The Way You Make Me Feel: The Best Freestyle Tracks

A hopeless list, especially if you lived in South Florida. Using crossover hits as guides for drawing hard, bold, lines, it’s difficult to distinguish hi-NRG (Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”) and Italo disco (Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy”) from fellow travelers like Stacey Q, early Taylor Dayne, and Lisa Lisa + Cult Jam, not to mention Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” and “Point of No Return.” Matters got more complicated went house hit American clubs; its pop crossover coincided with freestyle’s, therefore listeners had to deal with a bunch of Black Box singles and The Adventures of Stevie V,  and CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” sharing space with Lisette Melendez’s “Together Forever” and Corina’s “Temptation” at the same time that Stevie B, Timmy T, and the Cover Girls followed the Lisa Lisa (“All Cried Out”) and Expose (“Seasons Change”) template by scoring their biggest hits with slush. To add to the confusion, on WPOW 96.5 I’d hear what in 1987 and 1988 we called bass, which wedded orchestral blasts and the Roland TB-303 to Triassic Era declamatory rap: Dimples T’s “Jealous Fellas,” JJ Fad’s “Supersonic,” early Six Mix-a-lot (“Rippin’”), and anything — anything — by 2 Live Crew. Meanwhile the Stock-Aiken-Waterman remix of Debbie Harry’s “In Love with Love” and Samantha Fox’s “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” insisted on airplay.

“You can listen to this record as many times as you want and still not have any strong impressions that human beings actually made it. In other words, it’s the perfect disco record,” the great John Leland rhapsodized about Nu Shooz in SPIN. The perspicacity of this insight, however, doesn’t include most of the tracks below, sung by amateurs who could no more suppress their humanity than they could the swelling of their hair (assume this phenomenon was limited to the women and please goggle at Google Images’ supply of Stevie B photos circa 1988). There’s a reason why “Let the Music Play,” the urtext of freestyle and eighties disco, tops this list: the fluidity with which Shannon ducks from hysteria to detachment. I’ve written about dance floors as spaces where desire and fantasy call a delighted truce — until the next hunk of hotness ponies up at the bar.

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