life rarely affords us the opportunity to do so, but I do need to have some measure of closure.  I loathe ambiguity; nothing frustrates me more.  It’s like a TV show that gets cancelled after the season ended with a cliffhanger.  Did Angela really end up with Jordan Catalono?  Did Harrison choose Brooke or Sam?  Did Jessica get killed by the firing squad?

So with that in mind, I offer some thoughts and ruminations that will act, I suppose, as my version of closure should my plans go awry tomorrow.

I’ve had a good life.  I don’t know if it was a great life but it was good and that’s better than a lot of people get.

I had friends.  Several were amazing and life-altering.  Most people don’t even have one of those in their life so in that regard I was truly blessed.

I knew love.  Not in the traditional, romantic sense, but it was still a true, undeniable, soul-mate type of love.

I had fun.  Maybe not as often as I should have and perhaps with less gusto as I could have but it was fun nevertheless.

I did some cool things.  I had not one, but two plays produced in real, honest-to-God theaters and they won a bunch of awards.  I rode a camel in Egypt.  I drank ouzo in Greece.  I wrote books that were published and people bought them and read them.  I won $30,000 on a slot machine.  I drove a race car.  I visited the Britney Spears Museum and saw the biggest ball of twine.  I shook hands with the man that would be the President of the United States.

I tried to be a good person.  I didn’t always accomplish that.  I had my moments – some extended – of selfishness and vanity and pride and hedonism and sloth and greed and all of the other things that make us human but I’d like to think that, for the most part, I merely waded in the pools of my various sins rather than wallowing and reveling in them.

I certainly was not always nice to everyone all of the time but I don’t think I was ever cruel.  Well, not intentionally cruel.

Regrets?  I’ve had a few.

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life.  I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one.  For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

I think that chance-aversion also applies to my emotional life.  I’ve always been reserved, private, and cautious when it came to other people and I think I missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.  I pushed people away or didn’t pull people close enough and so my life has been more solitary than it needed to be.  It certainly is the reason I’ve never had a real romantic relationship.  Well, that and the fact that I never met Anderson Cooper.  He would’ve loved me if only our paths had crossed.

I regret that I didn’t do something about my chronic heartburn earlier.  That’s a big one right now.

But I think my biggest regret is that I never really figured out a way to feel comfortable in my own skin.  It’s like I never fit into the life I tried on for size.  It was probably the fat kid thing that I never got over, but whatever its root was, it limited me.  No one can be completely unlimited without winding up jailed, committed, or dead but if you live a limited life you might as well be all of the above.

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid.  Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small.  Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited.  Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past.  Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend.  Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

And also this: be passionate.  If I were the divine overseer of this universe, I would make it a requirement, sort of like picking a major in college.  Everyone would have to have one major and one minor passion, whether it be an artistic endeavor, a sport, or model railroading to name a few.  As long as it’s something that gets you excited, makes time fly, and gives you something to dream about, it counts.

And finally, I guess, just this… thank you.  As a writer, I like to think that every person is a story.  Stories are meant to be shared, so thank you for sharing yours with me and letting me share mine with you.

Do I have any last words?  Well, I suppose I’ll go with the ones that I took the time (and the pain) to have tattooed on my body – 21 of them incorporated into a tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back.  They are my words to live by.  I did, to some of them.  Others, I fell short on.  I hope you find your words, embrace them, recite them to yourself every morning when you wake up, and not just live by them, but live up to them.

Courage.  Integrity.  Joy. Life.  Devotion.  Indulgence.  Desire.  Commitment.  Chance.  Creativity.  Family.  Passion.  Peace.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Beauty.  Art.  Perseverance.  Inspiration.  Aspiration.

Wait… there’s one more. What is it?  Oh right… Perspective.