We’ve all heard songs with good beats. These songs practically beg us to dance along. But have you ever stopped to wonder, “what is a beat?”
Music theory defines a beat as the number of counts within a musical measure that determine the time signature of a song.
This definition doesn’t begin to account for our modern understanding, though. Imagine describing Beethoven as having fire beats! Classical beats? Yes. Classic beats? I don’t think so.
In modern terms, a beat refers in totality to the samples and rhythmic elements used in a song. This definition comes from the proliferation of hip-hop and R&B in mainstream music.
We generally use the term “beats” to describe the dancier elements in a song because we associate songs with good beats as songs that cause our bodies to move.
In short: a good beat is a rhythmic feeling. It makes you want to dance.
7 Songs with a Good Beat
If all this beat talk sounds a little obtuse, don’t worry. We’ve highlighted seven songs that have a good beat. Keep reading for your listening (and dancing) pleasure.
Cold War – Cautious Clay
Cautious Clay’s “Cold War” is an excellent example of a mellow beat that just hits right. The vibes on this track are extremely chill, but it doesn’t put you to sleep. Instead, it has a slinky feeling that gets your shoulders moving while putting you in your feelings.
The snare drum is the glue of “Cold War,” remaining constant as the guitars and trap-drum samples come in and out of focus. This consistent beat anchors the groove for the listener.
By making clear where the beat lies, Cautious Clay enables the listener to appreciate the nuances of the performance while they move to it.
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
If you are a resident of planet earth, you have not escaped the intoxicating beat of The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”
Though the song is a modern dance-pop mega-hit, it employs an ’80s fashioned new wave aesthetic to achieve its impressive beat. The result is a simultaneously fresh and nostalgic call to the dance floor.
On the surface, there isn’t anything flashy about “Blinding Lights.” The drumming is repetitive and straightforward. Still, The Weeknd demands your attention immediately. This is due to the texture of its production.
What helps draw to dance is how the layers of “Blinding Lights” come together. Using synthesizers and handclaps as accents to the rhythm, The Weeknd continually adds and subtracts elements to keep your attention.
Rumors – Lizzo (feat. Cardi B)
It’s no secret that Lizzo has a powerful voice. Every time she belts one out, I get goosebumps. Often lost in the shuffle while talking about Lizzo, though, is how great her beats are.
“Rumors” is a perfect example of a good beat. She uses percussive sounds that bring to mind the classic 808 drum machine—in this instance, shakers and cowbell—to create a drum pattern that is fun but not busy. The effect invites the body to get moving.
Another key element to a good beat is how the performer sings or raps along. Cardi B. is featured in “Rumors,” and her rhymes fit inside the bass and drums perfectly.
Her rapid-fire approach fills the pocket—music jargon for the space inside the groove—and becomes another rhythmic element to the song.
Colorado – Golden Vessel
Golden Vessel’s “Colorado” utilizes an intro to create anticipation for its beat. Before the music begins, the listener is clued into the song’s rhythm forward nature by a single measure intro.
Though this intro only lasts a couple of seconds, it utilizes the backbeat—the beat between official beat counts—to create a call to the dance floor.
In “Colorado,” Golden Vessel takes great effort to use unique sounds for each similar part of the drum kit. Listen carefully, and you will hear changes in pitch and tone to the snare and kick drum with each repetition.
Additionally, the volume of the individual elements of the beat is varied. With different parts of the drums only audible at certain times, the listener subconsciously registers the groove.
Wildfires – SAULT
The bass and drums are married perfectly on SAULT’s “Wildfires.” The punchy bass finds every soft spot in the drumming, creating a beautiful pocket that begs for dancing.
Playing in the pocket like this is a hallmark of any song with a good beat. SAULT’s groove is undeniable and makes this a low-key banger. With a pocket this spacious, you could fit just about any type of dance into it.
Let’s take a moment to talk about handclaps. Have you ever disliked handclaps in a song? Me neither. They beg for participation, and clapping along makes us feel like we’re contributing to the magic of music.
What makes SAULT’s claps so cool and essential to the beat is an effect called spring reverb. Listen closely. It sounds like there are a whole bunch of hands clapping at once.
Though modern effects are usually digitized, that effect used to be achieved by running sound through actual springs! It’s a beautiful and unique finishing touch on a great beat.
Goodie Bag – Still Woozy
Sometimes a good beat keeps the listener in suspense. Though the creeping, psychedelic guitar riff that introduces “Goodie Bag” is rhythmic, it feels like it could go in any direction.
Once Still Woozy finally drops the beat, our curiosity is piqued. With snare backbeats and synthesizer accents, our expectations are happily turned on their heads as we head out to the dance floor.
The key element of “Goodie Bag” is variation. The beat of the chorus is expansive, while the verses cut out certain sounds to create a more insular rhythm.
This variation in energy makes the chorus feel triumphant, and the verses like you’re getting deeper into your groove. It’s an effective approach to creating an ear-catching beat that doesn’t get stale.
Express Yourself – Charles Watts & The 103rd Street Rhythm Band
This is the OG beat. Hip-hop aficionados may be more familiar with NWA’s version of “Express Yourself,” which heavily samples this Charles Watts classic but accept no substitutions.
Charles Watts & The 103rd Street Rhythm Band put on a master class in how to get everyone shaking on the dance floor. From its stabs of horns to its groovy guitar, every element of “Express Yourself” is in service to the beat.
It’s no surprise that “Express Yourself” has been sampled or covered dozens of times. With a beat this good, you can’t help but want to express yourself with it. Dance parties, barbeques, weddings, and school dances have been pumping Charles Watts for decades—a testament to just how good this beat is.
The Beat Goes On
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That’s part of the fun of beats—everything old is new again! With our modern technologies, studio magic of the past can get a second life on dance floors the world over.
It can be easy to get bogged down by musical jargon when thinking about beats. The reality is rhythms are pretty simple to recognize. The difficulty is finding good ones. Hopefully, you found our list of seven songs with a good beat helpful in your search.
The most important and easily understood element of a good beat is also the most obvious: you have to groove to it. Or, as jazz great Thelonious Monk so elegantly put it, “You have to dig it to dig it, you dig?”
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.