“Heartbeat” was not a ginormous hit upon its 1981 release. It peaked at #6 on Billboard’s dance chart and #10 on the R&B list, and didn’t cross over at all. Back in the days when smashes could be regional, though, “Heartbeat” lit up the dance floors and airwaves in New York City (thanks to DJ Larry Levan, who remixed the song and apparently played it so much at his Paradise Garage residency that he practically willed it into hit-dom). It’s gone on to become universally recognized as a classic all over the world. If you aren’t familiar with “Heartbeat”, you have undoubtedly heard its bass line repurposed on hits by De La Soul (“Buddy”), Ini Kamoze (“Here Comes The Hotstepper”), Musiq Soulchild (“B-U-D-D-Y”) and you might also be familiar with a 1989 remake by Seduction (which did peak within the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100 the following year).
I was barely out of diapers when “Heartbeat” was popular, but I remember it being a staple of block and house parties during the summer of 1981. I remember the gray West End label on the 12” record, and I remember thinking that Taana Gardner was Stephanie Mills (their voices are somewhat similar). “Heartbeat” truly stands out from the other post-disco dance records that were putting a crack in the back of club-goers in the early ‘80s. I’m not one for long songs (patience is not my strongest suit), but I am here for every one of “Heartbeat”’s 593 seconds. Unorthodox as it is (and “Heartbeat” is kind of an odd dance tune, with a deceptively slow tempo and a mid-song breakdown in which the music completely drops out with the exception of a…heartbeat…), there are very few songs I’d rather hear on a dance floor.