Certain Songs #1128: Men Without Hats – “The Safety Dance”

Album: Rhythm of Youth
Year: 1983

OK. Let’s just say that I’ve been an unabashed fan of this hookfest from the very start: I even gave the underlying album (the long-forgotten Rhythm of Youth) a good review in the very second issue of Dead Air Diary.

Sure, it all seemed vaguely silly, right down to the somewhat problematic-but-ubiquitous medieval-themed video that was played approximately five times an hour on MTV, but here’s the thing: that video — and the single it was based on — was a completely different version of the song that people who bought the album or the extended dance version of the single heard. Not just shorter, but completely different in conception — and with fewer hooks, to boot.

Do you even know what I’m talking about? Has the extended dance mix of “The Safety Dance” made it down through history, or are you only familiar with the shorter — and somewhat different single, in which, after only 10 seconds of synthesizer fanfare, lead hatless man Ivan Doroschuck gets right to the point:

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don’t dance
And if they don’t dance
Well, they’re are no friends of mine
And we can act like we come
From out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance

Inspired by a real-life incident where Doroschuck was kicked out of a club for pogoing, it’s a pretty strong declaration of being pro-dancing, which I’ve always appreciated, as that was right around the point when I realized that I was also pro-dancing, even if I wasn’t pro music that was defined as “dance music.”

The rest of the single of “The Safety Dance” is variations on that theme, both musically and lyrically — with a massive wall of burbling synths guiding Doroschuck to the end of the song as he repeats the title over and over to the end.

Meanwhile, on the extended dance version — which I’m sure was spun more than once at KFSR Night at McGuffey’s — there’s a much longer intro, featuring a highly reverbed voice spelling out “S-A-F-E-T-Y” followed by a computer singing: “Boop boop bop bop be boop boop bop bop”.

And then, with the massive wall of synths nowhere to be found — just the bass, drums and handclaps — Doroschuck doesn’t so much sing the opening declaration as he speaks it, with particular weird emphasis on “out of this world” at the end of the verse.

It’s strange, but I’m guessing it’s also what attracted me to this song, though after this opening, it sounds like they use the vocal take from the single for the rest of the song, but they never really bring in the massive synths that you probably associate with this song until the very very end.

In any event, it’s materially different from the single, and — for me, at least — is the reason that “The Safety Dance” isn’t just a classic single, but a classic song.

“The Safety Dance” (single version)

“The Safety Dance” (extended dance version)

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