Sometimes life hits a little harder than expected. For the days when the dormant serotonin needs a little bit more convincing than usual to surface, music can be the best medicine. Whether it’s a dance break at home between Zoom meetings, a bike ride with headphones and a good album, or maybe even just a relaxed listening session, the right songs can do the trick. From the glitz and glam of ’70s disco to the romantic angst of new wave and the modern collaborative spirit in hip-hop, we’ve rounded up the best tracks to put a little spring in your step.
“Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite
“Groove Is in the Heart” is a glossy ’70s funk revival set in the flashiest corners of the ’90s New York City club scene. Pulling equally from jazz, funk, house, and electronic influences, the track sits at the apex of all dance music, with WhoSampled listing up to eight samples used to achieve the amped up revivalist sound. A verse from A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip bridges the intergenerational gaps, adding a modern touch to one of the decade’s finest and most infectious dance hits.
“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” by Jamie xx featuring Young Thug and Popcaan
English DJ Jamie xx acts as the best kind of A&R on this song, bringing together The Persuasions’ famous 1972 “Good Times” hook with the vocal magic that is Young Thug and Jamaican dancehall great Popcaan. It’s hard not to believe Thug’s promise of good times when it’s backed by this all-star cast and an approachable pop feel.
“Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks
Of course The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” has explicit regional appeal, but this whimsical 1967 track is as much an homage to front man Ray Davies’s London hometown as it is an appreciation of life’s simplest pleasures: “As long as I gaze up … I am happy,” he says, a plain and sweet assertion of organic content.
“Good Days” by SZA
In the depths of 2020, the consensus was that there was not much to look forward to. But in the midst of it all, SZA, our ever-elusive fairy godmother of good vibes, received the Bat-Signal and responded accordingly. “Good Days” is a gentle reminder that there is always the possibility of good. And if not, sometimes it’s okay to simply stick to the “empty mind shit” until it comes around.
“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure
The Cure front man Robert Smith has scraggly black hair that dangles in front of his eyes, rimmed with black liner, and above his lips, smeared with red lipstick. Yet despite the outward appearance of angst, he delivers a catalogue bursting with pent-up love letters and idealized romantic fantasies. One of them is “Just Like Heaven,” a storybook love song with promises of running away and quiet admiration.
“I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” is a celebration in and of itself. Every minute sounds like an entrance, as if Ross is throwing up her hands and announcing her arrival at every refrain. The song’s unapologetic pride has since been fittingly embraced by the gay community, giving it a second life and deeper meaning.
“Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush
The actual context behind “Cloudbusting” is much drearier than its fantastical sonic surface. Based on the story of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich’s arrest for contempt of court—as told by his son, Peter Reich, in A Book of Dreams—the song takes on a hopeful undertone. “I just know that something good is gonna happen,” Kate Bush promises as a chorus of violins swells beneath her.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin proves that, to mess with the basics, you have to master the basics. A 10-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist, he makes his most complex riffs sound seemingly effortless. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is fully a cappella, with McFerrin using multiple dubbed vocal tracks as instrumental backing. The smash hit is an easy, breezy sermon of good vibes and a convincing promise of a stress-free future.
“Got to Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn
With a voice shaped by early years in her church choir, Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real” sounds like gospel unleashed. Paired with a booming disco backing, even when the track hits its assumed peak, “Got to Be Real” is an explosion that keeps giving.
“Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi featuring MGMT and Ratatat
“Pursuit of Happiness” is Kid Cudi’s most bleary hedonistic anthem. The track was fodder for the early 2010s rap blogs and teen Tumblr pages, as he called on the moment’s brightest costars, MGMT and Ratatat. The trifecta’s combined stoner psychedelia celebrates the most indulgent forms of induced happiness.
“Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige
“Feels so good when you’re doing all the things you wanna do,” Mary J. Blige nearly shouts in the second verse. It’s one of seemingly hundreds of self-affirmations that make up Blige’s “Just Fine,” a hit spanning four minutes of self-love, positive body talk, and deliberate hexes on anyone who thinks otherwise.
“Lovely Day” by Bill Withers
Bill Withers understood how to turn simple concepts into impactful hits. Writing about some of the most commonly toyed-with themes (love, loss, family, fidelity), Withers hits perfection with “Lovely Day,” a soaring celebration of a newfound love and the sunshine that seems to come with it.
“Think Happy” by The Jacksons
The Jacksons’ self-titled 1976 album starts off with a three-song run that includes “Enjoy Yourself,” “Think Happy,” and “Good Times.” Clearly, something was in the water. While Michael would go on to become the King of Pop, “Think Happy” shows the brothers leaning in to the soul music sound that dominated the charts at the time.
“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester
Decades before Harry Styles was wearing frills on the red carpet, Sylvester was terrifying suburban families with a loud and proud style that matched the booming sound of the underground. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” is one of disco’s best relics, a track that throws away euphemisms in exchange for direct freedom and sexual liberties.
“Inspiration Information” by Shuggie Otis
As it sometimes goes with history’s best artists, Shuggie Otis’s 1974 Inspiration Information didn’t receive its rightful recognition until its reissue nearly 40 years later. Among the many forgotten gems on the reclusive singer’s R&B-laden project is its titular track, a delightful groove about time well spent in love: “You making me happier / Now I’m snappier when I’m with you.”
“Finally” by CeCe Peniston
When modern dance music critics mention the importance of Black singers in the house music’s inception, they’re talking about women like CeCe Peniston. Her stamp on dance music cannot be understated, and her explosive talent is impossible to ignore on “Finally.”
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince & the Revolution
“We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life,” Prince announces, as he unfurls a sermon-style preamble to “Let’s Go Crazy.” And as the 808 kicks in, he makes good on his promise. Navigating through heaven and hell symbolism cloaked in high-powered pop, “Let’s Go Crazy” is the perfect opener to the larger-than-life Purple Rain.
“Good Times” by Chic
Though it’s hard not to hear Chic in this current moment and think of lazy wedding party DJs, this song earned its spot in family party infamy with good reason. Powered by the now iconic (and heavily sampled) Bernard Edwards baseline, the track is as easy to bust a groove to as it is to tap a foot to while seated with a plate of food.
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams
After years of driving hip-hop into the highest orbits of popularity as a producer, Pharrell Williams peeked his head out from behind the booth and reentered the game again as a main act in 2013. His first release veered into pop territory, hitting us with the squeaky-clean earworm “Happy” for the soundtrack of Despicable Me 2.
“Shout!” by The Isley Brothers
The vast majority of The Isley Brothers’ catalogue is somewhat of an antithesis to “Shout!” The siblings mastered the slow-jam a capella that dominated the industry at the time, placing themselves at the center of the soul explosion. But for all the love songs and harmonizing, they still let listeners know that they were capable of something with a bit more supercharge, like “Shout,” a track with refrained bridges, infectious energy, and a crowd-engaged call and response.
Listen to the full playlist below and follow Harper’s BAZAAR on Spotify.
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