Shortest Route to the Dance Floor: 5 Essential Top 20 Lists by Jay Maxwell

June 30, 2010 by Jay Maxwell

By Jay Maxwell

I have always enjoyed following music charts and listening to weekly top 40 countdowns. When I was a radio station DJ in the 1970s and 80s, I would scan all the charts during my air shift to see what songs were moving up the lists and which ones had already peaked. Some songs had incredible staying power and would remain on the charts for weeks on end while others would barely crack the top 40 and then fall into oblivion.

Each year, mobile DJs around the country look forward to the annual Mobile Beat Top 200 to compare that list to their own experiences. Many long-time favorites are always expected to be in the Top 200. And often a new song like “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas comes on the scene that you bet will not just be a seasonal favorite, but will remain on the chart for years to come. You may also look at the chart and wonder how one of your most-played songs did not make the top of the charts. Or maybe there are songs on the chart that you had not thought to try out yet.

LICENSE TO THRILL

Personally, the one thing I enjoy more that reading charts is creating them. Often I am a bit lost for an idea for a chart theme. However, for this issue I decided to create five top 20 charts that are useful for those times when the client leaves the playlist entirely up to the DJ. I appreciate and welcome input from our clients and give them both a paper version and an electronic version of a play list booklet with about 2000 songs to begin their song selection process. Lately though, it has been surprising how many clients do not give much input into what music they want to hear and leave it entirely up to us. For those times, it is useful to rely on what “always” works until you can size up the crowd to see what particular music they want to dance to. After playing the obvious choices of “The Cha Cha Slide,” “The Cupid Shuffle” and “The Electric Slide,” the direction a DJ takes the party in is a question that each of us must be ready to answer at every party. That is essentially the reason for this issue’s chartsto give some reminders of the basics to start a party and to keep the party energized throughout the evening.

CHARTING PARTY SUCCESS

The Boogie’s Best chart contains some of the all time great songs with a strong danceable beat. From the disco period of the 1970s to Lady Gaga and Flo Rida singing today’s thumping tunes, this chart is a must-play list for solid action on the dance floor. Any of these songs would be like adding kindling to a fireplace, sure to start a fire on the dance floor and make the party hot. Just like adding kindling to start a fire, you don’t add more kindling to keep the fire going. Instead you add solid wood. So, after playing Brick House and Super Freak, add either some more 70s disco or early 80s music to the heap to continue the flame. When the spark and sizzle begin to wane, then add another piece of Boogie to again intensify the action.

Although not quite as funky, the Good Time Grooves contains selections that every seasoned pro knows are essentials to a good party. It’s interesting that all the songs are over 20 years old, but they are just as much a part of the party scene today as the day they were first recorded. There has never been a time when I played “Shout” that people did not get on the dance floor. If it’s the type of party where the guests seem glued to their seats, I’ll play “Love Shack” or “Play That Funky Music” and the glue miraculously melts away and like magic, people suddenly appear on the dance floor. Some of these songs have stood the test of time for nearly 50 years and all these jams will most likely still be rocking the good times 50 years from now.

No matter how hopping the party happens to be, there will be times when you want to flavor the event with a few slow songs. Keep in mind that there will be some guests who will only dance to slow tunes. So have the Top 20 Slow Songs handy. There are few guarantees in the world of the mobile DJ, but this list is a near perfect way to ensure that the floor will be packed with couples arm in arm when any of these romantic cuts are spun on your players. It is recommended to play two slow songs in a row before going back to a party beat that will again energize the floor.

Party Pleasers is a unique genre you can use to “wow” your crowd. Most of these songs were not written specifically for dancing, but nonetheless have become staples for creating a party atmosphere. The majority of these songs fall into categories like sing-a-long, air guitar fest, or “let’s just jump around and get crazy” songs. It’s rare that a party is started with these tunes, but instead they are saved to spice up the event once the party is in full swing. Play “Jessie’s Girl” and “Your Love” back to back or try another great combo of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” and then take the credit for totally taking the party over the top.

