Retro Dance Party Songs from the 70s
by Christina Gregoire
Want to have a retro party and relive the good old days when music was fun? Are you trying to find music for a wedding reception that will get Baby Boomers on the dance floor? Well here are some of my favorite upbeat, rock-out songs from the 1970s.
Every era has dance songs, but the early years of the 1970s were filled with acoustic guitars (James Taylor), love ballads (Elton John), and uniquely-balanced melodies (try dancing to Baba O-Riley). It was great music, but the 1970s didn’t get its butt off the rock-and-roll floor until mid decade, when disco took over. Some 70s Punk Rock can, also, be great party music if the songs have a style that encourages something other than lively slam dancing.
Disco takes its name from the word discotheque. Before disco, most dance clubs had live music and only played records (discs) when the bands took breaks.
Dance Songs From the Early 70s
Much of the early 1970s dance music was Motown inspired, though some of it was just plain kickin’ rock and roll.
- Get Ready 'Cause Here I Come by Rare Earth (1970). Any clod can bumble around on the dance floor and look smoother than Santana when this song is playing. (Notice the "real" drums.)
- Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones (1971). No one can hold still after hearing those first riffs and the wildly suggestive lyrics. This song is a classic.
- The Loco-Motion by Grand Funk Railroad (1974). Heavy drums, a jammin' bass, and a bit of echo are irresistible. Gotta love those hippie days when music was a legit, un-tweaked reality show. And, people could really dig those groovy day-glo pants. Back in those days, there was no right or wrong way to dance.
More Rocking 70s Music
Every one of these songs were picked because they are fun to dance to.
- Venus by Shocking Blue (1970). This band looks a bit embarrassed to be lip-synching and playing air guitar, but who cares?
- Pick Up the Pieces by the Average White Band (1974). Check out the funk played by these nice white boys. Get up and try dancing while this is playing.
- My Old School by Steely Dan (1973). Take note of that slowed-down Boogie Woogie piano, baby. God, I still love this song.
Hearing this music should make anyone long for a nice crowded dance floor to get lost in.
70s Disco Was Tons of Fun
In the years of disco clubs, the line outside the club was where the party really started, and things only heated up after a chick or dude actually got inside the venue. Private-party DJs should remember that disco music must be played very loud, with a lot of bass, or people might accidentally hear the lyrics and go into an insane trance that might be permanent.
The only thing that matters with this fun musical genre is the beat and the funky disco rhythm guitar. Start with these songs, and then look around. You can also find club remixes or extended versions of most disco-era songs, but they are not as good for old-fashioned purists like me. I want to note that I'm heavy on West Coast disco because that's my turf. East Coast disco was totally different.
- Disco Inferno by The Trammps (1976). Burn, baby, burn...get loose, y'all.
- "Bad Girls," “Wasted” or “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer, Queen of Disco.
- "Don’t Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston (1975). Wow. Turn it up and listen to a sweet ballad turn into a powerhouse dance song.
- "Le Freak" by Chic (1978)
- Shake Your Groove Thing was racy back in the day. Don't look for chipmunk songs unless you're DJ-ing a bunch of tweenies. Hey, Alvin would blush if he knew what the words meant.
Some Disco Was Really Good
Check out Earth Wind and Fire. They were a superbly trippy band with a cool sensuous energy.
- Boogie Wonderland: This video has all the best things of the 70s compressed into one mind-blowing experience.
- Another one of their great songs is “Let’s Groove.”
Too Much for One List
It's impossible to round up all of the best disco in one article, but look for songs like the ones in the following list.
- Get Down Tonight and “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band.
- "I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor". Forget "Dancing With the Stars"; put this on and rock that body.
- "Rock Your Baby" by George McCrae. Totally danceable; there's nothin' to it.
- Shame by Evelyn Champagne King. Take a few lessons from your mom and learn how to do "The Hustle", the one that's not a line dance.
- "Turn the Beat Around" by Vicki Sue Robinson. This is much cleaner, sharper, and tighter than Gloria Estefan’s version. Anyone can dance to this.
- "Stayin' Alive" and "Jive Talking" by the Bee Gees. Put those platform shoes and groove to the beat.
- “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman (1977).
Get inspired with some vintage MJ
- Shake Your Body Down (to the ground) by The Jacksons.
- Another good Jackson song is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
Some rock-and-roll snobs love to knock disco, but these people are not digging far enough into it. Anyone who takes some time can find a hidden goldmine of great party or wedding reception tunes. And, disco grew up as dance party music, so it's perfect.
Punk Rock and New Wave Dance Music
Not everyone is into punk, but punk can be a lot of fun for rocking out in one's own creative way, and this manic music will break up the monotony of a steady “dance” beat. If New Wave songs are added to the mix, people on the dance floor won't feel compelled to do the Pogo. But, at any all-age party, make sure that granny or Baby Sue don't get squished in an impromptu mosh pit.
- The Ramones: "I Wanna Be Sedated" (1979). How did this song get so mainstream?
- Green Day: “Welcome to Paradise”
- Blondie: Debbie Harry looks so jaded in Accidents Never Happen. And, everyone likes the high-energy “Hanging on the Telephone” and the obsessively compulsive "One Way or Another".
- The Jam: In the City. I abso-freaking-lutely love this song, and I can't hold still when it's playing.
There are so many great songs from the 70s that it’s really hard to limit your party to a single type of music. So, mix it up.
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