Stop and Smell the Roses (pop songs)

After my last post about the role of popular music as a gateway drug to lindy hop, I started thinking about some of my favorite pop songs for dancing. Below, you will find them sorted by the bizarre categories I have in my head, and not by any sort of sane or rational process. I’ve included some notes about a few of the songs and artists as well. Even though there are a bunch of songs here, this is by no means a comprehensive list. If I have left off your favorite, it is not an intentional slight and that’s what the comments are for anyhow. If you want to watch all the videos at once, you can check out our YouTube playlist.

Uptempo Pop Songs with a strong swing beat:

  • Alive and Kickin’ ‘” – Jesse Dee (201 BPM): Great artist from New England area that bills himself as a neo-soul singer, but his first album shows much more range, and has some great songs for dancing.
  • My Medicine” – Snoop Dogg (192 BPM)
  • Lollipop” – MIKA (192 BPM)
  • Spiderman Theme” – Michael Buble (188 BPM) Also check out the Junkie XL remix.
  • Come to Me” – Koop featuring Yukimi Nagano (174 BPM) [Susanne note: This video has a Great Gatsby theme and includes ’20s charleston.]
  • “Jazzmatazz: – Guru (168 BPM)

Mid Tempo Pop Songs with a strong swing beat:

  • Gonna Get Over You” – Sara Bareilles (142 BPM) Sara Bareilles is one of my favorite pop artists for dancing as evidenced by the three appearances in this post. This one has a nice vintage sample/reference in the beginning.
  • The Diamond Church Street Choir” – The Gaslight Anthem (140 BPM) Rolling Stone magazine always does the best 100 songs of the year, and I discovered this gem off of my annual perusal of that list.
  • “Fairytale (live)” – Sara Bareilles (135 BPM)
  • Idlewild Blue” – OutKast (134 BPM)
  • Sinking Feeling” – Róisín Murphy (130 BPM) I love her, but as a DJ, I find her music challenges newer dancers. It has a good strong beat, but its the kind of music that really requires a high level of style and commitment in your body.
  • A Rose is a Rose” – Poe (130 BPM)

Slow Tempo Pop Songs with a strong swing beat:

  • Vem Vet” – Lisa Ekdahl (126 BPM)
  • My Two Feet” – Jesse Dee (126 BPM)
  • My Same” – Adele (125 BPM) I think Adele may become one of the great artists of our generation. The single off of her upcoming album was just released, and shows some real promise.
  • Silver Lining” – Rilo Kiley (118 BPM)
  • 1234” – Feist (110 BPM) [Susanne note: Feist also performed a version of this song on Sesame Street.]
  • Sweet Pea” – Amos Lee (102 BPM)

Reggae Inspired Pop Songs:
Reggae rhythms have a close relationship to swing, and often make very danceable songs.

  • Billionaire” – Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars (174 BPM)
  • Video” – India Arie (170 BPM)
  • Dancing With Myself” – Glee Cast (162 BPM) Talk about tapping in to beginner zeitgeist! Playing a song from Glee! is almost as popular as playing Lady Gaga, and has the added benefit of not being Lady Gaga.
  • I’m Yours” – Jason Mraz (150 BPM) This is a standard in one of the venues I regularly DJ.
  • Cooler Than Me” – Mike Posner (130 BPM)
  • Banana Pancakes” – Jack Johnson (110 BPM) Perfect for the end of the night when everyone is exhausted. Also, one of those songs that people know, but generally don’t think, “Hey, I want to dance to that!”

Neo-soul:

  • “Mercy” – Duffy (129 BPM) This song showed so much promise, but I was disappointed by the broader album which used way to much reverb and effects, burying Duffy’s amazing voice under an overproduced 60s sound.
  • “F**k You” – Cee Lo Green (128 BPM) Of course, there’s the sanitized version, but that just isn’t the same. Cee Lo’s album has some other interesting songs, but generally veer to 70s disco.
  • “Stuck to you” – Nikka Costa (128 BPM)
  • “Love that Girl” – Raphael Saadiq (124 BPM) Susanne and I discovered Raphael when he opened for a John Legend concert. He was spectacular (better than John Legend), and we immediately downloaded the album which has several good songs for dancing.