The final list, Don’t Ask, Don’t Play, is included to get an “amen” from everyone reading this article. These are songs that you hope people “don’t ask” for so you “don’t have to play” them. Some of these songs, like the Chicken Dance, Girls Just Want to Have Fun or the Hokey Pokey you would gladly play only if they are requested. But others on the list you hope no one ever asks to be played. My all time worst song has to be “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” True, no one has ever asked for that song at an event; but, it’s one of my worst fears that, when everybody is dancing, the father of the bride comes up and asks for this six-and-a-half-minute song about the sinking of an ore vessel where all 29 men drown. Recently at a wedding someone asked me to play Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” It’s an event to celebrate a couple’s happiest day of their life, and someone wants to hear a song about a man stuck in prison because he shot a man just to watch him die. Strange, but true.

It is essential to know what music to play as well as what music not to play. What you want at every event is to get people on the dance floor by playing the absolute best party music ever recorded. Whether the music was originally a hit 50 years ago or recently hot on today’s Top 40 radio stations, you should always be ready to spin the tunes that will please the crowd when they yell that famous line, “Play something we can dance to!”

[ 2 of the 5 lists from this article are included below. Subscribe to access the rest in MB’s online edition, or purchase a back issue of MB #129, July 2010. ]

BOOGIE’S BEST

SONG

ARTIST

YEAR

1

BILLIE JEAN

MICHAEL JACKSON

1983

2

I GOTTA FEELING

BLACK EYED PEAS

2009

3

BRICK HOUSE

COMMODORES

1977

4

WE ARE FAMILY

SISTER SLEDGE

1979

5

LOW (APPLE BOTTOM JEANS)

FLO RIDA

2007

6

SINGLE LADIES (PUT A RING ON IT)

BEYONCE

2008

7

SEXYBACK

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

2006

8

HEY YA!

OUTKAST

2003

9

BOOM BOOM POW

BLACK EYED PEAS

2009

10

SUPER FREAK

RICK JAMES

1981

11

BABY GOT BACK

SIR MIX-A-LOT

1992

12

YEAH!

USHER

2004

13

LETS GET IT STARTED

BLACK EYED PEAS

2004

14

KISS

PRINCE

1986

15

PUSH IT

SALT-N-PEPA

1988

16

CALIFORNIA LOVE

TWO-2PAC

1996

17

BUST A MOVE

YOUNG M.C.

1989

18

JUST DANCE

LADY GAGA

2008

19

GET LOW

LIL JON-YING YANG TWINS

2003

20

IT TAKES TWO

ROB BASE

1988

GOOD TIME GROOVES

SONG

ARTIST

YEAR

1

BROWN EYED GIRL

VAN MORRISON

1967

2

SHOUT

OTIS DAY

1978

3

LOVE SHACK

B-52’s

1989

4

CELEBRATION

KOOL & GANG

1981

5

OLD TIME ROCK & ROLL

BOB SEGER 1979

6

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

LYNYRD SKYNYRD

1974

7

YOU SHOOK ME ALL NIGHT

AC/DC

1980

8

PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC

WILD CHERRY

1976

9

TWIST

CHUBBY CHECKER

1960

10

THRILLER

MICHAEL JACKSON

1984

11

BUILD ME UP BUTTERCUP

FOUNDATIONS

1969

12

STAYING ALIVE

BEE GEES

1977

13

DON’T STOP TILL YOU GET ENOUGH

MICHAEL JACKSON

1979

14

BOOGIE SHOES

KC & SUNSHINE BAND

1978

15

DECEMBER ‘63 (Oh What a Night)

FOUR SEASONS

1976

16

RESPECT

ARETHA FRANKLIN

1967

17

TWIST AND SHOUT

BEATLES

1964

18

GET DOWN TONIGHT

KC & SUNSHINE BAND

1975

19

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

STEVIE WONDER

1970

20

ABC

JACKSON 5

1970
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Jay Maxwell Jay Maxwell (29 Posts)

Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11), Jay Maxwell runs the multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.


Filed Under: Exclusive Online News and Content, Issues from 2010, Music