Oh, man. 1991 was a good year, wasn’t it? Welcome to the world, Eurodance!
Okay, so Eurodance had been around for a few years already, but this is one of the first big hits that I can recall introducing me to the genre. Synthesizers galore, random otherwise-unknown American female rapper (Princessa), fantastic samples, and, best of all, a video guaranteed to make you either laugh or scratch your head in bewilderment. Or both!
For me, this song was always a bit of a novelty. Sampling and borrowing had always been around, but in the early 90s, the increased visibility of both dance music and rap meant that those practices were getting a lot more airtime on the radio. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t grow up listening to pop music in the same way that my peers did, so hearing a snippet of Janet Jackson’s 1986 “When I Think of You” was monumental for me. Recognizing the sample, knowing the song, was for me a pretty big deal, because I felt like maybe I had finally achieved some sort of pop-music insider status. I got the joke that the rest of the world got, and it felt great.
I just had no idea what to do with the random dance instructions.
I mean, were you supposed to do those? I hadn’t seen the video – we didn’t have MTV in 1991, or were maybe just getting cable – so I didn’t know that the mysterious voice was actually off of a K-Tel disco instruction record from the late 70s. I remember sitting around trying to figure out how exactly one would step left, around, and together with the right, but I couldn’t come up with anything in the privacy of my bedroom that matched anything I had seen my friends do at bat mitzvahs, which was about the limit of my thirteen-year-old dance experience. Ah well.
It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I figured out that Bingoboys had also sampled Chic’s “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)”. But I have to be honest, it was only relatively recently (okay, okay, looking up info for this blog post) that I finally figured out the other two samples. I knew that one of the spoken parts had to have been taken from something else, because it’s a male voice and there’s no way that our Austrian friends Paul, Klaus, and Helmut would pull off that kind of spoken English (“Dance, now!”). It never clicked with me that the voice was Tom Jones, from his 1988 collabo with Art of Noise, a cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” Now, that’s embarrassing, given that I own that song. Yes, I do. Ahem. But I think I thought, back in the day, that the other low, growly woman’s voice (“Get on your feet and dance to the beat …“) was Princessa, and I hadn’t put much thought to it since. I was watching the TV One documentary series a few weeks ago, which shares the biographies of lesser-known or undercelebrated African-American musicians, and was hooked on the story of Sylvester, the flamboyant disco singer, and his sidekicks, the Two Tons ‘O Fun (who would later go on to become the Weather Girls, and did they have news for you!) As I watched, I realized that the sample is from their hit song Dance (Disco Heat), featuring the vocals of Izora Rhodes Armstead, one of the Tons.
I gotta say, I’m a huge fan of disco. I was too young to have understood the horrendous backlash against it in the early 80s – I was still enjoying my Sesame Fever album (featuring the Bee Gees, natch) at the time. But by the early 90s, it seemed that enough time had passed for disco to be ‘cool’ again, at least in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Eurodance was really a big proponent of that shift, I think. It not only made heavy use of and reference to the disco music that had been so popular, but it was geared toward the same kind of club audiences that might have populated the disco dance floor only a dozen years prior. Just substitute synthesizers and safe-sex sentiments, and voila!
As a bonus, here are clips to all the songs that are sampled in “How to Dance.”
1) Janet Jackson, “When I Think of You”
The official video is fantastic, so I’m including it here, but the sample that the Bingoboys used is cut out of the more plot-worthy vid, so I’m throwing in a bonus radio version. Sample starts at around 3:20.
2) Chic, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Gotta love American Bandstand. The sampled bit is the title melody and happens throughout the song.
3) Sylvester (and the Two Tons O’ Fun), Dance (Disco Heat)
Similar to Miss Jackson (if you’re nasty) above, I’m putting in two videos here. The first is low quality, but has the sample in it (at around 2:56). The second is much higher quality – skip ahead 20 seconds if you wish – but the sampled part isn’t included. Rest in Peace, Mr. James and Ms. Armstead.
4) Tom Jones and the Art of Noise, “Kiss”
Tom Jones, you sly dog. I’m pretty sure there is too a sign you’re more compatible with. You’re a good mover, but who thought this video was a good idea? Someone did, as it won the MTV Music Video Award for Best Breakthrough Music Video of 1988. If you’re not too busy gawking as he zips up his pants, the sampled bit is around 1:52.
5) A K-Tel disco record – only $7.95!
Bingoboys rode this one to #1 on the dance charts and almost hit the Top 20 on Billboard, but alas, their follow-up album (albums?) did little, and they ended up doing some production work for Falco – rock me, Bingoboyus! Princessa worked with Bingoboys a while longer and showed up randomly on a Chic album, but she has the shortest Wikipedia entry known to mankind, so I know nothing else of her whereabouts. Guess they all acted like the end of the record and faded out …