The decade of the 70s gave the world the musical genre we call Disco. And while it’s hard to think of a wedding without any classic dance songs from the 70s, many people want to run and hide when they hear some of the more “played out” tracks from that decade. But fear not! I’ve compiled a list of great songs from the era of platform shoes and polyester shirts that aren’t as overplayed “We Are Family” or “Celebration.”
“Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn: There are many songs with an opening hook that just grab the listener and force them to their feet and onto the dance floor. This late 70s disco hit is a prime example. From those opening four notes (which are so great they have to be repeated) the song takes a breath before launching into an infectious and funky groove. But the thing that separates “To Be Real” from so many other dance songs of the era is Cheryl Lynn’s impassioned singing. And with lyrics like “You know that your love is my love. My love is your love. Our love is here to stay” the message is great for weddings!
“Instant Replay” by Dan Hartman: Dan Hartman started his musical career in the rock world (he wrote and sang the Edgar Winter hit “Free Ride”) but when disco became all the rage he took a stab at the new dance craze. And in doing so he gave the world this incredible, high-energy dance song. From the countdown that starts the song to the piano keys that kick off the chorus, this song is just one big party!
“Feels Like I’m In Love” Kelly Marie: Songwriters have forever tried to describe the emotion of falling in love but I don’t think anyone’s ever done it as effectively in a dance song as Kelly Marie. From her opening line “My head is in a spin, my feet don’t touch the ground“ to her belting out the chorus, “Feels Like I’m In Love” celebrates the feeling of new love. And it all makes for one infectious dance song.
“Keep It Coming” by KC and the Sunshine Band: When most people think of great dance songs by Miami-based KC and the Sunshine Band they think of “Get Down Tonight” or “That’s the Way (I Like It)” (which tends to make those songs a little played out). That’s why I’ve gone with their 1977 #2 hit “Keep It Coming.” The song is built on a repetitive piano medley that is extremely catchy and it opens up with the chorus (which reminds me of something I heard Jon Bon Jovi say once about song writing: “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”). Harry Wayne Casey (the KC in KC and the Sunshine Band) has the perfect, high-falsetto voice for singing disco songs and it’s on full display here.
“Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel” by Tavares: Tavares is one of the lesser known disco bands which I’ve never understood. They may not have had as many hits as The Bee Gees or the aforementioned KC and the Sunshine Band but they certainly had their share. But to me their greatest dance song is “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.” And it’s no surprise either, seeing how “Heaven” was co-written and produced by none other than disco legend Freddie Perren (the man with “Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and “Shake Your Groove Thing” by Peaches & Herb on his resume).
“Got To Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye: This disco classic was in the news recently when the Gaye family sued Robin Thicke over his hit song “Blurred Lines” (and won tons of money!) so most people are aware of it again. It’s an incredibly fun track with lyrics that are hard to make out, except for the constant refrain of “keep on dancing.” It doesn’t pack as much energy as some dance songs but it proves that an infectious groove is just as important to getting you moving as in-your-face energy.
“Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang: Kool and the Gang came late to the disco party (they spent most of the 70s grinding out funk classics like “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”) but once they realized that picking up the tempo a bit would win them cross-over appeal they produced some classic disco tracks. Everyone knows them for “Celebration” (or should I say blames them for “Celebration”) but “Ladies Night” is just as fun and danceable without being one of the most played out songs ever.
“I’m Every Woman” Chaka Kahn: Any DJ will tell you that goal #1 at most parties is getting the women to the dance floor. And a great way to accomplish that is to play a “Female Anthem” dance song. It’s one of the reasons Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” is such a staple. Chaka Kahn’s 1978 Top 40 hit is the same. It’s a song of female empowerment (“Anything you want done, baby, I’ll do it naturally”) and if Kahn sounds perfectly in her element singing it, it’s because this was her first stab at making it in the music industry without Rufus, her longtime collaborator. 15 years after the original, Whitney Houston’s version was an even bigger hit but for the purposes of this article, I’ll suggest the original, in all its disco glory.
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” The Jacksons: When the Jackson 5 left the Motown record label they discovered they couldn’t even use their original name anymore. So their releases for Epic are all under the name The Jackson. This song, released in 1978 at the very height of disco’s popularity, was their most successful single for Epic and it stands up today as a disco classic which, like all good disco songs, is about nothing more than dancing!
“You Are The First, My Last, My Everything” Barry White: In the history of music there are some voices that just stand out among all the others. Barry White certainly had one of those. I could have included any number of his disco hits but in my humble opinion “You Are The First, My Last, My Everything” is his greatest contribution to the world of dance music. This was an early disco song (peaking at #2 in 1975) and White is rightfully considered one of the pioneers of the genre. And as I’ve said with a few of the other songs on this list, for a wedding, the lyrics are just perfect!
“Love Train” by The O’Jays: One of the criticisms about disco music is that so much of it had no deeper message or meaning than just shaking your bootie. That is certainly something that cannot be said of The O’Jay’s #1 hit, “Love Train.” Sure it’s got a great beat and an infectious rhythm and on the surface it just seems to be encouraging a conga line but a closer listen to the lyrics reveals a larger, communal message. The song wants us all to come together and put aside our differences. It’s a timeless message of peace and unity that is as relevant today as it was in 1972 when it was released.
“Best of My Love” by The Emotions: I’ve avoided as many “cliche” disco songs on this list as possible which is why, besides the two songs in the title, I didn’t list The Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”, Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” or “September” by Earth Wind and Fire. But if The Emotions biggest hit, “Best of My Love” sounds like it could fit in with any of those uber-successful songs it’s because it did sit at #1 for five weeks in 1977 and it was written and produced by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire. This is a great dance song that, appropriately for weddings, celebrates the joy of loving someone unconditionally and giving them the best of your love.