Safety Dance’s writer, band leader Ivan Doroschuk, recalled that the song was the second single off their “Rhythm of Youth” album on Britain’s Statik label. But it wasn’t until they released an extended 12-inch club remix that the song truly exploded internationally in 1983, charting Top 10 in several nations. As Doroschuk told NJArts.net: “We were in the studio in Montreal and suddenly had to drop what we were doing, sign an American deal, and get out there right away” to promote the song.
Doroschuk explained to the “Behind the Vinyl” radio show, “The combination of the remix and the video was what made this song stand out, and created quite a stir in the new wave community.” The jubilant quirky video, with its Pied Piper in Merrie Olde England theme, propelled the song to further heights.
The single of Safety Dance rapidly went gold, earning Men Without Hats an enviable shopping list of awards and nominations: three Félix awards for best-selling single, group of the year, and rock album of the year; a Grammy nomination for best new artist; and Juno nominations for single of the year, composer of the year, and most promising group.
The song reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in September 1983 and No. 4 in Canada, garnering a BMI award and, in 2008, a SOCAN award. The “Rhythm of Youth” album went platinum by 1983, selling over 2 million copies worldwide.
The synth-pop Safety Dance is so catchy that it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. And the story behind its creation puts the song square in the great Canadian tradition of hit protest songs by the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie and Neil Young: Doroschuk wrote Safety Dance after a bouncer kicked him out of an Ottawa bar for pogo dancing among the disco dancers, claiming that his pogo-jumping antics were dangerous. So he went home and wrote Safety Dance, with lyrics that affirm the individual rights of dancers everywhere: “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 no friends of mine.”
Safety Dance has been covered by Weird Al Yankovic, Big Daddy, and others, and has been heard on such TV shows as “Glee,” “The Simpsons,” and “Family Guy.” And in the April 2020 “One World: Together At Home” concert during the Covid-19 pandemic, talk show host Jimmy Fallon performed Safety Dance with health care workers and The Roots with the added lyric, “Everybody’s washing their hands.”
Doroschuk still stands by the do-your-own thing principle behind Safety Dance, stressing that its message is timeless: “I think it’s a message that kids still want to hear today. It is safe to dance.”
Ivan Doroschuk, from Montreal, formed Men Without Hats in the late 1970s as a garage punk band with brothers Colin and Stefan. The band released seven studio albums, split up in 1992 and re-formed to release 2012’s “Love in the Age of War.”