No record better encapsulates the early 80s (and the slow grinding change from Disco to New Wave as dance music) than "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats. So indicative of that Go-Go-Grab-It era, the writers of Futurama had a soulless MBA from 1,000 years in the past hum the synth line from the record to cement his status as The Thing that Came From The 80s.
"The Safety Dance" is, in a word, perfect. And like a lot of pop culture perfection, it was mostly an accident.
Beginning with the title, the lyric is an ideal blend of dance culture and New Wave mechanization. But that's not what the writer was shooting for. Ivan Doroschuk and some friends got kicked out of a nightclub for pogoing amongst the white Angel's Flight-suited disco kids. When they complained and asked why, the bouncers told them it "wasn't safe." So the song is a snarky 'screw you" aimed at the dying discotheque culture. The Safety Dance is the one approved of by the boring Old Wave.
We all missed it because they set the lyric in a bouncy, breezy, cheerful sawtooth synth hook that dominates the record. Punctuated with a girlish voice speaking the French for "dance," the whole thing felt just about as upbeat as "Walking On Sunshine."
The reason I think of it as the quintessential 80s tune is its place in category of songs I think of as sui generis, a latin phrase that means "of its own kind:" that is, a record so unique that it transcends genre. (These are my very favorite records. I'll write about that sometime.) Its oddball structure and deliberately wacky lyrics make it an outlier: like the New Wave itself, it plows ahead diligently, industriously, leaving friends and conventions behind, moving on to "place they will never find." And when it gets there, it stops without warning, as if it was simply switched off.
As a product of the 80s, I love "The Safety Dance." 'Cause if we don't, nobody will. Everybody look at your hands.