Covers:

  • “Billie Jean” – The Lost Fingers (252 BPM) Gypsy jazz covers of pop songs? Hellz yeah! I wish they would record another album
  • “Tainted Love” – Duffy with Jools Holland (166 BPM) I believe this was from a radio appearance, and I haven’t found it commercially available. The piano work on it is amazing.
  • “Fever” – Beyonce (144 BPM) I DJ the version from “The Fighting Temptations” soundtrack, but she also recorded it as a single.
  • “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On” – Adele (141 BPM) Adele takes a Sam Cooke classic and makes it. . .better than the original! That’s an accomplishment.
  • “O Mary Don’t You Weep” – Bruce Springsteen (138 BPM) A long song, country/blues influenced and totally danceable.
  • “It’s My Life” – Paul Anka (134 BPM) Off of the “Rock Swings” album. Paul Anka does a great job turning rock into swing with enough respect that it doesn’t sound like lounge lizard shlock.

Hip-Hop/Swing Sampling Fusions:

Straight out, Uptempo Pop:

  • “Say Hey (I Love You)” – Michael Franti and Spearhead (186 BPM) This one falls in the cracks between swing and latin, but it always makes me dance.
  • “Ain’t Nothin‘ Wrong With That” – Robert Randolph and the Family Band (165 BPM) One of the most popular songs I ever play.
  • “Magic” – B.o.B. (165 BPM)
  • “Hey Ya” – OutKast (160 BPM) In fifty years, we’ll still be listening to this song, telling our children what’s cooler than cool. Everyone, now: “ICE COLD!”
  • “Shake It” – Metro Station (150 BPM)

Straight out, slow tempo Pop:

  • “Glamorous” – Fergie (131 BPM)
  • “P.Y.T.” – Michael Jackson (127 BPM) More of a retro throw back, but this song always makes me dance. This video is not the original song, its a remix, but I love the JabbaWockeeZ, and they do some amazing choreography.
  • “Sugar (Gimme Some)” – Trick Daddy (120 BPM)
  • “King of Anything” – Sara Bareilles (120 BPM) A current guilty pleasure. I’ll play it as long its popular, but will probably fade it out of regular rotation afterwards.
  • “Teenage Dream” – Katie Perry (120 BPM)
  • “Let it Rock” – Kevin Rudolf and Lil’ Wayne (113 BPM)

Quirky Off-beat stuff:

  • “Hey Soul Sister” – Train (194 BPM) I’ve seen dancers try to dance this half-time like westies, but it screams for some uptempo charleston to my ear. I don’t DJ it often now since its been so overplayed, but in another year or so, I’ll throw it out there again.
  • “All at Sea” – Jamie Cullum (176 BPM) This is totally not beginner friendly, not a strong beat and rhythmically complex.
  • “Mickey” – Toni Basil (151 BPM)
  • I’d Rather Dance With You” – Kings of Convenience (142 BPM) Check out the video which features the lead singer teaching little ballerinas to do the bees knees.
  • “White Sky” – Vampire Weekend (136 BPM) Borrowing heavily from the feeling of Afro-pop, this song has a strong triplet feel that is danceable, but that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I studied African music heavily in college, so it has a special appeal to me
  • “Stitched Up” – Herbie Hancock (Feat. John Mayer) This song uses a very common hip-hop beat that, if you’re listening to the snare hits, feels like a slow four or, if you listen the high hat, can feel like a fast 4. For me, this rhythm makes for a great intersection between blues and charleston. I generally don’t play songs like this, but personally, I find them a lot of fun to dance to.
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17 Comments

Filed under C-Jam, lindy hop, Music, Pop

17 responses to “Stop and Smell the Roses (pop songs)

  1. christina

    “added benefit of not being Lady Gaga.” burn.

    also, two actual swing pop favorites of mine are “No Rain” by Blind Melon (~150) and “Black Cadillacs” by Modest Mouse (~120)

  2. Brooke

    First of all let me say “thanks a lot” for costing me a bunch of money with that list. I now have a new crop of songs that I need to go buy:)

    Second, I thought Paul anka rock swings was a guilty pleasure I had to keep secret. Although not really dancable I adore him doing smells like teen spirit.

    Third, dancing with craig to cee lo’s f**k you has recently given me one of my favorite dance memories. I loved learning that you can incorporate a certain gesture into swing dancing. I love when worlds collide.

