15 Landmark Dance Tracks from 1991

by Steve Jansen

14 September 2011


Transglobal Underground and more...

Transglobal Underground
“Temple Head”

Theoretically, this should be the last track on our 15, because “Temple Head” was an end-of-the-night track. And when I say end of the night, I do mean final, as in absolute. The house-lights would have gone up; the crowd think it’s all over. But then, the DJ would cheekily out of silence drop this as a good-night gift. Given the sweaty chewed-up messes we’d all become by 2am, this was still, however, a cut you could dance to with the lights on, simply because everyone would be giving it everything.

The Beloved
“It’s Alright Now” (Back to Basics mix)

The Beloved were a rare and bitter-sweet anomaly across 1990-91. Having initially launched as a conventional five-piece indie band in the mid-‘80s (and with only a fairly derivative and middling sound caught mid-point between Joy Division and New Order to hold them back), one mass firing and a healthy dose of rave candy later, and they were back as a duo; studio-machined up to the hilts and brandishing a clutch of future dance-pop classic.

Their new-dawn album, Happiness (1990) came on like a breathlessly dilated Pet Shop Boys; all electrified of endorphins and desperate to spread the joy. Smiths-broody, but buzzed and buoyant, it launched four singles, of which “Hello” and “Sun Rising” were instant dance-pop classics in-waiting; tracks which managed to play out to (and satisfy both) the charts and the underground simultaneously without baffling either. No mean feat. “It’s Alright Now” later featured on their remix album from the following year, Blissed Out.

CC Peniston

Firstly, if “Finally” by CC Peniston doesn’t put a smile on your face, you may want to call a doctor, because you’re probably dead. On the other, and while it may seem like a cliché to raise this matter here—specifically in relation to this track—if you passed through 1991 you would have marveled at seeing otherwise white-bread straight guys getting down with disco queens to the song. For those minutes, nothing was wrong with the world: two parties dancing together that otherwise might never have even crossed paths, let alone raised hands together in rapture.

Bomb the Bass
“Winter in July”

“Progressive dance” was what they tried to call it. The title didn’t stick, but Tim Simenon (despite being cruelly absent when it comes to identifying Dance music’s integral figures) was arguably one of the pioneers of its limits across the 1990s. The term was coined by a British music critic desperately trying to sum up how Simenon, as Bomb the Bass, had pulled off what most thought was impossible in 1991: he delivered a viable dance album, a long-playing collection in the guise of Unknown Territory which was way beyond novelty (which is all dance acts stretched to album length had previously managed to serve). “Winter in July” was the album’s second single and a sadly overlooked dance classic from 1991, for its pioneering excursion into the reduced-BPM beauty Massive Attack would later be tapped for creating: trip-hop.

“Move Your Body”

Once upon a time, dance music was about the groove. Now, it’s all about “anthems”: block-rocking tracks which are effectively little more than crescendos with titles attached. If the cuts don’t achieve an instant hands-in-the-air meltdown within seconds, they’ve failed. In between these two points, and most effectively across 1991, dance music was about ebbs and flows; the slow boil and the steady build. Of which “Move Your Body” by Xpansions is a prime example. Yet, its true kick-in at 0:28 was the point at which anthem-spotting in a set began to exert itself.

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