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.