    Other than that I find it impossible to sit still for fairytale or a rose is a rose.

    Thanks for the fabulous post as usual!

  3. Michael

    The “Tainted Love” cover is from BBC Radio1’s show called The Live Lounge. There’s a lot of great stuff from all the artists. Basically, they show up and do an acoustic version of one of their songs, and then they do a cover. You can get a CD of it from eBay, but I haven’t seen the collection on iTunes yet. I keep hoping.

    • craigsparks

      Awesome. I discovered it on Blip.fm, the internet radio version of twitter, and then hunted down a copy on the internet. I, too, hope it makes it onto iTunes. I hate when artists make it difficult for me to pay them.

  4. Seth

    Istanbul, not Constantinople – TMBG
    I Need a Dollar – Aloe Blacc (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR6oYX1D-0w)

    • craigsparks

      Istanbul is a great one. I’m not on the schedule for Charm City again for a while, but next time I’m there, I think that will make it into the mix.

  5. Elissa

    My list probably is not the beat because I don’t have any sort of mural ability for swing persay. But, here are ny favorites that you didn’t include:

    “Pencil Full of Lead” by Paolo Nutini. It’s not a beginner sort of song-it’s guaranteed to leave you totally out of breath at the end. But it’s a fabulous song to do amazing Charleston to.

    “Boogie Shoes” by K.C. and he Sunshine Band. I hears it on SYTYCD and thought it would be a fun swing song. It’s in my playlist.

    “Candyman” by Christiant Aguleria. I’m sure this is already in your playlist.

    Of course, and Michael Buble. I don’t think he counts since he sings vintage songs. Still a favorite.

  6. Elissa

    Sorry about the misspellings. I don’t do the best typing on iPhone when it autocorrects words….

  7. Roy Gothie

    For consideration:

    Runaround Sue – Dion

    Whatever Happened to Saturday Night – “Glee Cast”

    Hot and Cold – Katy Perry

    Naturally – Selene Gomez

    The Longest Time – Billy Joel

    • craigsparks

      I like “Runaround Sue,” but I’m not sure that a song recorded in 1961 exactly qualifies as contemporary pop. All the rest are golden. 😉

  8. G

    From the early 80s and not all pop but very danceable. By some, if not by yours truly…
    1. Dance with me Baby, B. B. King
    2. Centerfold, J. Geils Band
    and two more paying homage to my sister’s music collection
    3. 867-5309/Jenny, Tommy Tutone 2
    4. La Isla Bonita, Madonna

  9. Tom Koerner

    Craig, excellent topic. There is a ton of material that is non-traditional (i.e. not 30’s-40’s big band) but I think that only makes the scene more interesting (after all, we’re not historical recreationists!). A few of my favorites:
    Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis
    The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani
    Love Drunk by Boys Like Girls
    Hot n’ Cold by Katy Perry

    I may be old but I’m not dead yet.

  10. fenn

    “Smooth” by Carlos Santana, featuring Rob (what’shisname).

  11. Ceste

    Love, love, love MB’s Spiderman…I burned it on cd & brought it to Nick’s so Dabe would play it for me…and then he played it again months later for my birthday jam…I LOOVE the speed of it…am dying also to try out Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes by MB & “All I Do is Dream of You” by MB as well…also love “Color Blind Angel” for blues dancing & “Cyclone” for blues dancing as well…would love to do more Michael Jackson stuff…saw a hand dancing demo once w/ MJ stuff and sparked my interest…have only danced 2x w/ a guy who was doing hand dancing and I LOOOOOVED it…would love to take lessons

  12. Brooke

    Downloaded a bunch from your list, my favs are Lucas with lid off and idlewild blue. Lucas totally brings me back to high school:)

    I thought of another “non swing” song that I can’t sit still for is crazy by gnarls Barkley. And I have 2 which are more obscure but I think they might be fun to dance to cat empire “fishies” and atreyu “falling down”.

    • craigsparks

      I have “Falling Down.” Another good one of that ilk is “Miss Murder” by AFI. I love Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” but I don’t find it inspiring when I dance. There’s something for me where the energy of the rhythm section does not match the mellow laid back tempo and my body goes into convulsions trying to figure out how to express it. Guess I need to practice dancing to it more.

  13. Pingback: Musical Subjectivity « Dancing Past The Godzilla Threshold

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