Dance Music From the 60s and 70s

Dance music from the 60s and 70s can be exhilaratingly upbeat and catchy; its popularity has outlived generations, becoming an integral part of multiple genres and cultures.

Motown music spanned decades of novelty dance crazes like Chubby Checker’s hip-swivelling “The Twist”, while soul singers kept things more low-key. A Motown compilation is always surefire way to enjoy some tunes from this period.


Disco dance music saw its greatest surge of popularity during the late 1970s with the release of Saturday Night Fever, featuring tracks by Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and Gloria Gaynor. Influences from R&B and funk music mixed with influences from urban gay culture of New York City heavily impacted this genre as it developed. Most disco artists originated in America while European producers Tom Moulton and Giorgio Moroder played key roles in shaping its growth.

Disco music featured heavy beats and catchy melodies with acoustic instruments such as piano and strings. However, unlike four-piece bands like those found in funk and soul music or jazz organ trios, disco generally required large orchestras with various chordal instruments for its composition and recording required an experienced team of arrangers, copyists and mixing engineers.

Rhythmic disco music added a sense of liberation to disco clubs, where men and women mixed freely without inhibitions and danced as pairs or groups without restriction or inhibitions. Dance moves often emphasised hips and shoulders, with women often wearing tight pants or baring midriffs for dancing purposes. Some movements inspired humorous songs like Van McCoy’s 1975 “The Hustle” or Joe Tex’s 1977 “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman).”

Disco was long associated with sexually permissive culture; however, it also provided an escape from the increasingly harsh social and political climate of the 1970s. Furthermore, its rhythmic music inspired other dance forms like rock dancing and raves.

As dance music became increasingly popular, major record labels shifted their focus from traditional pop to dance music production and production; some shut down while others merged with other labels in order to continue production. By the end of this decade, there had been considerable consolidation within the industry.

As the disco era faded away, producers continued to innovate by adding elements from other genres to disco music. For instance, easy listening singer Barbra Streisand and country artist Dolly Parton both released disco hits in 1979; its influence even extended into classical music where several orchestras and concert bands recorded disco-inspired pieces like Cameroonian artist Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” in 1973.


At its core, Afrobeat blends jazz, soul and Ghanaian highlife music with traditional West African drumming styles and polyrhythmic beats. Nigeria’s founding father of this genre, Fela Kuti used his music to protest colonial powers that subjugate Africa as well as corrupt systems that keep them in power – an often divisive figure but one who inspired many musicians with his powerful message of defiance and his uncompromising style of performance. His bold performance style remains influential today.

Femi and Seun Kuti, Fela’s sons, continue his legacy by upholding antiauthoritarian politics through dance music; such artists include 2Baba, Tiwa Savage and Tekno. They use dance music as an effective vehicle to advocate economic empowerment and equality for their fans.

As with the genre itself, afrobeat has its roots deep within the African diaspora. England’s vibrant African immigrant communities were instrumental in its establishment, drawing international collaborators. DJ Abrantee is often credited with coining the pluralized “afrobeats” term in 2011 when referring to West African records he played on-air and at shows; his mixtape series called The Africa Shrine helped spread it globally.

This collection showcases the work of saxophonist Verckys Mateta, one of the early pioneers of Congolese soukous music which emerged during the 1980s. Together with his bandmates he adapted Western rock and jazz styles into African aesthetics by mixing James Brown-style rhythmic funk with traditional African chants and improvised arrangements, creating a highly infectious danceable style which is easy on both ears and feet.

Sila, an expatriate Kenyan living in San Francisco and his loose-limbed San Francisco afrobeat ensemble revive the original politically charged spirit of afrofunk with this thoughtful collection of groove tunes that honors both Fela’s spiritual jazz style as well as Gil Scott-Heron. Fans of afrofunk should definitely listen closely!

Psychedelic soul

Psychodelic soul (also referred to as black psychedelia) first emerged in the late 1960s and saw Black soul musicians adopting elements from psychedelic rock music into their sound, pushing the limits of what soul music could be while also having an influence on both funk and disco music. Pioneering artists included Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone and Isaac Hayes among many others.

Curtis Mayfield’s songs are an outstanding example of this style of psychedelic soul music that was often politically conscious, sending messages about equality and peace through song. He was one of the pioneers to take a political stance with his music, writing songs about black and white unity like “People Get Ready” and “Curtis”. The Temptations were another group that took this issue seriously, producing albums whose lyrics addressed issues such as gun control and unemployment. Their greatest work in this arena came on 1973’s Masterpiece with its track “Ball of Confusion,” an eight-minute journey through polyrhythms, hypnotic basslines and melodic vocals which addressed racism and class division through music that lifted spirits with its upbeat melody and emotive vocals.

Steve Winwood was another key figure in the evolution of psychedelic soul music, founding Traffic shortly after leaving Spencer Davis’ group in 1967. Once established, Winwood took full advantage of exploring its musical possibilities by incorporating sitar lines and jazzy backing into his songs; creating what has since been termed “raga rock”.

Jimi Hendrix made history when he released “Are You Experienced”, which combined blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and other influences with distortion effects to produce an otherworldly mix of sounds that has since become classic. Later, The Chambers Brothers expanded this genre further with “The Time Has Come.”

Psychedelic soul is still being explored today. The genre can be heard in the songs of Erykah Badu and D’Angelo – two artists who released critically-acclaimed debut albums between 1997 and 2008 respectively. Badu’s song, “The Healer”, stands as an outstanding example of modern neo-psychedelic soul combining fuzz guitar jams with her emotive vocal delivery for an atmospheric experience.

The Village People

Few groups were as iconic or fun during the disco era than The Village People. Their iconic dance hit, YMCA, remains popular at clubs today while their entire catalog can still be heard at larger events – rarely is a party held where someone doesn’t make hand signals or say out “they all come from one place”. Perhaps we simply fondly remember those heady days of disco when everybody dressed up in costumes and paraded down dance floors like it was an eventful parade!

The Village People was an idea created by French producer Jacques Morali in April 1977 to appeal to one of disco’s most engaging audiences – gay men. Their suggestive lyrics and floor-filling beats made them a hit with club-lined streets in Greenwich Village; even though lead singer Victor Willis wasn’t gay himself he always downplayed its portrayals of homosexual stereotypes as universal themes that weren’t simply focused on illicit gay sex.

Morali and Henri Belolo decided to place advertisements in Broadway trade papers seeking “Macho Types Wanted,” with go-go dancer Felipe Rose emerging as their first pick wearing Native American costume items such as headdress and mask. Rose joined the Village People as the Indian alongside police officers, construction workers and bikers.

The Village People enjoyed numerous hits over the next couple of years, but their popularity ultimately faded with disco’s backlash. By early 1980s, their last album of new material – In the Navy – which failed to chart was released; nevertheless they continued touring; their renaissance was kickstarted during between-inning breaks at Yankee Stadium where their music brought the audience to its feet, prompting many of them to do the hand signals and sing along to “YMCA.” That momentous encounter became the catalyst that reignited their revival; that momentous moment would become their renaissance moment and would continue for many years thereafter.