Skating music: big beats equal a good time at the rink

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When scouring YouTube for old school jams from the 1970s and 1980s, it is typical to come across a commenter who labels the music, “skating music.” This is not to be confused with “skater music” or “skater rock.” Instead, skating music is rap or r&b from the 1970s and 1980s that people loved to skate to in a roller rink. There is no hard science here to declare exactly why some songs called people to the rink to take their chances on falling, but there is something about those songs that made people want to chance the strength and endurance of their limbs, while gliding in the breeze created by other bodies enjoying the same song. What follows is a brief list of songs typically referred to as “skating music.”

1. “Planet Rock” by Afrikaa Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force

The almost futuristic bounce and beat of the song almost tells people how to skate to it – – when to lean into the curves, when to engage in some kind of stylized shuffle. The lyrics lend themselves to being chanted along with as a person skates around a rink. The synthesizer riff is based on Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express,” and melds rap and electronic pop seamlessly. (1982).

2. “Jam On It” by Newcleus

While the lyrics will appeal to many, it is the beat, especially those who can keep up with rapid-fire bars. The song appeals to some because of its superhero theme.  The almost ominous bass notes that are made less so because they are surrounded by buoyant synthesizer notes. The song pulses with energy and the busy sounds of the different rappers and the music itself. The electronic groove never failed to get people out to skate. (1984).

3. “Let It Whip” by Dazz Band

When disco and jazz combine, allegedly, this is what they sound like. Maybe. What is present though, are lyrics about physical attraction, a killer beat and a soundscape that includes a synthesizer that seems to imitate the wind. The song has vocals that are smooth and layered with backing vocals creating necessary dynamics with the lead. The idea of “letting it whip” is conveyed through the feel of the music and plays on audiences’ understanding of the word “whip.” Clothes can whip in the wind, especially when skating. The idea of letting go and letting things “whip” ramps up the song’s sexiness and allows it to serve as a siren to the skating rink. (1982).

4. “No Parking on the Dance Floor” by Midnight Star

For those who were too young to boogie down at a local dance club, this song created the same kinetic atmosphere in the roller skating rink. An r&b classic, the song depends on humor and stylized beats to make a point about everyone moving on the dancefloor. The fun to sing-a-long with lyrics include a call and response section. (1984).

5. “Freakazoid” by Midnight Star

Like a couple other songs on this brief, unofficial list, “Freakazoid” by Atlantic Starr was also popular with the break dancing set. The combination of futuristic sounds, heavy beats and hyper-real or sci-fi narrative arcs engaged listeners and made them want to move their bodies either on the dance floor or around skating rinks.

6. “Super Freak” by Rick James

A night of early 1980s skating didn’t seem complete without hearing “Super Freak.” The song’s still classic bass guitar line, the lyrics about a famous musician’s love life come together to make people want to skate. Maybe part of the appeal is the malleability of the bass. When the bass is accented heavily by the synthesizer, the feel of the song goes up a notch and necessary texture is added. (1981).

The list of songs could go on. Some others that must be mentioned are “Square Biz” by Teena Marie, “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith, “P.Y.T.” by Michael Jackson, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” by The Jacksons, “Let the Music Play” by Shannon,  “rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang,” “Rappin’ Duke” by The Rappin’ Duke (Shawn Brown), “Digital Display” and “Oh, Sheila” by Ready for the World.

With beats that made people want to move and creative lyrics that made listeners want to join in, the songs that made skating rinks great in the (mostly) 1980s for the most part, continue to evoke nostalgia and get people moving.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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