Immediately preceding the commercial boom of dance music in the 2000s and the 2010s, the 1990s were a formative time for the genre. While house and techno began percolating into the mainstream, dance music’s burgeoning popularity also saw new styles such as trance, drum and bass and others find their footing. Today, we’re highlighting some of the decade’s most memorable songs that helped carry dance music forward and shape what it’s become today.
“SANDSTORM” – DARUDE
It’s the song that needs no introduction, or even lyrics to send a crowd into a frenzy. Darude was completely caught off guard by the success of “Sandstorm” – a record that continues to enjoy cultural relevance two decades after its release.
“ONE MORE TIME” – DAFT PUNK
Daft Punk‘s “One More Time” is not only regarded as a game-changer of the ’90s, but one of the greatest dance records of all time. With cyclical, uplifting synths, autotuned vocals from Romanthony, and an intergalactic music video, the single is unforgettable.
“WHAT IS LOVE?” – HADDAWAY
Haddaway‘s gut-wrenching hit “What Is Love?” actually came to prominence in the U.S. by rather comical means. Saturday Night Live sparked interest in the song after it began appearing in a recurring sketch about three men going out for a night of clubbing.
“HEY BOY HEY GIRL” – THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
It’s hard not to have The Chemical Brothers‘ “Hey Boy Hey Girl” stuck in your head after you listen to it. After the first several loops the vocals build up to an instrumental drop that seals the deal. Sometimes saying “here we go!” is the best way to jump in.
“FIRESTARTER” – THE PRODIGY
Keith Flint‘s “Firestarter” lyrics were the first he’d written for The Prodigy. In singing “I’m The firestarter, twisted firestarter,” Flint explained his goal for the song was to hype up audiences worldwide and set the tone for a performance.
“AROUND THE WORLD” – DAFT PUNK
Who would have guessed a song with lyrics consisting of three words repeated 144 times would land on this list. Like much of their music, Daft Punk‘s “Around The World” sits at the crossroads of “simple” and “ingenious.”
“WINDOWLICKER” – APHEX TWIN
Despite the leftfield, twisted nature of Aphex Twin‘s “Windowlicker,” the song was the subject of fascination with mainstream curators. In addition to landing on the U.K. charts, “Windowlicker” was named NME‘s 1999 song of the year and additionally received a Brit Award the following year.
“FINALLY” – CECE PENISTON
After first getting discovered while doing background vocals, it only took one song for CeCe Peniston to capture the spotlight all on her own. That song was her debut, “Finally,” which saw such meteoric success that it sent Peniston’s career into overdrive and she hit the studio in a hurry to follow it up with a full-length album. With numerous remixes of the song out today, DJs still seem to appreciate the raw euphoria captured in Peniston’s “Finally.”
“THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT” – CORONA
Italian eurodance group Corona released their worldwide hit single “The Rhythm of the Night,” the title track for their 1995 album. The vocals were performed by Jenny B (real name Giovanna Bersola). As with “Finally,” this song has stood the test of time largely in part due to the numerous covers and remixes – from Fedde Le Grande to Hotel Garuda– that continue to keep it in the spotlight today.
“FOR AN ANGEL” – PAUL VAN DYK
German producer Paul van Dyk helped set the standard for trance in the 1990s with his single “For An Angel.” After he remixed the song in 1998 and then in 2009, van Dyk’s “For An Angel” has been greatly impactful to his long and illustrious career.
“THE WHISTLE SONG” – FRANKIE KNUCKLES
Frequently referred to as “The Godfather of House Music” Frankie Knuckles made numerous key contributions to the early discography of house music. By the ’90s Knuckles was in his prime and there’s no better evidence than “The Whistle Song,” which was his first of five #1 songs on Billboard‘s Dance Club Songs chart.
“GO” – MOBY
Moby‘s self-titled album was sparked by a strong lead single, “Go,” in 1991. Many listening will recognize “Go” sampled “Laura Palmer’s Theme” off the TV show Twin Peaks. Moby went on to appear on the show in 2017.
“BLUE (DA BA DEE)” – EIFFEL 65
Who could forget the infamous tale of a blue man who lives in a blue world with nobody to listen? Released at the turn of the milennium, Eiffel 65‘s 1999 album Europop boasted the group’s two biggest hits: “Blue” and “Move Your Body.”
“RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW” – FATBOY SLIM
Fatboy Slim‘s “Right Here, Right Now” represents another iconic contribution to dance music with source material rooted in the TV and film industry. He sampled Angela Bassett‘s performance from the film Strange Days, and the lyrics have since become suspended in our cultural consciousness.
“MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER WITH YOU” – STARDUST
It has been posited that Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” was a watershed moment for house music. The song certainly had the right team to back that claim up. Produced by Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk and Alan Braxe with vocals by Benjamin Diamond, the collaborative effort has one of the most instantly recognizable riffs in house music.
What ’90s dance music tracks do you still listen to? Let us know on social media.