It’s not quite on the level of “Levels,” but just search “I Wanna Dance With Somebody Mashup” and marvel at the number of results—for a 25-year-old pop song that for better or worse (mostly better) very much shows its age, it continues to be a primary source of inspiration for pop DJs obsessed with cross-pollination. Undoubtedly, this is because as great a production as “I Wanna Dance” was (courtesy of regular Whit producer Narada Michael Walden, a sparkly, ebullient number filled with synthetic handclaps, hi-hats, horns, and all the other typical mid-’80s trimmings) the real strength of the song still lies in Whitney’s vocal, a soaring, soul-lifting vocal that shows just enough restraint on the verses that when it bursts whole-heartedly into the chorus—that rapturous, gloriously double-tracked chorus—the feeling is of pure ecstatic pop release.
As such, Whitney’s vocal would sound perfect within just about any half-competent recontextualization, and though half-competence is sometimes a stretch for many, enough DJs and producers have hit home runs with “I Wanna Dance” mashups that we think it’s a great tribute to one of Whitney’s all-time best numbers to give some of them a shoutout here. These are our four favorites:
THE KLF, “WHITNEY HOUSTON JOINS THE JAMS”
“Mission: Impossible, we were called,” begins vocalist Bill Drummond. “She’ll never join the JAMs!” Indeed, so in demand was Whitney Houston as a collaborator in 1987 that UK agit-pop duo The KLF (also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu, or JAMs) decided to steal her services without permission, heavily sampling sections of “I Wanna Dance” for their song “Whitney Houston Joins the JAMs” (also featuring elements of the Mission: Impossible theme, the theme from Shaft and a couple other songs.) The song, which predates the mashup proper by nearly 15 years, understood early how propulsive Whitney’s voice was on the song, and that even an awkward shoehorning of the song into a messy assemblage of classic theme songs (amidst erroneous shouts of “WHITNEY HOUSTON JOINS THE JAMS!”) could send the project into the stratosphere. And it does, trust us.
GIRLS ON TOP, “I WANNA DANCE WITH NUMBERS”
The finest of the Whit mashups, Girls on Top made the inspired decision to pair “I Wanna Dance” with Kraftwerk’s 1981 techno-funk standard “Numbers / Computer World,” notably sampled in countless pop hits ranging from “Planet Rock” to “My Boo.” The chugging electro beat, with its icy cold synths, make for a stunning contrast with the impossible warmth of Whitney’s vocal, and the main riff of the chorus makes for a glorious sort of call-and-response effect with Whitney’s “Ohhhh, I wanna dance with somebody!” exhortations. The result is a compulsively danceable number that also gives you chills with its unexpectedly stark beauty. Simply put, one of the greatest mashups of all-time.
JANE DOZE, “YOUNG HEARTS WANNA BEAT ON THEIR OWN”
The only mashup to make our top 100 songs of the year list in 2011 was the Jane Doze’s irrepressible “Young Hearts Wanna Beat on Their Own,” featuring a healthy dose of Whitney’s verse lyrics from “I Wanna Dance” amidst elements of about a half-dozen other songs. The thing that makes the inclusion of “I Wanna Dance” so notable is that it’s the only song not of the 2010s included—the others are all recent pop gems from the likes of Ke$ha, Robyn, Katy Perry and The Naked and Famous. It shows how timeless the Whitney vocal is that it’s able to mesh so seamlessly with all the other contemporary pop artists—and really, you’d trade back healthy sections of the Katy and Robyn vocals just to get a couple more lines form “I Wanna Dance” in there.
YOUTUBE USER CORAZONAZULTW, “I WANNA DANCE ON THE EDGE OF GLORY”
The best of the many “random 2011 pop song mashed with ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’” mashups floating out there on YouTube was this pairing of Whitney with the pitched-down instrumental from Lady Gaga’s similarly all-in dance floor anthem “The Edge of Glory.” The coupling is a surprisingly natural fit—even the bridges of the two songs seem to pair as if they were meant for each other, and the climactic key change in the Whitney song allows the Gaga instrumental to end back up close to the pitch at which it originally started. By the way, Gaga cited Whitney as a main inspiration for her Born This Way album, thanking her while accepting the Best Pop Vocal award at last year’s Grammys. ““I wanted to thank Whitney because when I wrote Born This Way I imagined she was singing, it because I wasn’t secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. So Whitney I imagined you were singing Born This Way when I wrote it. Thank you.”