The Top 10 Greatest Oldies Dance Songs and Crazes

Dance, genre painting, sailor blouse, twist, festive Fortepan
The Twist.

FORTEPAN / Erky-Nagy Tibor/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

You know about the Twist, the Mashed Potato, and the Limbo, maybe even the Pony, but did you know there were many different types of novelty dance songs during the dance craze heyday of the early 60s? And that, despite that novelty status, many of these songs had a very long shelf life indeed? Here's a list of the top 10 best oldies dance songs of all time. (Note: Hit songs for dances that didn't catch on are not included; e.g., Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up.")

"The Locomotion," Little Eva

Eva was a babysitter for legendary songwriting couple Carole King and Gerry Goffin; she did this dance around their house, inspiring them to write this smash hit. It has a stronger melody than most of its contemporaries, mainly due to its Brill Building pedigree.

"Harlem Shuffle," Bob and Earl

It's been covered by the Stones, but the original is still one of the finest line-dance soundtracks available: dirty, dark, and seductive. The intro is one of the best in rock history (later made famous all over again by introducing House of Pain's "Jump Around"), and the groove is beyond tight.

"Mashed Potato Time," Dee Dee Sharp

Dee Dee was the queen to Chubby Checker's king, and her original hit set off a dance craze to rival "The Twist." Indeed, as a dance, the Mashed Potato survived many years after Dee Dee faded into obscurity, and the pure girl-group delights of this single had a lot to do with that.

"Pony Time," Chubby Checker

Chubby's only huge non-Twist hit set off a minor craze of its own in 1961, largely due to the party atmosphere leaking from its grooves. To the uninitiated, it sort of sounds like Gary "U.S." Bonds meets (surprise) Hank Ballard — fun, yet in an intense way, with a great call-and-response section.

"Madison Time," The Ray Bryant Combo

The one song on this list with ties to the long tradition of blues and blues-oriented dance crazes, this song was covered by many but is best-known in this 1960 version, which is treated with an almost audible smirk of hepness. Which makes sense, really: Bryant was already a minor legend in the world of bop when he waxed this. But the song didn't achieve true fame until John Waters resurrected it for his classic film Hairspray.

"The Stroll," The Diamonds

Although recorded in 1958, this classic was a genuine dance craze sensation years before the crazes really hit, inspiring a whole generation to line up and gently sway to this slow but terribly sexy groove. The sax makes this one sound more fit for the burlesque show than the sock hop, but for hormonal teens of the time, so much the better.

"Peppermint Twist," Joey Dee and the Starliters

Yet another entry in the seemingly endless string of Twist hits in the early Sixties, this one had a decidedly Gotham flavor, based as it was on the steps the kids were coming up with at New York's Peppermint Lounge. This act's white-soul credentials are without peer: they later mutated into the Young Rascals.

"Bristol Stomp," The Dovells

A rare doo-wop-inspired dance hit, this was the best of several attempts by this Philly group to strike dance craze gold (they'd also tried to resurrect the Continental, with some success). The Dovells had enough groove to take this one to the Top Ten on the R&B chart, as well, even with that strange phrase about being "sharp as a pistol."

"The Twist," Chubby Checker

The king of the Sixties dance crazes - the king of all dance crazes - Checker first rose to the throne with this version of a Hank Ballard hit. Chubby may have smoothed out the rough edges a bit, but he also added an infectious cheer that made this an instant smash. It went to #1 twice in two different years, setting a record that may never be broken.

"Land of 1000 Dances," Wilson Pickett

It's only fitting that one of the last big dance hits dealt with all the major moves, making this one a natural for any party band to learn. Indeed, there are dozens of versions of this song, but Wilson Pickett's hit take on this classic is by far the most manic. And getting loose is what it's all about.