There’s something about a groovy dance song that’s timeless. While a ’70s love ballad may seem overly sentimental and sappy with time, or a late ’60s psychedelic jam becoming too far out, but a tune that made you run to the dance floor, probably still will. I mean people will be groovin’ to songs like “Night Fever” forever.
Even put something as silly as “The Macarena” on, and ya just feel the need to do the moves. Today we’re looking at some of the best dance songs from the danciest decade of all, the 1960s! Now, come on, let’s boogie.
“The Twist” – Chubby Checker
From the moment Chubby Checker wails, “Come on baby,” the fight to stay still has already been lost. Your feet immediately begin tapping, your hips sway, off you go, ready to twist the night away. When Checker released his cover of “The Twist” in 1960, few could have guessed that he’d light a fire that fed the dominant dance craze of the decade, but boy did he. It’s been described as alternately putting a cigarette out with each foot while at the same time drying your butt off with a towel, or, as Time once put it, “the arms thrust with the piston-like motions of baffled bird keepers fighting off a flock of attack blue jays.” Sign me up! However you chose to dance along to Checker’s hit, the single was certainly irresistible, even hitting number one two separate times, a feat that wouldn’t be equaled on the Billboard charts for another 59 years!
“Do You Love Me” – The Contours
A song that will never be forgotten, because I’m pretty sure it’s written into the constitution that it MUST be played at every wedding till the end of time. I’m talking of course about The Contours 1962 raucous good time, “Do You Love Me.” Legendary Motown Records owner Berry Gordy actually wrote the song for The Temptations, but when he couldn’t find the group in the studio he instead gave the song to The Contours, and the single quickly became the band’s biggest ever hit. Telling the story of a young man hoping to win back his lover’s heart because, you know, now he can dance, the song references all the biggest dance crazes of the day – the twist, the mashed potato, etc. The song also hit the charts in the late 80s after being included in the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and from Baby and Johnny… to your Great Aunt Bertha, ya can’t help but swing your arms at this one.
“The Loco-Motion” – Little Eva
Generally, a dance craze exists first, then someone writes a song to capitalize on the fad’s popularity – think “The Twist” or “The Hustle.” But with 1962’s “The Loco-Motion,” writers Gerry Goffin and Carole King put the horse before the cart, because no such dance as the locomotion existed before the song became a hit. Which makes the song’s first line of, “everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now,” both a lie and boldly psychic. Originally written for Dee Dee Sharp, more on her in a moment, the song was eventually given to Goffin and King’s nanny, Eva Boyd. When the song blew up and shot to number one, Boyd was forced to invent moves to perform while singing the single, and unlike other fad dances of the time, Boyd did a line dance to her hit song – a preview of the disco era coming in 15 years- soon people were locomoting all over the place!
“Let’s Twist Again” – Chubby Checker
As a rule, sequels that are hastily written and released to pounce on the popularity of a hit movie or song are pretty terrible. The Star Wars Christmas Special comes to mind here. But Chubby Checker’s 1961 single “Let’s Twist Again,” see what they did there, somehow bucks that trend and is honestly pretty great. Normally a fad dance craze slowly fades away, and six months or a year later teens have moved on to the next big thing. But after “The Twist” had become a national phenomenon in 1960, the dance didn’t go anywhere, with numerous artists releasing their own take on the craze. Naturally, Checker’s writers saw an opportunity, and “Let’s Twist Again,” a nostalgic look at the summer before, was born. And the song, while not achieving the perfection of its older brother, was still a swinging good time almost impossible not to dance to.
“Mashed Potato Time” – Dee Dee Sharp
Probably the second most famous dance move of the ’60s after the twist, the mashed potato was invented by James Brown in 1959. But the best-known dance song featuring the dance was definitely Dee Dee Sharp’s warm, buttery, fluffy 1962 hit “It’s Mashed Potato Time.” Let’s ignore for a moment that the song’s arrangement was a not so subtle rip-off of The Ronettes “Please Mister Postman,” because Sharp’s single is simply the best song to “mashed potato” to. And how do you mashed potato you say? Well, by repeatedly swiveling your heels while on the balls of your feet, or basically the first steps of the 1920’s Charleston. And seeing as how that was the best description ever, I now fully expect you to be able to mashed potato with me to Sharps irrepressible hit.
“Twist and Shout” – The Beatles
It seems unfair that the band wrote some of the decades best love songs, “Something,” and psychedelic songs, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” would also release one of the ’60s best dance songs, but that’s the world we live in and The Beatles are the greatest band of all time. When the fab four were recording their first full-length release Please Please Me in 1963 they decided to finish off the album with a cover of The Isley Brothers’ 1962 hit “Twist and Shout.” The band recorded the record in a marathon session over the course of a single day, and by the time they laid down “Twist and Shout” in the wee hours of the morning they were exhausted. And it shows, as John Lennon’s shredded vocals on the single are that of a man putting everything he’s got left into a screaming good time. And the frayed nature of the singing gave the single an organic, unproduced feel that’s still awesome to shake your hips to today.
“Do the Funky Chicken” – Rufus Thomas
Definitely the most unique song on our list, Rufus Thomas’ 1969 hit “Do the Funky Chicken” was a tongue-in-cheek take on the dance fads of the day. Although the chicken as a dance had been around since the 1950s, no one took it to the most bizarre extremes that it could get to until Thomas sang his masterpiece. And if he’s to be believed, the whole song and dance were ad-libbed live. Quoth Thomas: “the words just started to come. I don’t know how, they just came out of the blue. I just separated it. ‘You raise your left arm up, and your right arm, too.’” And voila, the weirdest song and dance fad of the ’60s. But Thomas was most certainly in on the joke, as he starts the record off with the mad sound of a cackling hen. And to his credit, he commits to the bit whole-heartedly and produces one of the most, um, idiosyncratic dance hits of the 60s.
“Dancing in the Street” – Martha and the Vandellas
A song doesn’t necessarily have to have a specific accompanying dance to be fantastic to shake your butt to. Case in point: Martha and the Vandellas swinging 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street.” An exhortation to dance no matter where you are in the country, be it Chicago or New Orleans, the single certainly serves its purpose, because while you listen it’s hard not to rush out into traffic and break it down. The song, originally written by Marvin Gaye, was also adopted as an anthem during the civil rights protests of the late ’60s, with marchers quite literally dancing in the streets. Despite being covered by such varied artists as Van Halen and The Grateful Dead but the 1964 original belted out by Martha Reeves remains the best version to dance to today. And no one mention the 1985 cover by Mick Jagger and David Bowie and certainly don’t look up that video after this.
Wait, no “Shout” you say? How could you leave out the best dance song of all time? Because unfortunately for this list, The Isley Brothers’ hit was released in 1959. Dang, so close. Which did you used to dance to? What other songs should be on the list? I know there are others, I could add a few more by Martha and the Vandellas – remember “Heat Wave”? Get in the comments and let’s grow this playlist.